We put Honda's side-by-side to work
You’ve read about Honda’s Big Red and how it performs before, but we’ve taken it a step further. In most ATV and side-by-side reviews you get details about how a machine performs on trails or on the track. We did a story very much like that when the Big Red was first introduced, which you can read here. However, when we recently had a chance to spend some time with the Big Red we took a different tact and focussed on how well the machine helps you (the rider) work.
One of the most useful features on the Big Red in regards to putting in a full day of work is the load and tilt rear box. This box is useful for transporting anything from gear to groceries or moving raw materials such as sand, gravel, stone, or firewood around. This is made easy thanks to the unit’s impressive carrying capacity of 500lbs.
During our time with the unit we put this bed to work. A cottage can burn through piles upon piles of wood throughout the winter and ours is no exception. With the Big Red on site we set about the task of splitting enough logs to fill our wood shed for another bitter Canadian winter.
During this job the Big Red served many functions. We used the rear bed to move around equipment such as chainsaws, fuel tanks, and other wood-related tools. The tailgate was used as a sort of workbench while parked on site. The power and towing capabilities helped us to move the split wood to its final location and the front mounted winch helped us pull a few remaining logs out of the forest so we could cut them up.
Largely because of its height the tailgate formed an excellent spot to fuel chain saws as well as place down any unneeded tools while working – it also doubled as our table for sandwiches at lunchtime! The tailgate is supported by two steel cables on either side (much like a pickup truck tailgate) and was more than capable of supporting the weight of a few saws.
First step in the wood cutting process was to gather the logs which we had cut down earlier in the season and left to dry. Some of the pieces were in a ways from the trail and made it difficult to get them out using traditional equipment. The 4,000lb Warn winch on the front of the Big Red helped us drag these pieces of timber out to where they could be loaded onto our log skidder. This proved very handy in the deep woods.
When we split wood every fall we typically do the splitting on site where the wood is and then transport the stove-size pieces to be stored in the wood shed for burning in the future; in this situation the Big Red got to flex its towing muscle.
Honda outfitted the Big Red with an automotive style standard 2-inch hitch receiver on the rear of the frame. This made setting up for towing the firewood quick. Slide the hitch into the receiver and throw the trailer on and we were ready to go. Using the strength of the Big Red we were able to pull up to 1,200lbs in each load which made for fewer trips and saved us considerable time at the end of the day.
Helping to pull that trailer is the Big Red’s 675cc liquid cooled single cylinder four-stroke engine. This motor puts out plenty of power for working or for play. Attached to the engine is Honda’s simple three-gear automatic transmission with a hydraulic torque converter.
Cutting wood wasn’t the only job we put the Big Red through. We also had an interlocking brick patio to put down at the time. To anyone who works with brick you know what that means; sand, and lots of it.
We utilized the Big Red’s bed once again to transport load after load of sand from the spot where the Dump Truck left the materials to our patio. The pneumatic shock assisted dump box on the Big Red is very helpful when dumping heavy materials and is easily operated with a release handle located on either side of the box directly behind the cab.
One downside to the Big Red’s dump box that we noticed is that the tailgate has shallow channels cut into it. When a loose material (such as sand) passes over a fair bit get’s left behind and needs to be removed manually or by banging on the tailgate which could eventually cause damage to the unit.
In addition to moving the sand around we also had to get the bricks to the job site. Being careful not to overload the bed we moved many loads of bricks from the delivery site to the soon-to-be patio. We were notably impressed with how well the bed stood up to the bricks. After several loads there was hardly a scratch on the machine. This is all thanks to Honda’s steel tilt bed with an automotive grade plastic liner to prevent damage to parts below.
Overall the Big Red performed very well when the rear bed was loaded near to capacity with sand or brick. We expected a lot more “squatting” in the rear end when it was loaded, but the Independent rear suspension was certainly up to the task. When empty that same suspension allows for 7.1 inches of travel and stands the unit at a ground clearance of 10.3 inches.
Being a side-by-side the Big Red operates using automotive-style controls which are familiar to most people. In the cockpit you’ll find a steering wheel, manually operated parking brake lever, and throttle and brake pedals to control the vehicle’s movement. Shifting between forward, neutral, and reverse is done using a dash-mounted shifter.
Choosing how to deliver that power is also the operation of a shift knob located on the dash. This allows the driver to choose between 2WD, 4WD with the rear differential locked, and 4WD with both front and rear differentials locked.
The 4WD diff locked mode gave the machine excellent traction and power to get you out of the toughest situations – and we put it through one of the hardest challenges at our place.
Our playtime for the weekend included putting our personal watercraft in the lake for a little fun on the water. The Big Red was an excellent choice for carrying out this job because only certain machines can handle the launches. There are two launches on our lake and the first is the “public” launch which usually sees longs lines of people coming in and out with only enough space for one boat at a time. The second launch is also public but it’s hidden so fewer people know about it. The only downside to this launch is that it’s not maintained and is a lot steeper than the first boat launch ramp.
Deep ruts from other vehicles getting stuck mar the ramp and we looked at it with a fair bit of trepidation before backing the Big Red and our PWC down the hill. Once the boat was in the water and speeding back towards the cottage we climbed back in the Big Red and started it up.
We put the unit in drive and the final drive selection in 4WD with the front and rear Differentials locked. We eased into the throttle and the Big Red pulled the 750-pound trailer up the 40-degree incline with ease.
Speaking of the Big Red’s drive system, we’ve heard a lot of people criticize Honda for not having a “low” range on its units, but we feel this is a harsh judgement. With the torque in first gear and wide power band we felt there was no need for any low range on the Big Red, not to mention the extra power being transferred to the ground through the lockable differentials.
Overall we found that the Big Red is an excellent unit for anyone who needs help around a farm, property, or cottage. The Ergonomics in the cab made operating and unit simple and comfortable and the strength of the frame and chassis made any job doable with this unit. This would be a welcomed addition to any outdoorsman’s fleet.