While watching the movie The Martian a few weeks ago, I found myself imagining myself in Matt Damon’s situation. Instead of pondering what I would eat and how I’d actually survive, I couldn’t get my brain past the idea of having the whole Martian planet to myself to negotiate on my ATV of choice. I’m certain I’d want a machine that was incredibly reliable, one that would be able to work hard, focused on efficiency, and would last for as long as it took for me to get rescued.
After spending a few months with the Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT, I think I’ve found my Martian wheels Now… how I plan to keep it fueled with gasoline hasn’t actually been worked out yet. I figure I can work out those details after eating myself into a potato-coma-fueled dream. Truth be told, I’ll likely have to rely on a solution from my buddy/ real botonist Dr. Chris Martine, who just so happened to name a plant he discovered in Australia (Solanum watneyi) after the book/film’s character Mark Watney (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-chris-martine/why-im-naming-a-new-plant_b_8190242.html). But, for now, here’s the scoop on what we’ve affectionately nicknamed The Jolly Rancher. The 2016 Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT ATV.
|Models starting at just $5,199|
|Available with EPS|
|Available with IRS|
|Available with DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission)|
|Available with ESP (Electric Shift Program)|
Powering the Rancher is a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 420cc single cylinder four-stroke engine. The engine is longitudinally mounted, keeping the front and rear driveshafts lined up perfectly with the differentials. This, in turn, makes for a more efficient design that gets a higher percentage of power to the actual wheels rather than losing it through an inefficient design. The fuel injection makes starts a cinch and the throttle response crisp. This engine has a reputation for being one of the most reliable on the planet, whether it be earth or Mars.
The transmission on my test machine was fitted with Honda’s excellent DCT(Dual Clutch Transmission) and ESP(Electric Shift Program). This particular transmission can either be shifted automatically in ESP mode via the on-board ECU at targeted shift points, or the pilot can use his left thumb to work the transmission manually. This transmission doesn’t have the “brrr—clunk, clunk, brrr” action and feel of most manual transmissions. Instead, the rider feels and hears “brrr—click—brrr”. In plain English, on upshifts, the automated gear selection is nearly immediate.
The DCT transmission features twin electro-hydraulic clutches, which Honda dubs the front and rear clutches. The front clutch handles first, third, and fifth gears, while the rear handles second, fourth, and reverse gears. The clutches are electro-hydraulically actuated simultaneously when upshifting or downshifting. What this really means is, when the rider selects first gear, the front clutch has first gear engaged and locked. At the same time that the front clutch has first gear engaged, second gear is “pre-staged” on the rear clutch, but it remains disengaged. When the rider upshifts to second, the front clutch disengages first gear as the rear clutch simultaneously and instantaneously locks second gear in place. At the same time the rear clutch is handling second, the disengaged front clutch replaces first gear with third gear. Third gear now sits in place, just waiting for the rider to access it.
From the saddle, this gives the rider nearly instantaneous upshifts. When down shifting, the shifts aren’t as quick or deliberate, which is done purposely to help reduce tire slippage. All of this “clutch talk” sounds complicated, but the design is ingenious, efficient, and actually fairly simple.
All Ranchers feature independent front suspension, with nearly seven inches of travel. The rear suspension on the FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT features a swingarm with a solid rear axle and a single shock. The benefit of the solid rear axle is that the Rancher handles corners like its on rails. The downside is, on really rocky, rooted, or bumpy terrain, the solid rear axle just isn’t as comfortable or smooth as their IRS version. With that said, the rear end is essentially indestructible. Our particular machine did not come equipped with EPS(Electric Power Steering). Steering effort is certainly still light, but not nearly as light as if it was equipped with EPS. For an extra $700, you can have the same model with EPS…which is exactly what I would want on Mars because those would actually be tax dollars well spent!
All Ranchers roll on 24” wheels wrapped with very nice Maxxis tires. Handling stopping duties on the FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT are dual hydraulic discs up front with a single cable-actuated mechanical drum in the rear.
Ergonomics/Fit and Finish:
Ergonomically, there isn’t much to dislike about the new Rancher. Even with a lanky 6”2” frame, I felt great on the Rancher. Due to its smaller stature, the Rancher gives the pilot the feeling of actually riding the machine, rather than the other way around. Everything is well within reach, gear actuation is fantastic with the thumb shifter, and the seat is very easy to move around on. About the only complaint I can badger Honda about is the very minimal amount of storage space in the rear trunk section. A bottle of water, a granola bar, and a rag to wipe my grungy face was about all we could stuff in there!
I caught up with my good buddy and six-time GNCC pro ATV national champion Chris Borich to help me put the Rancher through the wringer. We took turns swapping machines during our test session at Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (www.aoaatrails.com) located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal region and both left very impressed with the little Honda.
The engine has really good power and throttle response, thanks to its small stature and the efficient, albeit small engine. The DCT transmission is awesome, providing very crisp shifts that make the Rancher more of a “pocket-rocket” than you might imagine. The small size and nimble handling gave it the ability to carve the tightest, gnarliest trails we could find. Both Chris and I preferred to shift the DCT transmission with the thumb shifters rather than let it row the gears itself during our rather “spirited” trail-sesh. More aggressive trail riders will likely feel the same way. With that said, when I want to take a leisurely ride or use the Rancher to haul my ATV sprayer and utilize it to send thousands of invasive insects to their maker, I find myself letting the DCT make the decision on when to shift.
The mechanical four wheel drive system is simple and effective. When the lever is actuated, four wheel drive is immediately available, which came in handy on a few little off-camber excursions that would have left us winching a two wheel drive machine out.
The Rancher name was not chosen by mistake. According to some research by Honda some years ago, one of their biggest audiences are actual ranch owners who utilize the Rancher as ranch pack horses. Oddly enough, that demographic also oddly chose Hidden Valley Ranch dressing as their favorite condiment. (Editors note: Now he’s making stuff up!) It is not uncommon for some of these larger ranches to purchase a dozen or two Honda Ranchers at a time, then replace them cyclically every few years or so with…you guessed it…more Honda Ranchers. Basically, the ranch owners are looking for a machine that can get the job done effortlessly, efficiently and without any mechanical gremlins. The Honda Rancher line and the Fourtrax machines that came before them have a well-deserved track record of reliably operating in some of the harshest environments known to man. These are some of the same reasons the Rancher came to mind while watching The Martian. In closing, if Mark Watney were to give me a call (fingers crossed), I’d certainly recommend a Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT, or any other model of Rancher for that matter, as his Martian exploration vehicle of choice.
|Specifications:||2016 Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT ATV Review|
|Engine Type:||420cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected OHV wet-sump longitudinally mounted single-cylinder four-stroke|
|Bore & Stroke:||86.5mm x 71.5mm|
|Induction:||Keihin 33mm throttle-body fuel-injection system|
|Ignition:||Full-transistorized type with electronic advance|
|Starter:||Electric with optional auxiliary recoil|
|Transmission:||Automatic DCT with Reverse|
|Driveline:||Direct front and rear driveshafts with TraxLok and torque-sensitive front differential|
|Front Suspension:||Independent double-wishbone; 6.69 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Swingarm with single shock; 6.69 inches travel|
|Front Brake:||190mm Dual hydraulic disc|
|Rear Brake:||160mm Sealed mechanical drum|
|Front Tires:||24 x 8-12|
|Rear Tires:||24 x 10-11|
|Overall Vehicle Size (LxWxH):||82.8 x 47.4x 46.2″|
|Rear Rack Capacity:||75 lb (34 kg)|
|Fuel Capacity:||3.9 gallons including a 1.3 gallon reserve|
|Curb Weight:||626 pounds fueled, and ready to ride|
|Colors:||Red, Olive, Blue, Honda Phantom Camo|
|Warranty:||Transferable limited warranty; extended coverage available with a Honda Protection Plan|
|MSRP:||$6,699 + $350 destination charge|