ATV TEST: HONDA FOURTRAX RANCHER 4X4 AUTOMATIC DCT EPS

Who says you need a big-bore quad? By the staff of Dirt Wheels

Polished and smooth 4×4 capabilities and EPS make light work of tricky obstacles. The 420cc engine is strong for the displacement yet bulletproof.

Most manufacturers have directed their attention away from sport quad production in the last decade, and Honda certainly has. On a positive note, utility-type quads are becoming a more appealing option. In fact, some are becoming so capable that 4×4 quads are becoming the new sport quad.

We tested the $7699 Honda FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT EPS quad, which is a nicely equipped 420cc version with plenty to offer. This popular and reliable model is proof that variety is the spice of life. It comes in eight versions with the same engine and chassis package. The least expensive is the $5499 FourTrax Rancher. It is two-wheel drive with 5-speed foot-shift and an auto clutch. Next up is the $5799 ES—another 2WD, but with push-button electric shifting. At $6499, we hit the first of the 4WD Ranchers with the 5-speed manual foot-shift with auto clutch. For $6799, we have the FourTrax Rancher 4×4 ES. We are pretty sure you are figuring out the names here—4×4 with electric shift.

The narrow seat profile and desirable handlebar positioning make for a comfortable ride. You can greatly change the feel of the riding position by rotating the bar forward or back.

At $7199, we hit the FourTrax Rancher 4×4 EPS, which adds electric power steering to the last package. Then comes our test quad—FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT EPS. It adds the DCT (dual-clutch transmission). DCT is a true high-performance 5-speed auto trans, but it has the option of shifting manually via push-button. It is actually $200 cheaper to step up to the $7499 FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT IRS. It has the premium transmission with independent rear suspension, but it lacks EPS. The cool-daddy of the range is the $8199 FourTrax Rancher 4×4 Automatic DCT IRS EPS.

The Rancher is ready to put in work with plenty of cargo space and an 848-pound tow capacity. There is room for a winch. Note that the front end has plenty of approach clearance.
The rear swingarm suspension is simple but strong and proven. On the right side is a single large drum brake. It provided ample stopping power in our dry conditions.

TORQUE FOR THE TERRAIN

This Rancher is a great beginner model, thanks to the light and nimble handling, smooth suspension and the fully automatic mode for the transmission. It is plenty of fun to ride for recreation, but is more than capable of holding up a sign; will work for gasoline. Or perhaps, have gasoline, will work.

The single-cylinder 420cc engine is liquid-cooled and electronically fuel-injected. It’s not too much power to keep under control, but it still has enough torque for more challenging trails and climbs. It is important to note: for actual beginners used to small-bore CVT-equipped quads, the responsive engine braking can take a little getting used to.

New riders can feel the automatic trans shifting as they get up to speed, but after gaining experience, they can switch to ESP (for Electronic Shift Program) manual mode if they choose. The DCT auto mode works well for most any situation, but manual shifting can be an advantage for a more aggressive riding style. The 5-speed dual-clutch transmission is fully automatic when you select “auto” with the switch on the right side of the handlebar. It is different than a CVT automatic that has step-less variable drive. Mash the thumb throttle and Rancher shifts through all five gears. It shifts automatically but does shift. Select ESP if you want more control. It isn’t full manual. The computer will not allow the engine to stall. It will force a downshift, and it automatically returns to low gear when you stop. It does allow you to hold the engine in a gear longer and have more control. 

All Rancher 4×4 models come with a TraxLok 4×4 system that allows you to choose between 2WD and 4WD using the left-side selector lever. None of the Rancher lineup has a true locking front differential. Recent updates have made it much easier to engage reverse now with a squeeze of a trigger on the handlebars and the manual-shift thumb controls.

Maxxis tires provide plenty of traction and stay planted through the turns. The tires and wheels are astonishingly light for a 4×4 utility machine.

COMFORT AND CONTROL

Weighing in at just 686 pounds, this machine is still on the lighter side for a utility-type machine. The featured electronic power steering helps this machine feel light rather than wasting energy muscling around the quad’s weight. If you can possibly afford it, do not pass up EPS. The difference is amazing in control and the energy you use riding.

The front dual-A-arm design supplies just over 7 inches of wheel travel. Because we tested the more basic trim model of the Rancher, we had a rear swingarm instead of the independent rear-suspension option. A swingarm rear can sometimes be uncomfortable on a 4×4 setup. When the terrain or obstacles are uneven, and you hit just one wheel, there is a definite jerk that an IRS version does not feel as strongly. The swingarm has less moving parts to maintain and one less shock to worry about.

Without IRS, the rear of the Rancher is notably less prone to leaning to the side. As a result, it feels more planted and safe on side camber trails than the IRS version. We felt like we weren’t compromising any comfort or stability as we rode.

This Honda had plenty of traction from the Maxxis 24×8-12 front and 24×10-11 rear tires, although we did get a small puncture in a rear tire during a somewhat high-speed sand-wash run. The aluminum wheels held up just fine for the trails we were on. Honda has gone all out to ensure that the tires and wheels are light to aid the suspension. The trade-off is strength. Light tires don’t usually offer the best puncture resistance. The same is true of the lightweight aluminum wheels. If you think you might be riding more craggy or hazardous terrain, consider a heftier set of wheels and tires, but be assured that ride and suspension action may suffer.

Handlebar controls allow you to switch between DCT auto and ESP manual modes and shift gears with the push of a button.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY

The Rancher is so named because of its objective to work hard. Whether you are carrying equipment, tools or camping gear, this quad has plenty of room for it all. The strong steel utility racks are made to integrate with the Honda Pro-Connect system so you can quickly attach extra cargo boxes. With 848 pounds of tow capacity, a 3.9-gallon fuel tank and 9 inches of clearance, it’s more than capable of putting in the work you need.

While there is no designated descent control, engine braking is powerful and can take some getting used to. For a 4×4 utility quad, the Rancher is narrow at the running boards.

PROVING GROUNDS

We took this bad boy out on the trails and found that it was amply comfortable to ride considering the more compact size for a utility machine. Some utility quads are wide and can feel like you’re riding a beast of burden, but the Rancher has a fairly narrow profile and a soft, stitched seat that make it feel more plush and nimble. The handlebar was also positioned in a way that allowed a comfortable ride seated or standing. It is a tubular handlebar, so it can be rotated up or down to accommodate shorter or taller riders.

While 420cc doesn’t seem like it would be powerful, we felt like there was plenty of muscle. The bottom end isn’t particularly snappy; however, it made for smoother shifts with the automatic transmission. The manual option was easy to use and was helpful for more difficult terrain when staying in a certain gear could be crucial. The engine braking can seem a little too aggressive when making a descent, so be sure to use caution when letting off the throttle. We hit a few sections of alternating off-camber washouts where we braced ourselves to be jarred or even thrown off, but even without IRS we felt it handled well. The EPS was also paramount to the adept handling. The suspension was great for most of our trails but could be a little soft for some riders in rougher high-speed situations. A quick preload adjustment would help keep things under control.

Even without IRS, this rear swingarm setup made for smooth sailing over uneven terrain. Having a swingarm helps keep the Rancher stable from side to side.

THAT’S A WRAP

With the price of this model starting at $7699, we feel like this Honda gives you good bang for your buck with all that it has to offer. If you are a beginner or want a more laid-back ride, then this Rancher is a great choice. If you want more bells and whistles, then perhaps other editions in the rest of the Rancher lineup have something for you. To learn more about this model and other options, check out a local dealer or head to www.powersports.honda.com to choose your best fit.

This Rancher is a great 4×4 equally suited to new or experienced riders. The 420cc engine is not too much power to keep under control, but still has enough torque for tough trails.

SPECS 2021 HONDA FOURTRAX RANCHER 4X4 AUTOMATIC DCT EPS

Engine OHV, longitudinally mounted, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke,
single-cylinder

Displacement 420cc

Bore x stroke 86.5mm x 71.5mm

Starter Electric

Fuel system EFI

Fuel capacity 3.9 gal.

Transmission Automatic, shiftable 5-speed dual-clutch

Final drive Shaft

Suspension/wheel travel:

Front Dual A-arms w/ 7.28”

Rear Swingarm w/ 8.46”

Brakes:

Front Dual hydraulic discs

Rear Single drum

Tires:

Front 24×8-12

Rear 24×10-12

Length/width/height 84.6”/47.4”/46.8”

Ground clearance 9.2”

Wheelbase 51”

Curb weight 669 lb.

Rack capacity:

Front 66 lb.

Rear 133 lb. 

Towing capacity 848 lb.

Colors Honda Phantom Camo, Shale Blue, red

Price $7699

Contact www.powersports.honda.com

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