Machinery Chatter
Dan Miller Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

Tuesday 05/27/14

Honda's Pioneer 500 Is Small But Mighty

Meet the 2015 Pioneer 500. It is the newest side-by-side from American Honda Motor Company, third in a line of off-road vehicles Honda began to introduce a year ago -- models that include the Pioneer 700 and four-seat Pioneer 700-4, in addition to the smaller 500.

Honda's new side-by-side is 10 inches narrower and 250 pounds lighter than the 700 series. It's narrow enough to fit in the back of a pickup. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Dan Miller)

Honda's marketing gurus stress the 1,010-pound Pioneer 500 is "compact, affordable and fun."

It is all of those and versatile, too. The Pioneer 500 is 10 inches narrower and 250 pounds lighter than its 700-model cousins. It can be transported in the bed of a full-size pickup. The Pioneer 500 carries and tows a decent load. It's pretty quick, too -- topping out at a 40 mph. At a suggested retail base price of $8,499, it is a side-by-side that sits comfortably within the price range of many ATVs. The 500 also is about half the price of full-sized side-by-sides.

The Pioneer 500 ought to find good use on farms and ranches across the U.S. Three key features for that market stood out during a recent test drive in Kentucky.

First is the Pioneer 500's two-passenger seating. Whether it be for working cattle, fixing a fence line or taking gear out to the shooting house, the trail friendly, 50-inch wide Pioneer 500 comfortably moves two people and their gear to where the work -- and the hunt -- lives. For two people, even those who may be larger than average, this is a comfortable drive. The riders are separated by enough space on the bench seat that the passenger does not interfere with driver steering. Boot space on the floor of the cab is a bit cozy. That's because the 500's front wheel wells intrude some upon floor space.

Second is cargo capacity. The Pioneer 500 carries 450 pounds on a back rack built from flat, tube steel. The rack measures 30-inches by 46-inches and is 37.5 inches off the ground for easy lifting. Honda offers cargo bags ($129.95 to $159.95), a rear-mounted cargo tray ($239.95) and hard-sided cargo box ($549.95) that can be mounted onto the rack. But in the eyes of farmer-inventors, the rack should be seen as an open-invitation to create new ways to move stuff.

The Pioneer 500 tows 1,000 pounds. That's a respectable pull for its 475 cc, liquid cooled, fuel injected engine. (The engine's genetics derive from the proven power plant Honda mounts to its Four-Trax Foreman ATV.) The potential buyer will notice that the Pioneer 500 sports a 1 1/4-inch receiver, as opposed to a 2-inch receiver found on many side-by-sides, including Honda's 700 series vehicles. Honda engineers were reportedly concerned that a two-inch receiver would encourage users to tow over-capacity loads with the 500. That won't prevent owners from adding 2-inch adaptors. Honda -- and owners -- will likely learn what effect two-inch towing has on the Pioneer 500 as users turn to the adaptors. But it's a minor "hitch" in a well-designed vehicle.

Three is five-speed shifting. The Pioneer 500 features five forward speeds and reverse. At a time when much off-road ATV and side-by-side shifting is a thing of the past, Honda matches this highly useful feature to its vehicle. The 500 mounts an electric shift (no clutch) system featuring paddle shifters mounted on either side of the steering wheel. The right paddle shifts up, the left paddle shifts down.

The shifting is intuitive, and with a bit of practice will likely increase the life of the 500's front and rear disc brakes as the operator uses down-shifting -- not the brakes -- to negotiate terrain and tight turns. The ability to hold a lower gear also allows the driver to take full advantage of the 500's low-end torque. It's very low; first gear gives the Pioneer 500 good hill climbing abilities, and better, highly controlled, downhill engine breaking. Shifting up and down the gears is smooth. This feature adds much to the 500's surprising trail hugging maneuverability.

Here are other features from the Pioneer 500 of note.

-- Two- and four-wheel drive is accomplished by way of a simple shifter. The 500 has no power steering, so four-wheel drive tightens the steering a bit. But four-wheel drive holds the Pioneer 500 to the trail through turns and uphill climbs.

-- Double wishbone suspension front and rear has 5.9 inches of travel. The rear suspension can be adjusted for the load. The Pioneer 500 has 9.6 inches of ground clearance.

-- Fuel capacity is 4.1 gallons, including a 1.1-gallon reserve. The 500 is stingy with fuel, giving this side-by-side good range. The tank is on the passenger side of the vehicle, which puts it opposite that of a pickup. It's slightly inconvenient when fueling both the truck and the Pioneer 500 loaded into the back of the truck.

-- Double latch, twist-action door release knobs open the door-and-net combinations. The single-unit door and net opens to 180 degrees. Entering and exiting the 500 is simple.

-- Colors include red, olive, yellow (yellow goes nicely with the Pioneer 500's aggressive styling) and Honda Phantom Camo.

-- Hard roof ($389.95), full windscreen ($499.95), winch ($299.95), cargo rack LED work light ($149.95), and an under-the-hood tray ($149.95).

-- The crew cab includes a 12-volt power outlet. A digital, multi-function meter shows gear position, speed, odometer and fuel level.

Honda is promising new introductions to its Pioneer line in the coming months. The first three Pioneer side-by-sides are U.S.-designed and built in Timmonsville, S.C. For more information go to: www.powersports.honda.com <http://www.powersports.honda.com/…> .

Posted at 6:58AM CDT 05/27/14 by Dan Miller
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