2005 Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicon Review
The Laurentian mountains of Quebec are a majestic natural setting that has inspired many an artists’ rendering. But the tree-filled site about an hour north of Montreal was also deemed ruggedly suitable enough for Honda to launch and test its new Canadian Trail Edition Rubicon ATV. As Warren Milner, ATV product planer for Honda Canada explains, the Canadian Trail Edition is more than just a stick-on badge. It represents two years of study and testing culminating in a unique coil over shock design that is new from the ground up—and available only in Canada.
The Honda Rubicon model is being used as the platform for these new 2005 Canadian-only editions. In addition the TRX500FG and the TRX400FG are both equipped with Honda’s onboard GPS based navigation system and they both carry the reputation that the Rubicon has gained over the past model years with its Hondamatic transmission that utilizes variable hydraulic pressure and mechanical torque amplification to power the driveshafts. Now add to that a distinctive set of red shocks and you have the CTE.
But what turned out to be the bigger story (from a Canadian point-of-view) was the fact that this ATV was ever built at all. The reason being is that Canada, (a unique market with special needs) often gets machines designed by offshore engineers for southwestern American tastes. Honda USA, for instance, has its offices in Los Angeles and by virtue of the fact that the US is the larger consumer on this continent often dictates to the Japanese what they want to see in the next production cycle. This practice, says Milner, meant that Canada often got whatever the US ordered—a fact that Honda Canada had complained about for years. Now, with the introduction of the CTE, this is no longer the case.
Before this special edition was ever considered, Milner and his team had to qualify all this chatter about Canada being different. Different how? This is what the Japanese engineers wanted to know before they decided to spend any money to investigate.
The Canadian team presented a set of facts to the Honda engineers in Japan that clearly baffled them. The results of the Canadian report stated that Canadians overwhelmingly bought 4WD machines with an average displacement of 500cc while Americans bought smaller 2WDs in the 300cc range. Canadians also put significantly more miles on than the Americans did. Further surveys revealed that Canadian ATVs ran at much higher temperatures. Why? Because Canadians drive them, on average, much faster over longer distances.
Japan’s interest was piqued and while LA continued to insist that they were the ones to be consulted on what was good for the North American market, the Japanese sent a fact finding team of executives and engineers to Canada to see for themselves what these ‘different’ needs were all about.
At this point, Honda Japan committed several million dollars to conducting the research and development for a suspension package that would satisfy the Canadian ATVers needs.
The hotel ‘Domain de Lac Toro,’ where the new CTE was presented to the media, was also the home for shifts of engineers over the past two years. What they found there and at various test sites across the country was countless kilometers of trails—maintained and not, along with the largest web of logging roads anywhere in the world. Rocks, bushels of them. Elevation changes—up and down. Water: clean, dirty, fresh, salt, in lakes, rivers, ponds, swamps, bogs and of course muskeg.
With the Japanese now convinced that Canada was indeed a unique landscape, Honda Canada was directed to do a C$40,000 outside survey to talk to Canadian ATV owners and quantify their top needs. The results were a dead heat between machine stability and comfort. At this point, Honda Japan committed several million dollars to conducting the research and development for a suspension package that would satisfy the Canadian ATVers needs.
Sounds a bit hokey, doesn’t it? Maybe not.
When Nissan was developing the Titan pickup truck two years ago, American engineers asked the Japanese to add a tuned muffler to the first prototype. When this rolling chassis arrived in California the exhaust turned out to be virtually silent. Why? Because the Japanese equate any V8-equipped vehicle with a luxury car—and luxury cars should be quiet. They just did not understand what the Americans were trying to tell them about the truck market. This is often how difficult it is to translate culture into engineering. In Honda’s case, several of the chief people working on ATV design had never ridden an ATV. A strange concept to a Canadian engineer, but Japan didn’t see this as a problem. That changed when they came to Quebec and were treated to some ‘rear end data input.’
The second point which made Canada’s case with Japan was the market. Whereas Canada compared to the US typically sells pretty much everything on a ratio of 1 in 10 (almost in the same ratio as our population difference), in the case of ATVs it’s 1 in 4. Canada is a big market and Honda Canada used this fact in its persuasive case study.
Having ridden more than 200 kilometers on the new CTE Rubicon, I will say that Honda has achieved a good balance between comfort and stability. In addition, the rutted, rock strewn trails of Quebec were the right place to show the new red shocks off. While the press was not privy to exactly what Honda engineering did to build these shocks, it’s clear they were designed to take the kind of abuse that Canadian trails dish out. The Canadian Trail Edition is scheduled to hit showrooms sometime in December. Pricing has not yet been set.
While the Canadian Trail Edition is certainly the big news for 2005, Honda has also made upgrades to a number of models to move the brand into that all important 500cc category for the Canadian market. The liquid-cooled Rubicon has new bodywork, disc brakes and switchable 2WD/4WD has been added. Two of Honda’s popular air-cooled 450s get a displacement increase to become the TRX500ES and the TRX500S. They also sport disc brakes and a switchable 4WD system. A 2WD manual shift version has also been added to complete the line-up.
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