2009 Honda Fourtrax Rancher ES Long Term Review

2009 Honda Fourtrax Rancher ES Long Term Review


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The Honda Fourtrax Rancher long has been considered a rugged, powerful and state-of-the-art workhorse. The perfect tool for just about any job farmers, hunters, and industrial workers would have it do. This 4×4 is truly in its element when assisting and simplifying tasks that would otherwise be discouragingly challenging and energy draining. We’ve had the pleasure to have such a generous machine among us for over a year now; A 2007 TRX420FE, or if you prefer, a fuel injected and liquid cooled Fourtrax Rancher ES with Honda’s famous electric shift program.

A real trooper
Back in 2007, this Rancher’s had suffered the boldness of Honda engineers, bent on making the very good, even better. The Honda Rancher was completely redesigned that year, to keep up with the fast growing demands of devoted Honda Rancher riders. The addition of EFI and a change to liquid cooling were among the main upgrades to this already beloved recipe. 1162 km is the displayed count on the very efficient and clearly laid out digital instrument panel as I write these words. Each one of these kilometers felt perfectly safe and as each one passed the feeling of total confidence grew evermore and the fun never toned down. It simply never failed us in any way and the only repair ever needed, was changing the huge front plastic bumper cover with the nice HONDA letters stamped in it, after an overzealous attempt to cross an impossible to conquer monstrous mud hole with boulders in it. Yes, I might have cracked a little bit of plastic, but at least I actually made it through that mess, as onlookers laughed and applauded in disbelief. I was extremely pleased to find out that this replacement part would only cost 18 dollars. Nice to know that they’re not trying to get us back.

Becoming good friends at work or play
With an engine essentially redesigned from scratch and fuel fed by a fuel-injection system for improved cold-weather starting, consistent performance at high altitude, and of course increased power, this puppy quickly turned into our preferred nice and stable trail rider, that perfectly fit the profile of a dependable training or beginners ride. It’s been our donkey on countless outings to test other quads, but we can’t help but take it out for a fun spin every time we get the chance. We admit that this was not among the most exciting to ride for us who are exposed to the frivolous behavior of today’s engineers with their almost exaggerated powerful offerings recently defacing the ATV scene. This more basic and logical formula seems much better adapted to the masses; for regular riders who’s relaxing Sunday rides need only a user friendly and very safe machine that also promises good reliability, to insure worry-free fun or work. Easy steering, a superbly comfortable seat and a non-straining thumb throttle, make–up for what it may lack in comfort, compared to larger quads with independent rear suspension. Add an easy to engage 4wd lever and an extra large easy to find and turn knob for switching to your fuel reserve. These are but a few things that make it such a friendly off-road vehicle.

One thing we very much like to feel from an ATV is when it can be both fun to just ride and be hard at work when we need it to be. This is exactly what this quad provided us with and the electric shifting of gears by pushing buttons seemed perfect for both. While working, having quick access from a strong and torque filled first gear to a practical reverse at our thumbs command, without ever having to let go of the handles was a definite plus. Early on, we were tempted to push the transmission close to its limits, Honda owners have been known to do that and very rarely do we hear about someone breaking theirs from overloading it. So we used it to move a closed trailer filled with hardware tools and materials, boy was that thing heavy! The bend in the rubber of our tires was very telling of how hard our little friend was working. We did at first have to struggle a little with the index operated unlocking button and brake lever combo to access reverse, but after just a few repeated sequences it became second nature. I’m pretty sure we would have cooked the belt doing the same with just about any other ride, but be advised, repairing a broken transmission will be much more expensive than replacing a simple drive belt.

At play, the longitudinally mounted design exclusive to Honda, which first appeared on the Honda Foreman 400, greatly improves handling by achieving a very low center of gravity and giving the whole ride a very secure feel in curves. Couple this with the very basic, yet still efficient straight axle suspension at the rear, and that makes it one of the safest quads to throw around out with ease of maneuverability and predictable control.

A little maintenance will go a long way
When came the time to do a little maintenance, the thought of having to uninstall all these extra plastic panels before getting access to the machine’s mechanics wasn’t very appealing, but the fact is, stripping the entire ride of its skin is done in no time. A little pull and the side panels are off, unsnapped. Removing the seat is superbly easy without compromising the solidity of its anchoring while riding; I have unhooked seats on many quads, but this is something that just couldn’t happen with this one. Falling first into view is the air filter box, nicely placed for ease of access and with four quick snapping clips that provide a decent seal to its cover. Another small top rear panel needs a quick and easy snapping off to access the battery. The drain plug for the engine oil is also easily reached through a hole in the very efficient skid plates. No chain to lube since this is a shaft driven ride. Well taken care of with the recommended maintenance, your Honda will be rendered practically timeless.

One of the safest quads to ride
This is no wheelie popping and power sliding ATV. Gunning it in first will merely prop up the back end a bit, a known trait of shaft driven machines, but the Rancher series provides a host of features that Honda enthusiasts have come to depend upon: a beefy cooling system, super-heavy-duty automatic clutch, powerful 343-watt AC generator, corrosion-resistant stainless-steel exhaust header and muffler (that seemingly looks just as bad as any after a year) and front wheel disc brakes that will securely stop this FourTrax Rancher ES ATV efficiently and comfortably, thanks to long and smoothly operating levers. We tested the brakes on dry asphalt and couldn’t get the front wheels to lock up and the lightweight machine stopped on a dime, without scaring the bejesus out of us. It felt very controlled and in turn means it certainly has less of a tendency to lock up too quickly on slicker grounds, as many other quads sadly do.

Our little red riding Honda had the available ESP with simple-to-use push-button upshifting and downshifting which worked flawlessly, 95% of the time. Staying stuck day dreaming between gears was a rare occurrence but did slow us down a few times. Luckily a little shake was all that was needed for our trail friend to snap back to reality. That is actually a very small price to pay for having one of the most advanced drive systems that money can buy. Know this: your Hondamatic transmission will never squeal under pressure or let you down as you safely head back home. Featuring true engine braking, it uses standard engine oil as hydraulic fluid and when the desired button is pressed, the ECU commands the control motor to move the swash plate to the next higher or lower preset position. Fully sealed, it stays unthreatened by external contaminants and uses the engine to drive a hydraulic pump that forces hydraulic fluid through sequential pistons. It is a hydro-mechanical continuously variable transmission with a fixed-volume piston pump and a variable-volume piston motor in opposition on the same shaft. Sounds complicated? Well it is, but unlike traditional belt drives, the Hondamatic is maintenance-free and a much more quiet and rugged option. It’s a known fact that people, who tend to go out far away alone like hunters, prefer this worry-free type of transmission to the more unpredictable drive belt type.

Equipped for the long run
Among the other unique features of this multi-talented player is a proven reliable 420cc longitudinally-mounted engine, a principal that boasts more horsepower and torque than a normally aligned engine by eliminating 90-degree power transfers. Its overhead-valve design provides compact engine dimensions for improved ground clearance while maintaining a broad, easy-to-use powerband. No, this is not among the highest standing rides available, nor the most powerful, but it oddly seems incredibly able to conquer just about anything in 4WD mode and the underside is well-protected enough with the stock skid plates and A-arm guards, that we never ran out of confidence. At the very worst, when we did get stuck in the mud, this is a light machine that we always managed to pull out with limited effort by hand. I think it’s also important to point out that we never even had to refill the tires with air once, we were very pleased with the tire and rim combination and the very narrow profile of the front Maxxis tires had a lot to do with the impressive handling of this ATV.

Imposing perfect positioning of the riders feet, the footpegs could be made a little larger but are perfectly placed. The foot brake lever, though, is placed way too high and we also went ahead and bent it outwards a little more so more of its tip would be placed under our sole. The foot wells could have been a tad wider at the footpegs level, to better protect from foot slippage off of the peg and this would also have provided better protection from splashes of water and splotches of mud. As is, this quad remains among the ones that keep its rider the cleanest, with fenders stretching out wider than the threads of its excellent Maxxis tires. Despite the fact that we have had no repairs to make whatsoever so far, we did find a few other things that could be improved: not much room to put much of anything in the rear storage box and there’s a tad too much dipping of the front when you let off the gas.

Of course, this is no mud bogging beast, but it doesn’t claim to be one either. If you don’t have too many high expectations in terms of obstacle conquering capacity, this is a safe perfectly balanced ride that most users will thoroughly enjoy, for what we suspect will be: a very long time!

For more information on the above mentioned models, please visit the Honda Website

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