Quad Test: Honda TRX420FPA

Farms and lifestyle blocks around this great country are fair littered with ATVs, and a great majority of them are red. We take the latest Honda quad for a blat and find the mid-sized TRX420FPA a perfect workhorse for the smaller rural property.

Here in New Zealand, Honda has a fairly large collection of utility ATVs for the discerning farmer in a variety of size options. The Honda four-wheeler line-up, groomed for hard labour and an occasional sporty jaunt, ranges from light-duty to serious stump-puller, and the latest of the ATV group, the 2012 Honda TRX420FPA, fits right in the middle of the spectrum. It’s one of the most advanced in the Honda stable, fairly packed to the gills with technological wizardry.

The 420FPA makes use of an automatic five-speed twin clutch transmission, feeding ‘oomph’ to the rear wheels via a driveshaft and independent suspension. Riders have the option of switching between full auto and the Electric Shift Programme (ESP), which makes use of an automatic clutch while allowing for manual gear selection using buttons on the left handlebar. Regardless of auto or ESP settings, the rider selects drive or reverse via the toggle switches – and making the 420 go backwards is one area I can say I was a little bit disappointed in.

On the 420’s big brothers, shifting into F/R is done via a bulky lever. Using the same controls as the ESP is definitely cleaner and more sophisticated, but in practice the electronics are a bit slower, requiring a distinct pause and occasionally not recognising input.

Getting into reverse on the 420 can be a bit of a process. Depress the red button above the brake lever marked R, pull the lever and then push the down-arrow on the electronic shift controller. It all seems very easy in practice, but in real-world conditions, reaching all the controls with a single hand can be a pain, unless you’ve got hands like an ape. After a few rides and several tight situations that required plenty of jockeying, I found it easiest to reach across with the right hand to help. Riders with small mitts and sausage fingers will definitely have problems attempting single-handed operation.

Overall, it is an issue and one I’ve mentioned to Honda before. It’s nice not having to remove your left hand from the handlebars, but when you just want to throw it in reverse real quick and bust out a speedy manoeuvre, say to get away from that charging goat, a traditional shift lever like that found on the bigger boys is actually much faster.

Once in drive, the gear shifting is pretty good. It’s a little clunky when cold and, believe it or not, smoothes out with harder throttle. Once it’s up to temperature, though, no worries.

When in ESP mode, the quad is smart enough to prohibit the rider from completely smoking the clutches. The transmission will drop down into third if you attempt to stop, and get moving again in fourth or fifth gear – now that’s pretty cool. Normal use, even out riding on the trails, rarely exceeds third gear. Cruising logging roads will beg for an upshift, but fifth is like an overdrive.

I have to say, I loved the peace of mind provided by leaving it in the auto setting. For 90 percent of most farm-related tasks, auto will be pretty sufficient. But when heavy pulls or steep grades are required, controlling the gear selection is definitely more preferable. So, for all intents and purposes, the auto transmission treated me well.

The little 420cc motor proved capable for most everyday tasks the two of us threw at the quad over the afternoon I spent on former Auto Trader editor Steve Vermeulen’s lifestyle block, out past the rural village of Waiuku. Only the heaviest of pulls will stretch the longitudinally-mounted engine; it didn’t break a sweat carrying hay bales, tool kits and such.

Speaking of pulls, the TRX420FPA comes with a handy drop-in tow mount, which on our test beastie came fitted with a ball hitch, making it simple to get hooked up to a load. Rack design offers better attachments for lashing cargo than previous models, and can support 30kg on the front and 60kg out back.

At a hefty 291kg, the small TRX420FPA is deceivingly heavy, but that’s what direct drivelines (front and rear), independent suspension and adding gadgets like power steering add to the mix. Weight bias puts 159kg up front and 132kg in the rear.

The physical dimensions are compact and very manageable. Being a strapping 5’11 and on the bad side of 120kg I may have been on the larger size for the riding position, but I was never uncomfortable, and my partner-in-crime’s weedy frame handled the jandal with no worries. The floorboards, which have deep foot troughs and large drain holes, are close to the handlebars, making a compact seating arrangement. The seat has new foam that kept the backside happily cushioned.

All things have pros and cons, and the tight stance on the TRX is no different. Honda says the turning radius is 10.5 feet but quick turns make it feel a little tippy, especially if the 24×8-12 and 24×10-11 tyres aren’t inflated properly. But the Honda has excellent ability to crawl across obstacles, thanks to the tight 1255mm wheelbase. The bumper and chassis design provide great approach angles, even in the tightest ravines. An overall width of 1170mm makes it easy to slip between tight spaces.

Double-wishbone independent shock absorbers handle the rear end, allowing the machine to articulate and improve stability in slow-speed situations. The Maxxis M977/978 knobbies mounted on steel wheels help give the TRX 231mm of cow-pat clearance, but the majority of that extra room comes from the lack of a traditional swingarm. IRS is known for resisting slides and the 420 is no different – it did take us a bit of vigorous riding in 2WD to break the back out. The benefits of separate wheel action wear off when it comes to pitching the rear end. Both ends feature suspension components from Showa, with 160mm of travel.

Electric Power Steering (EPS) makes the handling extra light. One-handed steering is entirely possible and the added control is nice when trying to balance something on the racks with one hand and navigate the farm with the other (and the auto tranny is appreciated here also). Speed and torque sensitivity eliminates kickback, and I can’t recall ever having the bars jerked violently in my hands. Honda’s 2WD/4WD is selectable via a hand shifter located under the left handlebar. It operates seamlessly and the extra traction comes in handy more often than not. The EPS helps minimise the slowing effects of 4WD by keeping rider input to the bars light so I found myself leaving it in 4WD most of the time.

My time on the farm, during which I intentionally left it running as much as possible, never had me filling up before day’s end with a healthy 13.3 litres of fuel capacity (although making sure you check the position of the fuel tap to make sure it’s not on reserve, as the extra 2.6 litres the tank holds soon runs out!). The same goes if you take the little beast out on the trails. The fuel-injected mill, with 34mm throttle body and 12-hole Denso injector, is definitely smart with the petrol, and it comes to life perfectly every time the starter is thumbed.

One of the TRX420’s downsides is the lack of storage: there’s nowhere up front to stash anything and the rear box is rather small. Honda did a great job of tucking the storage underneath the easily visible tail light, but the electrical assembly for the light takes up most of the space when the door is shut, leaving very little usable storage. The provided toolkit takes up about everything available, so it’s really only good for a few small tools.

The Honda 420 ATV line-up ranges from $8890 ex GST to $13,695 ex GST – the 420FPA commanding the highest price tag. If this was going to be my play quad, the straight axle and lower price of the standard Honda ATV would probably be more appealing, but there’s no denying that the TRX420FPA gets more work accomplished.

Overall, I’d have to say I came away impressed with Honda’s latest offerings, and I can already see where these models have a leg up on the competition when it comes to a good performing, solid quad for the farm that is just as fun burning up the paddocks as it is carrying strainer posts up the back blocks to repair a fence.


  • Easy steering with EPS
  • Nice and slim
  • Healthy fuel tank


  • Annoying reverse
  • High speed tight turns a no-no
  • Lack of storage

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Photography: Shane Solomon

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