Revamped Rubicon is one smooth operator
After several years of lying low, Honda has come out swinging the past couple of years with some very good Side-by-Side models. For the 2015 model year the direction has shifted to improved ATV offerings, including the newly updated Honda Foreman Rubicon ,which we first saw in July. We recently had a chance to get behind the bars of the new Rubicon in West Virginia on the world famous Hatfield-McCoy trail system.
Let’s get started with what’s new. Honda engineers seemingly revamped the entire machine to bring this mid-sized workhorse into the new age of ATV competition. The framework of the Honda Foreman Rubicon has been totally redesigned to add comfort, strength, and torsional rigidity to create a more responsive, precise handling machine. Also supported by the new chassis is an all-new suspension setup. The rear of the Rubicon comes to life with independent suspension and a generous 8.5 inches of travel. Looking at the components of this new IRS we found a cast aluminum knuckle attached to A-arms that are positioned to give the maximum suspension stroke for a great trail performance. This design also lends to the 9.4 inches of optimal ground clearance.
Moving over to the sub-components, Honda added 190mm hydraulic disc brakes to the front and an impressive single 170mm hydraulic disc to the rear. The disc and caliper for rear end braking is attached to the output shaft on the backside of the engine. Some could argue that this may not be enough braking power, but indeed this does work well and it removes un-sprung weight off of the rear wheels out where it would potentially be felt the most. Keeping the mass of pounds low and centralized does help the handling of the quad as well.
COMPARISON: Read our preview of the 2015 Honda FourTrax Rincon
Getting into the ergonomics of this machine, Honda has started with rider comfort and made huge strides to get the occasional trail rider out for a full day and more. The seat on the 2015 Honda Foreman Rubicon now has more foam for a plush saddle and the handlebar position has been raised to add to the comfort on the trail.
This legendary machine also gets Honda’s electronic power steering. The mapping on the EPS program has been redefined to add what Honda calls a better feel, as well as less steering effort by the rider. As with any EPS system, the amount kickback in the bars is dramatically reduced. Looking into the reliability side Honda’s engineers added a better mounting system for the EPS. Wheres last year’s model had only two EPS mounts, the 2015 year model boasts three. This just means the steering control box is more stable and that will translate to a better feel in the bars for the rider. While we are on the subject of steering, Honda also changed the grip design to add just a little more comfort for the ride.
The heart of the 2015 Honda Foreman Rubicon is a 475cc four-stroke engine that is now fuel injected. Honda’s PFI, (Programmed fuel injection), is bound to give a crisp throttle response as well as better fuel economy. Honda claims as much as a 12 percent gain in fuel economy can be found with the PFI system on this engine. With fuel injection now standard, those difficult cold starts will be a thing of the past. Not to mention this will be good for high altitude riding as well. The mid-bore class engine is liquid cooled and is connected to Honda’s automotive style five-speed automatic transmission. This comes as a manual five-speed or with the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), depending on the model you choose to purchase. This simply means you will shift or the machine will automatically shift for you. If you really get into tight, tough or technical terrain, you can shift this beast into its Low gear to pull you through. We can see this becoming helpful when towing the massive 1,322-pound capacity by the receiver hitch.
Speaking of towing and hauling, this Rubicon also has redesigned racks both front and rear that allow the operator to carry 99 pounds up front and 187 pounds out back. Both front and rear racks feature new integrated rack platforms that help stabilize the loads you carry and offer more tie-down points to secure that weight.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2014 Honda FourTrax Rancher
When we found out we were going to ride the 2015 Honda Foreman Rubicon at the Rock House trail system of Hatfield-McCoy trails, we knew the testing would be legit. This trail system offers many different types of terrain and it can get very technical out there. Staring off on a crisp fog covered morning the wind howled through the Big Red tent. With a brief safety meeting and overview it was time to ride.
Our morning ascent into the hills surrounding Logan, WV allowed us to get cozy on the new, thicker seat. The first thing we noticed was the absolute complete fender coverage that keeps you clean in most any situation. We proved this point in a huge one-foot deep mud gully that stretched across the trail, which got wider and wider on approach at speed that left us no choice but to just bomb through. I’d have to say the grip of the flooring and peg is sufficient, but it might be a little more relaxing if the rear of the floorboards weren’t so deep. There seems to be limited support for your heels unless you stick your feet almost vertical in the foot-well and riding right in the middle arch of your feet all day is not comfortable.
The engine in this machine is the same as the newly released Pioneer 500. This 475cc engine with its five-speed transmission gets up and moves very well with the new fuel injection. It is a mid-bore so it has limits, but it is extremely fun to ride when you dig into the thumb throttle and pick up the pace. The Honda Foreman Rubicon we rode most of the day was a manual shifting machine and we found that to be our favorite. We also took the Automatic and ESP version out for a rip, which proved to be fun and very easy to ride. The Auto mode is turned on with a simple right hand switch and ESP resides in the opposing position. If you are familiar with Honda you know the ESP means you can shift with a left thumb operated bar mechanism.
Our goal was to try and put ourselves in the same situations as a Utility consumer would get into. For easy going trails, we found this new Rubicon will fit many riders’ tastes. Honda’s DCT setup helps smooth out the shifts and keeps good positive engagement at any speed of the shift.
COMPARISON: Read our preview of the 2014 Polaris Sportsman 570 EPS
As mentioned above, the Rubicon comes with Independent Rear Suspension now and the straight axle has been retired. We scooted right over most all trail obstacles with ease. The IRS makes the machine very comfortable to ride as well. The stock shock settings are a little soft and a click or two on the preload cams for both front and rear would have kept the machine from bottoming under speedy landings. General trail riders will never notice the issue, but if you like a lot of throttle you’ll want to make some adjustments. The tires on this Utility machine seemed to grip well under normal riding conditions and we think the two-ply carcass probably added to the comfort of the ride.
After riding this machine in each transmission/shifting pattern and dress code, we are confident it really will make many ATV owners very happy. It looks sharp and gave each section of the “Rock House” Trail of the Hatfield-McCoy trail system all it had while coming out shining on the other side.
The 2015 Honda Foreman Rubicon retails from $7,799 ($8,499 for EPS), while the Rubicon with Automatic DCT starts at $8,499 ($9,149 for EPS).