There are a few things you think of when you hear about certain machines and brands. Honda is a name synonymous with quality. You go out into the deep bush, to the small villages, and you’ll mostly find Honda ATVs, some of which have been used hard for decades, and they’re still going strong. That’s the kind of subtle marketing that you just can’t buy. When most of us see the Honda wing logo, we think of quality and reliability. Keep that in mind as you read this, as we’ll come back to reliability when we discuss our experiences with the 2020 Honda Rubicon 4×4 DCT EPS machine.
Several years ago, Honda revamped the Rancher Rubicon machine, adding their Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) system as an option and giving the machine a cosmetic overhaul. There was a lot to love about this machine. The 2020 model saw some upgrades that Honda quietly introduced, that have made not-so-subtle improvements to a machine we really liked. The end result is a machine we REALLY like. Don’t worry – we’ll explain why.
To DCT or Not to DCT
So many ATVs have a CVT transmission. Some do it better than others, but at the heart of the CVT is a drive belt – a part that for some machines is the weak link. As one Honda executive said to us a few years ago, Honda has always been an engineering company first and foremost, so they looked for ways around the possible issues presented by a CVT. They’ve developed some other variations, but for their performance machines in recent years, they have developed a dual-clutch system. These dual clutches handle the power distribution and allow for shifting options unlike anything a CVT-equipped machine can do.
The DCT gives you shifting options. You can set the machine to auto, and the Honda will run through the five forward gears for you. Manual shifting gives you control of the gear selection with an electronic shift control on the left handlebar. The latest version of the machine uses technology garnered from Honda’s sport machines, in that the computer is intuitive, learning from your riding style and adjusting the shift curve as you ride. The more aggressive you ride, the more aggressive the shift mapping. We used to prefer to use manual shifting for aggressive riding on the first DCT Rubicon a couple years ago. Now, we generally keep it in auto mode.
Another major thing that the DCT system adds is stellar engine braking. In fact, we’re not sure there is a better 2020 machine out there in terms of engine braking performance. The Rubicon has high and low range, with full use of the gearing in each range. Drop the Rubicon into low range and put it in first gear, and you will crawl. If you have to pick your way down a rough downhill trail section, which we have, you can do so without touching the brakes without worry.
Boosting the HP
The Rubicon initially came with a 475cc motor, but Honda subtly released a new, bigger engine for 2020. The 2020 Rubicon comes with a 518cc, single-cylinder, SOHC, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine. This is a modest increase in displacement, and where you feel the additional power output is in the low- and mid-ranges. It’s not a big boost, but it is noticeable, especially if you can ride the two back-to-back, which we were able to do. The biggest and most obvious improvement in power is how smooth is it. We liked the old engine, but the new one is better. There is an old saying, there’s no replacement for displacement, and that is true. How the power rolls through the gearing, and how the machine responds to engine braking is simply better all the way around.
Due in no small part to the DCT system, the Rubicon does not feel like a 500-class ATV. There’s a reason many other manufacturers sell machines with 570cc engines. They are trying to make up for the power loss of the CVT. Centrifugal clutches rob some horsepower to operate. It’s simple physics. With the DCT system, the 475cc engine felt like it was bigger, and the new motor amps that up some. Honestly, it feels more like a 650-class ATV than a 500-class machine.
The Honda has Honda’s Traxlok locking front differential to go along with the four-wheel drive system. Coupled with power steering and you’ve got a lot of traction at your disposal. There is a non-electronic power steering model, but seriously, don’t get it unless you really feel the need to.
We played around with some elements of the Honda, too. It comes stock with decent 25-inch Maxxis tires, but we had a set of 27-inch Sedona Buck Snort tires mounted on their bead lock rims. The bolt patterns matched up, so we thought, why not? Normally, we’d expect a machine to feel very different when swapping out to a taller tire and heavier wheel combo, but honestly, it felt like the Honda adapted to the swap. We had a couple of different testers ride the machine with both sets of tires/wheels and no one really noticed much difference. Plus, you have to admit, it just looks cool.
Back it up
One issue we had with the previous Rubicon was how it shifted into reverse. You had to grab a short lever along with the rear brake lever, pull them tight and then use the automatic shifter to slip the machine into reverse. It was easy to miss and harder to do on the trail, especially if you needed to do so fast. The new Rubicon is MUCH simpler. There is now a short reverse lever that you pull, while shifting into reverse. The process is easier and quicker, making it a fluid process. For those who would want to use the Rubicon for plowing snow, this is a very welcome addition.
The ride quality
The Rubicon rides on full dual-wishbone independent suspension with 7.28 inches of travel in the front, and 8.46 inches of travel on the rear. The action is predictable and good. The machine works well under loads when used as a utility machine, yet is responsive and comfortable when trail ridden hard.
Braking is spectacular, with 190mm disc brakes in the front and 170mm in the rear. The front brake is controlled on the right handlebar, and the rear on the left, with a foot control, too. Honestly, we like having multiple brake levers with independent front and rear brakes over the all-in-one systems that are some common these days. Not that there’s anything wrong with all-in-one brakes. We just like to have options.
Ergonomically speaking, the Honda is really good. The handlebar bend is good for both work and play. What really shines here is the seat. Honda added 2-inches of additional cushion in the previous machine, and added a non-slip cover. This has remained one of the most comfortable seats in the industry. Our only gripe is when the sun is out, and you’re off the ATV for a few, when you hop back on, the seat will be very hot. The textured black finish collects the heat.
The Rubicon comes with steel racks that are equipped with connection points for Honda’s Pro-Connect accessories. The front rack has a 99-pound capacity and the rear rack has a 187-pound capacity. The Rubicon does not have a receiver hitch, and instead comes with a simple trailer towing ball mount. The machine will tow 1,322 pounds, so you’d think Honda would include a 2-inch receiver. This is something we hope Honda addresses in the future.
The Honda has storage compartments located at the front, mid and rear of the machine. There is a small, semi-sealed compartment inside the front rack area. Another compartment is to the left of the rider on the fender. The largest storage area is under the rear rack with the taillight mounted to the lid.
On the trail
While the Honda works well as a workhorse utility machine, something Honda ATVs are well known for, the Rubicon model really shines on the trails. The engine is peppy and fun to ride. The transition from seated to standing is very smooth, thanks in part to the taller seat height. The floorboards have actual imbedded footpegs to keep you on the machine and gripping it well. This really helps when you want to up the pace on the trail. Remember, the machine adapts to aggressive trail riding.
So far, our experiences with Honda’s TRX520 Fourtrax Foreman Rubicon 4X4 Automatic DCT EPS has been extremely positive. It is proving to be a stellar, all-around ATV for trail and utility. If you see a red one riding along the trails with a cool set of Sedona tires and wheels, be sure to wave! See you out there.