2012 Honda Foreman ATV First Ride 0

Honda has been in the ATV game since the beginning. It gave birth to the industry with its three-wheeled creations of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, debuting its first four-wheeled ATV in 1984. The Foreman sport-utility quad came around not long after, in 1987. The popular model has survived 25 years and five design cycles, with the 2012 Foreman the latest incarnation. This new Honda is notable as the first-ever complete redesign overseen by the Japanese giant’s Ohio-based R&D department. The American ATV connection runs deeper, as the new model is manufactured in Honda’s Timmonsville, South Carolina plant.

So what’s new on the American-made Foreman? Honda invited MotoUSA out to the ATV wonderland known as Carolina Adventure World to see for ourselves.

Power from the Foreman's 475cc liquid-cooled Single was more than capable of handling the trails at Carolina Adventure World.

Power from the Foreman’s 475cc liquid-cooled Single was more than capable of handling the trails at Carolina Adventure World.

Changes begin on the visual level, with this Foreman sporting more aggressive lines than its predecessor, shrugging at the utilitarian nature of its sport-utility calling. That’s not to say Honda has forgotten the practical requirements of its ATV design. Owners purchase Foremans as fuel efficient farm hands, patrolling fence lines for repairs, running across fields during irrigation chores, or assisting in any of the various and sundry duties called upon ranchers, dirt farmers and other fine folks in the practical trades. When the day is done, however, work and play can mix as the Foreman is more than capable on the trails.

A revised 475cc longitudinal Single powers the Foreman. This engine wasn’t just ferried across the Pacific and assembled in South Carolina, we saw the molten aluminum poured into the castings to make the engine cases on the assembly line (watch for a future article on the Foreman production process). Engineers bumped up compression on the liquid-cooled oversquare powerplant from 8.5 to 9.5:1, netting a claimed 10% increase in rear wheel horsepower and 6% more torque. Power from the Single, while not overwhelming, proved bullish enough to get the claimed 644 pounds (curb weight) of our test unit around the Carolina Adventure World trails with some gusto (non-power steering version 628-pound curb weight). We heard murmurs from a couple fellow journos about top-end high-speed performance, but the Foreman isn’t made for WFO bombing and we found the power more than adequate.

New for this year is the fuel injection system, which utilizes a 36mm throttle body. Fueling is immediate, yet smooth. We were particularly fond of the gentle throttle application, with our right thumb not fatigued after a long day in the saddle.

Torque output from the single axle rear comes via shaft drive. Switching from standard 2WD to 4WD on the Foreman can be done on the fly via left-side mechanical lever. While the Foreman lacks a front differential lock, traction was impressive and exceeds its intended sport-utility use.

Where other ATV makers have moved toward fully automatic transmissions in this utility class, Honda deliberately retained a manual shift because of customer feedback. We tested the electric shift (ES) version of the Foreman five-speed transmission, plus reverse. The automatic clutch doesn’t require any lever pull, just bang through the gears via thumb on the left switchgear shifter. We were happy to clunk the Foreman ES into third gear and ride it like a full auto, which it did without trouble. First gear wasn’t applicable at all to our trail-riding use, even second was rarely utilized, but those lower gears would be perfect for creeping along trails while hunting, or tugging a heavy trailer on the job.

Our biggest handling praise, however, we’ll reserve for Honda’s electric power steering system. Smacking into rocks and rolling into ruts at speed didn’t result in harsh bar yanks and tiring corrections, instead riders enjoy manageable feedback through the bars.

Our biggest handling praise, however, we’ll reserve for Honda’s electric power steering system. Smacking into rocks and rolling into ruts at speed didn’t result in harsh bar yanks and tiring corrections, instead riders enjoy manageable feedback through the bars.

The reverse gear is much appreciated, particularly when in a jam. Yet the engagement felt convoluted, requiring the operator to press down a small “R” button on top the left brake lever. While depressing the button, riders must then pull in the lever completely before downshifting from Neutral into Reverse. The backwards button work great once engaged, it just seems there could be an easier way to toss the Foreman into R.

That left side lever also houses the parking brake, with riders squeezing the lever and sliding the brake stop in. Up front a pair of hydraulic stoppers has been beefed up to 196mm discs, from 180mm on the predecessor. Combined with the mechanical rear drum, still 180mm, the brakes scrub off speed well and we felt confident on the steep downhill sections.

In terms of handling, Honda has retuned the suspension for comfort on the 2012 model, softening up the five-way preload adjustable front shocks. The single-axle rear end is completely refreshed this year, with a wider swingarm and a single shock replacing the dual-unit on the previous model. Again, while many sport-utility competitors have opted to go for independent rear suspensions, Honda sticks with the traditional single axle based on customer demands. The single axle makes for a better towing mule, catering to the Foreman’s agricultural demographic, and the Foreman is rated up to 850 pounds from the standard drop pin trailer hitch. While it may have been tuned for utility comfort, the Foreman chassis held up to trail abuse without complaint. The 7.6 inches of ground clearance and suspension travel (6.7 inches front, 6.9 inches rear) allowed the Foreman to attack some grin-inducing terrain challenges.

Part of the handling credit goes to new Maxxis tires (25 x 8-12 front / 25 x 10-12 rear), which delivered plenty of traction and minimal side roll. The Maxxis rubber was purpose-built for the Foreman and replaces last year’s Dunlop ATV tires. Our biggest handling praise, however, we’ll reserve for Honda’s electric power steering system. Smacking into rocks and rolling into ruts at speed didn’t result in harsh bar yanks and tiring corrections, instead riders enjoy manageable feedback through the bars. Sampling accompanying test ATVs without the EPS on the Carolina Adventure World trails illustrate that the system is more than worth the extra $600 asking price.

The riding position on the Foreman proved amenable to long stints in the saddle. With a cush seat, wide footpegs and floorboards, standing up and moving around on the quad is both easy and comfortable. As for splash protection, we mashed our way through every mud hole we could find, unleashing our inner five-year-old. The worst we could manage was an occasional spattering up through the left side of the engine onto our boot and pant leg. Even sustained water contact mobbing through creek beds our feet remained dry – and we were wearing our Thor 50/50 half boot.

Sit behind the controls and fit and finish is typical Honda solid. The LCD display is easy to read at speed, with a useful gear position indicator on the left, digital speedometer front and center and a fuel gauge on the right (the Foreman sporting a 4-gallon tank). A waterproof 12V accessory socket is located below the steering column on the front left-side of the rider interface. Nearby a small storage compartment is water resistant and can hold a modest amount of gear. The storage capacity is supplemented by cargo racks front and rear, rated for a respective 66 and 133 pounds. The official Honda Genuine Accessories line also includes spacious front and rear cargo boxes.

The Foreman comes with a standard one-year warranty, as do the official Honda Genuine Accessories, including the Warn Winch (above) - an handy gadget for the trail.

The Foreman comes with a standard one-year warranty, as do the official Honda Genuine Accessories, including the Warn Winch (above) – an handy gadget for the trail.

Honda is quite keen on expanding its accessory lineup. The company notes quality accessories are more important than ever, providing additional revenue but also fostering brand loyalty. Our favorite extra bit from the Honda catalog was the winch, manufactured by Warn but designed to install seamlessly with the stock Foreman. The Warn winch proved particularly useful retrieving a waterlogged ATV during one a deep creek crossing – the guy with the winch will never want for friends on the gnarly trails! The Honda Genuine Accessories line come with a one-year warranty from the date of purchase, with Honda offering a standard one-year factory warranty on the Foreman itself (extended coverage available with Honda Protection Plan).

The 2012 Foreman comes in four different versions, depending on electric shift and power steering configurations ranging in price from $6899 to $7699. All told it’s another versatile workhorse from Honda, built to perform on the job and play hard off the clock.

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