I was less than 100 yards into the RockHouse loop of the world famous Hatfield-McCoy system and I already knew it was going to be a great day. Light overnight rain had erased any dust and a few low areas of the trail even held small pools of water to splash through. Early fall in the mountains of West Virginia meant the leaves were just beginning to turn, but the temperature was also cool and it was a perfect day for riding. Today I would be testing Honda’s new FourTrax Foreman Rubicon 4x4. In every way I felt right at home.
A New Rubicon
Honda has a knack for crafting the ergonomics of their utility ATV lineup so they all feel incredibly familiar. Climb from a Rancher, to a Foreman, to a Rubicon, or a Rincon and despite differences in size, they feel very much the same. That’s a good thing! Honda is obsessed with the details on every machine they make, and it wouldn’t surprise us if half the staff had been clinically diagnosed with the condition. When it comes to ergonomics and control layout, they’re especially concerned about a perfect ratio from seat, to handlebars, to foot pegs, and the result is a lineup of machines that feel incredibly natural. Reach for the controls on any of their utility machines and they are exactly where they should be. Part of the reason Honda machines feel so familiar though is they do not make huge changes from year to year. In fact, ergonomic changes are done over time, sometimes seemingly at glacial speed, but always in small increments.
Honda wasn’t messing around with changes to the rest of the 2015 Foreman Rubicon 4x4; it’s basically an all-new machine. Everything from the tires to the grips was reworked to bring the Rubicon performance up to a level where it had never been before. A big part of that was through the change to Independent Rear Suspension. Research and market data pointed to an interesting phenomenon in utility ATV sales - most buyers preferred a mid-sized machine in the 500cc range, and they preferred the smooth ride of IRS. That gave Honda the roadmap of where they needed to be, but getting there would not be quick or easy. Switching to IRS basically requires an all-new chassis and the changes expand in a domino effect from there. The result is an entirely different machine.
The new chassis for the Foreman Rubicon 4x4 is stronger and more rigid, but on the trail that creates a more precise feel. Honda was able to increase the wheel travel on both the front and rear end, with 7.3 inches up front and 8.5 in the rear, but more importantly they were also able to increase ground clearance thanks to the new IRS system. Now the Rubicon comes with 9.5 inches of ground clearance which we find sufficient for clearing most trail obstacles. If you snag something, now it’s your fault! Dual A-arms are used at both ends, with dual disc brakes up front, and a large center mounted disc brake at the rear. Preload adjustable shocks are used at both ends as well. The initial shock setting was slightly soft for our liking, but bumping them all up by one notch made a noticeable difference
West Virginia Trail Ride
The trails on all of the Hatfield-McCoy loops share one common feature: they wind up, down and around the mountains. That means you’ll get lots of steering, and nearly equal amounts of braking and acceleration. The trail will often follow an old logging or mining route, but most of the trails are dedicated paths cut exclusively to be part of the system. Switchbacks are common, and we really enjoy challenging ourselves and any machine we ride on the Hatfield-McCoy system. You had better be prepared for action, however, because small water dams designed to prevent erosion cross the trail on a very regular basis and if you’re not careful they can kick your back end sky high. Since you’re winding your way around a mountain, many of the corners are also blind, and blowing through a corner will send you over the edge where you would almost certainly cartwheel yourself to the bottom. Needless to say, it would be the end of your day, and possibly all of your days.
There are plenty of bigger, more powerful machines than the Honda, and we’ve tried many of them on these trails. But as a package, the Foreman Rubicon 4x4 works extremely well. It just does nothing wrong! It handles the bumps and jumps along the trail effortlessly, with no negative feedback to the rider. It’s got the space to let you move around and shift your body as needed, but it still has a low enough center of gravity it doesn’t show any body roll even in the tightest corners unlike many of the larger, more powerful machines. Once again, it just feels natural.
Climbing to the top of the West Virginia Mountains can eat up a lot of power, but the Rubicon does not disappoint. A 475cc liquid cooled, EFI equipped engine powers all Rubicon models, and fuel injection insures they run crisp at any elevation and temperature (Honda calls it PFI for Programmed fuel injection). One of the major differences between the six different Rubicon models, though, is the transmission. While base units get an auto-clutch and a super reliable, foot operated manual transmission, three Rubicon models come with Honda’s dual-clutch (DCT) transmission. This is the same type of clutch setup as in the Rancher, which also carries the adaptive learning Cruise or Sport mode that monitors the way you drive and makes adjustments according. In reality, it changes the shift timing, delaying it and raising RPMs between shifts for a sporty ride, or shifting lower in the RPM range for Cruise mode, which gives an easier ride and extended fuel mileage.
Riding the Rubicon with the DCT transmission surely makes it an easy, relaxed ride and you can let it do all the work in fully automatic mode, or you can shift it yourself with the thumb activated Electronic Shift Program. Shifts are extremely smooth and an extra low gear will be useful for heavy towing. However, we never used low gear on the trail other than to try it. In fact, we actually prefer the auto clutch and manual transmission model. The reason we prefer the manual shift model is that it makes the ride a little more sporty and interactive. It’s fun, at least to us, but it really comes down to personal preference. Either way you can’t go wrong. Two things every rider loved, though, are the Electronic Power Steering, and the new bodywork.
With the new chassis also comes new, more aggressive looking bodywork, but besides looking great, it is also built to perform. We expected to come back a little wet and muddy, but despite blasting over or plowing through standing water or flinging loose mud, we were amazed at how well the new bodywork protects the rider. You’ll have to really try to get wet and muddy on this machine. The new bodywork does an amazing job of protecting the rider. We also like how the side panels can be removed to expose the engine for easier maintenance tasks and thorough cleanup. When perched on top of the thick, well-padded seat, the Rubicon feels comfortable. Once again, Honda has nailed the ergonomics. Honda also still offers an aggressive foot peg on their utility machines just above a protective floor board. We applaud Honda for still offering an excellent peg. It allows your foot to pivot as needed when your body position changes. It’s also much better for anchoring your feet when the floor boards become caked in mud, snow, or ice. Honda also gave the Rubicon 4x4 a center headlight pod which is extremely handy at night. It turns with the bars to light up whichever direction you are going.
Turning the bars has never been better on the Foreman Rubicon 4x4. EPS mapping was refined, and the steering motor box got a new mounting system which has less flex than last year for a more consistent, precise feel. We think the Rubicon EPS system provides just enough feedback to make all day trail rides a breeze, but it does not take away feel of the terrain. We like it! A big part of the feel comes from the tires and wheels. A new Maxxis tire with an aggressive tread pattern means more traction in the snow, mud, or sand, while an improved sidewall helps create a better ride. We did manage to bend a wheel on our ride, but that was the result of clipping one of Hatfield-McCoy’s infamous rocks. After all, it’s called the RockHouse Trail for a reason!
A New Old Friend
Less than 100 yards remained of the RockHouse Trail and my first ride on the 2015 FourTrax Foreman Rubicon. In the distance the Honda semi was tucked against the base of the mountain, but I wasn’t yet ready to park my Rubicon in front of it and pack away my gear. On the trail the Rubicon was as good as any Honda I had ridden in the past, with enough power to get the job done, very predictable handling, well designed features, and ergonomics that were comfortable, and as seemingly familiar and responsive to my input as my baseball glove. It was almost like the 2015 Rubicon was the mechanical version of an old friend. Even after an entire day on the trail, I couldn’t help but think it was over far too soon. I was right; it was a great day.
Highlights of the 2015 FourTrax Foreman Rubicon are:
Honda 500-class engine tuned for torque with a broad powerband
Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) for improved throttle response, smooth power delivery, extended fuel economy, and easy starts
TraxLok system offers 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with locking front differential. Speed Override mode can be engaged when the front differential is locked.
DCT fully automatic transmission can be used in fully automatic mode, or with push-button manual control via Honda’s Electric Shift Program (ESP®). Dual shift-mapping automatically selects between two transmission shifting modes - Cruise or Sport - depending on rider’s pattern of throttle operation.
New double-cradle steel frame features increased stiffness and better torsional rigidity
New reverse and parking brake lever for more convenience
Increased towing and load carrying capability. 99 pounds on front rack, 187 pounds at rear, 1322 pounds towing
Aggressive styling with integrated front bumpers and winch mount. Better splash protection
More rider space, thicker seat, new digital instrument cluster, and easy to read controls
Next generation Maxxis tires with a more aggressive tread pattern and a new carcass for improved ride
Deluxe models equipped with aluminum wheels, special red-painted suspension components, and special decals
- Assembled in Timmonsville, South Carolina
|Engine||475cc liquid-cooled OHV longitudinally mounted single-cylinder four-stroke with EFI – 36mm Throttle Body - Electric start with optional auxiliary recoil|
|Transmission||Manual Five Speed with Reverse|
|Driveline||Direct front and rear driveshaft’s with TraxLok® and locking front differential|
|Suspension||Front Dual A-Arm; 7.3 inches travel, Rear Independent dual-arm; 8.5 inches travel|
|Brakes||Front Dual hydraulic 190mm discs, Rear Single hydraulic 170mm disc|
|Tires||Front 25 x 8-12, Rear 25 x 10-12|
|L x W x H||83.7 x 47.4 x 48.6 inches|
|Ground Clearance||9.5 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||3.9 gallons, including 1.3-gallon reserve|
|Curb Weight||677 pounds ready to ride|
|MSRP||$7,799 - Base Model|
|FOREMAN RUBICON 4X4 EPS||Red, Phantom Camo|
|FOREMAN RUBICON 4X4 EPS DELUXE||White|
|FOREMAN RUBICON 4X4 Automatic DCT||Red, Olive|
|FOREMAN RUBICON 4X4 Automatic DCT EPS||Red, Phantom Camo|
|FOREMAN RUBICON 4X4 Automatic DCT EPS DELUXE||Black|