2015 Honda Pioneer 500

With most things, economy size means buying more than you want. Honda’s new Pioneer 500 UTV comes with a smaller price than most, at $8499, and its small size makes it easy to transport and store. The best part is, it’s not just economical.

HOW DOES THE PRICE COMPARE?
The Pioneer 500 is a lot cheaper than most big UTVs, which start near $10,000, but Honda isn’t the only company to see the appeal of affordable vehicles. At $8499, the Pioneer 500 is right in there with the $8299 Polaris Ranger 400. The sporty Polaris Sportsman Ace is only $7499. Kymco’s UXV 500 starts at $7999.

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HOW NEW IS IT?

The Pioneer 500 is powered by an engine adapted from the Foreman 500, but its compact chassis is all new. It’s 50 inches wide for easy access to width-restricted trails, and it fits in a full-size pickup. It’s a sport utility UTV, but there’s no tilting bed. Instead, the Pioneer has a large rear rack that can carry 450 pounds.

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WHAT KIND OF ENGINE DOES IT HAVE?

It’s a fuel-injected, 475cc, pushrod single with four valves. Like on Honda sport utility ATVs, the crankshaft is in line with the frame for efficient power transfer.

WHAT KIND OF TRANSMISSION DOES IT USE?

A manual-shift five-speed with an automatic clutch and automotivestyle paddle shifters! You upshift and downshift with paddle levers near the steering wheel, All other UTVs use fully automatic transmissions of one kind or another. The ability to shift your own gears gives the Pioneer driver much more control for sport driving and tough terrain, plus natural engine braking and none of the belt wear worries that come with the continuously variable belt-type automatics most UTVs use.

There is no full automatic mode, so the paddle-shift five-speed calls for a bit more skill than fully automatic transmissions, but it’s a lot more fun for performance-minded drivers. The shift action is sure and quick, and full-power shifts are smooth and harmless to the driveline, thanks to a momentary fuel and ignition cut during gear changes. Reverse is easy to engage with a pull on a dashboard lever and a downshift from neutral.

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WHAT KIND OF 4WD SYSTEM DOES IT HAVE?

A mechanical lever on the dash lets you select 2WD or 4WD. As with most UTVs, there’s no rear differential, so both rear wheels are always driven. In 4WD, the Foreman 500 uses an open front differential. It keeps the 500’s steering light, but can’t provide as much traction as limited slip or locking front differentials.

HOW FAST IS IT?
Faster than we expected. The Pioneer pulls well for 500, and it accelerates harder than some small automatic transmission UTVs in tight corner-to-corner situations on twisty trails. Being able to pick a gear and punch the throttle gives you quick access to the power. Top speed is 37 mph, which doesn’t sound very fast, but it’s more than enough for most challenging trails.

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HOW IS THE POWER ON THE TRAIL?
It works great. Throttle response is crisp, and the 500 pulls well from low revs and has a broad power curve. The pushrod Foreman-based engine doesn’t rev as high as some overhead-cam UTVs, but it makes power from just off idle until the rev limiter cuts in. The low first gear is low enough for seriously challenging low-speed technical terrain, like deep mud and rock crawling.

Second through fifth are closely spaced so the engine pulls well through upshifts on uphills. Because you can pick and hold the gear you want, the Pioneer 500 gives you just the kind of speed and response you like for turns and climbs. Automatics can be caught offguard at times, leaving you with delayed power. If you just want to cruise, the 500 is able to torque its way along in a tall gear at low revs.

WHAT KIND OF SUSPENSION DOES IT HAVE?
It has double-A-arm independent suspension front and rear and there’s a rear sway bar to limit body roll. There are non-adjustable shocks up front and spring preload-adjustable shocks in the back, and both ends provide 5.9 inches of travel.

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HOW DOES THE SUSPENSION WORK?

The ride is smoother than we expected for a machine with such short travel, and the suspension handles fast trail riding well with very good control. The suspension even handles small jumps with no problem. There are always a few big ruts and G-outs on most trails, and unless you back out of the throttle, the suspension will bottom. As you’d expect, it’s easier to use all the travel with two riders in the machine than one. The front end bottoms more easily than the rear, but there are no adjustments on the front shocks to firm them up. Like other sport utility UTVs, the suspension lets you have fun on the trail, but it’s not designed to handle seriously aggressive driving, like sport UTVs.

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HOW DOES IT HANDLE?

Remarkably well. As UTVs go, the Pioneer 500 is small and light, so we expected it to be agile and easy to handle, and it is. The compact Pioneer turns so effortlessly and maneuvers in small spaces so well, it makes a normal, big, sport utility UTV feel like a UPS van loaded with uranium. Making a 50-inchwide machine stable takes some smart engineering, and plenty went into the Pioneer. The short-travel suspension and low, compact engine weight keep the Pioneer securely stuck to the ground in turns and on sketchy off-camber trails. The Honda is so stable, it slides around slippery turns with complete security. The Pioneer 500 doesn’t have power steering, but it doesn’t need it. Steering effort is light, even in 4WD, thanks to the open front differential, and there’s no uncomfortable feedback through the wheel in bumps.

HOW IS IT IN ROCKS AND MUD?
The Pioneer 500 isn’t massively powerful, but its manual transmission and automatic clutch give the driver more control than automatictransmission UTVs in seriously challenging terrain. The engine air intake is way up by the rear rack and the fivespeed transmission doesn’t have a belt to burn in abusive mud riding. Unlike some sport UTVs, the bodywork offers excellent splash protection. Because the Honda is shorter than most machines, its 9.6 inches of ground clearance lets it glide over rocks and ledges longer vehicles hang up on. The Pioneer will motor through the mud and rocks most trails throw at you, but if you go looking for fun and find trouble, the open front differential won’t pull the Pioneer through as well as the limited slip or locking front differentials most UTVs have. Since Honda already has a locking front differential on the Foreman 500, we’d like to see one on the Pioneer 500.

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HOW IS IT FOR HILLS?
Excellent. The five-speed transmission gives the 500 plenty of climbing power and natural engine braking for downhills. Strong front and rear disc brakes slow the 500 easily and have great feel. The single rear disc is on the rear drive shaft, out of harm’s way.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Pioneer 500 is a sport utility UTV with a strong utility side. The rear rack can hold 450 pounds, and the machine can tow 1000 pounds from its receiver type hitch.

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HOW ARE THE DETAILS?
Like we’ve come to expect from Honda—excellent in nearly every way. Getting in and out of the Pioneer 500 is a breeze, thanks to the clever combined doors with nets, the spacious cabin and the well-designed seats. The seat is a bench,but with a supportive, comfortable shape that holds you more like a sport seat. There are drink holders for the driver and passenger and storage space beneath the seat base and the removable hood, but the storage bins for those spots are optional accessories. Honda already has 46 accessories for the Pioneer 500. This machine fits in a full-size pickup bed, which saves the cost and hassle of pulling and storing a trailer.

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WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?

We’re sure Honda’s Pioneer 500 is going to attract a lot of people with its low price and the practicality of a vehicle that can do so much and is so easy to transport and store. For us, the fun of driving this thing is really what makes it stand out.

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