Three- or five-cylinder engines are the odd ducks of the motorsports world — largely unnoticed, unconventional and quite uncommon. Without the inherent balancing forces of a symmetrical unit, like a V-twin, engines with an odd number of cylinders have a unique appeal all their own — sometimes raw, with a distinctive sound and often with a touch more vibration.
With a few exceptions, such asymmetrical engines are often found in similarly offbeat products — Volkswagens, Volvos, Fiats, Alfa Romeos and the dearly departed Geo Metro. They are typically owned by guys who are proud to own strange stuff, and probably watch a lot of soccer.
Snowmobiling had its biggest brush with triples in the ’90s, when XLTs, ZRTs and Formula IIIs, among others, gobbled up big marketshare numbers. They gave way to the big twins in more recent years, however, making a triple an oddity again. In fact, there are no remaining two-stroke triples, and just two four-stroke triples.
So, while it’s a fairly conventional machine on paper, Yamaha’s three-cylinder four-stroke found in the Vector GT satisfies an idiosyncratic desire to stand out from the crowd, while being wrapped in a package that is middle-America comfortable.
2011 Yamaha RS Vector GT: Different Is Good
The world would be a boring place if it weren’t for the different folks among us. The same goes for snowmobiles, as the Vector GT is unmistakably a rule breaker as soon as you turn the key. Its sound and feel is a bit harsher in character than a twin or four-cylinder four stroke, especially at idle. Roll on some throttle, though, and the EFI-controlled 1049cc inline triple settles down into a much more pleasing sound and delivers punchy, right-now power to the 1.25-inch Camoplast.
Yamaha dubs it the “mid-performance engine” — but there’s nothing middling about its power, except that it’s less wild than the Apex’s explosive inline four.
Direct-to-crankshaft clutching helps the Vector quickly regain speed when exiting corners, which is important for a four-stroke. Yamaha’s Engine Braking Reduction System cures another ill, taming engine braking so riders aren’t tossed into the bars when letting off the throttle. Both features work well, and reduce fatigue.
Ergonomically speaking, this sled is comfortable, but, again, the individualist Vector GT zigs where the pack zags. The gas tank is wide in front of the rider, creating an unusual position that suggests you’re a woman about to get an exam requiring latex gloves. The position of the handlebars with hooked ends suited all of our test riders.
All controls and gauges have a high-quality appearance and feel — near the very top of the industry in terms of refinement. Also, the seat is nice and soft. Overall, the Vector looks like a mature and serious machine.
2011 Yamaha RS Vector GT: Different Is Ok
Handling once again sets the Vector GT apart from its competition, with heavy steering, sporadic ski lift and skis that are either completely hooked up to the trail, or sliding to little effect. This schizophrenic front-end is shared with other Yamaha four strokes, and it makes it difficult to keep up with rapid riders through twisty sections. Yamaha needs to keep investigating this mystery, because the proper setup has yet to be discovered.
These handling concerns were much less apparent on more open trails, where the Vector is an absolute delight — especially on straight stretches and wide sweepers. Grabbing a generous handful of throttle is addicting, as the sound, feel and rush of acceleration excites multiple senses at once. Its rear-exiting exhaust note is like nothing else on the trail. The Vector is poised at higher speeds, with a calm ride and admirable wind protection.
Once at speed, four-piston hydraulic brakes are strong enough to bring nearly 600 pounds of sled to a hasty halt. The compression- and rebound-adjustable suspension (clickers in front, a dial for the rear) handled bumps without any bottoming on the mountain trails we rode, and the chassis generally delivers good feedback. Drivers sit a bit lower in a Vector than with the Apex, appealing to more old-school riders.
2011 Yamaha RS Vector GT: Finding A Buyer
Test rider Tim Erickson may have summed the Vector GT up best: “Overall, a very easy machine to love with all it has going for it as long as you’re willing to compromise, accepting ‘good’ handling instead of ‘excellent’ handing.”
Managing Editor Andy Swanson went a step further, saying the Vector is “Yamaha’s best — it’s quiet, smooth, it has Yamaha quality, good materials, which a Yamaha customer is more inclined to like.”
Like quirky Volkswagen aficionados, Yamaha Vector GT buyers are more upscale, high-mileage riders who value quality, would rather sit than stand while riding and like to know there’s proprietary technology under the hood.
There’s a reason the 2011 Yamaha RS Vector GT made our Top 10 list four years in a row: good looks, impeccable build quality, strong power, quiet operation — the building blocks of a pleasant trail machine.
Getting behind the bars will run you about $10,799, which looks pretty affordable compared with the Apex’s $13,999 base price.