Not since Little House on the Prairie have we been so fond of a Pioneer family. The Pioneer 500, 700, and 1000 all have their unique uses but they share one very important feature; they’re all infused with a healthy dose of Honda DNA. Each is outstanding in their own way and recently we had an opportunity to ride all three and try out new features.
The PIONEER 500 – The Entry Level Pioneer
The Pioneer 500 is meant to be compact, versatile, and fun. Overall size is barely bigger than some ATVs, and it’s one of the lightest Side x Sides available. Best of all, its trail legal practically everywhere.
Settling into the cab of the Pioneer 500 you will find a comfy seat for two, adequate leg room, a center mounted digital display, the 4wd/2wd lever, and the ignition key. Half doors give extra protection and side curtain nets keep all your parts inside the cab, but they soon make you feel a little like a trout caught in a landing net. It’s underneath the skin that counts most, however.
Underneath the highly durable, perfectly finished bodywork of the Pioneer 500 is a strong, capable chassis with dual A-arms, preload adjustable shocks, and even a 1.25” receiver hitch. Power is provided by a 475cc engine but the transmission is unique. Honda engineers make no secret of their loathing for CVT belts and instead use an actual gearbox. That means shifting, and the Pioneer 500 became the first Side x Side to offer a paddle shifter! It’s fun to flip through the gears using just your fingers, and it’s the only test vehicle where we could hear riders laughing as they darted past.
Weaving through the trails and climbing huge hills reminded us of just how capable the Pioneer 500 is. Thanks to the paddle shifter you can always find the right gear to keep you climbing, and the narrow chassis made it easy to maneuver through tight corners. Honda wanted to make a couple upgrades to the latest generation Pioneer 500 though, and now riders can select a fully automatic mode for the transmission. Simply hit the throttle and go. The transmission will take care of all the shifting duties, but you can override it on the fly with the paddle shifter at any time. New dual rate springs provide better dampening and less tendency to bottom out. Both upgrades make a good machine even better!
HONDA PIONEER 500 QUICK SPECS
Engine: 475cc liquid-cooled, single cylinder OHV engine fed by EFI
Transmission: Electric-shift five-speed with reverse with Auto Clutch
Suspension: Independent double-wishbone with 5.9 inches travel front and rear
Brakes: Hydraulic discs at each end.
Tires: 24 x 8-12 Front, 24 x 10-12 Rear
Capacity: 1000 pounds towing, 450 pounds payload
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gallons, including 1.1-gallons reserve
Curb Weight*: 1010 pounds
The PIONEER 700 – The Overachiever
The Pioneer 700 and 700-4 are designed to appeal to the majority of UTV buyers. That is, the 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 outdoor activity on the weekend.
Both the two-seat and the four seat version of the Pioneer 700 share a common chassis and the most noticeable difference is the extra seating option on the 700-4. A comfortable bench seat, three point belts, half doors, and side window nets keep you safely inside. Besides the annoying nets, the Pioneer is comfortable, instrumentation and controls are perfectly placed, and it feels smooth and stable. Riding in the back two flip-up seats looks a little cramped at first, but it’s surprisingly comfortable, and a lot of fun. It’s a little bouncy like riding in the back of the bus since you’re sitting over the rear axle, but it’s a blast. Overall, the Pioneer 700 is typical Honda World Class design and manufacturing! That doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement though, and now there is a Pioneer 700 Deluxe, and Pioneer 700-4 Deluxe.
Deluxe models normally get a few simple upgrades such as fancy wheels and new graphics. The upgrades Honda gave the Deluxe 700 and 700-4 goes way beyond that, almost to the point of creating new models. The new Deluxe features include:
Electronic Power Steering
A new transmission that can be shifted manually, or driven in fully automatic mode.
Cast aluminum wheels
New front bumper, fascia and graphics
New passenger and driver torso bars for increased safety.
A liquid cooled, EFI equipped, 675cc engine powers all the Pioneer 700 models and the transmission is unique to Honda. On previous Pioneers you slipped the tranny into gear and put your foot down. With the new transmission on the Deluxe models you have options. Now you can switch the transmission from fully automatic mode to full manual mode with the flip of a switch on the dash. You can also override the system at any time by using the steering column mounted paddle shifter, which we did often to stay in the heart of the power band. It’s a very cool feature!
A little throttle input gets the Pioneer 700 Deluxe moving quickly. Electronic Power Steering definitely makes the ride a little easier with no negative feedback through the steering wheel, but the Pioneer 700 models without power steering always handled and steered very well too.
Even on rough trails with steep climbs and twisting switchbacks the Pioneer 700 feels extremely stable and controlled. It’s precise and predictable. The suspension keeps the ride smooth over most terrain but really large whoops can bottom the front end. Disc brakes are used at each wheel, and they never felt spongy or soft, regardless of the hill we were descending. They’ll stop the Pioneer and the 1500lbs you are towing, thanks to the 2” receiver hitch.
Overall, the upgrades found on the Pioneer 700 Deluxe and Pioneer 700-4 Deluxe makes a great machine even better. We like every version of the Pioneer 700!
HONDA PIONEER 700 and 700-4 Quick SPECS
Engine: 675cc liquid-cooled OHV single-cylinder four-stroke with PGM-FI Fuel injection
Transmission: Automotive style with torque converter, three forward gears and reverse. Three drive modes include 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with differential lock.
Suspension: Independent double wishbone, 7.9 inches travel FRONT, 9.1 inches REAR
Brakes: 200mm hydraulic disc front, 170mm hydraulic disc rear
Tires: 25x8-12 front, 25x10-12 rear
Towing Capacity: 1,500 pounds
Payload Capacity: 1,000 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 8.2 gallons, including 1.2-gallon reserve
MSRP: PIONEER 700: $ 10,499
PIONEER 700 Deluxe: $ 11,899
PIONEER 700-4: $ 12,099
PIONEER 700-4 Deluxe: $ 13,499
The PIONEER 1000 – Big Power & Big Features
The Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 are both outstanding machines. They’re powerful, comfortable, supremely capable on the trail or with a trailer behind, and they’re packed with some of Honda’s best technology, starting with the engine which is the largest they’ve ever built for off-road. Now there are two new models, the Pioneer 1000-5 Limited Edition (LE) and Pioneer 1000 Limited Edition.
All Pioneer 1000 models are equipped with a six-speed automatic, Dual Clutch Transmission, but those equipped with EPS also have a sport mode switch and manual paddle shifters. By putting the machine in Sport mode, shift points are raised to a higher RPM range, keeping you in the heart of the power band. At any time you can override the system with the paddle shifters, making it very fun to drive through twisty trails. Two new features found exclusively on the Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 Limited edition models are especially interesting. They are Hill-Start Assist, and I-4WD, and both start with the brakes.
Brake traction control monitors brake force distribution over all the wheels. With an electronic system monitoring braking forces, Honda was able to create Hill-Start Assist. What that does is momentarily hold the brake while you slide your foot over to the throttle, eliminating roll back on an incline.
I-4WD (Intelligent 4WD) also is a result of electronic brake control. When I-4WD detects one wheel spinning freely, the brakes to that wheel are applied, and force is transferred through a torque biasing limited slip differential to the opposite wheel, presumably with more traction.
A third major feature found on the Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 Limited edition models is much better shocks. FOX QS3 shocks provide very simple, easy to understand adjustment that provided immediate results. Just turn the top adjuster knob either firmer or softer and get back to the trail. It’s so fast you don’t even need to turn the engine off.
With three major new features and several smaller improvements we were eager to see how the Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 Limited edition models perform. As we settled into the slightly thicker seat everything felt comfortable, just as always. With a flip of the key the 1000cc engine sprung to life. We slipped the transmission into Fully Automatic mode and headed for the hills. As usual, we used the paddle shifter to override the standard shift points, giving us more control. Our first test was of the Hill-Start assist.
Hill-Start Assist isn’t activated every time you roll to a stop, but rather when you need it. To activate it you hit a switch on the dash when you have your foot on the brake, then move your foot to the throttle. It’s easy to use and works just as expected. I-4WD was next, and lots of uneven, off-camber sections and even a little mud provided the opportunity. Rather than have to turn on a locking differential, the I-4WD system basically does it automatically. When one wheel spins, the opposite claws for traction, and it would pull us through trouble spots with no hesitation. It’s another easy to use feature. Our favorite new feature is the FOX QS3 shocks. Adjustment on these shocks is incredibly easy and quickly noticeable. It allows you to make the suspension smoother for casual trail rides, or firm the suspension when fully loaded. We love it. Highlights of the Pioneer 1000 and 1000-5 Limited Edition models are:
Hill Start Assist
Electronic Brake Control
I-4WD intelligent differential system
Heavy Duty Front Bumper
FOX QS3 shocks
Six-speed automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) on all models. EPS equipped models also have a sport mode switch and manual paddle shifters.
Self-leveling rear suspension system on the five-person non-LE models for consistent vehicle height and handling.
Tilt Wheel on models with EPS
Illuminated dash switches
Extra Storage and cup holders
full aluminum skid plates and A-arm guards
Thicker seat foam
New Transmission memory function eliminates resetting the Manual, Automatic, Sport button after using reverse.
There is a lot to love about the Honda Pioneer family. They’re all great machines built to last and we had a blast spending time in the Pioneer 500 and 700, and learning the new features of the Pioneer 1000. Somewhere near a prairie town called Walnut Grove, as usual, Pa is teary eyed with joy.