By Jerrod Kelley and Tom Kaiser
ATV Section contributors
It’s got to be hard being on top. Big, red and highly visible, Honda’s market-leading product line has sold briskly and kept the company at the top of the ATV market share contest for years, but the company has been criticized by some as too staid for such a fun and youthful market.
Honda is fighting back in 2008 with a reinvigorated product line that includes an updated and plusher TRX400EX, a new open-class TRX700XX and has even announced plans for a future side-by-side — filling Honda’s biggest void in the off-road market.
As far as the open-class sport segment, Honda loyalists have been begging for a machine for the last decade. With Yamaha’s Raptor 700 claiming the top-selling title in the sport ATV market, Honda knew this was an opportunity worth taking.
Honda took an all-new route in designing its TRX700XX, which was built in its Timmonsville, S.C., plant. Designed to compete with both the Raptor 700R and Polaris Outlaw 525 IRS, the 700XX could be described as a unique offering that has characteristics of both of its competitors. It is powered by a purpose-built 686cc liquid-cooled four-stroke, as is the Raptor. It also features an independent rear suspension, much like the Outlaw.
“It’s not really an ‘R’ machine; it’s a little bigger, and it’s more designed for a guy looking to ride in the woods, dunes and battle his buddies. The suspension package is designed to excel in the woods over stumps and in [desert] washes,” said Tim Patnode, Honda media relations/public relations.
Honda says the four-valve, four-stroke powering the Double X will produce the highest peak output in its class. Equipped with a gear-driven counterbalancer, the engine remains smooth and features a closed crankcase and a large-capacity oil tank. It also will feature fuel injection with a large 44mm throttle body. The engine is mated to a five-speed transmission with reverse. However, the unique transmission is centered with a direct-line chain final drive that Honda says was the optimum design for the new IRS double A-arm suspension.
The suspension features premium shocks and some aluminum components. Up front, the 700XX is fitted with dual, single-rate springs and has 9.3 inches of travel. The IRS rear has, piggyback shocks, steel upper and aluminum lower A-arms, 10.6 inches of travel and a 9.9-inch ground clearance.
The suspension components mount to an all-steel chassis with a removable subframe. A few other highlights include 11-inch rear aluminum wheels, disc brakes, electric starting, skid plate and A-arm guards, eccentric chain adjustment and LED taillight.
MSRP: Starts at $7,899
In the Honda family since 1998, the 400EX has undergone its second redesign. This one includes new graphics, new colors (red/black and black/white), a new seat, updated suspension, modern body work and LED lighting.
The 397cc air-cooled, four-stroke engine was retained and left unchanged, but the refreshed plastic gives it an all-new appearance. Honda says the 400EX underwent some ergonomic changes.
“The dimensions changed as far as the relationship from the pegs to the bars as well as the seat, plastic and new graphics,” Patnode said. “Overall, it’s a more comfortable and more attractive machine.”
The Showa shocks were recalibrated to provide a “plusher” ride, Patnode said.
Honda’s big news is its first side-by-side, the Big Red. No longer will the company have to stand on the sidelines while Polaris, Yamaha and Arctic Cat, to name a few players, boast about double-digit sales growth with their UTV models.
Reviving a name from the company’s three-wheeler days, the Big Red features a 675cc engine, 4x4, fuel injection and an automatic transmission with reverse. Current plans call for its introduction in the summer of 2008 as an early release 2009 model.
Honda describes the ride as “secure and comfortable” and says the Big Red is “destined to be … the choice for both utility and recreation.” This UTV features multiple patents and numerous automotive-based technology features, Honda said.
Some of those technologies include three selectable drive modes, front and rear independent suspension, rubber-mounted bucket seats with adjustable backs and a tilting cargo bed.
The Big Red will be available in camouflage and red.
MSRP: Honda did not disclose the MSRP, curb weight or number of units it plans to produce.
FourTrax Line Rincon GPScape/Rincon
Honda’s flagship big-bore utility quad is now available in white plastic. A fuel-injected, 675cc liquid-cooled engine provides ample power and has an independent rear suspension. The Rincon has Honda’s exclusive Hondamatic automatic transmission, which features a beltless hydraulic torque converter, three hydraulic clutches and an electronic control unit — and thumb-activated electronic shifting. This quad comes with or without integrated GPS navigation along with multi-function LCD digital instrumentation.
MSRP: From $7,849-$8,199, depending on the color and the optional GPScape.
Like its big brother, the Rincon, the 499cc four-stroke powered Rubicon is now available in white. The 500-class machine has selectable 2WD/4WD, full floorboards, electric shifting and an optional GPScape program. The machine is highlighted by one of the industry’s coolest transmissions. The fully automatic hydromechanical design lets owners choose between ESP or two other shifting programs (torque or performance).
MSRP: Starts at $7,349 without GPS. Also available in NaturalGear camo ($7,899).
Foreman 4x4 Line
Released last year, the Foreman 4x4 ES was the first Honda with electronic power steering (EPS). For 2008, Honda announced that all of its 500-class Foreman 4x4 models will be available in white, and the manual-shift 4x4 will come with or without EPS. Only the Foreman 4x4 ES EPS and Foreman 4x4 ES come with the electronic shifting program. All four of the models are powered by a 475cc air-cooled four-stroke and wear 25-inch tires. Each model is available in camouflage for an additional cost.
MSRP: Starts at $6,449 (Foreman 4x4) and goes up to $7,399 (Foreman 4x4 ES EPS camo).
TRX Line 450R/450ER
Available in both electric and kick-start, the 450R is Honda’s motocross-bred quad. The 450cc liquid-cooled four-stroke is fed by a 40mm Keihin flat-slide carb. This model features a double A-arm front suspension with 8.4 inches of travel and Pro-link swingarm rear with 9.3 inches of travel. The shocks are adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression. Disc brakes are standard.
A new blue-and-black color with blue flames and a blue seat join the standard white and red colors for 2008.
MSRP: The black model features electric start and retails for $7,149. The kick model ($6,849) is only available in red. The standard electric-start models retail for $6,999.
Redesigned in 2007, the 300EX is Honda’s oldest returning sport quad. For 2008, this manual-shift, entry-level ATV is available with white or red plastic. A 282cc air-cooled four-stroke powers the wheels. The sporty suspension has five-way spring preload adjustability and more than 7 inches of travel front and rear. Disc brakes and reverse gear are standard.
Honda’s other entry-level sport model comes with an industry exclusive SportClutch, which lets the rider experience a manual transmission without stalling. The transmission includes five speeds and reverse. The 229cc air-cooled four-stroke was derived from the Honda Ricon 2WD. Shaft drive reduces the need to repair or tighten chains.
MSRP: Like its siblings, the 250EX ($3,999) now comes in white or red plastic.
Honda’s lone youth model has a received a few key upgrades over the years, including electric start a few years ago. For 2008, the main change is to its graphics and plastic. It’s now available in white as well as Honda Red. A proven 86cc four-stroke supplies the power. An automatic clutch provides easy shifting for the four-speed transmission.
The limited suspension provides 2.6 inches of travel, front and rear. Safety features include a keyed ignition switch, adjustable throttle limiter and full floorboards.