From the front, you can see that the Su­zuki (left) sits a bit lower than the Hon­da. Both quads feature tough bumpers, skid plates, and underbelly protection.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

The hot news so far in ’98 has been the two all-new, big-bore, four-wheel drives from Honda and Suzuki. Called the Honda Foreman 450S and the Suzuki QuadRunner 500, the two machines were only recently introduced to the press, with our first rides reported in our last two issues (DW Feb. ’98 [Suz] and DW Mar. [Hon]). In the never-ending  4×4 War: Hon vs Suz.

This issue marks the first time these ma­chines will do battle in a head-to-head shootout situation. The January Dirt Wheels featured a shootout among three big automatic-transmission 4x4s—the Yamaha Grizzly 600, Polaris Sportsman 500, and the Ka­wasaki Prairie 400.

All three were deemed to be excellent, well-thought-out machines, with the Griz­zly and Sportsman battling for the top spot because of their extra power and great suspension systems.

In case you haven’t noticed already, most of the 4×4 quads made today have a much sportier flavor to them than they have had in the past, with more wheel travel and quicker engines.

There has also been a recent trend to­ward automatic trannies, and some in the industry may have been surprised to see both the Honda Fore­man 450S and Suzuki QuadRunner 500 stick with the manual transmission/auto clutch setups on their new machines.

What the heck, though; au­to transmissions are certainly not the only way to go with big 4x4s, so let’s see how these two “shifter” quads stack up against each other out in the field.



First off, the only thing that the two engines have in common is that they are both single-cylinder four-strokes with push-button electric starters. Beyond that, there are some significant differences between the Foreman and QuadRunner’s powerplants. The most obvious is that the Su­zuki’s cylinder head is liquid-cooled (with a fan assist), while the Hon­da’s relies on air-cooling and a high-flow oil cooler (also with a cooling fan).

The other main difference is the fact that the Suzuki features a conventional overhead cam system with four valves, while the Honda utilizes a pushrod-type engine operating on­ly two valves. While some might consider the pushrod sys­tem archaic (and non-existent in other brands), the Foreman’s engineers claim that it helps to deliver a wide, easy-to-use pow­erband and has already proven to be successful in the previous Fore­man model.

Of course, there’s also the 61cc advantage the Suzuki’s actual 493cc has over the Honda’s 432cc.

From the top, you can see that Honda is slightly narrower and longer. The rack design is actually quite similar on both machines and the payload limits are exactly the same.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

The placement of the engines in the chassis couldn’t be more different—the QuadRunner’s motor, like every other ATV, is situated so that the power is delivered sideways across the frame (picture the location of the countershaft sprocket on chain-driven model). The Foreman’s motor, on the other hand, is spun around 90 de­grees so that the power is delivered in a direct alignment with the driveshaft in a manner like most conventional automobiles. This is the same setup found in the previous Fore­man 400 models as well. Honda of­ficially calls it a “longitudinal-mounting” and it was designed to cut down on moving parts and power loss.

Two more significant points on the Suzuki’s 500 engine is the nickel-silicone-plated cylinder wall instead of the conventional iron liner. This is said to dissipate heat better as well as weigh less. There’s also some trick additional cooling in the form of an oil jet that sprays oil under the piston, a system taken from Suzuki’s street bikes.


After taking a ride on the two quads, our testers agreed that both felt equally strong and peppy on the low-end. However, in the drag race, the QuadRunner would pull about three quad lengths ahead as it hit its top speed somewhere in the 50-mph range, while the Foreman maxed out around 47 mph. Compared to the con­ventional “utility” 4x4s of years past, these two machines certainly have some sporty zip to them.


Both quads have plenty of horsepower for just about any Hillclimb, mud­bog, or any other trail obstacle you might encounter, and both exhibit an easy-to-use, broad powerband. Neither quad would be considered loud and both have a smooth idle that you can hardly hear. In the end, it was hard to find anything to complain about regarding the performance of these two engines.


There are actually two different Fore­man models for ’98: the 450S, which is the unit in this shootout, and the soon-to-be-released 450ES, which really only differs in one way—it features a handlebar-mounted electric shift button, a first in the ATV world.

With that said, both the 450S and the QuadRunner 500 have retained a conventional 4×4 transmission set­up—a foot shifter-operated, five-speed, auto-clutch unit with reverse.

In addition, the Suzuki has a High and Low range for all five gears (one of the bragging rights of the previous Suzuki King Quad model was that it had three ranges for the five gears, but many felt that was a bit of an overkill). Honda’s 450S features a “su­per-low” first gear.

Four-wheel-drive ATVs and swamps just seem to go together. Both quads motored through the muck with ease, and look how clean they stayed!

On the trails, both machines shifted equally as well and no testers grumbled about any gearing troubles. When the two machines are in the low­est gears, they are both capable of super-slow, super-strong maneuvers.

You can literally inch your way over big rocks or ruts, having plenty of time to feel out where the machine is going. The reverse procedures are quite a bit different, with the Quad­Run­ner’s tank-mounted lever and the Fore­man’s brake-lever button/foot shifter procedure, but both systems are quick, easy-to-use, and safe.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.


Both quads feature shaft-drive on all four wheels, the Honda being more direct because of the longitudinally-mounted engine. Both the Quad­Runner and the Foreman have full-time four-wheel drive and a limited-slip differential. Neither has a two-wheel-drive mode.

The Suzuki has the added feature of a new type of limited-slip called SureTrac, which Suzuki claims offer better performance on unequal traction surfaces along with lighter steering effort.

Out in the field on ruts and logs, we did indeed find that the Suzuki has less of a tendency to waste energy “freewheeling” a tire which is up off the ground with no traction (see related story this issue on page 78 for more on four-wheel-drive systems).


In the front suspension department, both machines feature conventional dual A-arms and shocks. Wheel travel for the Suzuki is listed at 5.1 inches, while the Honda measures in higher at 5.9 inches.

In the back, both ma­chines have dual shock setups but a different type of suspension arrangement. The Foreman’s shocks are bolted to a single, tubular swingarm with a solid axle.

On the Suzuki, there are two separate trailing arms, giving the machine a system we call semi-independent suspension. The rear wheels on the QuadRunner are capable of tilti­ng more than the Foreman on ex­tremely uneven surfaces, but the straight axle keeps it from having com­plete independent suspension.

Like the front end, the rear wheel travel is 5.1 inches for the Suzuki and 5.9 inches on the Honda.

The liquid-cooled Suzuki 500 engine has quite a bit more features than the Honda. The dual-range tranny is a nice addition as well.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

Out in the field, both machines give real comfortable rides at slow to moderate speeds on just about any type of trail. Unlike sport and high-performance quads, which don’t ab­sorb bumps so well at slow speeds, these two machines were designed so that the riders can stay comfortably seated most of the time without having to stand up for all the trail obstacles.

Our testers especially liked the front suspension on the Honda, since it seemed to soak up bumps the best. The entire front end on the Foreman al­so feels lighter when riding at a brisk pace compared to the Su­zuki.

During our first test session on the Su­zuki several months ago, the hefty ma­chine was repeatedly jumped at the end of the day for photos, and one could easily argue that we were push­ing the machine past its limits.

By the time this shootout rolled around, the front shocks on the Quad­Runner were pretty whipped, probably due to the unusual abuse it was subjected to. We had the ma­chine replaced with one that only had typical trail time on it and it worked just fine for the duration of the shootout.





The Foreman’s 450 engine looks quite unlike any other ATV because it sits sideways in the frame, sending the power in a more direct route to the shaft drive.  



Both rear suspensions worked quite well for both slow and fast trail speeds. The biggest difference be­tween the two arose whenever we en­countered radically uneven terrain such as ruts, logs, or big rocks. In these conditions, the semi-independent rear suspension of the Suzuki worked the best as the quad stayed more level as the rear wheels pivoted up and down slightly more than the Honda.

Some of our testers preferred the feel of the Suzuki, while others liked the Honda. Everyone noticed that you sit down a little lower on the Quad­Runner and that may give some riders a feeling of more control. Others noted that they thought the Suzuki had a bit more body roll in the front shocks than the Honda, and in their opinion, the Foreman handled more precisely.

Due to the constant four-wheel drive, both machines tend to rail around corners with very little sliding. In fact, it’s tough to get the rear end to slide on either quad.

Both four-wheelers were rated as easy to turn, which couldn’t be said about many of the old 4x4s. There was no debate over which one had the tightest turning radius: the Su­zu­ki could clearly cut a tighter circle than the Honda.

One of the trickest components on the Foreman is the multi-function digital readout on the dash. It spits out speed and mileage and there’s even a clock.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

ATVs appear to be able to han­dle a wide variety of body sizes comfortably. The handlebar placement felt fine on both quads and the footpeg and foot protectors are sturdy and safe. As far as keeping mud off you, these two quads have both gone to the extreme with huge mudguards. Even after sloshing through a nasty bog, both the machines and the riders stayed pretty clean.


Each of the quads has a snorkel-type air intake way up under the fuel tanks, allowing for deep stream crossings with no troubles. Speaking of fuel, both hold about the same amount at 3.2 gals. for the Honda and 3.3 gals. for the Suzuki.

The engineers for both companies put extra effort into the dash readouts, with the Honda getting the high-tech award in that division. The mul­ti-function LCD digital meter found on the Foreman is waterproof and tough, featuring large readouts for the speedometer, odometer, trip meter, and hour/clock. The QuadRunner fea­tures a conventional speedometer and odometer and both machines have a fuel gauge.

The Suzuki has the trickest wheels—a set of sharp-looking, cast aluminum alloy units. Both manufacturers stepped up to the plate when it came to tire sizes and gave us 25-inch tires all the way around. This seems to be the hot setup for 4x4s these days, as the quads are able to top ob­sta­cles that much easier with the bigger meats.

The hillclimb test was this steep, loose run up a canyon. Both quads had the grunt to get the job done as long as the riders kept their momentum going.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

Even though the Suzuki sits lower than the Honda, the QuadRunner ac­tually has a little less than an inch more ground clearance (8.5 inches to 7.7 inches). The Honda has the best light setup, with two frame-mounted units and a handlebar light, while the Su­zu­ki relies on two frame-mount­ed lights. We especially like the way both machines have great protection for the frame-mounted lights in the form of big front bumpers.

Both machines feature electrical ac­cessory hookups; two for the Su­zu­ki, located at either end of the ma­chine and one socket on the Honda near the dash. In the braking department, the QuadRunner has two discs up front and drums in the rear, while the Foreman has all drums.


The Suzuki is the heavyweight of the two with a claimed dry weight of 606 pounds, compared to the Honda’s 573 pounds. The Foreman is also $100 less expensive, with a suggested re­tail of $6199 compared to the Quad­Run­ner’s $6299. The QuadRunner’s price is still several hundred dollars cheaper than the Grizzly 600 and Sportsman 500 4x4s.

4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.


As you can tell by now, this is a tough call. None of our testers or staffers were willing to step up to the plate and exclaim, “This is, without a doubt, the better machine.” Sure, we had our favorites for certain riding conditions, but when it came to picking an all-out winner, it got pretty tough.

We loved the performance of each of these all-new machines when we tested them earlier this year, and they are both considerable im­­provements over their respective pre­decessors.

However, by the end of the weekend, we were able to make several conclusions. The Suzuki’s engine certainly has more features—liquid cooling, nickel-silicone-plated cylinder wall, and oil jet piston cooling.

It al­so has more cubic centimeters and is the fastest in top speed, but not by much. A dual-range, five-speed tranny stands above the single-range five-speed on the Honda. The Quad­Run­ner also has a better rear suspension system for tight, technical riding and an improved limited-slip differential.

Riders liked the way they sat down low­er on the machine when compared to the Honda and the Su­zu­ki does have more ground clearance and a tighter turning radius.

Honda stuck with a relatively low-tech engine but bolted it into the chassis in a unique way—sideways —in an attempt to cut down on moving parts and power loss in the shaft-drive system. On the trails, most of our testers liked the super-plush front suspension on the Foreman the best, as well as the precise handling. The digital dash is pretty trick and the claimed dry weight is 33 pounds less than the Suzuki.

If we have to pick one winner in the last paragraph, it has to be the Su­zu­ki QuadRunner 500. It has the most features and, in the field, the Suzuki performed as well, and in many test­ers’ opinions, better than the Honda.


4×4 WAR: HON vs. SUZ.

After climbing off the Honda Fore­man 450S, riders could find very little to complain about other than the wider turning radius and slightly less confidence on logs and big rocks. In Dirt Wheels’ opinion, both are excellent machines and would be a good choice for recreational riders, hunt­ers, farmers, and ranchers.

For a test of the 2012 Honda Foreman 500 go to this link:


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