Test: Honda Pioneer 700

By: Brent Lilley


Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700
Test: Honda Pioneer 700 Test: Honda Pioneer 700

Farm Trader takes a closer look at Honda’s latest offering, the Pioneer 700

The market for side-by-side vehicles in New Zealand seems to go from strength to strength. They have gained massive popularity in the face of ever-increasing health and safety legislation. In the space of a generation, most farms have probably progressed from two-wheel motorbikes to quads and now side-by-side UTVs.

While there seems to be a constant stream of new makes, models, and variants available on the market (which all claim to be the latest and greatest), there is a lot said about tried and tested brands. Honda is definitely a brand that has gone the distance in our tough New Zealand conditions. When the opportunity came my way to have a first-hand look at a Honda Pioneer 700, I was keen to see what was on offer and headed to a hill county sheep farm at Orere Point, south of Auckland, to put it through its paces (thanks to the guys from Blue Wing Honda for making it all happen).    

Engine

The power for the Pioneer 700 comes from a simple four-stroke, 675 cc single cylinder liquid cooled engine. This is mounted longitudinally in the machine to keep the weight low and the output shafts somewhat lined up. The engine has been programmed with a two-stage ECU map that controls the engine speed and gear change rpm automatically, depending on how you are driving the machine, which gives an eco or sport mode. I found the engine to be responsive with plenty of power when required. Noise and vibration, which can be a problem given you are sitting directly on top of the engine, has been minimised with rubber engine mounts. A generous 30-litre fuel tank will cover some serious kilometres between top ups.

Honda -pioneer -4

As with most side-by-sides, access to the engine is a little restricted. For decent access for servicing, generally, you need to take the seats out, which is fairly straightforward and simple. Although once you know where the dipstick is, it can be checked by reaching under the seats with them still in place. The radiator mounted up front is easily accessed under the bonnet. It’s good to see that the level on the filler bottle can be checked simply by looking under the wheel arch.

Transmission

The transmission setup definitely sets the Pioneer 700 apart from the crowd. Unlike most other makes that use a CVT belt drive, the Honda has a three-speed automatic transmission with a hydraulic torque converter. On the day of the test, I found this transmission a refreshing change. It gives a more positive link from the engine through to the wheels to get the power to the ground. While the gear changes are noticeable when it changes up or down, it is still smooth and generally seems to be in first or second speed when you are getting around at a moderate speed on the farm.

There is selectable two- or four-wheel drive that can be engaged on the move when the terrain gets tougher. The rear differential is locked at all times, which is great for most, although could be a problem for anyone operating on precious turf. The front differential lock can be easily selected from the driver’s seat if you need to get out of a seriously sticky spot.

Brakes

One of the huge positives for me with the somewhat unique transmission setup is that it does provide a degree of engine braking, something I have been critical of in other machines in the past and believe to be fairly important. When you start a descent, if the Honda 700 has itself on the lowest speed, it will hold the downhill speed without freewheeling or locking the wheels up to keep you under control and get you safely to the bottom.

Braking to the wheels is also good with a single hydraulically activated 170mm disc on the rear axle and a 200mm diameter disc for each front wheel (also hydraulically operated). This adds up to positive and responsive braking in all situations on the day of the test. A handbrake is located in a convenient spot beside the driver and mechanically locks the rear wheels to makes sure the machine stays put where you have left it. There is no park position on the transmission.   

Suspension

There is an independent suspension on all four corners, with MacPherson struts and double wishbones. This gives 200mm of travel in the front wheels and 230mm of travel in the rear, which presumably allows for a reasonable amount of cargo to be carried in the back before ride quality is affected. I found this setup gave an exceptionally smooth ride, even over some rougher terrain. Most importantly, the machine was stable and sure-footed on the slopes.

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Carrying capacity

Although it’s not something I got to test on the day, carrying capacity on the rear cargo tray is said to be just under 450kg, which, in my opinion, should be more than enough for most. The convenient rear cargo box can be manually tipped, which makes unloading a breeze with the help of a hydraulic strut under the deck.

Towing capacity sits at around 700kg, which I think is fairly respectable, although I know there will be some farmers out there who want to tow palm kernel trailers with more than this in there.

Controls

Up front, there is plenty of room for two people. The contoured bench seat is comfortable for the driver and the passenger. The steering wheel is in a fixed position, which was fine for me, although some might find it more comfortable if it was adjustable.

Power steering is one of those extras that you don’t know you are missing out on until you have had it. Unfortunately, the Pioneer doesn’t have one, although it could be on the cards in the near future.

Three-point seat belts are good to see for safety, as are the side nets, although they are a little fiddly, and I can’t imagine them staying on for too long. Storage is somewhat limited to a smallish glove compartment on the passenger’s side, but then you don’t really buy a machine like this to cart all your junk around in.

The dash is simple, uncluttered, and well laid out. The main gear shift gives the choice of drive – neutral and park – while a second shift lever next to it allows you to select from 2wd, 4wd, and diff lock.

An electronic dash display is also clear and easy to read. It can display a range of info including speed, kilometres covered, operating hours, temperature, gear, and 4wd position as well as a fuel gauge.

Four-person

The Honda Pioneer 700 comes in two variants, a two-seater and a four-seater. Both of these were on site for me to see, and I was incredibly impressed with the four-seater, which has a setup that I believe is fairly unique to Honda. The machine has all the same dimensions as the two-seater, except it features a different cleverly designed tray, which incorporates two extra seats and a second roll bar to offer protection for the extra passengers.

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I have to admit I was sceptical, as the seats didn’t look comfortable. However, I am pleased I climbed in the back and gave it a try. I’m not a small guy, but the footwell allows your feet to tuck under the seat in front. The angle of the seatback left me sitting quite comfortably, with room between my knees and the seat in front.

The best thing about the rear seats though is they can be folded down into the floor and footwell in a matter of seconds leaving you with a cargo deck exactly the same size as the two-seater. As they are independent of each other, it is simple to set the machine up to match the amount of cargo and people you need to carry. 

Verdict

You tend to expect quality machines from Honda, and the Pioneer 700 didn’t disappoint. The machine is well thought out and well finished. The automotive-style automatic transmission offers a refreshingly different change from the CVT belt transmissions most manufacturers offer, and the direct linkages through to the wheels, coupled with a perky responsive engine make it a great machine

to drive. A degree of engine braking is great to see and something I have criticised on other makes in the past. The four-seater was the biggest surprise for me.

Honda has taken a lot of time developing a system that provides safe comfortable seats for passengers and it can be easily stowed away when not in use to allow space for cargo. Currently, Honda is offering some exceptional deals on the Pioneer range where they throw in a free roof, front windscreen, and wiper to any new machines sold.

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