— A worker that plays and a player that works. By the staff of Dirt Wheels —
Both the Honda Pioneer 1000 and the Polaris General 1000 were new models for 2016 and they’re basically the same machines for 2017. With a 1000cc engine, a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and over 10 inches of travel, the SxS that Honda calls “multi-purpose” is as sporty as four wheels and a roll cage get at Honda. Depending on how you look at it, the General is the sportiest of the utility UTVs from Polaris or the least sporty of the RZR sport side-by-sides. Both of the models we tested are designated “Deluxe” by their respective makers. In the case of the Pioneer 1000-5, that means a machine convertible to five-person seating, self-leveling suspension, 27-inch radial tires on 14-inch cast-aluminum rims, LED headlights, paddle shifters for the DCT, electric power steering, and color-matched bedsides and door panels.
For Polaris, “Deluxe” means body paint, a sound system, a standard winch and roof, and, most important, adjustable Fox Podium X 2.0 QS3 shocks.
Honda makes the Pioneer 1000 as both a three- or five-seater. The five-seater has the same wheelbase as the three-seater, but the bed floor cleverly converts to two flip-up seats that are surprisingly comfortable. That means that the other three passengers must ride in the front. As such, all of the Pioneer 1000 models have a modified bench-style seat. The center section is raised, and that helps with a somewhat bucket-seat feel. The bench seat is quite nicely padded and is supportive. The seat belts are comfortable and convenient, and the doors open easily using either the inside or the outside handles. They close easily and reliably as well, and they don’t need to be slammed to shut.
Pedal positioning is natural and an improvement over the Pioneer 700. Controls for the drive modes are on the dash. A gated lever allows you to select between 2WD, 4WD, 4WD diff-lock and turf modes. A rocker switch selects auto shift for the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) or manual shifting with the paddle shifters. Pushing on the bottom of the switch engages sport mode. In auto-shift mode the sport mode allows the rpm to extend before the DCT shifts. In manual the sport mode would do nothing, so it won’t switch on. There is no sport switch or paddle shifters in Pioneer 1000 models without EPS. A second gated lever selects park, reverse, neutral, high and low. We are delighted to have that low-range option. The Pioneer 700 didn’t have it, and it was a real handicap for four-wheeling at low speeds or while climbing. Low is 42 percent lower than high. As you would expect with EPS, the steering is light and easy with good feedback.
With real two-seat capacity and true and comfortable bucket seats, the General seats keep you feeling more secure in rough terrain than the semi-bench of the Honda. The three-point seat belts (like the Honda has for four of the five seats) are easy to use and hold you safely secure. The General has a shifter like a car, though the in-line pattern has high at the rear: park/reverse/neutral/low and high. Rocker switches let you choose 2WD or 4WD, and there is no diff-lock option. There is truly no reason to turn the 4WD off. When there is no rear-wheel slip, the front wheels get no power, so when you hit the power, the General has a different feel. The rear tires must slip a bit and then you feel the fronts bite. The Honda has 4WD from the instant you hit the throttle.
Both machines fire up quickly, easily and, thanks to EFI, idle and respond with no hiccups or hesitation. Throttle inputs to the Honda are immediate with the sort of smooth and seamless delivery you want for utility work, but the acceleration is plenty zippy for fun and serious four-wheeling. One of the few but consistent complaints with the General is a dead area in the throttle. You have to push the throttle much farther than you think before the engine picks up any rpm. Once the revs start, the throttle modulation is great, and you don’t even think about it until you stop again. If you are driving with one foot for the brake and throttle, you can even be on a moderate ascent, take your foot off the brake, move to the throttle and start to roll back before you get the power on and the clutch engaged. We simply learned to left-foot the brake when starting on a hill.
In many of the trail situations we encountered, the Honda has all the power that the tires and terrain can use, but rarely more than you can effectively use. When the terrain opens a little, the pace is brisk. When it comes to the General, though, Polaris gave it a full-sport motor. The clutching and response are more abrupt, and there is power to spin the tires. When there is room to mash the throttle, the General is the clear horsepower leader. It is a thrill ride.
Get farther into the throttle and both machines accelerate briskly. The Honda’s DCT is an all-gear unit with two clutches. One clutch manages the even-numbered gears, and the other clutch the odd-numbered gears. As one gear runs out, the next gear has already started to engage. When you simply stand on the throttle in auto mode, the Pioneer picks up each gear with a shift you feel, satisfying acceleration all the way through the speed range. Switch to the sport setting and it carries more rpm before shifting, and acceleration is quicker with a sporty feel.
We were surprised at how often we found ourselves using the paddle shifters. It is fun to have perfect control of when the next gear engages for rock crawling and faster driving as well. For work or casual driving the auto setting is very nice. If you are cruising along easily and the terrain transitions much steeper, mashing the throttle will have a small delay while the transmission reacts. Even if you are in automatic, you can use the paddle to grant a quicker, more immediate downshift, and we did use that feature often.
Honda’s DCT offers great engine braking for technical descents as well. On a downhill, twisty road or two-track, though, it automatically downshifts to help slow the machine. We switched to manual for long, easy descents so we could upshift to ease the engine braking and make the drive smoother. We are fans of the DCT, and especially so with the paddle shifters.
It is safe to say that few companies have the CVT experience that Polaris does, and it shows with the General. Compared to the Honda, the CVT clutching is jumpier, but compared to any high-power sport UTV it is perfectly smooth on initial engagement. Engine braking is great, and it is set to provide just what you want in most cases. Mash the throttle and acceleration is rapid enough to squat the rear suspension some and push you back in the seat. The riding area closest to us had UTV-legal trails that are either easy roads or severely steep, rutted, rocky and filled with obstacles that keep speeds down. As a result, the General had little significant power advantage over the Pioneer. When things opened up, there is a significant difference.
In low range the Polaris has much lower gearing than the Honda—low enough that we chose to do some of our rock crawling in high range. We were worried about the belt, but never felt or smelled any hint that we were abusing it. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of power and a wide range of “gearing” options with the CVT. But, you will feel a gap between low and high that we’d like to see a little closer, but it never caused any problems for us.
For the low-speed, choppy trails and climbs we spent a lot of time on, the Honda is noticeably smoother with suspension that passes less of the trail chop to the driver and passenger. When the Pioneer 1000-5 EPS or Pioneer 1000-5 Deluxe are heavily loaded, their self-leveling rear suspension uses a series of hydraulic chambers to automatically adjust to the correct ride height. The General got better when softening the compression, and we have heard that the Fox shocks get smoother with more miles on them. If you want the General suspension to absorb more, hit the same bumps harder and faster. As the speed in the rough increases, the Polaris is smoother and better controlled, and you feel the additional inches of travel. The Fox shocks have three compression settings you can choose from, operated by an easy-to-turn knob. Push the Honda in the rough and the ride gets a little wallowy, and it has less composure in whoops. Neither of these cars should be your first choice for whoops. They aren’t designed for that.
So for work, hunting, camping and other activities where blasting the rough would leave your stuff bouncing out on the trail, the Honda has a comfort edge that is hard to deny. Polaris has the Ranger that Honda would been happier to have as a comparison, but we felt that the Honda was plenty sporty enough to hang with the General for most riding.
If you are looking at these machines for fun and utility, the Honda has greater rated capacity for carrying cargo and tows a full 2000 pounds. We used a 10-foot flatbed to move some things around, and the Honda towed it with no effort at all. The Polaris is rated for 1500 pounds of towing, and it dragged the same trailer with ease. Both machines have a tilting cargo bed in the rear. As you might expect for the sportier General, the brakes have more bite than the Honda, but both stop well with no drama, and both shrugged off steep, rough and loose descents thanks to combined engine braking and wheel brakes.
We spent almost the entire test with these two machines driving and working together. As expected, the Honda is—as Hondas tend to be—civilized and able for everything it is designed for. But, we expected the Polaris to be sportier. Until the pace and terrain get to the point where the Polaris has a clear advantage, we were surprised that most drivers pointed to front-wheel traction as the single major difference in performance. When you drive the Honda it feels fine and turns easily. Drive the General, though, and the front feels completely planted with very accurate steering. Climb back in the Honda and the steering feels vague. For loose-on-hard surfaces you don’t push it into turns as hard. Not because of suspension, power or stability, but because the Pioneer doesn’t give you the confidence that you can hit your line.
If you want the performance of the General, this comparison won’t sway you. But if you are not as worried about absolute speed, or in the case of some areas we drove, the conditions won’t safely allow you to use all the General’s power and speed, the Honda has a great deal to offer. The five-seat option adds a little weight and very little to the cost, and nothing to the length of the machine. You get a machine that is sporty, easy to drive and transport and has a full bed for work, but you have the extra seats in less than a minute if you want them. We definitely like that. Polaris’ Ranger lineup has a six-seater, but it is a much longer car. The Honda already has a much tighter turning radius than the General, and that would only grow with the long-wheelbase Ranger. There is a cost factor as well. Comparing both Deluxe models, even with the optional roof on the Honda, there is a $2000 advantage to the Honda. For some, the additional seating is of great value as well and not an option with the General. Most buyers looking at the General want RZR performance that will better carry the camping, hunting and fishing gear. Or, they want to be able to use it for some work. A RZR won’t haul much firewood.
HONDA PIONEER 1000-5 DELUXE
Engine type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 4-valve, Unicam parallel twin
Bore x stroke: 92.0mm x 75.15mm
Fuel system: EFI
Fuel capacity: 7.9 gal., 1.7 gal. reserve
Starting system: Electric
Final drive: 6-speed dual-clutch transmission w/ P/R/N/H/L
Front: Double wishbone/10.5″
Rear: Double wishbone/10.0″
Front: Hydraulic w/ (2) 210mm discs
Rear: Hydraulic w/ (2) 210mm discs
Ground clearance: 12.4″
Payload capacity: 1000 lb (600 lb. for CA models)
Towing capacity: 2000 lb
Curb weight: 1,709 lb.(wet)
Colors: Red, metallic silver, white,Honda Phantom Camo
MSRP: $17,199 ($17,749 as tested)
POLARIS GENERAL 1000 EPS DELUXE
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 4-stroke twin-cylinder DOHC
Bore x stroke: 93mm x 73.5mm
Fuel system: EFI
Fuel capacity: 9.5 gal.
Starting system: Electric
Final drive: Automatic CVT P/R/N/L/H
Front: Dual A-arm w/ stabilizer bar/12.25”
Rear: Dual A-arm w/ stabilizer bar, IRS/13.2”
Front: 27 x 9-12
Front: Hydraulic disc w/ dual-bore calipers
Rear: Hydraulic disc
Ground clearance: 12.0”
Payload capacity: 600 lb.
Towing capacity: 1500 lb.
Curb weight: 1,544 lb. (dry weight)
Colors: Orange Burst (painted)