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Updates to leading ATV range

Honda has recently announced significant updates to its heavy-duty Foreman ATV range

Honda has recently announced significant updates to its heavy-duty Foreman ATV range and Farmers Guide was invited to the UK launch to try out the latest models. David Williams reports.The Foreman ATV range has been around since the mid-1990s, and has proved a popular choice for many farms and estates needing a rugged and powerful vehicle for mobility and transport tasks. The first 400cc model was introduced in 1995, and the range has evolved with the demand for increased performance, to include three basic versions; two with manual transmission and one automatic, all in the 500cc power-class.The 2015 Foreman series retains the previous transmission options, but main updates include a new mechanical automatic transmission, new suspension for the top-of-the-range automatic model and an improved suspension option for the foot-operated manual. There is also a stronger frame, providing increased carrying and towing capacity, improved economy from the 475cc engine, and better comfort for the operator.The new suspension provides extra ground clearance and better axle movement over the sort of obstructions ATV users are likely to encounter daily.The 2015 range includes;
FS = manual foot shift
IRS = independent rear suspension
ES = electric push-button gear shift
PS = power steering
DCT = dual clutch (auto) transmissionEngines and transmissions
Previously, the two manual transmission machines (FM and FE models) had 475cc power units while the automatic TRX500FA had a larger 499cc engine, but now all three machines share the same 475cc fuel-injected and liquid-cooled power units.The 5-speed manual transmissions are retained, with foot or push-button shifting, but the infinitely variable hydrostatic unit of the automatic model has been replaced by a dual-clutch mechanical drive system, which changes gear ratio automatically, and which shifts the power between two sets of shafts providing continuous power delivery and a smooth change even under load.The clever system quickly works out how the ATV is being ridden and adjusts the speed of the change to match the riding style, and it can also determine the riding conditions, to provide effective engine braking when needed.As on the previous automatic model, the operator selects high or low range using a hand lever to the left of the fuel tank, and there is a good cross-over of ratios between the five automatic gears, which means the range lever can usually be left alone once the range appropriate to the task is selected.The rider can also choose between manual and automatic shifting; using ‘up and down’ buttons by the left handgrip to shift through the gears in the ESP manual mode. “The previous hydrostatic system was very efficient in terms of power delivery and performance but the new transmission is even better,” explained Honda commercial planning manager Chris Hebditch, “and contributes to fuel savings of more than 12 per cent compared to the earlier model.”Suspension
The previous swing-arm mounted rear axle is retained on the latest push-button electric shift models but independent rear suspension is now an option on the foot-shift, and standard on automatic versions.Independent rear suspension is new for the TRX500 range, and is standard on FA automatic models and an option on FM foot-shift machines.Developments to improve suspension performance together with the demand for an improved ride and maximum grip has persuaded Honda to move to the independent system, which allows all four wheels to follow ground contours precisely, maximising the tyres’ contact with the ground, and providing improved ground clearance. The new suspension is adjustable, to suit load and operating conditions, and there is up to 215mm of travel at the front and 185mm at the rear.Rider comfort
Additional improvements for the rider include a thicker seat, up by 50mm to 136mm on the new FM5 and FA5&6 models and thicker handlebar grips, offering more comfort and grip. Electric power steering is available as an option on the TRX500FA auto model.A welcome change is the loss of Honda’s traditional brake lever-mounted red button, used to allow reverse to be selected. For those with smaller hands this often meant both hands were needed, one to push the button and the other to pull on the rear brake, but now the parking brake lever is pushed forward to engage the parking brake and pulled back to engage reverse, both of which are easily done using one hand.Load carrying
New racks front and rear have built-in tie down points for securing loads and the combination of the new suspension and stronger frames have contributed to increased load capacity; 45kgs on the front and 85 at the rear, up from 30 and 60kgs. A significant change is the rated towing capacity, up from 383 to 600kgs on the new models.New racks include reinforcing plates and handy tie-down points and the new instrument panel includes a clock, and rear diff-lock indicator as well as the usual functions. The old Honda red button reverse selector is replaced by a user-friendly dual-mode, parking brake/reverse selector on the left hand brake lever.To cope with high power demands, the alternator has been uprated, with an output of 470 watts on the FM and 547 watts on the FA. Brighter lighting is also provided, with a switchable top light of 50 watts and the two lower lights providing 35 watts.Test ride
There was ample opportunity to test the machines in the grounds of a large Gloucestershire estate, including traditional woodland, grass and mud tracks and on some very steep slopes. Equipment manufacturer, Logic had supplied a range of products for use with the new ATVs, including heavy trailers and loads to transport on the racks, allowing typical farm and shoot use to be simulated.For the operator, the ride improvement was significant and, at high speeds through the uneven woodland, the new system made the latest models very comfortable and improved their handling considerably.Honda senior area manager for ATV and marine, Neil Keeble, is delighted with the new models and commented that they will be welcomed by new and existing users.The TRX500FE, with push button shift, and swing arm suspension was available as a comparison and the better performance and comfort of the independent system was obvious – at lower speeds, it allowed fallen trees and shallow ditches to be ridden over easily, the generous travel available allowing all four wheels to maintain grip.The new automatic transmission was excellent and, even when riding aggressively, the changes could be felt and heard as the engine note changed, but were never jerky. Riding normally, the only indication the rider had that the gears had changed was when the engine speed altered to compensate and drive was never lost as gear ratios were swapped.When extra power is demanded, there is a kick-down feature which automatically jumps down one or more gears to provide the acceleration. One of the most impressive characteristics was the controlled hill descent, even in automatic mode.When descending a steep slope and on releasing the throttle, the ATV slowed down and changed to a lower gear to provide engine braking. For added reassurance the operator could select ESP (manual) and select a low gear manually but this wasn’t needed as the system seemed to work out what was required.The electric power steering provides plenty of ‘feel’ but helps prevent any kick-back when one front wheel encounters an obstruction, or suddenly gains grip, and it made riding the machines easier and less tiring over the several hours spent on them during the test day.For professional users riding the machines every day it is a worthwhile investment, at a 300 premium over the standard system.The new TRX500FA6 with automatic transmission handled the 600-litre water bowser well, on and off-road.There was an opportunity to try the new models with a heavily loaded log trailer as well as a water bowser, filled right to the new 500’s towing limit. The automatic transmission coped well, in high range on the paved roadways and in both low and high ranges off-road through the woods.Pulling hard the exhaust noise wasn’t excessive and the traction provided by the new tyres and suspension set-up was impressive, although pulling 600 litres up greasy grass slopes traction was always going to be the limiting factor.Verdict
Because the new 500’s auto transmission isn’t hydrostatic, it isn’t as smooth as that of the outgoing model, but it isn’t far off, and the control it provided, and the way it behaved in all situations we encountered, was excellent. The independent suspension has been designed to cope equally well whether the ATV is loaded or towing, or just carrying an operator, and any fears that it wouldn’t feel as stable as the previous swing-arm rear axle were quickly dispelled as it felt just as secure.There wasn’t the opportunity to test Honda’s claimed 12 per cent improvement in economy, but clearly that will be attractive to users, and will mean fewer journeys to the local petrol station to fill cans. The new TRX500FM5 is priced at 7,200 and the TRX500FA5 auto, with manual steering costs 7,490 and the TRX500FA6 auto, with power steering is 7,790.

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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