For 2014, Honda has revised its Rancher utility quad with a host of refinements that make one of the best-selling utility quads even better. How much better is it? What exactly did Honda do besides update the plastics and graphics? Let’s find out…
Again, we ask the question: What’s new? The easy answer is: pretty much everything. Honda started with a clean sheet of design ingenuity that builds from the previous Rancher’s successes. Starting from the top (or bottom, however you want to think of it…), Honda designed an entirely new frame, one that went through several critical developments to give the rider the ultimate in handling prowess. From there, Honda redesigned the suspension, giving it an increase in travel to 6.7 inches. Big Red also included preload-adjustable shocks all the way around the quad.
Providing the link from shock to tires is a new rear swingarm setup that incorporates an enclosed-axle design. This new development allowed Honda engineers to provide increased stiffness for the non-IRS model, as well as ensure that the Rancher maintains its notoriety of being an extremely reliable and capable quad. Mounting the new swingarm to the frame are improved rubber bushings, promising increased durability longer because of their increased stiffness.
Other refinements include new bodywork and an increase in seat foam. The bodywork extends all the way down to the floorboards to improve mud protection. For the high-end Rancher models, there is a new EPS (Electronic Power Steering) system to be had as well as several different transmission options that will get your heart racing! As a note, we did not ride the IRS-equipped Rancher because that model was not new for the 2014 model year.
To put the new Ranchers in perspective, the new lineup reminds us of a car lineup that includes model differentiation for every buyer and budget. From the base model that includes a no-frills manual transmission (with an auto clutch), 2-wheel drive, and basic instrumentation all the way up to the full power-steering equipped, automatic shifting, 4×4 Rancher that molds all-day ride-ability with comfort, Honda’s 400-class utility quad can be set up to fit almost anyone’s needs.
Honda designed an entirely new frame for 2014, to give the rider more handling prowess.
The 2014 Honda Rancher’s suspension was redesigned as well, giving it an increase in travel to 6.7 inches. Big Red also included preload-adjustable shocks all the way around the quad.
Providing the link from shock to tires is a new rear swingarm setup that incorporates an enclosed axel design.
Honda’s Powersports and automotive R&D teams share their information to develop the nw high-tech components on the Rancher line. This partnership, along with all of the product testing at Honda’s R&D facilities, gives engineers and designer all the tools necessary to improve vehicles.
For our first ride, Honda took us to its own test track, which is adjacent to the company’s automotive testing facilities in Columbus, Ohio. After I picked up my jaw from seeing the sheer size of the test facilities, I was impressed to find that the proving grounds we were riding included a lot of varying terrain, including tight trails in the woods, water crossings, rock climbs, and wide-open straits that allowed us to open the Rancher up a little.
Honda Rancher ES
After checking out the grounds, we decided to start out riding the ES model. While the ES version does not include power steering, it does have the Electric Shift transmission with handlebar-mounted buttons for shifting. Included with the ES model is the upgraded digital display, which shows the rider several readings including fuel level, odometer, coolant temperature, clock and a new “maintenance minder” that keeps the owner updated on when the machine is due for service.
Upon startup, you immediately notice how the EFI-equipped, 420cc liquid-cooled engine fires to life without hesitation. Throughout the R&D tour, Honda told us that they worked very hard to reduce vibrations and give the Rancher a more solid feel for riders. Once sitting on the Rancher, you find yourself thanking Honda for all of that time spent refining the frame-engine characteristics, and the smooth-idle of the engine proves this point. The engine revs smooth off of idle and it has a nice, subtle exhaust note. It’s definitely not a race quad, but it isn’t meant to be one.
Engaging the transmission was as easy as pushing the “up” button. While there was a slight forward jerk upon engagement, the Rancher was otherwise smooth upon takeoff. Upshifts were solid and downshifts were just a click away as well. Leaving the Rancher in a lower gear allows the rider freedom from constantly relying on the brakes to slow down.
Speaking of brakes, the Rancher’s new single-sided rear brake is sealed and more out of the way when compared to previous models. Stopping power was great for this 611 pound quad (weight varies between the different models from 573 to 639 pounds), but we felt like the rear brake lever was a tad spongy and the front brake lever was a little too far of a reach for aggressive riding. More seat time aboard the machines could alleviate these quibbles.
Also, reverse gear is simple and easy to use on the standard Rancher, but on the ES and other automatic shifting models we felt like the reach from pulling in the left lever to putting your thumb on the downshift knob was far. Taking into account that I have a taller frame at 6’3” and long fingers, people who have smaller fingers might find it difficult to actuate reverse on a consistent basis. The non-existence of power steering on this model wasn’t an issue for us most of the time. Steering is easy at slow speeds and it’s only when the quad is in 4wd or when it hits larger bumps, ruts, and rocks that you notice it gets jerky on you. More on that in a second…
Honda Rancher Automatic DCT EPS
Next up, we rode the Rancher Automatic DCT EPS. We dubbed this one the “fully loaded” model. When we say that this utility quad has it all, we definitely mean it has it ALL! From power steering and a full digital instrument cluster to the fully automatic, dual-clutch transmission, this Rancher sets a new standard for “luxury” riding. And, yes, you did read that right… This Rancher has a dual clutch transmission! We’re talking supercar status here… Well, not quite supercar status, but you might feel like you’re riding a “super quad” in some situations.
Like the ES model, startup is quick and easy and riders enjoy the same creature comforts such as a comfy seat and floorboards. Immediately we noticed the position selector above the thumb throttle. The rider can either have the switch in the fully automatic transmission shift mode, or you can select the manual, Electronic Shift mode just like the one found on the ES model.
Engagement of the transmission is the same, but this time a press of the “up” button on the left side handlebar as well as selecting “automatic” above the thumb throttle puts the Rancher into fully-automatic “Drive” mode, just like your car.
If you’re looking for a quad to enjoy lazy or spirited rides on, then look no further than this Rancher. Our day on the trail turned into a cruise-fest aboard this DCT-equipped Rancher. With automatic, smooth shifts coupled with power steering and all-day comfort, you can’t beat the simple operation and the do-everything-for-you spirit of this utility quad. While the automatic did hold its shifts to an extent, the auto tranny seems more geared for the riders who aren’t going to try that spirited way through the woods. For most, that’s totally fine. And for the others who like to drive the Rancher hard through the most fun trail you can find, just flip the switch for manual shifting and start pressing away at the buttons. That change alone will make the ride more spirited than with the full-auto mode.
In our humble opinion, the biggest advantage to the “fully loaded” model has to be the addition of EPS. While you don’t notice it so much at slower speeds, the power steering provides the best feel when riding through ruts, over logs, and through varying terrain. Jerking of the steering is non-existent with EPS, and you can literally take the terrain full-bore without worrying about having the handlebars ripped out of your hands if a rock or tree stump surprises you out of nowhere.
While we didn’t get a chance to load up the front storage racks on the Rancher, we imagine that slow speed maneuvering would also be aided with the power steering on this unit with a load. In case you are wondering, the front carrier can hold 66 pounds of gear and the rear is able to withstand 133 pounds of your favorite traveling items. To go along with the front and rear carriers, Honda offers a host of accessories that owners can buy to trick out their Ranchers. And, just so everyone is aware, the Rancher still comes equipped with an integrated trailer ball mount just in case you use your quad as a tow vehicle.
Another aspect we loved about the fully loaded Rancher was the combination of EPS and 4-wheel drive. When 4wd was engaged on the ES model, I felt like steering effort was noticeably more difficult and harder to modulate when going over rough terrain. This was not so when EPS was included with 4wd. This combo provided great feedback, awesome traction, and I didn’t feel like the quad was trying to “pull” my hands off the handlebars when traversing up hills and through tight, wooded sections.
Last but not least, we rode the base model Rancher. As you can imagine, this 2-wheel drive variation does not include any of the creature comforts or added features as the models listed above (no EPS, 4wd, Electronic Shift transmission, or digital instrument cluster). While lacking these features sounds like a big disadvantage, we actually thought that the base model offers the biggest bang for the buck. Starting at just $5199, this Rancher is all you need if you’re only using your utility quad for around-the-house chores, daily work activities, or for trail rides. It still includes all of the standard improvements that Honda made to the chassis and overall Rancher line, it just doesn’t include any of the “foofy” extra stuff.
The new Rancher is starting to show up on dealer floors now. Prices start at $5199 and go up from there depending on the model that suits your needs. Riders in the market for a utility quad that has a do-it-all mentality should include the new 2014 Honda Rancher as a “must see” machine.