SHOOTOUT: Honda Pioneer 500 vs. Polaris Ranger ETX

This is an article pinned back in 2015. There are still units under $10,000 that will work good for yard chores and capable for hitting the trails on the weekends. Here are two of them.

 

We write about the 2022 Honda Pioneer 500 HERE and the low cost 2022 Polaris Ranger 570 SP HERE.

 

With the state of the economy, it makes sense for manufacturers to offer inexpensive UTVs, like the non-EPS, $10,999 Wolverine 700 (see pages 23-24). Polaris scrapped their old Ranger 400 for 2015 and slipped the Ace ProStar engine in the mid-size Ranger 570 frame to create the Ranger ETX. Honda took its Foreman 500 engine to create the 50-inch-wide Pioneer 500 UTV. Both sport-utility machines have an MSRP under $9000, so let’s see which one is the better machine for working around the ranch and playing after the chores are done.

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HOW DOES THE PRICE COMPARE?
The Ranger ETX sells for $8799, while the Pioneer 500 is $8499, or $9099 for the Honda Phantom Camo version. The Kymco UXV 450i starts at $7999, and the UXV 500i starts at $9499 and jumps to $12,999, but the carbureted UXV 500 is only $7999.

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HOW NEW ARE THEY?
Both are brand new, and we tested the Pioneer 500 in the August 2014 issue and the Ranger ETX in July 2015. Polaris created the ProStar engine for the Ace and now the ETX Ranger UTV and Sportsman ATV. The DOHC, EFI single puts out 31 horsepower and displaces 325cc, and the mid-size Ranger chassis sports MacPherson strut front suspension and dual-A-arm independent rear suspension. Mixing and matching the ETX engine with the chassis from the 58-inch Ranger 570 lets the new Ranger ETX come in $1000 under the 570. It has a towing capacity of 1200 pounds and a tilting bed with a 450-pound capacity. Honda wrapped an all-new chassis around the re-tuned Foreman 475cc, five-speed engine to create the firstever UTV with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The 500 is USFS legal, with a 50-inch width and fully independent suspension, and it fits easily in the back of a full-sized pickup. The exoskeleton frame extends down from the ROPS cage to protect the bodywork, and it has a rear flatbed rack (450-pound capacity) instead of a tilting bed, and it tows 1000 pounds. Build quality and innovations like the singleuse doors with nets make the Pioneer 500 deliver a lot of bang for the buck, whether you’re working around the ranch, hunting or trail riding.

WHICH UTV IS FASTER?
The Polaris 325 is faster with a top speed of 41–42 mph, while the Honda scoots up to 37 mph, which is plenty fast for trail riding in the woods or mountains. The Ranger ETX accelerates harder and gets to top speed faster as well, but the Honda is more fun to drive with its paddle shifters. On the other hand, the Polaris has low range for hills and heavy loads, but no engine braking to speak of, so it freewheels when you chop the throttle.

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WHICH HAS BETTER DELIVERY AND DRIVETRAIN?
Without a CVT belt to slip or break, the Pioneer 500 is more maintenancefree but requires the driver to select the proper gear. What’s really cool is that Honda designed fuel and ignition cutoffs so you don’t have to let off of the throttle to shift, and it has very effective four-wheel EBS. However, the TraxLox 4WD system doesn’t have a locking front diff like the new Foreman ATV. The longitudinal engine placement also means more driveline efficiency. The Polaris CVT doesn’t require a lot from the driver, nor does the on-demand 4WD system, which only engages the front diff when sensors detect the rear wheels spinning. This is great for going up hills, but not so much on steep descents. There is no dedicated EBS, and you have to maintain a little throttle to keep the clutch from freewheeling. Even then, only the rear wheels slow the machine, so you have to use the brakes more.

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WHICH HAS BETTER SUSPENSION?
The Polaris has more travel, but it’s looser and allows a lot of body roll. McPherson struts sport 9 inches of travel up front, and the rolled IRS rear end provides 10 inches of travel. It’s tuned to provide a plush ride yet firms up fairly well for bottoming resistance. Honda has a totally different view on suspension to keep the center of gravity low and handling crisp. Travel is limited to 5.9 inches all around, so the little Honda handles like a slot car, but it bottoms if you hit water bars or roots too hard. The ETX comes with 25-inch tires, and the Honda sports 24-inch rubber. So, the Ranger ETX absorbs more terrain before bottoming but allows more weight transfer, while the Pioneer is more sporty.

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WHICH HAS BETTER HANDLING?
Honda. The lighter (about 60 pounds) and smaller Pioneer 500 has great turning prowess and a lower center of gravity for snaking through the woods. Its tighter suspension package and engine braking make for high cornering speeds as well. Wheelbase between the two are nearly identical at 73 and 73.1 inches, but the Ranger ETX has a 58-inch width, so it can enter corners with more speed without tipping. However, it can’t go places the Honda will.

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HOW ABOUT ROCKS AND MUD?
With a clear travel advantage and a locking front diff, the Ranger picks its way over rocks better, but it only has about a half-inch more ground clearance, so the advantage isn’t so big in deep mud or water. Both draw air from high in the frame and have excellent splash protection, but the Honda has no CVT belt to get wet, slip or burn from abuse.

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WHICH IS THE BETTER WORKHORSE?
Polaris. With its tilting bed with sides and a tailgate, it can carry trash cans and hay bales easily yet tilt for cleaning. The ETX has higher towing and cargo capacities, but fastening the nets is a pain, so they tend to stay undone. The tilt steering wheel is nice. If you don’t use the seat belt, top speed is limited to 15 mph, and the bench seat is great for taking dogs along. Although the Honda doesn’t have a tilt bed, it does have an accessory cargo tray that attaches to the rear rack, and there’s an accessory under-hood storage. Although the Pioneer has better drink holders, it doesn’t have a glove box.

WHICH HAS BETTER BRAKES?
Although the Polaris has four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, it doesn’t have a mechanical parking brake or four-wheel engine braking like the Honda. It wants to freewheel and pick up speed on downhills. You end up using them more on the Ranger, whereas the Pioneer driver can select a lower gear and depend as much on the EBS system as the three hydraulic disc brakes (200mm front, 170mm rear).

WHAT ABOUT TRAIL COMFORT?
Both score big, but the Polaris will keep you on the trail longer with 9 gallons of fuel compared to the Honda’s 4-gallon tank. Both have comfortable bench seats, but the Pioneer’s is more sculpted with individual backs. They remove easily for maintenance. Honda has more accessible cup holders, and the door/net combination is super easy to use. The Ranger ETX has a glove box and wider cabin for more elbow room for two people or a driver and two dogs.

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WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?
Both of these sub-$9000 UTVs deliver a lot of performance and comfort for a great price. The Honda Pioneer 500 handles like an off-road Mini Cooper and is more fun to drive with its innovative paddle shifters. It’s a hoot for trail riding, exploring and hunting, but it’s limited in more utility settings by its lack of a dumping bed. The Polaris Ranger ETX is faster, has more suspension, and the dumping bed makes it more versatile. It has the torque for dragging driveways and towing, and it’s very user-friendly with on-demand 4WD. This one is a tossup. If you’re more sport-oriented, the Honda is your mount. On the ranch, farm or worksite, the Polaris rules.

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HONDA PIONEER 500… POLARIS RANGER ETX
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION
Engine type …. Liquid-cooled, pushrod 4-valve, 4-stroke . Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke single cylinder
single
Displacement ………………………………………….475cc …………………………………………………………….325cc
Bore and Stroke ………………………..92mm x 71.5mm ……………………………………………….. 76mm x 68mm
Compression ratio ……………………………………. 9.5:1 ……………………………………………………………11.5:1
Lubrication ……………………………………….. Dry sump ……………………………………………………….Wet sump
Induction ………………………………………….. 35mm EFI ………………………………………………………40mm EFI
Starting/back-up ………………………………Electric/none …………………………………………………… Electric/none
Choke location …………………………………………….N/A ………………………………………………………………. N/A
Starting procedure ………………………. Turn ignition key ………………….In neutral or any gear w/ brake engaged
Air filter:
Type …………………………………..Reusable oiled foam ………………………………………………………………. N/A
Access ……………………Remove airbox lid (four clips) …………………………………….Undo 2 clips on airbox lid
Transmission ..Paddle shift 5 speed w/automatic clutch ………………Dual-range fully automatic CVT w/ reverse
Reverse procedure……………………………………….N/A …………………………………. Move range selector to “R”
Final drive ………………………………………………..Shaft …………………………………………………Shaft/shaft (f/r)
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES/WEIGHTS
Fuel capacity ………………………………………… 4.1 gal. ……………………………………………………………..9 gal.
Wheelbase ……………………………………………… 73.1” ………………………………………………………………..73”
Overall length/width/height ……………102.5”/50”/72.4” ……………………………………………………110”/58”/73”
Ground clearance ……………………………………….. 9.6” ………………………………………………………………..10”
Weight ………………………………………. 1010 lb. (wet) …………………………………………………..1045 lb. (dry)
Hitch ………………………………………………………..N/A ………………………………………………………………..Yes
Towing limit………………………………………….1000 lb. ………………………………………………………… 1500 lb.
Bed capacity ………………………………………….450 lb. ………………………………………………………….. 500 lb.
ROLLING CHASSIS
Frame ……………………… Steel round and square tube …………………………………………….. Square steel tube
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front …………….Dual A-arms w/ non-adj. shocks/5.9” ………………………………………….MacPherson strut/9”
Rear …………… Dual A-arms w/ prel.-adj. shocks/5.9” … Double A-arms w/ swaybar and prel.-adj. shocks 10”
Brakes/actuation:
Front …………. Dual 190mm hydraulic discs/left pedal ………………………………………………….. Hydraulic disc
Rear …………. Single 200mm hydraulic disc/left pedal ………………………………………………….. Hydraulic disc
Parking brake ………………………..Mechanical/hydraulic ……………………………………………………….Hand lever
Tires:
Front ………………………………………………..24×8-12 ………………………………………………………… 25×8-12
Rear ……………………………………………….24×10-12 ………………………………………………………. 25×11-12
DETAILS
Lighting
Front ……………………………… (2) 37.5W headlights …………………..Two 55/60W grille-mounted headlights
Rear ………………………………………. Tail/brake light …………………………………………. Dual tail/brake lights
Instruments .Fuel gauge, speedometer, indicator lights …. Speedometer, odometer, clock, fuel gauge, neutral,
(4WD, etc.) reverse, hi-temp indicator
Colors ……….Red, olive, yellow, Honda Phantom Camo …………………………………………………… White, green
Minimum operator age ………………………………….. 16 …………………………………………………………………16
Suggested retail price ……………………………… $8499 ……………………………………………………………$8799
Contact ……………. American Honda, (310) 532-9811 ……………………………………… Polaris, (800) POLARIS

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