Honda has updated its best-selling Fourtrax and Foreman ATVs, with additional features promising improved performance and greater practicality. David Williams tried them out.
More than half the new ATVs sold in the UK each year are Hondas, so it’s essential that any changes made to its best-selling models offer genuine improvements.
TRX420 Fourtrax models are particularly popular with hill and livestock farmers where their light weight and superb agility makes them ideal for shepherding and other livestock tasks. The larger TRX500 Foreman machines are capable of handling heavier loads with ease, including trailers up to 600kg and, although many sales are also to livestock farms, they are often chosen by arable farmers and gamekeepers.
The updated models result from the need to comply with increasingly stringent emissions regulations for off-road vehicles, and Honda head of Power Equipment Steve Morris commented that the company’s objective was not only to comply with latest requirements, but also to ensure previous high standards of reliability and efficiency were maintained or improved upon.
The line-up is as before – including 5 TRX420 models, all with longitudinally-mounted, liquid-cooled and fuel-injected, 420cc 4-stroke petrol engines. All have selectable 2/4wd, and there is a choice of transmissions; including foot- or thumb-operated manual, or a dual-clutch automatic with manual override.
The Foreman line-up is also as before including 4 models – but the main change is increased 518cc engine size (475cc previously) and a new TRX520 model designation. All have longitudinally-mounted, liquid-cooled and fuel injected petrol engines, selectable 2/4wd and a similar choice of transmissions to TRX420 models, except that the FA6 automatic also has high and low range selection.
Externally, one of the most noticeable changes are new load racks which are strengthened and have a flatter surface for improved load and attachment mounting. Paint quality is also improved. All models gain a handy water-resistant storage box within the upper section of the front rack.
Underneath, improved impact protection is provided for suspension arms, drive shafts and outboard CV joints by full-length guards. The CV boot protectors are improved, made from new material for increased durability.
The TRX520FA6 also gains a new front grille for improved radiator protection, and all TRX520 models have new decals.
Other updates improve ease of use and add convenience.
Models with automatic or push-button gear shifting gain the ability to select reverse gear from any forward gear or from neutral, in one movement. The new ‘forward/reverse skip switch’ is fully electronic and as well as making reverse selection easier it will appeal to operators whose use requires frequent direction changes such as yard scraping or mowing around trees, with faster operation. Holding the new red reverse selector switch on the left handlebar, then shifting down immediately selects reverse, by-passing intermediate gears if a higher forward ratio was previously selected. Pressing the up button once returns the transmission to neutral, and depressing it again selects first gear or Drive. A safety restriction prevents reverse selection if the machine is travelling faster than 3kph. The new reverse selector replaces the previous mechanical lever and cable-operated system.
For ES models, and auto models operating in manual shift mode, new shift map programming improves smoothness of gear changes. Previously the shift management system detected the riding style and adjusted the rate of gear and clutch engagement based on the engine speed just before the gear change. The latest version monitors the engine speed during the shift process for improved matching, resulting in smoother changes at all speeds and in all situations.
Automatic models also gain temporary manual override, even when automatic mode is selected. Previously the rider selected either electric shift programme (ESP) or auto modes. ESP allows the user to change gear manually using the up and down selector buttons on the handlebar. In ESP mode the gear selected is retained until the rider either selects a different ratio using the up or down buttons, or until the mode switch is used to select auto.
The new models allow riders to combine advantages of both modes; enjoying the convenience of full automatic gear changing, but able to swap to manual mode temporarily at any time, just by touching the up or down shift buttons. This is especially useful when approaching a steep slope as the rider can select a lower gear in advance, for maximum power or for maximum engine braking. If the shift button isn’t touched again for a short period then the system returns to auto mode, selecting a gear to match the speed and conditions. However, if the system detects that it is safer to retain manual mode, during a steep hill descent for example; then the selected low gear is retained until conditions ease.
Test drive proves benefits
A test drive of the new models also provided an opportunity to compare the TRX520 with its TRX500 predecessor. The off-road riding included steep wooded slopes and plenty of obstructions from deep ruts to tree stumps and fallen branches.
Shifting between forward gears was detectably smoother on the new models as the gear change adjusted to suit the engine speed, avoiding snatching as drive was taken up or sudden decreased speed while slowing down. In reality the time difference during shifts is minimal, but comfort on the new models is improved.
The biggest advantage over previous models was being able to use auto mode during demanding off-road riding knowing that if the situation required, then lower gears could be manually selected just by touching the thumb shift button. Previously the rider would have had to select ESP mode and then shift the gears. Riding in auto mode allows the rider to give full attention to the surroundings and terrain without the distraction of gear changing, but for steep hill descents being able to select a lower gear instantly if it is needed is reassuring. The Honda system works well – on the flat pressing the up or down buttons selects and retains gears until the operator selects the next higher or lower gear manually or, if no further button presses are detected then auto operation resumes. However, during long hill descents the low gear chosen for maximum engine braking is retained until the transmission detects it is no longer needed, and then returns to auto mode.
The new reverse selector works well and saves time during direction changes. Reverse is engaged as soon as the forward speed is low enough; drive take-up is progressive and the improved operation will appeal to all users.
Increasing the Foreman’s engine size from 475cc to 518cc has enabled Honda to meet the latest emissions regulations while also achieving a small increase in power and torque. “Our ATVs are used for all sorts of applications,” pointed out Honda ATV area sales manager for Northern England, Damian Butterworth, “but average operating speed for a utility ATV in the UK is approximately 10kph, so having machines designed to work reliably at low speeds in demanding conditions off-road and capable of moving heavy loads is the priority for professional users, rather than achieving high maximum speed.”
The test drive provided plenty of opportunity to try out the low speed torque available including crossing shallow ditches and negotiating fallen branches. Because Honda’s ATV engines are designed specifically for the application with plenty of low speed torque, the drive clutches fully engage at very low revs. This not only increases fuel efficiency and reduces operating noise, but it also improves control when operating in challenging terrain as very low travel speeds can be maintained.
New model prices start at £6,425 for the TRX420FM1, the TRX520FM2 costs £7,850 and the TRX520FA6 has a list price of £8,600.
When purchased through Honda’s authorised UK dealer network, the standard factory warranty is 2 years, and free of charge operator training is included through the industry’s EASI scheme.
Currently, purchasers of any of Honda’s range of new ATVs can also take advantage of a Datatool TrakKing Adventure anti-theft system free of charge, with only a monthly subscription to pay.
Honda’s launch event and test drive demonstrated the new features and benefits of the latest models, and particularly those with electric or automatic gear shift. Additional control in demanding situations and increased ease of use such as selecting reverse gear in one movement will appeal to users and offer genuine advantages in a work environment.
Most updates affect the larger Foreman 520 models, and with the new list price for the top TRX520FA6 representing an increase of only £270 over its predecessor, it will be the model of choice for current Honda Foreman owners and will also be attractive to current users of other brands.