January 9, 2008

Little Sled That Could



2008 Phazer MXT leaves an impression

It was your typical winter day. The skies were overcast with just a slight hint of snow—you know, the dirty kind that doesn’t contain any moisture and tends to just swirl around and mess with your visibility.

There was about three inches of fresh snow resting on top of a three-foot crusty base—the kind of snow that actually makes riding a little less predictable. Not what you’d call a great snow day … but hey, we weren’t in the office so no complaints.

We were test riding the new Yamaha Nytro in Island Park, ID. But in the process, I was spending a fair amount of time riding the new Phazer MTX. And as we traded from sled to sled, we were boondocking in some fairly extreme terrain. During one stretch of the ride while I was on the Phazer, we were climbing a steep ridge that wound through the trees up an east-facing slope of Sawtell. It was a ridge tucked back in the trees and very seldom accessed. But due to the snow conditions, snowmobilers were exploring more of the out-of-the-way drainages looking for fresh untracked snow. We happened onto this ridge quite by accident and were following old tracks to basically see where they would end. (The logic being that either the tracks would loop out somewhere … or we’d find frozen bodies on stuck machines.)

As I picked my way through the trees, I was somewhat surprised by the handling and low-end grunt of the Phazer. Usually, you don’t find that much performance from an 80 hp engine. But then, the Phazer’s 4-stroke powerplant is based on the highly successful YZ250F motorcycle engine (actually two of them engineered together).

Surprisingly Nimble

It was also surprisingly nimble for a 515-pound (dry weight) sled. But again, you have to attribute some of that nimbleness to a responsive powerplant. The 2008 Phazer MTX features a Genesis 80 FI powerplant with a five-valve head that makes peak power at just over 11,000 rpm. Its counterbalanced crank and fuel injection provides crisp throttle response, even if you’re using a lower octane fuel. A lightweight rear-exiting exhaust keeps exhaust heat out of the engine bay, eliminating heat buildup.

This sled is very comparable in ride to your basic 600cc 2-stroke mountain sled. It handles as though it’s just as light at a 600, even though you have 30-50 pounds more weight. (When you get stuck, you definitely feel the extra weight. But knowing this, you tend to be just a little more careful about where you are willing to get stuck.)

For much of the ride, the Phazer carried its own. The ridge didn’t require a lot of speed, momentum or horsepower to make the ascent. But you did have to be careful not to get high-sided on the slope and kicked off into the drainage below.

A rider-forward position, similar to what’s found in other off-road motorsports, allows you to stay on top of things for aggressive riding, great balance and improved ergonomics. This allows you more control for superb handling. This really came in handy because of the trees along the ridge that prevent you from just “point-and-shooting” your way to the top.

Hold Its Own

One might think that a twisty trail up a ridge would be a challenge for a smaller 4-stroke sled. Although it won’t get accolades for being a highmarking mountain sled, don’t be fooled by the four-stroke misinformation. The Phazer will go through the snow, it can float through powder and it does hold its own in elevation. It’s a practical design—no added plastic for cosmetics—engineered for the sole purpose of making it perform in the snow better. A 144-inch Camoplast Maverick track with two-inch lugs allows the Phazer to power through deep powder. We found this to be ample size and length for the Phazer. Not too much track for the power and not too much sled for the track.

A tall, narrow seat that facilitates the rider-forward position is designed for comfort and balance. Wide running boards are built with traction holes that allow you to move about while keeping a secure foothold on the sled. It’s important to have a stable platform when boondocking in terrain and trees. One slip of the foot usually has an outcome of losing control and putting yourself and your sled into a situation that is less than desirable, resulting in “stuckage.” This leads to lifting, heavy breathing, sweating, and eventually, sore muscles. However, the Phazer is easy to negotiate and maintain a constant balance.

Yamaha engineers have worked hard to make the Phazer competitive in the lightweight sled class. They have taken advantage of “controlled flow” casting techniques that allow them to mold various structural pieces on the chassis through a molten metal process under a vacuum. This allows for stronger parts without stress bends, made from much thinner, stronger material. They have designed the Phazer’s crankshaft to be lightweight, responsive and durable for crisp throttle response and instant acceleration without the inherent vibration that comes from a 2-stroke engine.

Yamaha has also adapted technology with design by incorporating its lightweight rear-exiting exhaust into the seat and tunnel. This has eliminated underhood heat caused by the exhaust while providing a weight balance to the overall sled package.

Comes Loaded

For being an “entry level” economy sled, the Phazer still comes loaded with most all of the bells and whistles found on the pricier sleds— electric start and reverse. The Phazer features large LCD digital gauges that allows you to see what’s happening at a quick glance. And warning lights within the gauges will alert you to anything that may require your immediate attention.

The Phazer has a suspension package that rides like a million bucks. A Pro Mountain rear built with a cantilever system that allows the track tension to remain consistent through compression travel is designed to improve efficiency while reducing friction. The Phazer’s double wishbone front suspension features KYB gas cell shocks to absorb the bumps and tame the trails.

Fuel injection, counterbalanced crankshaft, lightweight rear-exiting exhaust, magnesium chaincase cover … this sounds like one of those high-priced performance snowmobiles.

Well, you got half that right. The 2008 Yamaha Phazer MTX certainly fits the bill as a performance sled … but it doesn’t come with an $11 grand sticker price. At a MSRP of $7,399, this state-of-the-art four-stroke features an economy price tag that certainly deserves a second look.

Yamaha has long been known for an outstanding engineering track record, so when the company was forced to recall the Phazer this fall, it was quite a surprise. At issue was the possibility of snow and ice getting stuck around the steering idler arm (we ran an update on this on www.snowest.com on Oct. 18) which could result in the loss of steering ability. The recall affected all 2007 Phazer models, including the mountain model. Yamaha has worked to fix the problem on 2008 models.

Yamaha has led the way with four-stroke technology. The Phazer is just another sled in an impressive arsenal that has been designed to bring added pleasure to winter.

 

Yamaha Phazer MTX

 

Age of this model                               Second year

 

Powerplant/Powertrain

Engine                                     Yamaha

Displacement                                     499cc

Cylinders                                            2

Carburetion                                        43 mm Keihin fuel injectors

Primary clutch                                    YPZ

Secondary clutch                                YPZ

Drive sprocket                                   8-tooth drive

 

Chassis/Suspension

Chassis                                               FX

Front suspension                                Independent, double wishbone

Front shocks                                       KYB gas cell

Front travel                                        8.7 inches

Rear suspension                                Pro Mountain Dual Angle

Rear shocks                                       KYB 36 mm HPG

Rear travel                                         14.3 inches

Center shock                                      KYB gas cell

Ski                                                       Lightweight plastic, saddleless design

 

Dimensions/Capacities

Dry weight                                          515 lbs.

Track                                                  Camoplast Maverick 14x144x2

Ski stance                                           37.6-39.6 inches

Fuel capacity                                      7 gallons

Price                                                    $7,399







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