When it comes to ATVs, there are no more loyal owners out there than Honda owners. Honda has a reputation for making bulletproof, high-quality vehicles. That reputation is well deserved, too. After all, Honda practically invented the sport with the 1970 ATC 90, a seven-horsepower three-wheeler intended to give dealers something interesting to sell during winter months when motorcycle sales cooled off. Little did they know then that they were creating an entirely new market.
Jump ahead to today. Honda recently unveiled the all-new 2015 FourTrax Foreman Rubicon ATV. It seems that each of the major ATV manufacturers has carved out a niche in the marketplace, and Honda has done precisely that. They have mountains of data that shows their customers put their reliable Honda machines to work—hence the Foreman name. Honda also knows that ATV riders also like to use their machines to play, and play in some wildly diverse terrain—and that’s where the “Rubicon” part of the name comes in. What we get as consumers is a machine that can comfortably handle chores around the ranch, as well as comfortably ride the trails on the weekend.
New for the 2015 model are several things, most notably the addition of an independent rear suspension (IRS). Also new are a wide range of transmission options, improved electronic power steering on the models equipped with it, rear braking, and improved ergonomics. The folks at Honda recently arranged for a trail ride at the awesome Hatfield McCoy Trail System in West Virginia. I’ve had the pleasure of riding there several times and it just gets better each trip. If you like to ride off-road, you owe it to yourself to go there.
The Foreman Rubicon comes with a 475cc single-cylinder engine that is fed by electronic fuel injection. The engine is very peppy and feels bigger than it is. I had been riding much bigger ATVs right before I went off to ride the Honda and I never felt like it was underpowered or boring in any way. We were hammering our way up some pretty steep terrain that was filled with just about every kind of trail obstacle you’d expect to run into, and the Rubicon had more than enough oomph to tackle them.
There are two types of transmission offered in the various models of the Rubicon. There is a manual-shift model that is the only manual transmission I’ve ever heard of in an IRS ATV. The manual transmission was very popular with some of the other riders on my trip. My test machine featured the other transmission, Honda’s Automatic DCT system. This was, without a doubt, the most interesting transmission system I’ve used on an ATV.
Usually you either have a foot-activated manual shift, or you have an automatic transmission that you simply engage into drive and go. Honda’s DCT system allows you to choose to simply engage the forward drive and go, or, and this is the cool part, you can select which gear you shift into. There are two arrow buttons, one up and one down, on the left handlebar. You want to shift up? Stab the up button. It was great to have that added control on the Hatfield McCoy trails because the terrain varies so quickly that the engine, when in fully automatic mode, sometimes cannot react fast enough, causing you to have an engine that is bogging down when you need to grab a handful of throttle. With the DCT, you can drop down a gear and gas it, giving you a ton more control and a sportier ride. It takes a little to get used to it, but when you do, it is a blast to ride.
The suspension action is pretty good. The front has 7.28 inches of wheel travel, and the back 8.5. With a curb weight of 719 pounds, the Honda isn’t a sport quad, but handles well when pounding through some rough trails. The machine has only 9.4 inches of ground clearance, so expect to scrape some rocks and ruts. I never got hung up or stuck, so it worked just fine for me. If I had, I could have engaged the Traxlok locking differential to lock in all four wheels and simply powered out.
Another feature I liked were the brakes. The front brakes operate independently from the rear brake. This is a feature I really like and something that I wish some other brands embraced. A single, enclosed 170-millimeter rear disc brake was strong and felt very solid. The 190-millimeter front disc brakes worked flawlessly without overpowering the rider or machine. If you have grabby front brakes, you can go for a ride of a different kind. These were perfect.
Honda also worked at making the seat very comfortable and they succeeded. It is tall enough to make me, a taller rider, very comfortable, yet the seat is soft enough to keep my butt happy. The seat cover is very grippy, which is nice when you get into some wet riding conditions. I felt like the bars could have been a tiny bit higher for me, but they were still very comfortable. The bend was great. The reverse gear actuation lever was a bit of a trip to get used to—you have to flip an extra lever with the rear brake to get it to engage. If you flip the lever the opposite way, it engages the parking brake. With the DCT transmission, I can see why Honda went this way though. It keeps you from accidentally shifting the machine into reverse.
Another thing about the new Honda Foreman Rubicon—it is one sharp looking unit. With a standard front bumper that has a tough, adventurous brush guard look, three headlights, and several color options, the Honda can turn some heads for sure. The standard model comes in red or olive colors. Add power steering and you can score one in Honda’s cool-looking Phantom camo along with the red. The manual-shift deluxe model comes in a sharp white color, and the deluxe DCT version is a head-turning metallic black. The Deluxe models add nice looking cast aluminum rims, red-painted shocks and a-arms and the snazzy colors. I rode a camo model and one of the black deluxe machines—both were pretty sweet looking rides.
Prices vary depending on what variation of the Foreman Rubicon fits your need. The base model starts at $7,799, while the top-of-the-line Deluxe EPS DCT unit goes for $9,599.
So, the bottom line is that Honda has developed an awesome 500-class ATV that can handle a heavy workload as well as a healthy amount of recreation. The engineers at Honda’s R&D department in Ohio used the Hatfield McCoy trails for testing while developing the machine, so they knew they hit a home run with it. With heavy-duty steel racks and a 1,300+ pound towing capacity, the Foreman can handle any chore. With great handling, and a peppy engine lets the Rubicon out to play. Together, the Honda Foreman Rubicon is a great do-it-all machine that blurs the lines between work and play – just like most of us who are buying an ATV.
Images courtesy Derrek Sigler