2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Review

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
Rancher benefits from big changes for 2015 model year

2014 ATV of the Year

Are you looking for a mild powered machine capable of tackling most terrain across the great land you ride? What about a machine with many new options like a thicker, softer seat and redesigned shifting programs that will suit any rider’s needs or skill level? Then the 2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher 420 could be the ride for you.

Honda first introduced the Rancher to the world way back in model year 2000. This was the beginning of a 14-year development that brought the displacement of the Rancher from 350cc up to the 420cc it is today. The number of Ranchers sold to date tops the 900,000 mark and the numbers continue to grow as this machine continues to evolve. Fuel injection was brought to the single cylinder, liquid cooled engine in 2007 along with the first we would see of the Automatic Dual Clutch transmission system.

Honda took a close look at the shifting patterns for the transmission of the Rancher 420 and for 2015 improve the effect some call shift shock. This is when the transmission changes gear and jerks or lunges forward. Getting this algorithm refined to smooth out each shift, no matter your riding style, was a key goal for Honda. With options from full automatic to ESP (electronic shift program) and then manual, foot-actuated shifting, the dual clutch technology relies on the ECU to calculate massive amounts of data for those shifts. If you really want to turn up the throttle and roll out the trail, the onboard computer sees that as well and then allows a sportier shift change. This is a massive undertaking of engineering in itself and simply understanding the parts to make it happen can keep your mind boggled for hours. We just know it works well and frankly that’s all we need to know.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Honda Foreman Rubicon

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Shifter

Shifting was refined for 2015 to help reduce shift lock.

Once you decide which shift program you are using you can sit down on the new thicker, softer seat and get comfortable. Grabbing the bars you will notice the new reverse lever that was also just introduced on the Rubicon by Honda. The reverse lever on the Rancher 420 is very simply engaged by pulling it as well as the brake lever in tight and down shifting until the big “R” shows up on the very easy-to-read digital dash. That same lever can be pressed forward when the left brake lever is pulled in and this sets the parking brake.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Seat

Your backside will appreciate the thicker, softer seat on the 2015 Honda Rancher.

Honda has integrated many important details about the Rancher’s machines health right on the digital screen in front of the driver. Fuel levels, trip meters, and clock are just a few of the options found on this dash. Honda went into the smallest details as well with new sealed steering knuckle bearings for added durability. Honda engineers want you to own this Rancher for a lifetime.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2014 Can-Am Outlander 500 + Video

You may remember the Rancher 420 with a solid axle rear end, but for 2015 a revised Independent Rear Suspension has been mounted beneath the sleek new lines of the classic red fenders. If you just have to have the solid rear axle it is still available, so do not count it out. Independent rear suspension, or IRS as denoted on the rear fender on equipped models, typically brings better ride quality and with the Rancher’s frame redesign it also gets more ground clearance and wheel travel. Ground clearance is an impressive 9.2 inches and with additional wheel travel the rear suspension moves to 8.5 inches of travel. The front of this workhorse has a suspension travel measurement of 7.3 inches. This should not only smooth out the rough bumps, but will also allow the new Rancher to cross over uneven terrain much easier.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Suspension

While a solid rear axle is still available, Honda made independent rear suspension available on the Rancher for the first time.

Getting a chance to ride the Rancher meant we would cross this great country and end up in the Sequoia National forest just outside Bakersfield, Calif. The setting for the ride would test the fuel injected 420cc power plant with elevation, terrain and even a small trip through an unexpected snow-covered trail higher up in the mountains. We took a second to look over the updated body work on this 2015 Rancher 420 and I have to say it’s refreshing to see the sleek lines, but you can also tell this machine is meant to work hard as well. Both the front and rear racks seem sturdy and we were informed that you could haul 66 pounds up front and an impressive 133 pounds on the rear of this machine.

Ride Impressions

Honda’s programmed fuel injection fired our machine up and we made our way out to the trailhead. We have to say that for a larger rider, we felt comfortable on the Rancher and the controls were easy to reach. The Rancher has very similar floorboards to the Rubicon and filling in the deep crevice in the heel space of these wouldn’t hurt our feelings at all. Otherwise, we felt as if we had plenty of grip for the winding and gradually inclining trails ahead.

We chose to ride the classic Honda red machine, but did take note of the orange and Honda Phantom Camo units as well. These colors seem to fit the machine well, but if you are going to ride red (Honda pun here), you might as well make sure it’s actually red. You loyal Honda owners might remember the orange color from its first debut in model year 2000 on the very first Rancher.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Action 1

Though we chose the classic Honda red model to ride, the 2015 Rancher is also available in orange and Honda Phantom Camo.

Skipping up the trail, we were able to try out the braking improvements also made to this 2015 Rancher. The rear brake disc has grown to 170mm and being mounted inboard it removes unwanted un-sprung weight from the wheels. Honda has put massive 190mm dual front discs on this model and you can definitely tell you are getting braking power when you squeeze on the lever. Overall, the brakes work well on the Rancher and have no trouble slowing the machine on solid ground. Slick mountain sand and wet down hills posed a little trouble, but nothing we couldn’t handle as our Maxxis 24-inch tires clawed for grip.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2014 Polaris Sportsman 570 EPS

Our full length center skid on the bottom of the Rancher 420 took a little abuse, but what most on the ride noticed was that we could clear just about anything in the trail due to the high ground clearance of this machine.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Action 3

Thanks to improved ground clearance, the Rancher was able to roll easily over most trail debris without dinging up the underside.

Riding for about five hours gave us a chance to notice just how long the 3.9 gallons of fuel would last. Our riding style was probably a little more aggressive than most, which usually results in a noticeable dip in fuel economy. But Honda’s four-stroke thumper just slowly sipped away at the gas in the tank.

The 2015 Rancher 420 has many new features and one that we think every machine with 4WD should have is EPS, or Electronic Power Steering. Our test unit was indeed 4WD and equipped with the power steering. This just makes life easier when 4WD is engaged and keeps the stress off of the rider. If you are traversing really rugged terrain with a lot of questionable cambers or ruts, the last thing you want is a tough steering effort. Honda has you covered and we enjoyed this feature as well.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher Action 2

No matter the terrain or season, the 2015 Honda Rancher is up to the task.

Like we mentioned, Honda has really stepped back into the redevelopment game with all of its machines and it shows that Honda is still committed to the industry and its customers. From looks to overall performance, the Honda ATV line is improving and from what we can tell it will continue to do so for years to come.

2015 Honda FourTrax Rancher 420 4×4 Specs
Model Name:TRX420FA5 / TRX420FA6 (with EPS)
Engine:420cc liquid-cooled OHV semi-dry-sump longitudinally mounted single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore x Stroke:86.5mm x 71.5mm
Compression Ratio:9.9:1
Induction:Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), 34mm throttle body
Ignition:Full-transistorized with electronic advance
Starter:Electric with optional auxiliary recoil
Transmission:Automatic ESP five-speed with Reverse
Driveline:Direct front and rear driveshafts with TraxLok® and torque-sensing front differential
Front Suspension:Independent double-wishbone; 7.3 inches travel
Rear Suspension:Independent dual-arm; 8.5 inches travel
Front Brakes:Dual hydraulic 190mm discs
Rear Brake:Single hydraulic 170mm disc
Front Tires:24 x 8-12
Rear Tires:24 x 10-11
Length/Width/Height:84.6 x 47.4 x 46.8 in
Curb Weight:672 lbs (686 lbs for EPS model)
Seat Height:50.9 in
Wheelbase:34.9 in
Ground Clearance:9.2 in
Fuel Capacity:4.4 US gal.
Turning Radius:11.5 feet
Colors:Red, Orange, Honda Phantom Camo
MSRP:Starting at $6,199 – $6,899
Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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