Just a few short years ago, buyers looking for a new SxS were limited to only a few legitimate choices. Over the past few years, nearly every major manufacturer has thrown their hat into the ring with a side-by-side of their own to try to score a piece of the current SxS buying frenzy. Honda gave it a shot a few years ago with the launch of its Big Red, but unfortunately that machine fell short in many ways. In June, I headed to the Honda factory to watch the new 2014 Honda Pioneer and Pioneer-4 roll off the assembly line at the HSC manufacturing facility in Timmonsville, South Carolina. The new Pioneer is better in every way possible than the Big Red and hits the market with some pretty impressive specs. With a bargain basement price starting at $9,999, innovative stowable rear seats on the Pioneer-4, and typical Honda ergonomics and build quality, the new Pioneer line of SxSs is sure to make some waves!
Both the two- and four-seat versions of the Pioneer are built on the same chassis with identical capacities, dimensions, and powertrains. Both models are also built on the same assembly line where Honda used to manufacture its PWC. The Pioneer-4 raises the bar with Honda’s innovative stowable rear seats, which fold independently into recesses in the bed of the Pioneer. An interlock prevents the bed from being dumped when the seats are filled with passengers.
Powering the Pioneer is the same 680cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine that’s been used in the Honda Rincon and Big Red for years. With its automotive-style three-speed transmission and torque converter, the Pioneer automatically shifts like a car. Although, unlike the Rincon which can be shifted manually if you so choose, the Pioneer only handles shifting automatically. With a sealed transmission and no belts to ever get wet, the Pioneer performs exceptionally well in wet terrain. The engine is very torquey, and first gear is low enough that it can climb out of nearly any obstacle. Four-wheel drive and differential lock are selectable via a mechanical lever located on the dash. The lack of electronic actuation might not look as swanky as a push-button design, but it cuts down on weight and cost.
Handling is crisp and sporty but certainly geared more toward trail riding, hunting, and family adventures rather than GNCC racing. Even with four large adults in the cab, the Pioneer tracked straight and the steering remained sharp. With a pair of hefty brutes occupying the back seats, ground clearance is definitely affected due to the independent rear suspension sagging under load. Absent is the availability of Electric Power Steering (EPS), though, to Honda’s credit, the steering is light, and I haven’t found a situation yet where I really felt I couldn’t live without EPS.
Honda’s engineering team did a fantastic job with the ergonomics, fit, and finish. The front seats are very comfortable with non-intrusive headrests. At 6 foot 2 inches and 200 pounds, I was still able to sit in the rear seat with no problem, and I remained surprisingly comfortable. One thing I immediately noticed is that there are more webs (safety nets) to be found on the Pioneer than you’ll see in a Spiderman movie. They’re a bit annoying to hook and unhook, but their added level of safety will certainly prevent arms and legs from exiting the cabin unwillingly in the event of a rollover. The front and rear doors are also very ergonomically designed. Egress and ingress is simple, with doors that open widely and close solidly.
A few years ago when the bottom started to fall out of the economy—and the power sports industry went into survival mode—most manufacturers, like Honda, decided to play it safe and resell their current models with very subtle changes. Honda made some minor changes, but most of them were nothing more than BNG (Bold New Graphics). I consider myself a pretty connected guy with my finger on the pulse of the off-road market, so I was really surprised to see the Pioneer actually materialize when it appeared to most that Honda was completely asleep at the wheel. The Pioneer and Pioneer-4 are essentially the two models that vilify the idea that Honda was actually not just coasting. Instead, the proverbial sleeping giant has angrily awakened, and the Pioneer will undoubtedly make a huge impact in a segment of the SxS market that was underrepresented. The Pioneer models are legitimate SxSs based on their features alone, but Honda took it a step further by bringing the base two-seat model to market with a starting price of just $9,999 and the Pioneer-4 fetching just $11,699. Finally, the Pioneer-4 addresses a large section of the market like no other current SxS. It’s narrow enough with a tight wheelbase that allows it to fit on tight trails while still having the capability of hauling four buddies, four outdoorsmen, or a family of four on any adventure they’re willing to tackle. The Honda Pioneer is legit, and from rumors Honda is willingly floating themselves, it appears this model introduction is just the tip of the iceberg!
-Excellent price point in either two- or four-seat categories
-Stowable rear seats revolutionize the four-seat category of SxSs
-Quick, nimble, and predictable steering
-Wide-opening front and rear door make egress and ingress pleasant
-Safety mechanism prevents bed from dumping when rear seats are in a usable position
-Small, nimble chassis makes tight wooded trail riding fun
-Built in the USA at Honda’s South Carolina plant
-Suspension seemed a tad soft when loaded with four guys
Utility UTV Comparison Chart
Kawasaki Teryx 750 & Teryx 4/$10,999 & $15,799/750cc V-twin & IRS (EPS on 4)
Polaris Ranger 800 Midsize & 800 Crew/$12,199 & $12,499/50 hp & Midsize fits in full-size pickup
Yamaha Viking 700/$11,499/3 seats, 600-lb. bed and 1,500-lb. towing capacities
2014 Honda Pioneer & Pioneer-4
MSRP: Pioneer $9,999; Pioneer-4 $11,699
Type: 675cc, liquid-cooled, OHV, single-cylinder four-stroke
Bore x stroke: 102mm x 82.6mm
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection (PGM-FI), 40mm throttle body
Starting system: Electric
Drive system: Direct front and rear driveshafts
Transmission: Automotive-style with hydraulic torque converter; three forward gears and reverse; three drive modes: 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD with all-wheel differential lock
Front: Independent double-wishbone/7.9 in.
Rear: Swingarm with single shock/9.1 in.
Front: 200mm hydraulic disc
Rear: 170mm hydraulic disc
Claimed curb weight: Pioneer 1,261 lbs./Pioneer-4 1,396 lbs.
Length/width/height: 114.8/60.0/77.6” (78.3” for Pioneer-4)
Fuel capacity: 8.2 gal., including 1.2-gal. reserve
Towing capacity: 1,500 lbs.
Payload Capacity: 1,000 lbs.