IS THE PRICE COMPETITIVE?
That depends on what you want in
an ATV. There are lots of 500 4x4s with
automatic transmissions, independent
rear suspension and even fuel injection
that cost no more than the solid-rear-axle, carbureted-base Rubicon,
which sells for $7999. Some cost less.
Yamaha’s base Grizzly 550 is also
$7999. Suzuki’s KingQuad 500 goes for
$7899. The base Polaris Sportsman 550
is just $7699. We opted for the Rubicon
with power steering for this test, which
IS THE ENGINE SPECIAL?
Yes, but it’s not the fastest 500 4x4.
The Rubicon is powered by a liquid-
HOW IS THE POWER ON THE TRAIL?
Adequate, but not eye-opening—
unless you’re used to a smaller ATV.
The transmission’s manual-shift
program gives the machine better
throttle response than the automatic
mode, but it’s not as sporty as some
4x4s in its class. There’s good low-end
power and strong midrange pull, but not
much on top. That’s to be expected;
the Rubicon is more of a work machine
than many sport utility 4x4s.
WHAT KIND OF 4WD SYSTEM DOES IT
Honda’s selectable 2WD/4WD system
with a torque-sensing front differential.
The front differential doesn’t lock, but it
does put power to the front wheel that
has more traction. Less-sophisticated,
limited-slip front differentials send more
power to the wheel with less traction.
WHAT KIND OF SUSPENSION DOES IT
Double A-arms up front with solid-
axle, swingarm rear suspension. There
are 6. 7 inches of travel, front and rear.
The shocks are preload adjustable all
around, a feature you don’t see on
all Honda 4x4s. Short travel has its
drawbacks, but keeps the Rubicon
low and stable, and it makes for flatter
The Rubicon’s slim midsection, spot-on ergonomics and perfect seat make it so comfortable you can ride all day and love it—we did.
cooled, single-cylinder, 499cc engine
with four pushrod-operated valves. A
36mm carburetor with an automatic
carburetor preheater feeds the engine,
but you still have to man the manual
choke as the Honda warms up. The
Honda’s engine hasn’t changed since
2001, but it has some engineering ideas
that are showing up in newer ATVs.
Polaris has adopted longitudinal engine
mounting on its Sportsman 850 XP and
550 because it makes power transfer
more efficient and slims the machines’
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE RUBICON
It’s a fully automatic CVT, but there’s
no belt to slip, wear out or replace.
You can also button shift the Honda
like a manual transmission if you like.
The Rubicon’s unique, hydrostatic fully
automatic transmission is complex,
but Honda is brilliant at making
sophisticated technology reliable. A
computer controls a pair of hydraulic
pumps that continuously change ranges
to make the most of the engine’s power
depending on the speed and power you
need. The Hondamatic is smooth, but
you feel it change ranges, so it’s not
quite as smooth as more common belt-type CVTs.
HOW’S THE RANGE SELECTOR?
Good but not the best. The Rubicon’s
selector works perfectly in most
situations, but it sticks occasionally.
Kawasaki and Suzuki ATVs have the
best range selectors.
HOW FAST IS IT?
Fast enough for any practical
purpose, just not as quick as Suzuki’s
KingQuad 500, the Yamaha Grizzly 550
or the Polaris Sportsman 550 in a drag
WITH POWER STEERING
AHEAD IN SOME WAYS, BEHIND IN OTHERS