DIRT WHEEL’S TEST: HONDA FOURTRAX RANCHER 350 ES
Honda owners know a good thing when they buy it. The rugged and reliable Honda FourTrax 300 2WD was one of the most popular utility ATVs ever built. It had a legendary reputation for being one of the most durable quads Honda has ever produced.
Building on that reputation, Honda unleashed their follow-up model to the FourTrax 300, the Rancher lineup, back in the spring of 2002. This was the first year Honda had incorporated major changes to the model, and since then they have steadily come out with an ever-expanding line of Rancher ATVs.
FAST FORWARD TO THE FUTURE
For 2006, the Honda Rancher lineup remains basically unchanged from last year. One of the most popular models in this multi-faceted ATV product line is their Rancher ES (electric shift) 2WD quad. It sells for a reasonable $4099 price tag, and offers ATV users a machine that functions as both a hard worker and entry-level off-road funster should the need arise.
SPECS AND CHECKS
The 329cc, air-cooled, overhead valve, longitudinally mounted, single-cylinder four-stroke engine is straightforward in design. Honda has intentionally kept this a low-tech approach to power on this model, for they claim, increased reliability and low maintenance. Other features on this machine include a 32mm CV (constant velocity) carb and electric start with auxiliary recoil pull starter. It uses a direct rear driveshaft for reliable power transfer to the rear wheels. In the suspension department it uses double A-arms with 5.9 inches of travel up front. This compares to 6.3 inches on the Yamaha Bruin 350’s front end and 6.7 inches on the MacPherson struts on the Polaris Trail Boss. On the rear, a single shock rear swingarm with 5.9 inches of travel handles the Rancher’s shock absorption duties. That compares to 7.1 inches on the Bruin 350 and almost nine inches of travel on the Trail Boss’s back end.
Drum brakes are standard on the front and rear of the Rancher ES, while the Bruin comes with dual front disc and a single drum rear, and the Trail Boss has hydraulic disc front and rear. The Jolly Rancher also has a lowish 32-inch seat height. Dry weight is up there at 511 pounds though it does come in under the Yamaha Bruin 350’s even portlier 538 pounds, but doesn’t match the Trail Boss’s claimed 505 pounds dry weight.
Ground clearance on the Rancher ES is average at 7.3 inches With a total length of 78.1 inches it matches up identical to its Yamaha Bruin 350 counterpart but is considerably longer than the Trail Boss’s 75 inches. Steel racks are also standard on the Rancher, front and rear.
The Rancher ES is average in the performance ranks. This is an engine that produces a wide torque spread. Combined with its simple thumb-operated, five-speed, auto-clutch electric shifter, the Rancher ES 2WD offers prospective customers a solid, dependable feel, whether it’s working or playing. One thing this machine does is make it an easy matter to ride and operate. You still have to push in the red button on the handlebar to engage reverse gear, but once you get the hang of it, it is relatively simple.
It turns and steers easily and has a predictable manner, whether it’s flying through the air or traversing a series of whoops on the trail.Ergonomically, the Rancher ES fits a wide range of rider sizes and weights. The footpeg/floorboards offer good protection and comfort, and the seat, bar, peg relationship is traditional Honda, which means just right. All the controls operate smoothly, and the electric thumb shifter was easy to use and engaged the five-speed, auto clutch transmission effortlessly. The suspension is typical Honda-plush, but aggressive riders might feel that its limited travel makes it less well suited to high speed off-road riding, especially when compared to some of its competitors. The Rancher’s drum brakes also are less well suited to speedy slowdowns, when compared to the discs that come on the Polaris Trail Boss 330 and Yamaha Bruin 350.
Nevertheless, the Honda Rancher is a capable and reliable mount for the entry-level utility minded ATVer. If you are looking for something to hop aboard and ride, day in and day out, this is the machine for you. It requires virtually no maintenance, and offers up a predictable, fun ride that will last many years to come.