Story by Thad Josey – Photography by Kevin Wing
Last year I wrote about a new release from Honda, a SxS named Pioneer 700 and Pioneer 700 4. I went into some great detail about my theory as to why Honda has taken such a conservative approach to power and performance over the years as a direct result from the 3-wheeler damage caused in the 1980’s. The exciting news that broke at the launch of Pioneer 700 and 700 4, Honda promised exciting things to come meaning the curse that began in the 1980’s might finally be broken or starting to break. Welcome to the beginnings of that promise in action with the release of Pioneer 500, although I might add is still a conservative intro into the sportier side of the market.
Introducing Pioneer 500
The Honda Pioneer 500 is somewhat of a new concept for the UTV market; it’s compact, narrow, has both sporty and utility characteristics, fits on tight trails, is low budget and easily loads into a full-size truck bed. It’s narrow at 50 inches wide, which means it thrives on tighter more technical style trails as well as being a great tool for getting hard work done on a ranch or work site; even around the house. It also sports a unique steering-wheel mounted paddle shifter which was a popular new feature among the various editors and testers. Some not so uncommon features were independent rear suspension and four-wheel drive. Unfortunately power steering was not an offering.
Pioneer 500 is powered by a single-cylinder, 475cc longitudinal engine. By orienting the crankshaft front to back in the chassis, Honda engineers route the flow of power straight to the wheels without any right-angle detours, reducing powertrain friction and putting more grunt to the ground. Pioneer 500 also uses a “closed loop” fuel-injection system which means it runs better in cold weather and high-altitudes, is effortless to startup, gets great fuel efficiency as well as less pollution.
First Drive Feedback
My first round of laps I decided to go as passenger and I’ll admit that I only ride with people I trust. From that perspective things always feel a bit more sketchy than from the drivers standpoint but that’s a common thought for me regardless of which brand or model I passenger in. Overall I think Honda did a pretty good job of building a quality machine with great safety features to protect and make the ride comfortable for passengers such as window netting that doesn’t require effort to secure, plenty of room and places to dig your feet in when the terrain becomes rough. To secure the window netting on both driver and passenger sides, simply close the door and the netting automatically is in place helping to keep all body limbs in place and inside the vehicle. As for the passenger hand hold bar, it’s a little lacking and slightly uncomfortable but certainly does the job.
After a few laps that steadily speed up in pace each lap on our test course I was finally relieved of my passenger duties and took control in the pilot seat. Immediately that previously mentioned sketchy feeling from the passenger seat I mentioned faded and the Pioneer 500’s ability of good control and handling on this tight technical wooded trail began to emerge. I thought at first I might struggle trying to keep in the proper gear while traversing up and down the winding trails as I’m just not familiar with this steering wheel mounted paddle shift system. But in all honesty it was very easy to use and felt very natural because of the large paddles to keep your hands from slipping or missing each needed shift. I actually found it to be a very welcomed new feature on a UTV.
Speaking of tight technical trails that wind in and out of endless trees, I believe this is where Pioneer 500 excels! It’s 50 inch wide footprint allows it to slip through the tight trails with ease and without worry of scrubbing tires and plastic. It’s fairly quick and extremely nimble navigating tight switchbacks. Of course it’s only a 475cc engine, but it’s a fun power with quick acceleration. The suspension worked as expected but had a tendency to bottom out easily in harsh terrains when I picked up the pace. Overall it did it’s job well.
Honda Pioneer 500 In A Nutshell
Honda’s new Pioneer 500 is a simple, fun, yet a good quality machine. As mentioned, it’s comfortable, performs pretty solidly, has some cool new innovative features such as the paddle shifter and window nets that require no effort to secure. It’s nimble and excels on tighter technical trails and is for sure made Honda tough. But I bet it’s best feature will end up being it’s lower budget price which starts at $8,499. In my opinion, this would be a great quality, no frills, low budget machine for those stepping into their first UTV purchase.
50″ Max – Honda Pioneer 500
2015 PIONEER 500 SPECIFICATIONS
- Engine Type 475cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
- Bore and Stroke 92mm x 71.5mm
- Induction Electronic fuel injection (PGM-FI) 36mm throttle body
- Ignition Full-transistorized type with electronic advance
- Compression Ratio 9.5:1
- Clutch Automatic
- Transmission Electric-shift, five-speed with Reverse
- Driveline Direct front and rear driveshafts
- Front Suspension Independent double-wishbone; 5.9 inches travel
- Rear Suspension Independent double-wishbone with preload adjustability; 5.9 inches travel
- Front Brake Dual hydraulic 190mm discs
- Rear Brake 200mm hydraulic disc
- Front Tire 24 x 8-12
- Rear Tire 24 x 10-12
- Length 102.5 inches
- Width 50 inches
- Height 72.4 inches
- Wheelbase 73.1 inches
- Turning Radius 12.8 feet
- Towing Capacity 1000 pounds
- Payload Capacity 450 pounds
- Curb Weight 1010 pounds
- Fuel Capacity 4.1 gallons, including 1.1-gallon reserve
- Ground Clearance 9.6 inches
- Colors Red, Olive, Yellow, Honda Phantom Camo
Honda Pioneer 500 with Accessories
About American Honda
American Honda Motor Co., Inc. was established in 1959 and is the sole distributor of Honda motorcycles, scooters, ATVs and side-by-sides in the U.S. The American Honda Motorcycle Division is responsible for the sales, marketing, and operational activities for these products through authorized Honda dealers. For more information on Honda products, go to www.powersports.honda.com