By Jon Crowley
Whenever a new sport UTV hits the market, I always think about the King of the Hammers race. In order to compete at KOH, you need a vehicle that can get through the rough desert fast, but also handle extremely technical rock trails. While not a turbocharged machine, the Talon 1000R can handle the rough desert well and I was super curious as to whether it could rock crawl as well.
There are three key features I look for in a UTV to see if it will be able to handle more extreme rock crawling:
- Front Locker Performance
- Low Range
- Maximum Tire Size
It is very difficult to know how well a vehicle is designed for the rocks from the press materials, and often still difficult to know after a normal media introduction. Vehicles are typically not designed with extreme rock crawling in mind. We are too small of a core buying group to matter much, but at the same time, all the manufacturers of sport UTVs dream of winning King of the Hammers….
I recently had the opportunity to test the all-new Honda Talon 1000X and 1000R in Utah at a media event (see Honda Talon Review for all the details). During our day testing the Talon 1000R at Sand Hollow State Park, I convinced Honda that they should let me try out the 1000R on a rock crawling trail called Double Sammy. I was thrilled when they said yes!
Double Sammy is a super fun trail that is short, but a fairly technical rock crawling trail. While not the most extreme at Sand Hollow, it would give me a better idea about how the Talon 1000R could perform in the rocks.
I was the only vehicle allowed on the trail, and Honda really didn’t want me to scratch or dent the Talon 1000R since they had more waves coming in following our group. So I didn’t have free reign to do anything I wanted. I also had limited time, and would not be able to try anything but stock tires and wheels.
The vehicle I was driving has 28-inch Maxxis tires mounted on 15-inch wheels. In my opinion, 30-inch is pretty much the smallest tire I would even run while rock crawling, so keep that in mind. Honda also had the tires set at 16PSI to keep flats to a minimum during the media rides.
The Talon 1000R has an automatic transmission with 6-speeds with the addition of low range. I was told that low range is 40% lower than high, and on the normal media ride, it felt a bit too tall for extreme rock crawling. Many of the manufacturers make low range too tall, and I was afraid the Talon was going to fall into that group as well.
The front differential on the Talon 1000R uses a system Honda calls I-4WD. When the system senses one wheel spinning, it automatically applies the brake in a pulsing mode to that side and pushes 4-times more power to the side that had traction. It is different than any other UTV, but Honda uses this technology for their on-road SUVs.
Another concern I had with the Talon is the rear suspension design. For the 1000R, Honda opted for a 4+ link suspension. Now this helps with geometry as the wheel travels through the stroke which is great for fast driving over very rough terrain, but I was concerned about how the main trailing arm mounted to the lower part of the knuckle. With it being that low, approach angle on the rear tire is reduced and can hit an obstacle before the tire.
I hit the trail as the sun started to drop lower in the horizon. I was a bit nervous heading into the trail by myself with a brand new vehicle that Honda was very fond of in the condition it was in. They really didn’t want me to damage it, and I was just crossing my fingers that I didn’t do anything stupid or get myself stuck. After all the rain the area has seen, it was tough to see where the trail went at times, and there were lots of puddles to makes things even more slippery.
And before you ask, we did not hit up The Chute. Honda decided that the risk/reward on this obstacle was not worth the risk of scratching a door or worse.
And the Talon 1000R I used did have a few Honda accessories on it including HMW arm guards and steel nerf/rock sliders plus half windshield.
I was pleasantly surprised as how well the Talon made it through Double Sammy. As I said before, this isn’t the most extreme trail, but it did give me a much better idea how well the Talon could do in the rocks.
I breezed through the trail in quick order and barely even had to back up. While this may not seem like a big deal for people that hit this trail frequently in their modified UTVs, it is pretty impressive for a stock vehicle on 28-inch tires.
Front Locker – The front differential design on the Talon is new to UTVs so I was very interested to see how it would work in the rocks and this was evident fairly quick. Once one tire loses traction, you can feel the brakes pulsating through the floorboard. At first I thought it was the tire knobbies rubbing on the footwell but then we figured out it was Honda’s I-4WD transferring power to the tire with traction. This is all automatic and I prefer it that way as long as it works! While it felt strange to have the brakes pulsate, the Talon front differential did everything I asked of it on Double Sammy. Again, the I-4WD system does not fully lock the front differential, it is more like an automated limited slip type differential.
Low Range – The Talon comes with separate low and high range so coupled with their 6-speed transmission you actually end up with 12 forward gears. The separate high/low has a ratio of 1:1.4 and in my opinion Honda could have made that much lower since there are 6 total gears to choose from. I want low range to span from super slow speed technical rock crawling to about 30MPH tops. 53MPH top speed in low range is pretty silly.
With that being said, the Talon doesn’t have a CVT belt that can slip when asked to crawl over a large obstacle with a low range that is too tall. I found the engine RPM on the Talon was pretty low in the more technical situations, but this did not seem to affect my ability to creepy crawl over stuff. The Talon got me through everything without having to “cowboy” and that is super important in my opinion. I’d still like to see a lower geared low range, especially once larger tires are installed so it will be interesting to see if the aftermarket can come up with a solution.
Tires – I am not a fan of the stock tire and wheel choice on the Talon. I think the 1000R should have come with 30-inch tires and same wheels all around. For more extreme rock crawling, I prefer a 32-inch tire, and Honda engineers could not tell me whether they would fit. Unfortunately I didn’t have free reign to swap tires, so we will have to wait to see how larger tires work. That being said, I was very surprised that I wasn’t dragging the trailing arms and skid plate through the entire trail.
Visibility – Visibility out the front of the vehicle is pretty important when picking lines through the rocks. It is hard to know where to place your tires if you cannot see well. The seating position on the Talon is fairly upright which helps, but the hood is a bit higher than I’d like. This typically comes down to a styling choice by the manufacturer instead of pure function, and Honda has opted more for styling. While certainly not as bad as a Maverick X3, it is definitely not anywhere as good as a YXZ1000R.
Sway Bars – The Talon 1000R comes with a rear sway bar and nothing up front. I found the sway control in high speed situations to be very acceptable, and without a front sway bar, it gives you much more articulation in the rocks. While the trend of other sport UTVs has been front and rear sway bars, it is refreshing to see Honda handle this with just a rear. I typically like to drive in the rocks, then head to the desert so I don’t like to remove sway bars just for the rocks so this is an ideal scenario.
Would I race a Talon 1000R at King of the Hammers? Well, I am not quite sure about that. Need to investigate whether it can handle 32-inch tires first, and see how that affects speed in the desert as well. Being a naturally aspirated UTV, the Talon is a bit of an underdog in qualifying and in some sections of desert. But then again, we got 3rd place in 2017 in a NA RZR XP 1000 against a field of turbos so it isn’t completely out of the question. #ShocksMakeYouFast