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On test: Honda's latest TRX 420 and 500 ATV models

Insights

Improving on a best selling product is always a tough act to follow, especially when it is as well established as Honda’s TRX quads. James Rickard finds out how the new versions compare. 

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The latest Honda TRX 420 and 500s share a new lighter and stiffer frame.
The latest Honda TRX 420 and 500s share a new lighter and stiffer frame.

Not just a refresh; Honda says its latest TRX 420 and 500 ATV models are new from the ground up, with the emphasis put on improving durability, efficiency and comfort.

 

To achieve this, pretty much all the major components have been given an overhaul including frame, suspension, transmission and engine.

 

Frame

The frame, which the 420 and 500 share, is said to be 20 per cent stiffer, while 2.5kg lighter. This soon became apparent when negotiating our twisty Welsh mountain course.

 

Handling and stability both feel tighter and more responsive to inputs, but surprisingly, comfort levels have improved. This is thanks, in part, to a thicker seat and new adjustable front suspension.

Steering

The electronic control unit which looks after the electric power steering option has also been tweaked to make it lighter at low speeds and heavier at high speeds.

 

At first we felt the electric steering disconnected you from the driving experience, but after half an hour we were won over.

 

Much like sliced bread, you do not want to go back once you have tried it. While it does take some getting used to, the fatigue levels on your arms are dramatically reduced and there is enough feel back through the bars, without any of the kick-back or wrestling associated with manual steering.

 

That said, the manual steering version is noticeably lighter and easier to manage - even on the larger 500. 

Transmission

Thankfully, Honda has not succumbed to the temptation to go down the CVT road and has stuck with a five-speed sequential box.

 

Depending on specification, gear changes can be made manually using a foot lever, manually using electric shift via buttons on the handle bars or automatically by selecting ‘drive.’

 

The automatic transmission option has also been fettled to afford smoother changes and to make gear selection more decisive, avoiding flicking between gears when on a change point.

 

It is also designed to adapt to become more responsive to aggressive throttle action and more sedate when pottering.

 

However, the biggest plus point with a sequential gear box is good engine braking, which gives you plenty of confidence on hill descents, especially when loaded.

 

Controls

Controls

Controls remain clear and concise, and the clock is back.

 

Rear axle

Rear axle

Rear axle is now covered right up to the wheels.

Racks

Due to customer demand, rack load limits have been increased on the 500 - 40kg on the front and 80kg on the rear. The racks are also slightly bigger in size, although they could do with a few more bars for support.

 

The new racks and a 21 per cent increase in alternator output should also make it better able to handle a slug pelleter, for instance.

 

Britain is not short of mud, so potential customers of the new 420 will be glad to know mud protection has been increased, with larger mudguards and better bodywork.  We can confidently say, after almost drowning the bike, it is better. However, as the forest trail revealed, the enlarged mudguards can catch on branches and gulley sides if you are not careful.

Drive lines

To improve traction on the 500, it now gets a fully switchable front differential as standard.  This gives the driver the choice to switch between two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive or four-wheel drive with full differential lock. This can be activated on the move up to 20mph and is shown on the display when engaged.

 

Ground clearance has been helped by moving the rear brake assembly away from near the centre of the axle to inside the rim of one of the rear wheels. The axle also runs in a tube right up to the wheels rather than exposed bar axles as before.

 

Cowling

Engine cowling

Maintenance is made easier via a one-piece engine cowling

Terrain

Terrain

The Welsh mountains provided a rigorous test for the new TRXs.

Instruments

As part of a re-designed dash, the clock is back. You can also scroll through fuel level, temperature, service intervals and odometer. If for instance you have the clock displayed and you drop to below 6.8 litres of fuel, it will switch back to the fuel level indicator. Should this then drop below 4.5 litres, it will start flashing. Take head of this warning as the reserve tank has now gone.

 

Some of the, what was, reserve tank space is now occupied by an internal fuel pump, said to extend filter life as it not exposed to heat.

 

Filler cap position has also moved, which is now a bit easier to get at.

 

Following an engine re-map, fuel efficiency has also been improved by 10 per cent along with reduced emissions, says the manufacturer.

Maintenance and storage

In a bid to drive down maintenance costs, the main pivot point of the swing arm suspension gets rubber bushes. CV boots are now plastic too for longer life and sealed bearings are used in the wheel hubs for increased durability.

 

Maintenance access is also been easier thanks to a one-piece, centre section, which can be removed without tools. Instead of several panels, one piece now covers the entire engine and fuel tank. Within this one-piece panel is also a convenient flap to get at the dipstick.

 

Storage is fairly minimal, provided for by a small compartment at the rear, which the rear lighting assembly eats into, and a pocket in the front left mudguard – enough for a couple of medicine bottles and a ball-cock repair kit.

 

FG's verdict

The Honda’s capabilities were never in any question, but the TRX bikes have been criticised over durability of some of their components.

 

Hopefully, these new machines should address this, and from what we have seen, Honda is on the right road.

 

From a rider’s point of view there are marked improvements in handling and stability. And if you have never tried it, power steering is a must if you are doing long days on the bike.

 

Apart from size and power, we would say the 420 is a bit smoother running and more of an all-rounder, while the 500 is the one for serious lugging.

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