2014 Honda Pioneer 700 Second Ride 0

14_honda_pioneer_700-headerHonda’s Big Red side-by-side never lived up to its full potential. So just four years after its introduction, it’s being replaced with this: the Honda Pioneer 700. Engineered and assembled here in America, the Pioneer offers equal parts work and play, at a price staring just under 10 grand.

American tastes can be fickle. Fortunately, Honda has plenty of experience catering to us with its passenger cars and minivans. For the development of the Pioneer, it tasked its Ohio-based design team to zero-in on the features farmers and ranchers need most without skimping too much on the fun.

The Pioneer continues to feature a lever-operated and strut-assisted tilt bed with a payload capacity of 1000 pounds.

The Pioneer continues to feature a lever-operated and strut-assisted tilt bed with a payload capacity of 1000 pounds.

Beginning with the chassis, the Pioneer gets a fresh layout that sports identical measurements to its optional four-seat model ($11,699). Wheelbase has grown 1.1 inches—adding stability—yet overall length has been reduced to just over 9.5 feet. It’s also a couple inches narrower so it can squeeze through tight spots, and fit in the cargo area of most long-box pickup trucks. It rolls on 12-inch steel wheels with staggered tire sizes front to rear. Both front wheels get a 200mm cross-drilled disc with a smaller 170mm diameter rotor mounted discretely between the rear differential and driveshaft. All three brakes are linked hydraulically. On the scales Honda says it tips in at 1261 ready to drive (two seat)—172 pounds less than the outgoing Big Red.

Despite not employing power steering, in action, the wheel is weighted well and offers more precise steering feel, with reduced slop than other side-by-sides we’ve driven recently. It’s worth noting though that since the rear wheels spin together, through a locking rear differential (more on that later), it does require a little extra effort during tight, slow speed maneuvering. Still, Honda claims a turning radius of 14.8 feet.

The Pioneer continues to benefit from independent front and rear suspension—just like its FourTrax line of utility ATVs. However, the suspension’s control arms are longer, with nearly eight inches of travel at the front, and 9.1 inches rearward. Damping is provided via four coil spring shocks. Furthermore, the spring preload on the rear suspenders can be adjusted to help level the chassis when loaded, or based on overall handling preference.

On the trail, handling is crisp and delivers adequate ride quality over loose rock. The chassis is playful enough to have fun in, but a true sport machine it’s not—with it jolting the driver and experiencing occasional bump steer when encountering larger obstacles at speed. Ground clearance is rated at 10.5 inches and we heard the skid plate do its job more than few times, even at a moderate pace. Still it’s nice to know that there is some degree of performance when shuttling back and forth between jobs.

When it’s time to work, the Honda offers a two-inch receiver neatly integrated into the frame and capable of pulling up to 1500 pounds. It also boasts a strut-assisted tilting cargo bed with a rated payload of half a ton. Though, the bed’s internal dimensions (36 x 39 inches) aren’t quite big enough to hold a conventional pallet. There’s also a D-ring style fastener in each corner to help secure loads, if needed.

The up-spec four-seat Honda Pioneer 700 is the only UTV on the market with collapsible rear seats neatly integrated into the tilt bed.

The up-spec four-seat Honda Pioneer 700 is the only UTV on the market with collapsible rear seats neatly integrated into the tilt bed.

Without a doubt, the best feature of the Pioneer is its smart and easy to set-up modular rear seats (standard on the four seat model, a $1600 upcharge). Releasing a latch inside the bed exposes either the right or left seat that can be propped up with matching three point seat belts hanging off the top of the roll cage. Though it’s a tight squeeze, it’s possible to wedge a six-foot tall person back there. More creature comforts come in the form of latching doors (with integrated cup holders up front) and nets to help keep limbs inside the vehicle in the event of a roll over or when traversing technical terrain like big rocks.

The cockpit is simple but effective, with a fixed position bench main seat wide enough to accommodate three average-sized adults. Curiously, there are only two seat belts. There isn’t a whole lot of legroom for taller drivers and it’s possible for knees to occasionally bump the bottom of the dashboard. Despite not using tilt functionality, the steering wheel is angled nicely and we appreciate the simple and effective function of the hand-operated parking brake. Other nice touches including the transmission’s gated shifter (forward, neutral, and reverse), and drive mode selector (two, and four wheel drive—with the ability lock the front differential, enabling true 100% four-wheel drive, say for rock crawling). Both levers engage with greater tactility than an inline or push-button shifting set-up.

Instrumentation consists of a small digital readout that houses a speedometer, drive mode, and meter level of the 8.2-gallon fuel tank. There’s also an odometer, trip, and engine hour meter functions, and a headlight toggle switch on the left side of the steering wheel, opposite the engine’s key start switch. Lastly, the Pioneer is equipped with a cigarette-lighter style 12-volt power plug and a handy maintenance indicator that illuminates after 100 hours of run time or 600 miles, whatever occurs first.

The Pioneer’s automatic transmission responded well to trail conditions with a light load. We especially appreciate its engine brake effect on declines. The Pioneer’s automatic transmission responded well to trail conditions with a light load. We especially appreciate its engine brake effect on declines.

The Pioneer’s automatic transmission responded well to trail conditions with a light load. We especially appreciate its engine brake effect on declines.

Our biggest gripe is the lack of storage aside from the small glove box and inconveniently located storage compartment underneath the hood—requiring you to exit the cab to access it. It’s worth mentioning that Honda offers a line of accessories including a zippered storage headliner.

The Pioneer 700 continues to get the second half of its moniker from Honda’s tried-and-true water-cooled and fuel-injected 675cc Single. The engine is positioned beneath the seat, between the front and rear axles contributing to favorable handling and a lower center of gravity. Engineered to run longer, with less maintenance, it uses a three-speed automatic transmission with a torque convertor, contrary to the belt-driven CVT style transmission that are popular with other brands. Power is transferred through a full-time locking rear differential—a huge plus for those that tread on loose surfaces, but a possible squawk if you drive on sensitive terrain, like freshly watered grass.

The Pioneer 700 continues to use independent front and rear suspension. However longer control arms have boosted suspension travel over the Big Red. The ability to lock the front differential is another big plus allowing for true, 100% four wheel drive.

The Pioneer 700 continues to use independent front and rear suspension. However longer control arms have boosted suspension travel over the Big Red. The ability to lock the front differential is another big plus allowing for true, 100% four wheel drive.

Engine performance is purposeful and gets the job done. It runs cleanly, isn’t excessively loud, and puts out minimal vibration through the seat and controls. It could use more acceleration and may lack the punch to haul heavy loads up steep inclines. Another potential strike for those who tow is that the transmission doesn’t offer first, or second gear manual override like most heavy-duty pickup trucks.

With a light load on flat terrain it certainly wasn’t a problem and we liked how well the gearbox meshed between cogs. On declines, it downshifted early and let the vehicle slow via compression, yet didn’t hunt for gears excessively when the gas pedal was held to the floor. Gear exchanges were smooth too, and we appreciate that it’s virtually maintenance-free aside from routine oil changes. Speed-wise it achieves an indicated top speed of 45 mph on flat ground, though it took considerable time to get there.

Honda’s Pioneer 700 is still made for work duties primarily. However engineers boosted the fun quotient with sportier handling and added suspension travel.

Honda’s Pioneer 700 is still made for work duties primarily. However engineers boosted the fun quotient with sportier handling and added suspension travel.

Despite its limited storage and ever-so-slightly compact bench seating area, there’s not a whole lot we don’t like about the new Pioneer. If you occasionally lug three or four persons, than its modular rear seats are ingenious. We appreciate the attention to small details like the ergonomically correct hand brake and that the side nets have little hooks to tuck the webbing away when needed. We also adore its taut steering and that it remains amusing to drive despite being a little down on power. Factor its price, including a one-year warranty, and the Pioneer is a downright bargain and should be atop of the list when duty calls on the farm, or the trail.

2014 Honda Pioneer 700 Specs:

Engine: 675cc liquid-cooled OHV four-stroke Single

Bore x Stroke: 102.0mm x 82.6mm

Compression Ratio: 9.2:1

Induction: Fuel injection (PGM-FI), 40mm throttle body

Ignition: Full-transistorized with electronic advance

Clutch: Automatic

Transmission: Automotive style with hydraulic torque converter, three forward gears and reverse. Three drive modes include 2WD, 4WD and 4WD with differential lock

Driveline: Direct front and rear driveshafts

Suspension: Independent double wishbone, 7.9 inches of front travel and 9.1 inches of rear travel

Brakes: 200mm hydraulic disc front, 170mm hydraulic disc rear

Tires: 25×8-12 front, 25×10-12 rear

Length: 114.8 inches

Width: 60.0 inches

Height: 78.3 inches

Ground Clearance: 10.5 inches

Wheelbase: 76.8 inches

Turning Radius: 14.8 feet

Towing Capacity: 1,500 pounds

Payload Capacity: 1,000 pounds

Fuel Capacity: 8.2 gallons, including 1.2-gallon reserve

Colors: Red, Olive, Honda Phantom Camo

Curb Weight: 1261 / 1396 pounds (four-seat)

Warranty: One-year limited warranty, transferable

MSRP: $9999 / four-seat model: $11,699

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