2019 HONDA TALON 1000R TEST
— A six-speed sport UTV that handles the hype —
By the staff of Dirt Wheels
Our first drive in the all-new Honda Talon 1000R literally lasted minutes. Since then it has felt like the minutes would never end between that first ride and an opportunity for serious seat time, but the time finally arrived. We got a solid day in the Talon 1000R at Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, Utah. Sand Hollow is stunning to look at, and it has a wide range of riding and driving conditions packed into a single riding area. Plus, we have driven there enough to have a good feel for how vehicles perform there. Add in Utah’s wet spell, and we had great conditions for a first test.
The park offered plenty of fast rough to challenge the suspension, moist and deep dirt and sand to impede the power, and technical tight slick rock determined to embarrass the I4WD system. Final score: the Talon was well up to the challenge.
THE CVT BATTLE
Our abbreviated initial test was in dry desert conditions, so the perfect wet dirt showed us a very different view of the UniCam parallel-twin engine and six-speed DCT transmission. The engine’s 270-degree firing angle produces a sound that promises torque, and it delivers. Honda’s new Talon engine shares much in common with the Pioneer 1000 drivetrain. At 104 claimed horsepower at the crank, it makes more power than the Pioneer.
Honda managed the power increase via port shapes, 46mm throttle bodies in place of 44s, and a cam with more lift and duration. Unlike the Pioneer engine, the Talon’s has oil jets that spray cooling oil up under the pistons. Pushing for the reliability Honda is famous for, the Talon has the largest radiator and fan used on any Honda OHV.
As unique as the engine package is, the Talon’s Pioneer-shared six-speed dual-clutch transmission truly sets the powertrain apart. It offers more than freedom from CVT belts. It doesn’t actually affect performance, but the six-speed has a great high-performance sound and feel. You hear and feel it grabbing gears.
In normal automatic mode it drives like a passenger car. Switch it to sport and the engine pulls longer in each gear before shifting (up or down). If you prefer to be in control, switch the system to manual and shift when you want using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Use the paddle shifters to override either of the auto modes. When you chop the throttle you get instant engine braking like on a manual-shift four-stroke quad.
Manual mode isn’t totally manual. The system will not let you stall the machine. It will downshift for you if it gets close to stalling, and it returns to first gear when you stop. A sub-transmission that provides both high and low range. In normal conditions first gear feels very low, and you have to work to shift to second fast enough in manual mode. Get slow enough and that same first gear feels tall, and low range is most welcome. There is a hill-start feature that allows you to get going on a hill driving with only your right foot. It is a fully casual situation doing hill-starts on up to 60-percent grades.
SMART DRIVE AND BRAKES
Rather than an ordinary locking front differential, Honda uses the I4WD that it first debuted on the Pioneer 1000 LE. I4WD is made possible by an intelligent computerized braking system. If one wheel is spinning, the brake on that wheel stops it. I4WD measures the force required to stop the wheel and directs four times that amount of power to the wheel on the opposite side.
You do not feel it like when you engage diff-lock, but the Talon simply maintains traction in tricky conditions while supplying light steering and control. I4WD is claimed to be easy on the front differential, and you may toggle between 2WD and I4WD on the fly.
Electronic braking is still in effect in 2WD, but it is called Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). EBD senses the available traction at each wheel and adds braking power where it is needed and can be used.
Under the Talon is an e-coated and powdercoated one-piece frame. E-coat coats the frame inside and out with a corrosion-resistant layer used to protect high-end autos from corrosion. It also acts as a base for the outer black powdercoat.
With the Talon R, Honda selected a 92.7-inch wheelbase. A couple of inches longer than a Polaris RZR, but shorter than the Wildcat XX and over 9 inches shorter than the Can-Am X3. The width is unusual at 68.4 inches. That is wider than the 64-inch width common for sport UTVs, but it is narrower than the 72-inch cars. The combination works, since the Talon feels planted while remaining nimble.
KEEP US IN SUSPENSION
Honda did things differently with the Talon R’s rear suspension; it uses what Honda calls a 4+-link system. It has trailing arms but without a rigid connection to the casting (known as the knuckle or wheel bearing carrier). The trailing arm is attached with something like a ball joint. There are radius rods locating the knuckle, but the system has an upper locating arm that looks and acts somewhat like an upper A-arm. Honda claims that the advantage to this system is added “toe” control (3/10ths of a degree toe change during the 20.1-inch suspension stroke) for the rear wheel during the rear suspension stroke.
Up front it has Fox 2.5-inch Podium QS3 shocks with dual-rate springs front and rear. A-arm front suspension provides 17.1 inches of travel. The shock mounts to the top A-arm, so the top arm is made of larger diameter tubing.
TALONS ON THE TRAIL
Sand Hollow combines red sand dunes with slick-rock crawling. In between these extremes are sandy trails that get exceptionally rough and whooped. Add in the rain and the trails were soon littered with brutal acceleration chop. Compounding the situation, many of the sandy trails are just a thin layer of sand over ledged rock, so you are basically hitting rock whoops with a covering of sand. As on the initial desert test, Honda could have found smoother sections of trail to make it easy on the Talon R suspension, but the team is confident in the suspension, chassis and engine performance. As a result, we were obliged to push the R through the rough.
We were able to run into the rough at full throttle, and the Talon stayed composed whether we were hitting the bumps during straight-line acceleration or while turning. Because of the wet, many of the rough trails were also carved into ruts. We were astonished at how hard we could push the Talon into two-track ruts without it lifting the inside wheels. It stays planted and firm at all times. The same was true on the steep and jumbled rock slabs. Our Talon rarely lifted a wheel, but when it did, the car stayed composed.
Much of the composure can be traced to the 999cc twin’s response and power character and to the I4WD. We have experience (a little) with the Talon and much more with the Pioneer with I4WD, and it is impressive. It wasn’t possible to truly appreciate it until we drove the car on slick, vertical rock surfaces. The rock and our tires were wet and muddy, but the Talon maintained astonishing traction. Many of the routes we tackled easily we would not have thought to attempt if we hadn’t seen the path on the rock left by vehicle tires.
SPEAKING OF TIRES
Honda chose a proprietary Maxxis tire that only comes on the Talons. It has tread blocks that are roughly in line, and the knob blocks have a lot of give to them. At times the Talon felt vague in the sand, and we’d say the tire choice had a lot to do with the feeling. On rock and firm ground traction was excellent.
Much of the suspension character and handling of the Talon is likely related to the tire choice—not just the tread pattern and rubber compound, but the size Honda chose. With a 15-inch wheel and a 28-inch tire, the Honda has less sidewall than most UTVs. That contributes to the crisp, accurate handling, but also provides less cushion for the tire to act as suspension.
“Crisp” is also an apt description of the suspension. It soaks up anything we were brave enough to throw at it, but the suspension setting and tire choice ensure that you do feel the terrain inside the car. That feeling is part of why the Talon’s connection to the terrain is so immediate and consistent, but you do feel the bumps. There are three damping adjustments on the shocks. For much of our time at Sand Hollow we ran at level two. Setting one allowed more comfort in the rocks, but let the suspension blow through too easily in whoops. Setting 3 is the firmest, and it aided control in the big rough, but for our conditions it punished the driver and passenger in the smaller chop. We wonder if Honda hasn’t sacrificed a bit too much comfort in the suspension settings to gain the all-out performance at race speeds.
SHIFTY, ISN’T IT?
Despite the challenge of the conditions, the Talon 1000R handling remains light and fun no matter what. While driving, we routinely swapped between the normal auto mode for the Dual Clutch Transmission, the sport auto mode and the manual mode. All work well and have advantages for certain conditions. We also spent a fair amount of time in low range for the technical climbs and steps. Normal auto mode keeps the engine rpm at a relaxing level, and we employed it for normal driving and even sporty driving where the trail was tight. We used the paddle shifters to override if we want instant boost for a turn or sharp climb, or if we wanted to further drop the rpm.
In all of the modes the engine accelerates quickly with satisfying and effective performance. If the terrain or the pace is at all relaxed, the higher upshift and downshift rpm can wear on you a little in sport mode, but, again, you can override with the paddle shifters to shift earlier. The first four gears rev through pretty quickly, and there is a satisfying lunge with each shift. There is more of a gap between fourth and fifth and fifth and sixth gears that you will definitely feel on climbs or when there is a lot of traction available.
We ran the Talon hard and pushed it long enough that we would have heated the belt on any CVT-equipped machine, and there were no problems with the DCT. Even with the mud and snow covering the face of the radiator at times, the engine temp never climbed over the normal two bars.
Entering and exiting the Talon is easy, and the seated position is upright but comfortable with supportive seats. You also have very good forward visibility, and we love that in technical driving. The stock seats come with a pass-through for four-point harness-type seat belts. The seat base clips and bayonets directly to the floor, so we suspect that any aftermarket seat will impact the legroom.
As we expect with Honda, the doors close easily and securely. Attached to the doors are nets. Honda tested to get the net material with the best vision possible, but sight to the sides is limited. We love the feeling of safety the nets provide, and they are no trouble requiring a single buckle release when opening or closing the doors. Our two drivers did employ the tilt-wheel function as well. For the passenger side there is a rest for both feet to push against when the pace is high, or a roomy center area where you can stretch those legs a bit.
For the cars in our group, the interiors were improved with a Rugged Radios system that used a small hand-held radio fastened to the passenger grab bar and an intercom in the dash cubby to provide in-helmet in-car voice-activated intercom function and push-to-talk car-to-car communication. Those capabilities drastically improved the fun and safety of the group with the leader warning of obstacles and traffic.
Every facet of the Talon is impressive, and that includes the quality, durability and reliability that Honda machinery is famous for. It has excellent handling in the fast rough; fun and effective engine/transmission performance; and nice cab comfort, but it was the I4WD that somewhat stole the show. There are other cars that are comfortable, have excellent suspension and good power, but when the going gets tough, we haven’t driven anything that is as effective and transparent in action as the I4WD. It simply lets you drive across tough obstacles without drama. When we expected the tires to slide, hop and smoke, the Talon pulled off amazingly difficult, vertical and cambered messes without a millimeter of drama.
Honda’s Talon 1000R is a great addition to the normally aspirated sport UTV field. It brings a product to the class that is completely different from anything else offered, and it works. A large number will be sold for the simple fact that Honda built them, but many more will be sold because they are great machines that are a lot of fun to drive.
HONDA TALON 1000R
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 4-valve, Unicam parallel twin
Bore x stroke 92.0mm x 75.15mm
Fuel system EFI
Fuel capacity 7.3 gal.
Starting system Electric
Final drive 6-speed dual-clutch transmission with P/R/N/H/L
Front Double wishbone/17.7” travel w/ Fox Podium 2.5 QS3 shocks
Rear 4+-link trailing arm/20.1” travel w/ Fox Podium 2.5 QS3 shocks
Front Hydraulic w/ two 250mm discs; Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) system
Rear Hydraulic w/two 250mm discs; (EBD) system
Front 28x9x15 Maxxis
Rear 28x11x15 Maxxis
Ground clearance 13.0”
Payload capacity NA
Towing capacity 2,000 lb.
Curb weight 1,545 lb., (1,548 lb. CA wet)
Colors Pearl Red; Pearl Green