Honda Pioneer ATV Country Test

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EARLY PIONEERS


It’s with a degree of irony that whilst Honda claims to maintain their 50.2% share of the UK ATV market, they have constantly resisted numerous requests to bring a side-by-side into the country. The irony is Honda have for years enjoyed a high degree of success over in America where their ATV has been regarded as one of the premier recreational 4x4’s. And it’s the recreational aspect that has not only held them back but allowed various other manufacturers to establish themselves as major UK suppliers and market leaders of ATV’s which has meant Honda has created its own mountain to climb.


Interestingly, Honda claim that anyone who has every owned, ridden or been in some way involved with quads will have sat astride, utilised of encountered a Honda quad. A bold claim in many ways, but one that if you reflect on it, is more or less true. And whilst buyers now rightfully consider other makes when making their next ATV purchase, there was a time when people purchased a Honda quad as a matter of course since they were the best out there. But times change as do customer preferences and the amount of money they have to spend.


One vital aspect that also has to be taken into consideration is the shift in market trends towards side-by-side ATV’s. Whilst to the hill farmer and gamekeeper the quad bike will always be king, the bike’s versatility in certain circumstances and environments eclipsing that of the side-by-side, by virtue of their design along with Health & Safety demands, the two seater format is now on a par in respect of sales.


More akin to a car to drive and operate, an increased payload of 386kg and a towing maximum of 680kg, the fact the occupants are protected by a roll cage and increased weather protection. Add in the fact that up to four people can be transported in one go also appeals far more as teams of workers or guns can be quickly moved from where they are to where they need plus a variety of equipment all in relative comfort and by far more safety. The downsides are that side-by-sides are more expensive to buy and run since by their very nature they are slightly more complicated than their quad counterparts.  


Starting ostensibly with a clean sheet of paper, with the Pioneer Honda hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel. Instead they’ve introduced new mechanical concepts. To look at the Pioneer has kept to the conventional and familiar layout, a square section steel chassis with everything mounted as high as possible sat on independent suspension at the front, double wishbone at the rear. And whilst other designs are available, in standard trim black steel rims shod with 25x8.00-12 and 25x10.00-12 heavily cleated Blackstone tyres. A large crash bar dominates the front that protects the deep set front lights, soft resilient plastic bodywork with high cut arches and a large removable panel providing ready access to the large capacity radiator and cooling system.


Half doors including cup holders, safety nets and three point seatbelts are standard as is the substantial roll cage, an extended version fitted to the four-seater version whilst simplicity is the cab’s watchword. The 30-litre unleaded fuel tank sits beneath the passenger’s seat whilst the now standard 12v socket is located under the dash roll. From the operator’s perspective it’s a case of a steering wheel, a conveniently dash located handbrake, small, deep set LED instrument panel, lights, ignition and horn switches and two directional and drive levers once again set into the dash.


Likewise, directional choice is simple, forwards, neutral and reverse controlled by one lever, 2WD, 4WD and 4WD Diff the other lever’s functions. There’s no Low ratio and the locking diff is only on the front axle which once again enhances the Pioneer’s ease of use even for inexperienced operators. The clue as to Honda’s new approach can be seen when sat on the comfortable bench seat, the cab or forward cab if it’s the four seater version only seats two, a noticeable central hump where you’d expect the middle seat to be.


Sat in its own cradle and to a degree independent of the Pioneer’s chassis, sits the proven TRX680 675cc single-cylinder twin-spark engine complete with balancer shaft, the petrol unit currently the only option and no diesel or factory LPG conversions currently planned. Using their cradle design Honda has been able to mount the engine much further forward than in the more conventional layouts. Not only does Honda’s engine positioning enhance weight distribution and ground clearance, most noticeably the engine and transmission position enhances handling in difficult situations. Interestingly, the 3-speed automatic gearbox is just that, Honda utilising a transmission more akin to that of a car instead of the more familiar CVT.


Eliminating the need for low ratio and additional diffs, the Pioneer self-selects the gear it requires sending power to however many wheels using shaft drive which also means no belts to slip or chains to require re-tensioning or lubricating, immersion in water leaving the drive train unaffected whilst the high set and fully shrouded exhaust is set just below the cargo box on the left hand side.


There are other interesting additions such as the system that allows the oil and water to reach full operating temperature together, each one warming the other. Not unique to the Pioneer but a sensible fitment, without the operator’s seatbelt locked in place, a sensor restricts the Pioneer to an artificial top speed of 16mph. And should the worst happen and the Pioneer become fully inverted the seatbelt latches are designed to release so overcoming the belt and latch inertia mechanism.


With the vertical rear lights integrated into the cargo bed either side of the drop down tailgate, whilst the bed is still manual in operation, unlocked by the latch to the rear of the operator’s seat, a hydraulic ram assists when the bed is fully laden. Unusually, in 4-seater guise, it’s the bed that houses the folding rear seats, each side of the bed featuring small doors for ease of access. And should you only require one seat, just unfold one which still allows for fifty percent of the cargo bed to be used.


To drive, the first aspect that hits you immediately is the fact the Pioneer doesn’t have power steering. In the main the lack of assistance makes little or no difference but when maneuvering in tight spaces or in deep mud, the haul on the steering wheel is at times noticeably heavy. As to why Honda has overlooked or omitted steering assistance remains unanswered despite being asked. Steering aside the Pioneer is extremely agile, axle and suspension articulation is excellent yet still providing a comfortable ride over less demanding terrain. Similarly, the front diff only transmission has no effect perceptible on the Pioneer’s ability to wade, cope with the most glutinous of deep mud or clamber over logs and climb steep gradients.


If one other point had to be made it’s the effectiveness of the engine braking that whilst its reasonably efficient it could be better, the operator’s need to resort to the brake pedal on steep descents slightly more frequent than might be expected. Overall though Honda’s take on the side-by-side works very well, quality of build appears to be what it should be and what buyers expect of Honda. In standard trim the Pioneer comes with most buyers needs as standard whilst the accessory list exceeds the term comprehensive.


Price wise, the two-seater 700M2 is £15,150, the four-seater £17,800 both prices inclusive of VAT. Competitively priced in comparison to the other higher end makes, Honda’s new Pioneer will at last give Honda’s dedicated ATV buyers the option they’ve been looking for, the Pioneer’s appearance long overdue. The concept and rethink of the standard design works and works well and will attract both existing and potential customers. However, there are customers that Honda lost due to the lack of such an ATV, its now up to the Pioneer to prove that they need to return to the Honda family, something it should be more than capable of.



By; Mark Stone



Honda Pioneer ATV Test