First Ride – Impact Players

First Ride – Impact Players brand has a loyal following, much like sports teams.  Even the hard luck Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, enjoy a rabid fan base.  Despite supposed curses from goats and other unlikely prospects, they gleefully root for their team as if they were on a rollercoaster at Mardi-Gras, all the while hoping their famous circle-C logo will adorn the top of a World Series Ring.  It’s hard to be a lifelong fan waiting in limbo for a return to former glory though, and in that way Honda fans have a little bit in common with their perpetually optimistic, yet almost certainly misguided Cubs brethren. 

For the past decade or so, Honda fans have longed for a return of the Big Red Machine that delivered groundbreaking new models and trounced competitors with countless wins.  It was a heady time to be a Honda fan.  At some point along the way though, corporate inertia swung in a different direction and momentum was lost.  Since those glory days, Honda has shown occasional flashes of brilliance, but just like the Cubs, there have been long spells of ho-hum play.  With Honda’s newest models, however – the Pioneer 700 and Pioneer 700-4 – the game may have changed.  Consider the Pioneer models to be Honda’s two new rookie prospects.  They’re the best on the Honda team in more than a decade, and they’ll likely elevate the play of the entire

Utility Players

The new Pioneer 700 and  700-4 are designed to appeal to the majority of UTV buyers.  That is, the average hard working, and hard playing owner who likes to use their machine for work around the yard or farm during the week, then enjoy trail riding, camping, hunting, and just about any form of outdoor recreation on the weekend.  The new Pioneer models aren’t necessarily MVPs in any one area, but instead are ready for a little bit of everything.  Think of them as dependable utility players that can be counted on to make the big play or deliver a hit when needed most. 

Dependability is paramount for any utility player, and it’s a trait that was at the top of Honda’s list when they developed the new Pioneer models.  Rather than restyle the Big Red which enjoyed neither a long nor glorious career in the Honda lineup, the Pioneer brings impressive stats to Honda’s game

  • 2 inches more wheel travel than Big Red – 7.9 front & 9.1 rear
  • 1.2 inches added width
  • 8” front wheels for more precise steering
  • A very short 14.8 foot turning radius for a four-seat machine
  • Same length wheelbase (76.8) in either two or four seat configuration for maneuverability and the ability to clear trail obstacles without bottoming mid-chassis
  • Tube steel chassis
  • 2WD, 4WD, or 4WD with Differential Lock
  • 2” receiver hitch at the rear, 1500 pounds towing capacity
  • 1000 lb. capacity cargo box
  • A fully automatic, automotive style three speed transmission
  • A very reliable, 675cc four stroke engine with Electronic Fuel Injection

The steel tube chassis on the Pioneer is designed to be tough yet forgiving and it’s also an example of good old Honda ingenuity.  Both the two seat and the four seat version of the Pioneer share a common main chassis, but the rear sub frame bolts into place, allowing for the extra seating option.  The chassis load stats are impressive.  The Pioneer can handle 1000 pounds in the bed and tow another 1500 behind, thanks to the 2” receiver hitch.  We loaded the bed with every bit of sand we could shovel into it working on a ball field project and the Honda never whimpered.  Dual independent A-arms at each wheel keep the ride smooth, and five-way preload adjustable shocks are used at the rear.  The front shocks are non-adjustable and while they provide a smooth ride, it is also relatively easy to bottom them.  We would prefer a more progressive valving profile that would maintain the smooth ride but would stiffen up and resist bottoming midway through the shock stroke, and adjustability for all of the Pioneer’s shocks.

Brakes on the new Pioneer appear oversized, but Honda wanted to be sure they stop not only the Pioneer, but any load you are towing as well.  Our limited test ride around Honda’s Timmins, South Carolina proving grounds were no problem for the brakes, but it was when the box was fully loaded with sand that we really began to appreciate them.  After multiple, fully loaded (and then some) two-mile treks from sand pit to work site, the brakes never faded or hinted at a problem.  

When designing the new Pioneer, Honda wanted to maintain stability.  To achieve that goal, weight distribution was optimized between the front and rear axles, and the center of gravity was kept as low as possible for a stable ride even on off-camber terrain.  We tested the Pioneer on severe side hills and it never felt tippy or unstable, even when pulling a wheel far off the uneven terrain (Don’t try that at your riding area).  In aggressive cornering, the Pioneer will have limited body roll due to a slightly soft suspension and tire flex, but it is very controlled.  The Pioneer has the tools to play!

Power at the Plate

The new Pioneer uses a liquid cooled, EFI equipped, 675cc engine based heavily on the motor found in the Big Red and the Rincon ATV.  True to its utility player roots, it’s not going to put up numbers like a 900, but instead the Pioneer is designed to be a do-it-all performer that gets the job done all season long.  While almost every other Side x Side relies on a CVT belt system to drive the transmission, Honda uses a unique, automatic transmission very similar to the one in your truck.  The transmission uses a heavy duty torque convertor and three forward gears plus reverse, but the engine and transmission have one other very unique trick – adaptive learning.  What that means is the Pioneer monitors your driving habits, load data, and other factors and adjusts shift points accordingly for optimum power delivery.  This also helps with overall fuel consumption, especially when just out for a casual trail ride, again just like with your truck.  To help isolate any vibration and improve ride quality, the Pioneer engine is mounted on automotive style rubber mounts between the engine cases and the main chassis members.  Top speed is just under 45 mph where a rev limiter limits engine output.  The Pioneer doesn’t have the speed to grab extra bases, but it will crank out singles all season long.  

On our first test ride, the Pioneer responded well to throttle input.  Shifting into gear is super easy thanks to the dash mounted lever, and once engaged, the engine purrs quietly until you’re ready to roll.  A little throttle input gets the Pioneer moving quickly and shifts through the gears with a barely noticeable change.  Honda did an excellent job of calibrating shift points on the Pioneer transmission.  The engine revs out higher into the RPM range nicely before the shift to maintain an excellent torque curve.  Downshifts can sometimes be a little more abrupt, but overall we really like this transmission.  As for drive modes, the Pioneer offers 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with mechanical differential lock and a handy, dash mounted lever makes the switch easy.

We’re also sticklers for maintenance, and Honda designed the air intake system with a large, dual density foam filter right under the cargo bed.  Not unlike some aircraft engines, the shape of the intake system was also designed to pre-filter contaminants out of the system long before they contact the filter, helping to extend filter maintenance intervals.  The 40mm EFI throttle body is directly connected to the air box as well for quick throttle response.  An oil fill neck and dip stick are located directly under the driver’s seat, and a cartridge style oil filter is easily accessed under the passenger’s seat.       

A New Look

We really like the solid, edgy styling on the new Pioneer 700 and 700-4.  Strong styling lines flow from nose to tailgate, giving a nice, compete package look and we know the Honda plastic is highly durable.  The most unique feature, though, is the extra set of rear seats on the 700-4.  It’s a creative solution to hauling an extra passenger or two and unlike anything

The rear seats on the Pioneer 700-4 can be flipped up and down in seconds and the seat backs are spring loaded to make the job a little easier.  An added benefit of the spring pressure is fewer tendencies to bounce or rattle around with no weight in the bed, or without a passenger back against it.  Honda also took care to prevent dust from circulating up into the cab as well and a rubber seal fills the gap between the bed and front seat backs.  Riders in the rear seats are protected the same as passengers in the front, with a full roll cage, side nets, and reliable seat belts.  

The front section of the Pioneer features a stylish dash with a left hand parking brake, a digital instrument cluster in front of the wheel, and both the gear shift lever and 2wd/4wd/Diff lock lever in the center of the dash, along with a 12 volt accessory outlet.  The digital display appears to be the same as used on the Rincon ATV and it reads well, but it seems a little small on the Pioneer 700.  A glove box provides quick storage and you had better make the most of it because it’s the only storage on the Pioneer, other than the cargo bed.  Bench seating for two is used and the seat areas are sculpted to hold passengers in place along with three point seat belts.  The most recognizable safety feature, however, is the side nets.

Honda went with side nets that close in the entire side of the door opening.  The nets are made of a tight, nylon weave that looks every bit like it may have been inspired by a Las Vegas showgirl’s working uniform, but when completely fastened into place, the safety factor probably shoots up by a magnitude of 10.  Unfortunately, they are distracting to look through and a little inconvenient.  No doubt the nets were designed after mandate from the legal department, and we expect most owners to roll them up or remove them completely.  We do really like Honda’s half doors, though, which close and latch nicely, and open almost 180 degrees for easy access in both the front and rear of the Pioneer.  Great job with the doors! 

At the rear of the Pioneer is a handy cargo bed (1000lbs capacity) that quickly transforms the Pioneer-4 from multi passenger platform to mini-pickup.  The bed can be dumped to help unload anything inside, unless the cargo is passengers.  With the rear seats deployed, the bed is prevented from dumping.  Overall fit and finish on the new Pioneer is typical Honda: world class.

Game Time

Honda’s newest rookies promised to be solid players and we were anxious to get them in the field and see what they could do.  The Pioneer’s easy opening doors give plenty of clearance but finding our way through the safety nets made us feel a little like a salmon being hauled into the boat.  With all the nets in place, we twisted the key and the engine sprang to life.  The Pioneer does not offer an adjustable steering wheel, but the angle is comfortable.

It didn’t take long to discover the Honda runs smoothly.  The engine pulls nicely and the Pioneer picks up speed quickly until it reaches its rev limit.  Handling is typical Honda with steering that is quick, precise, and predictable, and despite being a four seat machine, it carves through tight trails easily.  It will effortlessly outmaneuver any other four-seat machine thanks to its short chassis.  A big part of the Pioneer’s handling comes from the weight.  Both of the new Pioneers weigh much less than the portly Big Red.  The standard Pioneer 700 tips the scales at 1261 pounds, while the 700-4 runs 1396.  One feature the Pioneer does not come equipped with is Electronic Power Steering, but thanks to excellent front end design, the Pioneer steers easily.  It doesn’t need EPS and we never missed it.  In fact, we actually prefer it without power steering since it gives a better feel of the terrain.   

The Pioneer suspension did a good job of soaking up most bumps on the trail, but it doesn’t take a lot to bottom the front end, especially on rougher trails or during aggressive driving.  Rear suspension action is a little firmer, but it has to be, considering it must also account for a fully loaded cargo box.  We were also happy to find that regardless of how fast or hard we pushed it, the Pioneer had no squeaks, rattles, or extra cab noise.

Riding in the back seat of the Pioneer 700-4 is a unique experience.  At first glance, it looks a little cramped, but it wasn’t bad, even for two 6’ guys.  When underway it’s a little like riding in the back of the bus and a little more bouncy than the front seats since you’re sitting over the rear axle, but it’s a blast.  We liked it!  You’re also well protected by an overhead roll cage, but the tubes can interfere when shoveling material into or out of the bed.  Overall though, the folding rear seats are a very cool feature.  Once again, the two rookies came through!           

The Contenders

Whether you’re building a championship winning team or a new product, a strong development program is key.  Successful teams cultivate their development program to produce players that fit perfectly in their system, and that make the entire team stronger.  Honda wisely chose to let their development team in the U.S. develop and built the new Pioneer 700 and Pioneer 700-4 for the North American market and they’ve done an excellent job.  The two new rookies on the Honda team promise to be competitive and get Honda back in the game.

November 4, 2013

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