Honda Pioneer Adventure Ride
By Josh Arnold, www.atvescape.com
When I hear the word pioneer, the first thing that comes to my mind is the American push West into the frontier, conquering the wild west and jumping off into unknown territories full of danger and mystique. So when Honda called extending an innovation to come to the Grand Canyon to test their new Pioneer side-by-side, I not only could not pass on such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but recognized how appropriate the location would be to test a Honda Pioneer. I would not be disappointed with either the adventure of riding in and around the Grand Canyon or with the time spent on the Honda Pioneer acquiring a clear picture as to what this side-by-side is all about. The day came to board a plane to Vegas and then a small plane (more like a kite with seats) in order to land on a dirt runway in the far North part of the Grand Canyon at the Bar 10 Ranch. Once we landed and stepped into the van to drive the long 3 minute trip to the Bar 10 lodge, the Honda Pioneers in which we would be experiencing our adventure came into view. Shortly after making ourselves at home in the Bar 10 lodge, we had a ranch style dinner and, by campfire, were regaled with the stories of how the area was settled by those willing to to risk life and limb for a piece of the West. Our group was told our adventure would start the next morning, and we were off to bed eager for what the following day would hold.
Hondas latest foray into the side-by-side market is a completely new machine. With the Big Red and its reluctant market response in the rear view mirror, Honda listened to both the market and what consumers wanted, added some Honda innovation and quality, and from that came the Honda Pioneer. Items on the Pioneer such as a fully independent suspension with more travel, a trail friendly width, creature comforts, a tried-and-true engine and hydraulic transmission combination, simplicity in design, a value price point, and of course Honda quality, all come together in the Pioneer. For those who dont know, Honda sells more ATVs than anybody else, and many of those ATVs are used for work first and play second. Honda has a massive customer-base who rely on their Hondas to get the job done, and the Pioneer has been designed to cater to those customers as well as the trail riders out there. Making it even more appealing, it is designed and built right here in the U.S.The next morning started with a hearty breakfast, a brief presentation about the Pioneer, and an overview of the full-days ride that lay ahead. Our group split up into pairs and picked our Pioneer steads for the days journey into the Wild West. My cohort and I chose a Pioneer 700-4, which has a innovative feature: having a cargo bed which can be folded into a third or fourth seat while maintaining a fully-capable dumping cargo bed. The Pioneer 700 has a cargo bed that doesnt convert to carry a third and fourth person. I took a moment to walk around the Pioneer to take in the machine. The look of the Pioneer is sharp and on par with other side-by-sides available on the market, having an aggressive and capable appearance to it. Of course when you see the Pioneer in its Honda Red color, there in no mistaking the fact this machine is a Honda. Stepping into the cab there is also no mistaking it is a Honda. The interior is a simple no frills utilitarian design which is easy to take in and use. All of the controls can easily be manipulated with work gloves on, and both the transmission and front differential are controlled with large-handled shifters. There is a two-person bench seat to carry both passengers with plenty of padding to make the journey comfortable. The interior is unmistakably a Honda.
With seat belts on and side-nets closed, the group started its engines and headed off to explore the Grand Canyon area in our Pioneers. I put the transmission into D for drive and noticed this transmission has only three positions: drive, neutral, and reverse. This is because the Pioneer uses a hydraulic transmission rather than a CVT transmission used in all the other side-by-sides out there. Think of it like the transmission in your car that has three forward gears and reverse. So, as we hit the trail, the engine wound up in first gear then shifted into second and then third as we cruised along. What a strange sensation in a side-by-side where it shifts and feels like a car. It took a while to get used to the Pioneers transmission shifting. The more I drove it as we slowed down and sped up, the more I was impressed with how it performed. The transmission shifted firmly and didnt seem to wander to find a gear. It was also impressive the way it would downshift quickly if I hit the brakes before descending a hill. The fact is, I didnt know how I would feel about a hydraulic transmission, but it performed well in the miles our group traveled over all kinds of terrain and at different speeds. The transmission also provided smooth engine braking throughout our entire ride as it was always engaged to the driveline.
Before long our group turned off a road big enough for a truck and onto a trail big enough and rough enough for ATVs and side-by-sides. We began to ascend a fairly rocky section with a switchback or two and a few gullies to cross. This is my favorite kind of riding that requires picking your line rather than just cruising along. Right away this brought two aspects of the Pioneer to light. The first was the power of the engine and the second was the suspension setup.
The engine on the Pioneer is the proven 675cc OHV single-cylinder with Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), which has been a Honda staple for years. The EFI allows it to breathe perfectly despite temperature or altitude. The engine offered up plenty of low end grunt to walk the Pioneer up the rocky trails with little effort, and I never thought to myself I needed more power to go up or over what lay ahead. Honda touts the engine as having smooth power, and I found that to be true throughout the ride. Step on the gas at lower speeds, and the Pioneer responds by pushing you forward with power. That, however, is where the power waivers. Once the Pioneer gets upwards of 20 MPH, the lack of power becomes apparent. It can cruise at 30 or 35, but after 20 or so the Pioneer will not be seeing bigger MPH numbers very quickly. My understanding is the Pioneer is limited to 40 MPH, but getting from 30 to 40 (the fastest I had it) took a LONG time on a flat road. The power is just not there at those higher speeds, which is not what the engine or the Pioneer in general is designed for anyway. For the exploring and trail riding, however, the Pioneer never left us wanting, offering ample power to take on the terrain.
The suspension setup on the Pioneer is more what you would expect for a side-by-side that likes to be driven on the trails and not just on the farm or job site. The Pioneer uses an independent double-wishbone setup in the front and rear with travel in the front at 7.9 inches and in the rear at 9.1 inches. Those travel numbers are in line with providing a comfortable ride along with off-road prowess. The rear shocks are preload adjustable to give comfort or cargo capacity while the front shocks are not adjustable. The suspension allows for 10.5 inches of ground clearance though it seemed like more. We found the ground clearance plenty to keep is from having to constantly worry about it on the rough stuff. The Pioneers suspension allowed us to crawl effortlessly over the rocks, ruts, dips, and washouts along the trail to some of the best views I have ever seen in my life. The suspension had no trouble keeping the wheels connected to the ground keeping us moving forward. So if you are looking for a capable side-by-side than the Pioneer fits the bill. What is interesting is, like the engine, the suspension on the Pioneer seems to be at home in the 10 to 15 MPH range cruising along on a relatively smooth trail. When going over the rougher stuff, you have to slow down or beat yourself up quite a bit. Bottoming out the front end takes very little effort even at slower speeds. I learned quickly to hit the brakes before going into a washout with too much momentum, and crawl through it. Since the front shocks are not adjustable, there is nothing you can do other than slow down. So what is clear is the fact the Pioneer suspension is set up to take trails and work around the ranch hauling things at slower speeds, and the stock shocks are not set up for the performance side of riding. Honda made it clear to our group that they built the Pioneer to a certain price point, and an upgraded shock would increase the price. An upgraded shock would benefit the Honda Pioneer substantially, and I would imagine that will be something Honda will make available in the near future.
The steering was remarkably light for a side-by-side of this size without electronic power steering, an option not available at this time. Honda engineers spent time making sure steering in the Pioneer would be effortless. I was impressed the steering was light even at a standstill, and it was nimble and crisp through everything we tackled. I always would rather have EPS than not, but the Pioneer makes it easy even without EPS. One other important item on any machine, would be the brakes. The brakes were very good, and had no trouble bringing the Pioneer to a stop very quickly. They kept us under perfect control when descending the steeper and rockier declines, offering up a secure feeling to all aboard.
Though our group didnt encounter any terrain requiring 4-wheel drive, I did decide to play with the system just to see. The Pioneer sports a 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with diff lock system found in many side-by-sides, and all of those selections are controlled with a shifter on the dashboard. Placing the Pioneer into 4WD didnt feel any different, but selecting 4WD with diff lock let you know the front wheels were pulling as the steering became noticeably heavy. There is no doubt the Pioneer has the goods to take you through the tough terrain with this 4-wheel drive setup.
Climbing to the top of the Grand Canyon through the rugged and incredibly beautiful wilderness in the Pioneer, offered up views no camera could capture. Soon, our group arrived at a place called Whitmore Point, which provided a perfect place to take a break. The vistas we took in no words could even begin to describe, and the vastness of the landscape was hard to wrap my mind around. I like and work at finding myself in the middle of nowhere, and this place was truly in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I was grateful just to be able to set foot in the area along with being blessed to be able to take this experience in. After some time taking it all in, our group headed back to our base camp at the Bar 10 to grab lunch before heading back out into the Grand Canyon itself.
Cruising along the trail offered up rock formations formed from a lava flow, which took on unbelievable shapes as they surrounded our group. I spent some time during this part of the trip forming an overall opinion of the interior of the Pioneer. It can be summed up as simple and functional. The seats were a simple bench setup for two people, but offered plenty of padding to help support your body over the bumps and ruts. The seat back had a surprising amount of lower back support, which may be because I am short. I felt the legroom and foot room seemed a little lacking, and I heard that from some of the other taller riders. It was impressive how Honda even thought to add nubs to the floorboards to help keep feet in there intended position. The glove box worked nicely, and all the controls were put where you would expect them to be. They were easy to use as well. The overall drive position is that of sitting high on the machine as opposed to in it, and that falls in line with side-by-sides in the work category. The doors were nice to have rather than nets running all the way down to the floor, and the doors worked well closing solidly giving an automotive-type door feel. Between the doors and nets the passenger feels safely tucked into the Pioneer. I have heard manufacturers tout having anti-cinch seat belts, but I suppose I had never missed having that until this trip. The Honda seat belts need to be anti-cinch. As the terrain became rougher, the seat belts would tighten more around me, to the point I thought I was being squeezed by an anaconda (slight exaggeration for dramatic affect). After a few hours of being both the driver and passenger, my shoulders hurt in the spots the shoulder belt hit me. This really made me want anti-cinch seat belts!
We arrived at spot where those willing to try could hike down to the river, and I decided to give it a go. We were told it would be about 30 minutes down and 45 minutes back up without killing yourself. I made it about halfway down and decided that was good enough, and by the time I managed to get back to the top, I wondered how anyone could hike that without killing themselves! The views and pictures from halfway down were well worth the effort, however. How many get the opportunity to hike to the river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Once the entire group got back together for the ride back, the Honda Pioneer seats were the most comfortable seats I have ever sat in! We hit the trail back to the Bar 10 lodge, where another incredible dinner was waiting along with rain and time to chat about the day.
Suited for the Ranch Life
Though I didnt spend any time hauling hay or ranch supplies down a fence line, there is no doubt the Pioneer is purposed for those tasks. In fact, everything points to the fact the Pioneer is purposed for the work side of a side-by-side over everything else. The payload rating for the cargo bed is 1000-pounds, and tilts to make unloading items easy. It also is made of a composite material, so rust will not be an issue. There are d-links in the bed for securing cargo, which is a must. The Pioneer also boasts a 1500-pound tow rating, and is outfitted with a 2-inch receiver hitch. If hauling a heavy load is required, you can increase the tension in the rear shocks to handle the added load. Add all of these things together, and Honda made sure the Pioneer lives up to the reputation and requirements agriculture customers expect from the Honda brand.The next morning, there was time to pack up, visit a while, then take the LONG 3 minute ride back to the airfield as our plane touched down to take us back into the world of mobile phones and deafening technology. As our group separated to go back to our homes, I had the opportunity to reflect on the adventure and the Honda Pioneer. I could not have been more grateful to the Honda Pioneer for taking me on an adventure of a lifetime having the opportunity to walk in places a minuscule number of people ever have the opportunity to tread. If you have an opportunity to go stay at the Bar 10 Ranch, then do it really. It is what I would call a bucket list trip. I will go back with my family at some point, and I will always remember those views I could not be more thankful to have seen! The Honda Pioneer took me in and around the Grand Canyon and back with no effort at all. That leaves an impression.
In reflecting on the Pioneer itself, the fact is clear Honda has a side-by-side platform in the Pioneer that it can build on as Honda enters all segments of the side-by-side market. Honda has made a statement with the Pioneer that it wants to offer a competitive choice in the market for all who want a side-by-side for work and for play. It is important to understand what the current Pioneer is and what it is not. The current Pioneer 700 and Pioneer 700-4 are work first and play second side-by-sides. Honda has catered its first Pioneer to its existing customer base of people who work with their Hondas, and then play with them also. The Pioneer fits this use perfectly in every respect. It will work around the ranch or job site with no complaints and with legendary Honda reliability. It will then load up in the truck or trailer, and hit the trails for a day of fun and exploration with a level of comfort and capability not seen in previous Honda side-by-sides. The Pioneer is without question as capable on the trail as it is on the job site, taking you where you want to go and returning you back to where you started. What it is not is a sport side-by-side or trail-riding-only machine. If that is what you are looking for, then you may want to look somewhere else. However, if you are wanting a side-by-side to do work with and then have fun with at a value price point of $9,999 for the 700 and $11,699 for the 700-4, then you need to consider the Honda Pioneer. I cant wait to see the ways in which the Pioneer will evolve, in order to play in the other side-by-side market segments. A big thanks to Honda for allowing me to experience an adventure of a lifetime, and for the opportunity to experience the Pioneer.
American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
P.O. Box 2200
Torrance, CA 90509-2200
American Honda Motor Co., Inc. is the sole distributor of Honda motorcycles, scooters, ATVs and personal watercraft in the U.S.