2011 Honda Big Red First Ride 0

11_honda_bigred_frHonda’s Multipurpose Utility Vehicle, the Big Red, is updated for 2011 to bolster its reputation as a hard-working side-by-side. Bridging the gap between a mulish work rig and a razor-sharp sport machine, the Big Red is a comfortable, fun ride but make no mistake, it leans heavily toward the realm of hard labor.

Honda’s goal for 2011 was to improve the payload capacity and make the MUV increasingly usable for the working man. The oversized rear box is now rated for 1000 pounds of cargo, which is double the previous rating. Additionally, towing capacity from the two-inch hitch receiver has increased 300 pounds for a 1500-pound total. Honda says the previous load ratings were conservative to begin with, but engineers went through and made sure the components were capable of holding the increased weight. A few parts were beefed up and the new Big Red was ready to roll.

Honda’s Multipurpose Utility Vehicle, the Big Red, is updated for 2011 to help bolster its reputation as a hard-working side-by-side.

Honda’s Multipurpose Utility Vehicle, the Big Red, is updated for 2011 to help bolster its reputation as a hard-working side-by-side.

The fuel-injected 675cc single-cylinder engine is unchanged. A 9.2:1 compression ratio squishes fuel mixture fed by Honda’s PGM-FI electronic fuel injection with a 40mm throttle body. Smashing the throttle provides acceptable acceleration and activating 4WD provides enough thrust to push the driver back into the new bench seat. Our test day had mild temperatures so starting was no issue and we doubt it will be with the EFI.

Big Red also uses the same three-speed automatic transmission with an automotive-style torque converter. Unlike other UTVs, this system does not use a belt, which has proven to be a point of contention on other machines. Belts wear out, but Honda’s tramsmission does not (or at least it isn’t a regular wear part). Plus it has the benefits of being sealed which means maintenance is lower and there’s no concern about water getting inside which causes problems for CVT drive systems. Also, the engagement off idle is amazingly smooth. There’s none of that herky-jerky feeling as the engine spins up. For us, the downside is that it actually has to shift gears. The continuous spread of power from a CVT is nice, and Honda’s transmission seems to work a little harder. Shifts are lurchy at times, particularly under slow or moderate (normal) acceleration. The three-speed meshed best and didn’t suffer from heavy rpm drop when accelerating at full tilt.

Even though we like the Honda Rincon utility ATV, we were happy to find that this powertrain arrangement is much more at home in the Big Red. In 2WD the rear differential is unlocked, which makes for a tight turning radius and low impact on the soil. Honda even claims that the new tires create less damage on turf despite the gnarlier Maxxis tread pattern. We did run into some situations where the Big Red got hung up on a relatively minor obstacle. At low speeds, lifting one rear tire off the ground stops forward momentum. A quick shift into 4WD is all it takes to get moving again. The standard 4WD position locks the rear differential but leaves the forward differential unlocked. For maximum traction, a third setting is available that locks both ends. We used this in the mud and when dragging the skidplate over terra firma. Turning radius is relatively unaffected in 4WD, but steering becomes harder at the wheel and the corners get wider with the front differential locked.

One of the drawbacks to an open rear differential is that it doesn’t want to slide as easily. Drifting the Big Red is still feasible and actually very predictable, but it’s a four-wheeled affair. The heavy front end likes to push when driven aggressively. Narrower front tires with more bite would likely help, but considering the speeds, there’s no real need for improved handling as there’s not much reason to be pushing the big Honda. It’s a work vehicle, drive it like one. The 40-mph top speed is nice when you have to cover some ground but the non-adjustable front suspension and limited rear shocks aren’t up for hammering through rough stuff. They’re stiff and built to carry big weight from one point to another.

The independent double-wishbone rear suspension switched out dual rate springs for heavier single-rate coils and the shocks are now preload adjustable. Honda also increased the tube thickness on the rear lower A-arms by 0.6mm. Ride quality on the Big Red is fine. It’s not overly comfortable but with 5.9 inches up front and 7.1 inches of suspension travel in the rear, the MUV covers rough terrain adeptly. We were especially impressed with the tight turning radius, despite its large physical stature. One of the things that Honda is proud of is that the Big Red’s handling performance is consistent whether hauling cargo or empty. We hauled a loaded trailer and also put a full 1000 pounds in the bed. Honda wasn’t kidding. The Big Red remains very well-mannered, though speeds are obviously lower. Carrying a full load in the rear cargo box proved that the Honda lives up to representative claims. A trip around the short obstacle course demonstrated that even with the suspension fully maxed, the Big Red was able to make all the tight 180-degree turns without problem.

Big Red features aggressive, four-ply Maxxis Bighorn tires which sport the same 25×10-12 dimensions front and rear. The wider footprint, burly tread pattern and tougher sidewalls help keep the Honda in control during any situation. Plus they are better able to handle the increased payload. We only experienced a little lateral slipping during the sidehill traverse but forward traction and braking are great. We’ve come to love the Bighorns.

The cab has been updated as well with a new contoured bench seat to replace the old buckets. This new saddle is comfortable and makes slipping in and out of either side very simple. It also provides more storage space if you want to toss something in for the ride. Honda also added some hooks that allow the side nets to be rolled up and stored out of the way. We find the nets fairly annoying in general, so it’s nice to be able to tuck them away when not in use.

Honda has put a lot of safety features into the Big Red with the sole purpose of keeping operators and passengers free from harm. In doing so, it also created a laundry list of tasks to get moving – door, net, seat belt, key, gear select and parking brake. Mostly it’s the first two items that take up a lot of extra time. After hopping in and out all day for photos and to mess around with features, it’s obvious that it isn’t a hop-in-and-go. However, we can see the benefits even though we didn’t get to put them to use. Some UTVs don’t even have a parking brake and the Big Red’s is strong and placed where it won’t likely be nudged by a rider. Our test course didn’t send us through any tall grass, brush or low-hanging branches, which would have put the doors and nets to good use. Also, there’s no denying that keeping people inside the cab is a good thing in the event of a rollover.

The roll cage (Honda calls it a Roll Over Protection Structure, or ROPS) is now OSHA certified (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), meaning it can be used on the job site without any issues. There is nothing structurally different about the cage; the only difference is that Honda spent the resources to go through the certification process.

Disc brakes on all four wheels provide great stopping power. Outright binding grip from the hydraulics aren’t mind boggling, but the feel is consistent and ample in every situation we encountered. Even carrying maximum cargo and a loaded flatbed with hay bales, the Honda is able to slow from all speeds with control and confidence. Brake lines are crisscrossed front to rear which means there is always braking force applied to both sides of the machine and to the front and rear, even if one of the lines is damaged. This is another automotive feature that Honda has adapted to the MUV.

One of the things that bugs us most about the Big Red is a lack of display features. There is no speedometer, tachometer, trip meter, hour meter or even a basic clock. Honda reps claim the MUV will reach a governed top speed of 40 mph, but we’ll have to take their word for it since there is no dash-mounted information. All that’s available are some basic warning lights. Fortunately, the Big Red has a long list of Honda Genuine Accessories to help make up for some of the smaller items. In stock trim, Big Red owners can expect to pay $11,699 for the standard red or olive, and $12,299 for a camo version.

Honda has created a fantastic working machine with the Big Red and in 2011 it’s even more competent than before. It’s extremely usable for a wide array of jobs and chores. As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Having the ability to head out for an easy trail ride or hunting trip brings extra value to the Honda, but ultimately it’s the solid engine, independent suspension, increased payload and comfortable, usable cab that make this the machine we’d choose when it’s time to go to work.

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