The oldest quad in this test is certainly getting long in the tooth. The only air-cooled machine in the fray, it still had the peak horsepower to compete with the younger machines--barely. However, it lacked the sort of broad spread that the QuadSport Z/KFX had or the outright grunt of the bigger-motored machines. Still, with its storied lithe handling and light weight, there remains a place in the high-performance ATV world for the 400EX...right?
The 400EX sports an air-cooled 397cc mill mated to a five-speed tranny without reverse. Sourced from a successful trailbike, the XR400, the motor was a proven workhorse. The rest of the quad rests on a tightly strung chassis, based in part on Honda's legendary TRX250R. Overbuilt for the mild motor, the chassis didn't disappoint. Despite Honda's generally strong reputation for reliability, the only machine to have a mechanical failure was the Honda. Twice, the main fuse blew out during our test.
The dunes exposed the Sportrax biggest weakness in a very clear light: the powerplant. The dunes were all about motor first and handling second, and compared to anything else, the Honda was the least fun in the big tan waves. Point the EX at any kind of steep sand grade, and the motor struggled right up until you hit the sweet spot of the powerband. Unfortunately, at full throttle, this was about one second before the rev-limiter was reached. You had to shift the quad, only to struggle again in the middle revs.
If your only goal in sand riding was to get around and explore, you couldn't go wrong with the EX. It would predictably motor you anywhere you wanted. Should you actually want to throw some roost, though, you'd best choose another machine. About the only thing a stock EX does well in sand is jump.
On the track, however, Honda's Sportrax started to come into its own. Our mid-level riders, using far less of the outright performance of the machines, were quite comfortable on the Honda. The only complaint on the racetrack was an overly stiff throttle. If Yamaha can work out having a reasonable pull on its dual-carbed machine, you'd think Honda could for the EX. This aside, the light and predictable Honda was a fun ride, despite not turning the lap times of the Cannondale or Polaris. Its gearbox stood out as a real performer, clicking gears predictably and crisply, which was crucial to make up for the narrow powerband. The suspension was neither here nor there.
Trail riding found the Honda in its most comfortable place. Here, the engine was responsive, and the ride was lively yet composed. Trail riding soaked power far less than some other arenas, so the EX really had no difficulty chewing up the terrain. In fact, the motor output was so user-friendly that it inspired a lot of confidence in the trickier sections. The only drawback in the woods was the lack of a reverse gear. If not for this archaic quirk, the Honda would be among the best in this terrain.
The complaint of those who rated it in last place was this: It didn't do anything best and got flat-out stomped in the motor department. While still a good machine by most yardsticks, the times have just left the Honda behind--its competition took its measure and exceeded it in every possible way: price, handling, power, you name it.
Honda Sportrax 400EX
Retail Price: $5699
Carburetion: Keihin 35.5mm
Lubrication: Dry sump
Drive System: Chain, 2x4
Transmission: 5-speed manual clutch
Front: Dual A-arms/8.2 in. Rear: Swingarm/9.1 in.
Front: 22x7/10; rear: 20x10/9
Front: Dual discs; rear: disc
Wheelbase: 48.4 in.
Claimed Dry Weight: 375 lb
Ground Clearance: 4.3 in
. Length/Width/Height: 72.2/45.3/43.7 in.
Seat Height: 31.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 2.6 gal.
Headlight: Dual 30-watt high/low beam
Colors: Red, yellow