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 First Ride: Honda Big Red

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Joined : 2008-01-15
Posts : 10981
Age : 54
Location : Knoxville, TN

PostSubject: First Ride: Honda Big Red   Sat Jan 03, 2009 11:08 pm

First Ride: Honda Big Red

John Prusak

ATV News

What were you doing 15 years ago?

While others were getting used to a new president named Bill Clinton, going to the opening weekend of Jurassic Park, watching Murphy Brown on TV or seeing the Toronto Blue Jays (yes, the Blue Jays!!) win the World Series, Honda officials were talking about what sort of side-by-side utility vehicle they should build.

That’s right, 10 years before Yamaha introduced the Rhino, and the same year that a group in Europe announced that something called the World Wide Web would be available, Honda started the process that led to the 2009 Big Red.

In those 15 years, Honda had plenty of time to follow the path carved by other UTV makers and create a me-too vehicle, but that’s not how Honda rolls.

Yes, the new Big Red has a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals and side-by-side seating like the others, but this vehicle offers a fresh take on the UTV category. Most notable is an automotive-style automatic transmission – a three-speed that noticeably shifts for you when accelerating and decelerating, climbing up and down hills and otherwise putting inputs into the chassis.

The new Big Red MUV (multi-purpose utility vehicle) 700 also sets a new standard for stability, thanks to a wide, sturdy chassis that gives the machine an indestructible, go anywhere/haul anything feel.

The Big Red is definitely aimed at the utility side of the UTV market – competing more directly with a Polaris Ranger than a Yamaha Rhino, for example. But once Honda officials settled on a target during the long development process, they created an impressive, capable vehicle.

“It’s been a long, interesting road,” said Ray Blank, Honda’s vice president in charge of the motorcycle and ATV division. “Fifteen or so years ago, we started to look at the category as an alternative to ATVs. The market didn’t even have a nomenclature then.”

As the UTV market grew and changed over the past six years, Blank explained, Honda tried several different designs and built many prototypes but always targeted building something that was “honestly different than the competition. In our jargon, it had to be ‘a Honda.’

“It’s got Honda quality, Honda durability and Honda reliability,” Blank continued. “I think you’ll find that this is kind of a step beyond what’s out there and something that’s a little bit different. It’s a Honda.”

First Impressions

When Honda leaked photos of its first side-by-side nearly a year ago, we have to admit we were rather underwhelmed – and we weren’t alone. We heard from industry insiders and consumers alike that they were a bit disappointed by the first images of this long-awaited vehicle. The hood looked too bulbous, the tires looked too small for the chassis and in general the machine looked wide and uninspiring.

Those early photos didn’t do the Big Red justice.

In person, the MUV 700 model looks sharp, stable and strong. Some black trim was added to break up the shiny red hood, and it helps better define the automotive styling up front.

The chassis is imposing. The machine is 64 inches wide, 114.7 inches long and 76.9 inches tall. It looked like a mini SUV when we first saw it. The 25 x 10-12-inch tires do look rather small on the machine, giving it a look of a full-sized Ford or Dodge pickup with stock tires.

Walking around the machine, we were immediately struck by the safety features. Plastic half-doors come up higher than on comparable machines, and above them a netting system/curtain goes all the way to the top of the durable-looking Occupant Protection Structure (OPS) overhead cage.

Well designed headlights and LED brake/tail lights are found fore and aft, and a stylish grill with a bold “Honda” emblem adds a touch of class at the nose. A huge bed sits in back, with red plastic side panels covering a steel base. The tilting bed is 33 inches long by 52.6 inches wide, with a 10.3-inch height, making it large enough for a full-sized pallet.

Pulling back the netting, we were impressed by the well-finished dash and interior. The three-point seat belts, steering wheels and headlight switch look like they came straight from a Honda automobile. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this machine is made in a Honda automotive plant in Mexico – the same facility that cranks out CRVs.

The base model doesn’t have any gauges, just a series of eight lights in the dash to indicate when the machine is in reverse, four-wheel drive, neutral or full diff-lock, or has an engaged parking brake. There are also dummy lights for high temperature, engine problems or low fuel.

A Deeper Look At The Mechanics

Honda’s new Big Red is powered by a liquid-cooled, 675cc single – the same engine that motivates Honda’s popular Rincon ATV. It features a 102mm stoke and 82.6mm bore, with a 9.2:1 compression ratio. The engine has a four valve cylinder head, with its camshaft located adjacent to the cylinder head.

The fuel and air are delivered to the cylinder via programmable electronic fuel injection, with a 40mm throttle body. The EFI makes for easy starting, plus always spot-on fuel and air mixture at any temperature or altitude. The spent charge is expelled out a stainless steel exhaust.

The engine is mounted at mid-frame and low to help give the Big Red an impressive low center of gravity. It features a big radiator mounted up front, and has a liquid-cooled oil cooler which aids in heat dissipation yet warms the oil on cold-day start ups.

The powerband won’t excite performance junkies – if you’re looking to tear up sand dunes or drag race your buddies, you might want to look elsewhere. Honda’s focus with the initial Big Red model is capability, and it shows with the engine setup.

Power is sent through an automotive-style, three-speed transmission. A torque converter allows the machine to idle in gear, while the electronic control module (ECM) takes inputs on the throttle position, engine rpm, brake application and engine oil temperature to make the three hydraulic clutches select the right gear. Power is fed through a shaft final drive.

A dash-mounted control allows the driver to choose between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive with a locked rear differential and four-wheel drive with all four wheels locked. A separate lever is for forward, neutral or reverse.

Independent, double-wishbone front and rear suspensions offer 5.9 and 7.1 inches of travel, respectively. Variable-damping, position-sensitive shock absorbers control the ride – they feature an additional bypass groove inside the shocks that allows for a plusher ride in the middle of the suspension stroke while still having some damping left over for bigger hits or heavier loads.

Honda is claiming 10.3 inches of ground clearance.

For stopping, the Big Red benefits from oversized hydraulic disc brakes at all four wheels, with an automotive-style fail-safe in case a brake line should fail.

The big rear box is rated to carry 500 pounds. Handles that control the tilt are located on the driver and passenger side, and the box is controlled by progressive-action struts, so it’ll slowly lift and dump a heavy load but won’t spring open uncontrollably when it’s empty.

The Big Red has a claimed curb weight of 1,431 pounds with all fluids, including its 7.9-gallon fuel capacity. It’s rated to tow 1,200 pounds using a 2-inch receiver-type hitch.

Test Time: On The Trail With Big Red

Our introduction to Big Red would be on Southern California’s stunningly beautiful Catalina Island, located roughly 20 miles west of Los Angeles and surrounded on all sides by the Pacific Ocean.

Honda’s chosen site would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test a motorized vehicle in an oasis that normally restricts access for such things. Honda had to pull a lot of strings to make it happen, and we certainly appreciate their efforts. That said, it wasn’t an ideal place to truly test the Big Red, as local speed limits and land restrictions limited our ability to run the machine through its paces. We’ll tell you more about the Big Red when we get more time on a production model.

Still, we were left with many strong impressions of the MUV 700.

One of the first things we noticed is how cumbersome it is to climb in and out of the Big Red. With big doors that only feature internal handles (hidden inside to protect the working mechanism) and a side netting system that is never truly out of the way, Big Red is far from an easy-in, easy-out machine that some work-oriented buyers may prefer.

Once inside, however, the machine feels very secure, with the door, netting and seat belt with shoulder harness making sure no part of us would come out in case we rolled over.

The seating position is quite comfortable, and the backrest is adjustable to two different heights. The steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedals are all easy to reach. The steering wheel is in a locked position and a little high for our tastes – that’s why we prefer a tilting wheel, so people can lock in their own ergos.

The Big Red was also very roomy once inside, with a lot of space between us and our passenger, yet plenty of room between our shoulders and the netting. Foot wells cut into the wheel well area made up for a general lack of natural foot room.

We popped the drive lever into forward gear and the machine didn’t go anywhere, until we stepped on the accelerator. Then it quickly gained rpms, shifted and dropped the rpms back down. A little farther up the trail, the rpms had fully recovered and the machine shifted to third. That was a sound we’re not used to in a UTV – the automatic shifting of gears. It wasn’t good or bad, just different. We’re interested to try it in more task-oriented situations, like plowing or hauling.

Under the watchful eyes of the residents of Catalina Island and various nervous Honda officials, we weren’t really able to get a full feel for the machine’s acceleration capabilities or top-end speed. Oh sure, we would drop back from the leader occasionally and then plant our foot to the floor to catch back up, but the 40 mph claimed top speed wasn’t gained often.

Climbing up and down steep hills, in forward and reverse, and traversing some side hills with rocks, the Big Red proved to be a new benchmark for stability, thanks to its 75.7-inch wheelbase, 64-inch wide stance and low center of gravity.

We were able to easily do things with the Big Red that we wouldn’t have even considered trying on some UTVs, especially on sidehill. It, of course, isn’t foolproof, but the OPS cage (which Honda claims is the strongest in the industry), doors, netting and belts made us willing to try new things, and the machine was never unnerved.

We occasionally lifted an uphill front wheel, but we could turn the machine into the hill and easily climb out of the situation. We could shift from two-wheel drive to four-wheel and to four-wheel fully locked on the fly, and used it in these situations.

On downhill’s the Big Red freewheeled a bit, but in some conditions the automatic transmission would hold a low gear and prevent a rapid acceleration on a decline.

The steering from the rack-and-pinion steering system was relatively light and nimble. On a more extended trail ride, we were able to get a feel for the handling of the machine, and it proved to be very predictable. The suspension travel numbers aren’t overly impressive, but the double wishbone front and rear soaked up bumps admirably.

Also, very little vibration was transmitted to the driver.

An Impressive Rig for the Right Customer

Those looking for a Rhino- or RZR-beater from Honda will be disappointed – despite all of the rumors, Honda didn’t choose that direction with its UTV. They admitted to trying machines in that area, but Honda instead attacked the work market.

We suspect many Honda ATV owners who have been waiting for a side-by-side option from their favorite manufacturer will line up at dealerships and gobble up the first Big Red models. We think they’ll love this machine. The true test of its success will be after those initial brand loyalists make their buys, and Honda tries to attract crossover buyers.

At $11,399 for the stock red machine or $11,899 for the camo version, the machines won’t come cheap, but Honda quality oozes out of the Big Red, meaning the 15-year wait for the first one may result in a 15-year use cycle for buyers.

2010 Ranger XP 800
PP Windshield F&B, EMP EXT Bumper, Warn 40XT, Kobalt Box, Backwoods Armor 2" Lift/Arched Forward A-Arms, ProArmor Doors, DJ Fab Heat Shield, KFI Front Hitch, UTV Tech Mud Guard & Grill Insert, Crow 4-point Harness, Hi Lift Jack, 27" Horns, SS108's, Garmin 76csx, IPOD 80GB w/Otter Box, ATV Trail Tunes Sounds, Dual Battery Setup,  2-way Radio, PWM Built Spare Tire/Gas Carrier, Diamond Back Top & Floor Mats, HID's, FlexSteel Seats

PWM's Pix

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