Technically, Honda's do-anything, go-anywhere 250 tied for third with Yamaha's Blaster, but the $700 difference tilted the scales in the direction of the Blaster. So what is last year's winner doing in the doghouse in 2003? Well, for one thing it shows how much more these machines are capable of than the purely beginner quads we tested last year. Nobody argues that it would be hard for a beginning rider to go wrong on the EX--it's a solid machine with a proven track record--but with the introduction of the Z250 at the same price, the EX becomes a little less relevant.
So what's not to like? Not much, really. Several testers had to switch back and forth multiple times to notice differences from the Z250. In fact, although the newer Suzuki is inarguably a higher-performance machine, there are a few areas the Honda excels it. Despite a bit of an overall performance disadvantage, the Honda's torque--in addition to a very light front end--made it possible to easily lift it when approaching obstacles ... or just doing wheelies.
The EX's transmission was tops as well, shifting without drama but with a long throw of the shifter. Reverse was a favorite for many, since they could access it without removing their hands from the handlebar.
The machine was a joy in slow, technical terrain. The greater ground clearance afforded by its shaft drive along with easy-to-use power and quick, light handling made the Sportrax fun in tight rocky conditions. But when speeds picked up, it was considerably less fun. Tall, narrow and bouncy, the Honda will definitely let newer riders know when they are in over their heads. However, more experienced riders chafed at the limitations. Other complaints included cold-blooded starts and a hard seat.
Sand was perhaps the greatest challenge for the EX. Whether at the bottom of a wash or the side of a dune, the extra drag was enough to bog the little motor down and sap its motivational powers.
While the EX drew its share of fans from both ends of the experience spectrum, those who liked it usually liked the Z250 better. Its detractors, who didn't necessarily have any serious problems with the EX, couldn't see the point of buying it as it would quickly outlive its usefulness to them as a recreational vehicle. It definitely had a toylike aura that hurt it in the final tally.
A dash-mounted choke and rear-brake-lever-mounted...
A dash-mounted choke and rear-brake-lever-mounted reverse switch are convenient, easy-to-use items.
The compact powerplant was...
The compact powerplant was torquey and fun on trails but lacked the grunt needed in mud and sand.
A higher-quality ride from...
A higher-quality ride from these bargain-basement shocks would have had the Honda finishing considerably higher in our ranking.
Honda Sportrax 250EX
+ Easy to use
+ Easy to ride
- Hard to start
- Tightly wound suspension
= Limited potential for up-and-coming riders