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First Impressions: 2018 Yamaha Apex LE Test Ride

By John Prusak
2018 Yamaha Apex LE

2018 Yamaha Apex LE

Truly one of the most surprising snowmobiles at the 2018 Rode Reports spring testing event was the 2018 Yamaha Apex LE, a machine that Yamaha officials are already admitting is in its last year. The cause of my surprise, quite frankly, was partially driven by my admittedly limited expectations for its new shock technology. But, after a long trail ride, it truly exceeded my pre-conceived notions.

The Apex LE and X-TX models for 2018 get what Yamaha snowmobile designers are called YRSS – the Yamaha Reactive Suspension System – that links the shocks in the ski suspension by using a single, underhood-mounted remote reservoir that holds the nitrogen gas charge for both shocks. At a Sneak Peek event in January, Yamaha officials made broad claims about how the technology – which Yamaha developed a couple of decades ago for the automotive industry but is just now bringing to snowmobiles – creates a better-handling, flatter-cornering front end.

The old cynic in me, however, had my doubts for four reasons: (1) Even though Yamaha had a machine with the technology installed at the Sneak Peek, they didn’t let any of us ride it. (2) If this was such incredible, game-changing technology, why in its long history in the automotive field has it not been spread farther than the select few applications it has? (3) Similarly, if this was such a game changer, why is it only on quite-aged and now publically lame-duck snowmobiles for 2018? (4) When telling us about the technology Yamaha officials were at one moment proclaiming it was a big game changer, but then later in the conversation saying that, to really feel the difference, a person should ride a 2017 and a 2018 Apex back-to-back. That seemed contradictory.

I saw red flags all over the place. After riding the Apex LE, however, those early doubts were erased.

Riding The 2018 Apex LE

Sliding behind the handlebar on the Apex, one is quickly reminded on how snowmobiling used to be. Whether that’s good or bad is entirely based on one’s perspective.

On the host Deltabox II chassis, the driver sits rather low and deep on the chassis, with a relatively low handlebar and cushy seat that pretty much require a sit-down riding style. For riders who have grown accustomed to more rider-forward chassis designs, it might feel like they are going back in time, but there are plenty of riders out there that feel very comfortable in this position, and who don’t stand up often when ripping through bumps.

If you’ve been on an Apex or Vector in recent years, everything about the 2018 model immediately feels familiar – the placement of the controls, the contour of the body panels, the look of the gauges. Special 50th Anniversary graphics gussy it up a bit.

The first real sign that something was different in the handling was when we took a snaking trail north of West Yellowstone, Montana, toward Big Sky. Twisting back and forth and up and down a particularly interesting and serpentine trail that climbed a mountainside, the machine we were riding felt easier to control than previous versions of this sled. Going into turns with varying levels of tightness at varying levels of speed, there were times when past experience told us to expect the inside ski to raise, but it rarely did.

“On the weaving downhill with a lot of switchback turns, there were many instances where, if I were on last year’s Apex, that inside ski would have been popping up, popping up, popping up,” one test ride said in his notes after the ride. On the 2018 model “it mostly stayed flat. If pushed extremely hard it would occasionally come a few inches off the ground but it was as if that inside ski was always reaching for the ground.”

Another test rider tried to quantify the different.

“The front shock technology gives a noticeable difference for inside skill lift – like a 75 percent improvement,” he said in his notes.

Also notable in these conditions were the effects of the returning electric power steering assist mechanism. On the machines on this particular ride, the Apex was the heaviest but had the lightest steering, yet it generally stayed right where we wanted it as we powered down the trail that morning. We say “generally” because we’re still not fans of the Tuner skis found on most Yamaha models.

“I’d really like to see how this machine handles with decent skis on it,” a third test rider noted. “Too bad we don’t have a set hidden in the woods!”

The strong acceleration and thrilling, high-winding sound of the Apex were still popular among our crew of test riders – in the era of the Sidewinder this is no longer the kingpin of the Yamaha powerplants, but there’s really something special about the 998cc four-cylinder, four-stroke engine. And this sled is still a blast on trails with wide, sweeping turns.

Suspension performance was just OK – the skidframe in particular didn’t isolate the rider from bumps as well as the suspension systems found on Arctic Cat-based Yamaha models, but it wasn’t jarring. The front suspension ate up straight line bumps well without putting a lot of energy into the handlebars – give the EPS some credit for that as well.

Bottom line: The 2018 Apex – and its high $15,699 MSRP – probably has a limited appeal these days, as most people who have already adjusted to higher and more rider-forward ergonomics will not be attracted to it. But for the Yamaha-chassis holdouts, this is the last chance to get a historic machine, and they’ll get to do it with some funky new technology that truly does help the sled’s handling in some conditions.

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