Honda ATV Big Red
CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. — If the name Big Red rings a bell, there's a reason. You might recall Honda's original Big Red was a jumbo, 1980s-era ATC recreational vehicle that sat on three huge balloon tires. In fact, it was the first ATC many of us learned to ride. Honda has resuscitated the Big Red moniker for 2009 and applied it to an entirely different vehicle: an all-new entry in a field already crowded by the likes of the Yamaha Rhino, Polaris Ranger and Kawasaki Mule, among others.
Identified by their protective roll cages, pickup-like beds and automotive-style controls, members of this relatively new category have been referred to as Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs), Multipurpose Utility Vehicles (MUVs) or Side-by-Sides (SxSs). Honda officials admit they've been cautious to crash the party because of legal issues that have plagued the competition (click here for ATV safety tips). As such, the $11, 399 Big Red has been in the works for roughly 15 years. So has all that patience paid off? Let's find out. —Basem Wasef
Wider, taller and longer than a Smart Car, Honda's Big Red certainly lives up to its name. That is, unless you spring for the $500 camouflage finish, in which case the name is only half-accurate. This workhorse is intended to be as confident towing a small boat and hauling payloads as it is exploring challenging topography—and with a curb weight of 1431 pounds, a towing capacity of 1200 pounds and bed weight capacity of 500 pounds, it's ready for heavy-duty work and fun.
Big Red sits on independent double-wishbone front and rear suspensions with 5.9 and 7.1 in. of travel, respectively. The 25x10-12 radial tires help create a considerable 10.3 in. of ground clearance. There's a ton of neat features, too. The shock absorbers feature bypass valves for variable damping, depending on piston position. And the bed lifts with a progressive strut, released via latches on either side of the vehicle just ahead of the wheel wells.
Lifting that bed reveals a 675 cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected single-cylinder powerplant mounted amidships. The engine is sourced from Honda's Rincon ATV but tuned for Big Red duty. An oil cooler assists heat dispersion and cold-weather warm-ups, and an aluminum radiator is mounted high in order to avoid damage from trail debris. Fuel capacity is 7.9 gal., with a 1.5 gal. reserve.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
The engine is mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, which can be routed through three drive modes: 2wd, 4wd with rear-locking differential, and 4wd with four-wheel differential lock. The 7.9-in. hydraulic disc brakes are situated at all four corners, and the whole package is wrapped together with a tubular steel chassis. A 1.6-in.-thick, four-pillar, six-piece roll bar offers a sturdy frame around the open-air passenger compartment.
Among the many options are a winch kit, hitch ball, steel bumper shield, digital instrumentation, plastic or fabric roofs, backup alarm, and two different polycarbonate windscreens.
Though it feels every bit like a Honda, Big Red is in no danger of being confused with that Accord or Civic in your garage. Its hard plastic surfaces and chunky, industrial design convey this rig's utilitarian personality.
Undoing the double-latched doors opens up the spartan interior with two rubber-mounted bucket seats. The rear cargo area is theoretically large enough for two full-size adults, but Big Red isn't rated for more than two passengers É though aftermarket companies will no doubt offer rear seats. Buy at your own risk.
The driver seat faces a dashboard—sort of. Instead of typical instruments, a series of dummy lights are scattered across the plastic surface. Think Tonka, not car. An optional digital dashboard ($199) offers a gear indicator, odometer, hour meter, trip meter and speedometer. But we were surprised that you have to pay extra to take the guesswork out of when to service the vehicle.
To find out how it copes with rugged terrain, we subjected the Big Red to the jagged trails that snake across Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast, testing Big Red on off-road loops with an eye toward stability and handling dynamics. Though the single-cylinder engine isn't exactly a screamer, it does offer plenty of low-end torque that pulls Big Red up and over almost any hill we could find. The dash-mounted gear selector clicks into place using a grooved guide, and the drive mode selector enables four-wheel-drive modes to engage or disengage when the vehicle is stopped.