Pioneer Breaks New Ground For Honda

Comes in two models

Published in the September 2013 Issue September 2013

If you thought the high performance y-side segment was getting a little or at the very least “filling then what are you thinking about utility-slash-recreation side-by-side after all the summer releases?

It seems to us that suddenly the utility side-by-side segment is starting to bulge at the seams with new vehicles replacing previous models. Some think that with all the excitement and attention surrounding the high performance side-by-side segment (RZR, Maverick, Wildcat), it’s somewhat of a surprise when a new side-by-side is introduced and it’s not in that segment.

Well, this is the summer of surprises. Yamaha has unveiled its Viking, KYMCO released its new powered-up UXV 700 and now Honda is in the mix with its new Pioneer, which comes in two- and four-seat versions.

Why, you might ask, with all the attention the high performance side- by-sides are getting and, consequently, the big volume of vehicles being sold, would these companies be focusing on the utility segment? Honda says look at the hard numbers and you’ll see why. Honda, along with Yamaha, still believes there is a market (and the numbers seem to bear this out) for vehicles like its Pioneer. Depending on what numbers you look at, the multiuse segment, which is the utility/rec class and where the Pioneer falls, still outsells all other segments.

So, to take advantage of those numbers (read: sell a lot of units), Honda has unleashed the Pioneer 700 and Pioneer 700-4, its newest side-by-sides that replace the Big Red, first introduced in 2009.

New From Tires Up

With a new name comes an entirely new vehicle vs. the Big Red, with the only shared component being the 675cc liquid-cooled OHV single- cylinder engine. But even that was tweaked to get a little more power and higher top speed.

Other than that, an all-new chassis surrounds the powerplant, there are new tires and the vehicle has a new look along with a host of other new features.

One of the most innovative of those features is the seating arrangement on the Pioneer 700-4. It can easily be configured to carry two, three or four passengers, courtesy of a folding, stow- away rear-seat design that accommodates the third and/or fourth passenger or can be used to carry all sorts of materials when the seats are folded away.

What that means is that the Pioneer 700-4 has a shorter wheelbase than competitive four-seat vehicles because the rear seating area and cargo bed are one and the same. About the only downside is when you’re utilizing the folding seats to carry passengers, there is no bed space to carry equipment, camping gear, etc. However, if you’re only carrying one passenger in the back, then you can carry some gear/ equipment because the rear seats are separate and fold and unfold separately. That gives the Pioneer 4 a leg up on its two-seat competition where you can only carry cargo and no third passenger. The rear seats also include 3-point seat belts. You can haul up to 1,000 lbs. in the rear cargo bed and the Pioneer can tow 1,500 lbs.

One Question

One question that might pop up about the cargo bed (which is a tilt bed) and rear seats using the same area is what about the possibility of the rear passengers getting dumped? Honda was quick to point out that it has designed a patent-pending mechanical anti-tilt mechanism for the bed so the passengers won’t accidentally get dumped out.

The Pioneer two-seater and Pioneer 4 are both the same length, 114.8 inches, and only slightly vary in weight with the two-seater’s curb weight (ready to ride) 1,261 lbs. vs. the P4 at 1,396 lbs.

Interestingly, even at 1,396 lbs., the P4 is still 37 lbs. lighter than Big Red while the two-seat Pioneer is a whopping 172 lbs. lighter. So where did Honda shave the weight? Honda officials told us some weight is saved in the chassis due to the center-mounted disc brake, while the majority of the weight reduction comes from the frame body itself. They said that is accomplished by frame tube line and thickness optimization by extensive CAE analysis. Based on the input loads to the vehicle, the design team was able to select the appropriate material grade and thickness.

So even with the Pioneer having the same powerplant as Big Red, due to the lighter weight of the new Pioneer side- by-side, our seat-of-the-pants driving tells us the Pioneer feels lighter and thus feels like it has more power. Honda said the Pioneer has a top speed of 43 mph, which is 3 mph faster than Big Red.

Improved Travel

Not only has the top speed of the new side-by-side been increased compared to Big Red, but also the travel, both front and rear. The independent double-wishbone front suspension offers up 7.9 inches of travel while the rear suspension, also an independent double-wishbone design, has 9.1 inches. That’s two inches more in both the front and rear vs. the Big Red’s suspension.

The company gained those two inches of travel by narrowing up the mounting points for the front and rear suspension, which allowed it to use longer A-arms, which helps increase the travel while maintaining proper suspension geometry. As for the shocks, they are twin-tube KYBs with pre-load adjustability on the rear to help accommodate for the varying payloads you might carry.

There are three other areas we wanted to touch on before we get to our ride impressions. First are the tires. If you look at the specs comparing Big Red to the Pioneer, you’ll notice a couple of things: the brand has changed from Maxxis to OTR, and the front tires are smaller—25x8-12 vs. the Big Red’s 25x10-12. Honda says it went with the 8-inch wide tires on the front for “increased steering response and feel.” The Pioneer’s tires are also 4-ply.

The Pioneer’s turning radius was impressive, although when we were doing donuts, we weren’t really testing the turning radius. Just playin’.

The rear tires are still 10s. The OTR tires are a Honda-specific tire.

Second is the transmission on the Pioneer. Honda is using its familiar automotive-style transmission with a hydraulic torque converter and three forward gears. It also comes with reverse. Anyone who follows or knows Honda off-road, four-wheel vehicles knows that many of them use the automotive-style transmission and not a CVT-based system. Honda makes no bones about wanting to avoid belt-driven systems with one Honda official saying about belts, “We see that as a problem area.”


No CVT Belts

Belts can get wet and slip. Belts can break. Belts wear out. One Honda official told us, “The Honda automatic transmission has several advantages over a belt system. Some of the main advantages being no belts that will slip, break, wear, etc. Another advantage is that fact that there is true engine braking with this transmission, not an added system like some of the CVT systems out there. Also, it’s based on automotive technology so it’s built to last. It features a filtration system to protect against external contamination, using the multi-filtered engine oil as the hydraulic fluid.”

Also, on downhill slopes, the transmission provides positive engine braking, even at very slow speeds.

The third, and perhaps one of the most important, trait of the new Pioneer, one that may get lost in the excitement of this being a new vehicle, is that it is designed and built in the United Sates. The Pioneer was designed by Honda Research and Development in Ohio and built at Honda South Carolina (HSC) using domestically and globally sourced parts. We were able to attend the Line-Off Ceremony at the company’s Timmonsville, SC, plant and it’s hard to overstate how important this is to Honda. Honda has been building vehicles at HSC for 15 years but this is the first year a vehicle has been designed in the U.S. as well. That allowed Honda’s U.S. divisions to develop the Pioneer in about half the time it would normally take from vehicle concept to the build. All Pioneers will be built at HSC. See the sidebar for more details on the Line-Off Ceremony.

Because we were able to attend the Line-Off Ceremony in the morning, that gave us only about an afternoon of seat time in the Pioneer. Here are some early observations.

  • “We know it’s not a rocket ship,” one Honda official said. We knew that before ever slipping behind the wheel of the Pioneer—it is a 675cc engine--but we did find the vehicle to deliver smooth power with a fair amount of torque.
  • The ride and handling was good. We admit we raised our eyebrows when one Honda official said of the vehicle’s lack of power steering, “It doesn’t need it really.” We are big fans of power steering and all the benefits that come with it so we were a bit skeptical before driving the Pioneer. Somehow, thelack of power steering doesn’t hinder the Pioneer like it does some otherHonda’s new Pioneer features the company’s trademark automatic-type transmission rather than a CVT system. 
  • The 2- to 3- to 4-seat setup is definitely unique and it doesn’ttake long to convert the seats to any configuration you’d like. The three- point seatbelts in the rear are a good safety touch. We did spend some time in the back seat with another editor driving and in that short time we think we would rather sit back there while driving around the ranch or for a tame ride to our favorite fishing hole but not on a high-speed, whooped-out section of trail. The suspension did work fine in most situations but we did bottom out the shocks—the front shocks noless—a couple of times. We admit we didn’t play with any adjustments to the rear shocks before climbing in the back. That might have helped but we’re not sure what the setting was.We like the half doors. The nets are a bit of overkill, but at least they roll up and out of the way if you want. It’s not that the nets are claustrophobic, justThe Honda Pioneer is designed to be a utility-slash-work-slash-play-slash-hunting-slash-do-most-anything kind of side-by-side. We’d add slash-fun more along the lines of obscuring your view, especially if you’re in the back looking out the sides.
  • The shorter wheelbase, at least compared to other 4-seat off-road vehicles, means a pretty tight turning radius. That was nice in the thick woods we rode in. Honda claims a 14.8-foot turning radius on the Pioneer.

This is the first run for the Honda Pioneer and we expect it to be a good one but what’s exciting about the whole Honda side-by-side segment is something we heard over and over during our trip to Timmonsville, SC: There will be even more exciting Pioneer models to come in the future.

2014 HonDa Pioneer 700/700-4
Engine: OHV, single cylinder, 4-stroke, 4 valve
Displacement: 675cc
Fuel system: Fuel-injected
Cooling: Liquid
Fuel Capacity: 8.2 gallons, with 1.2-gallon reserve
Transmission: Automotive-style with hydraulic torque converter, three forward gears, reverse; three drive modes: 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with diff lock
Front suspension: Independent double wishbone, 7.9 inches travel
rear suspension: Independent double wishbone, 9.1 inches travel
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
Front Tires: 25x8-12
rear Tires: 25x10-12
wheelbase: 76.8 in.
Length: 114.8 in.
width: 60.0 in.
Height: 77.6 in./78.3 in.
Ground Clearance: 10.3 in.
Curb weight: 1,261 lbs./1,396 lbs.
MsrP: $9,999 (two -seat)/$11,699 (four-seat)
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