If all you're interested in is having the biggest, baddest, fastest ATV around, take your testosterone elsewhere and keep flipping the pages because that's not what this evaluation is about. What we're devoting the next several pages to is a pair of quads that are designed to satisfy the needs of those who want a fairly lightweight machine (sans racks and four-wheel-drive) that's easy to ride yet still sporty enough to have fun on, something beyond the basic beginner machine (with its automatic everything and limited suspension) yet not as powerful and costly as a track-ready, full-on company-flagship model. And that niche is where the Honda TRX300EX and Yamaha Raptor 350 live--very nicely, thank you.
While the pair of machines appears to compete for the same slice of pie in the marketplace, we found they exhibit characteristics that make them not so much competitors but ATVs that actually are best suited to different riders. The Honda's a bit smaller--not just in engine displacement but all around, including the initial cash outlay ($4749 compared with $4999 for the Yamaha or $5199 for the special-edition Raptor). You'll find the 300EX has a shorter wheelbase, a lower seat height and a bit less suspension travel at both ends. It is, however, slightly wider and 2 pounds heavier, due in part to the use of larger tires. Besides its bigger motor and choice of three color schemes for the bodywork, the Yamaha has a six-speed gearbox (with reverse), compared with the Honda's five-speeder (and reverse).
They're both mid-bore sport...
They're both mid-bore sport ATVs, but we found the Honda TRX300EX (left) and Yamaha Raptor 350 to be different animals best suited for different types of riders. Either, however, can provide hours of fun.
Among the similarities are electric starting; manual clutches; O-ring chains; triple disc brakes (and shocks); and air-cooled, single-overhead-cam four-stroke engines.
Both fired up quickly when cold, and both exhibited a bit of emissions-related cold-blooded tendencies and took a short wait before they were warm enough to run without hesitation if the choke was turned off. Once they were warmed up and headed down the trail, we never experienced a single cough or hiccup.As mentioned earlier, the TRX300EX is physically smaller and as such will fit those of slighter stature better than the Raptor 350. Those taller than about 5 feet 9 inches should feel right at home on the Yamaha; if they get on the Honda, they'll notice its more-compact riding compartment, especially when standing, with the handlebar being lower and more rearward sweeping. When riders are seated, both quads seem accommodating.
Both machines are capable...
Both machines are capable of tackling fairly rugged terrain as long as the rider's up to it. Neither is a hard-core competition sort of ATV, but even good riders can find them entertaining.
While our testers/photo models repeated the same moves one day continually for the photographer, they came to appreciate the easy-to-use, predictable power both machines generated. Low-end grunt is smooth enough to erase novice fears, yet there's enough boost as the revs climb to amuse advanced riders. Both display classic thumper characteristics with no perceptible hit, just a continuous flow of power.
More-aggressive riders (be they novice or experienced) will probably favor the Raptor. Its additional displacement translates into an increase in power, which is what the doctor ordered for big hills or just beating your buddy in a drag race. The 300EX seems better suited to the more-casual ATVer who's content to cruise more and do the occasional wheelie or slide.
We concluded that the Honda...
We concluded that the Honda seemed best suited for the more-casual rider, with its mellow power delivery and especially the smaller physical layout being perfect also for smaller newbies. The Yamaha, on the other hand, seemed more apt to satisfy the aggressive rider.
For instance, when bumping up the pace in whoops or on fast, rough climbs, you generally want to stand so your legs help absorb the punishment. Doing so on the Honda, you lean back and find the back of your boots pressing against the fenders. Nothing out of the ordinary there--until you suddenly hear a big buzz as the plastic fenders flex enough to rub the tires. That's not to say the Yamaha fenders don't flex, but the bird of prey has more clearance so we never heard any unusual noises.
That extra clearance can be traced at least in part to the extra rear-suspension travel the Raptor 350 boasts (8.3 inches versus 7.9). It also has more in front (7.9 inches for the blue machine versus 6.7 for the red one). The only suspension adjustment provided is spring preload, with the Honda having five-position stepped collars on all three shocks while the Yamaha offers five-step collars in front and a threaded adjuster in back. If you want to change damping, tough, unless you spring for aftermarket shocks or find someone to revalve these. Of course, 99 percent of owners in this category aren't going to fiddle with suspension tuning, so having no damping adjusters isn't going to bother them. Heck, most buyers of high-end quads with fully adjustable suspension either never touch the clickers or don't know the correct way to dial in the adjusters and end up with a machine that handles worse than before.
The Honda TRX300EX has a 282cc...
The Honda TRX300EX has a 282cc engine, a five-speed gearbox with reverse, electric starting and a $4749 price tag.
The aggressive and/or heavy rider of either of these machines will also use up the suspension more quickly, but the longer wheelbase of the Yamaha will help keep things in line a little better--at least until said rider goes really nuts and tries to pound 3-foot whoops in top gear. Then, heaven help him (but he asked for it).
Rowing up and down through the gears proved nearly effortless on both ATVs. Engaging reverse is different with each and seemed a little more involved on the 300EX, since it wanted both hands on the left side of the machine; on the Raptor 350 you can leave your right hand on the right side of the ATV and use it to fiddle with the lever below the fuel tank.
This full-width handlebar...
This full-width handlebar cover is unique to the Honda. We're guessing it could certainly save someone's dental work as well as provide another surface for stickers.
The brakes on both vehicles proved up to the intended task. Each system has good power and feel, even after short stream crossings. One particularly long, steep descent produced no fading either, though it wasted the arms of our testers. As per standard practice, each also features a parking brake that does an OK job.
Frankly, we were a bit surprised to discover how much fun both ATVs were, but pitting one against the other is almost like comparing apples with oranges; they're quite different from each other in many ways. If you don't need four-wheel-drive and racks as on a utility quad, then a sport model could be what you're looking for. And in the midsize sport ATV market, between these two, what we'd recommend depends on you and your habits. Are you happy cruising the countryside most of the time with the occasional full-throttle blast down the trail pitting you and your riding partners? Are you of smaller stature (yet still at least 16 years old)? Then you might find the Honda TRX300EX fills the bill nicely.
On the other hand, if you consider yourself more aggressive, especially if you're a taller individual, we think you'll have more fun on the Yamaha Raptor 350, even if you're new to ATVs. It has a little more size, power and suspension than the Honda, but it's not so big and powerful as to be intimidating--or if you're the kind who can't control himself, it will remind you of your limits before speeds get too high.
Both are excellent machines, but both are best suited to different types of riders. The first question you have to answer is what kind of rider you are.
Retail price: $4749
Type: Single-cylinder, four-stroke SOHC
Bore x stroke: 74x65.5mm
Carburetion: Keihin 32mm
Drive system: Chain, 2x4
Transmission: 5-speed manual with reverse
The Yamaha Raptor 350 has...
The Yamaha Raptor 350 has a 348cc engine, a six-speed gearbox with reverse, electric starting, three color combinations for its bodywork and a $4999 price tag ($5199 if you want the gray special-edition version).
Front: Dual A-arms, independent/6.7 in.
Rear: Swingarm/7.9 in.
Front: Dual hydraulic discs; rear: hydraulic disc
Wheelbase: 45.3 in.
Claimed dry weight: 377 lb
Ground clearance: 4.9 in.
Length/width/height: 67.7/43.5/42.7 in.
Seat height: 30.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.2 gal.
Lower-profile tires come on...
Lower-profile tires come on the Raptor 350, making it a more willing slider, though its greater power output also helps in that regard. In addition, it's longer, helping make it a bit more stable at speed in rough terrain compared with the TRX300EX.
Headlight: 60/55-watt high/low beam
Instrumentation: Neutral/reverse indicator
Colors: Red, yellow
+ Lower price
+ Better fit for smaller riders
+ Mellower power for cruisers and novice riders
- A bit cramped for larger riders
- Not as much power or suspension for more-aggressive riders
= Best bet for the more-casual sport rider
Yamaha Raptor 350
Retail price: $4999; Special Edition, $5199
Type: Single-cylinder, four-stroke SOHC
Bore x stroke: 83x64.5mm
Carburetion: Mikuni BSR 36mm
Drive system: Chain, 2x4
Transmission: 6-speed manual with reverse
Front: Dual A-arms, independent/7.9 in.
Rear: Swingarm/8.3 in.
Front: Dual hydraulic discs; rear: hydraulic disc
Wheelbase: 47.6 in.
Claimed dry weight: 375 lb
Ground clearance: 4.5 in.
Length/width/height: 69.7/43.1/42.5 in.
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.4 gal.
Headlight: Dual 30-watt high/low beam
Colors: Team Yamaha blue/white, white/red; Special Edition gray/black
+ Larger displacement generates more power and fun for aggressive riders
+ Larger physical size makes it more comfortable for larger riders, aids stability at speed
+ One more gear than the Honda for more flexibility
+ Available in three color combinations compared with two for the Honda
- At least $250 more than the Honda
= Despite having a bit of a dated design, the Raptor 350 probably suits a wider range of riders
Todd Canavan, Technical Editor
For me, it's really no comparison between these two models. They are very different but gunning for the same segment of the market. The Honda is a great entry-level quad for people who want to stay at entry level. If your mom, wife or kids want to putt between camp sites or go on fun loops, the little red machine won't let them down. However, if you have a budding enthusiast on your hands, I'd definitely spring for the longer wheelbase and additional power of the Yamaha. I was surprised at how much fun we had tooling around on both of these machines, and it was a great reminder that you don't need to have a lot of cash and the latest and greatest whiz-bang devices to have fun outdoors, just a good attitude.
Mark Kariya, Contributing Editor
Although I'm more of a two-wheeled enthusiast, I think I'm like most serious ATV nuts: They may not race in sanctioned events, but they like to charge hard with their buddies at the local riding area. And if that's the case, I'd choose the Raptor 350 over the TRX300EX. To me, the 350 simply seemed as if it would fit a wider variety of riders, from newbies who are still refining their clutch/throttle coordination to guys like me, who prefer to spend more time at the top of the rev range and bottom of the suspension stroke. While neither is in the same league as its ready-to-race bigger brothers, both are a lot easier to buy in the first place, as well as being easier to ride for most members of the family. It's just that I can putt around on the Yamaha most of the day teaching a newbie to ride, and when it comes time for me to unwind, the Raptor 350's limits are a bit further up the scale.
Jean Turner, Guest Tester
I had more fun on the Yamaha 350, because it allowed me to ride it more aggressively. The Honda had a smoother, steadier delivery, but the Yamaha had more mid- to high-end power, which made it easier for me to ride aggressively. The 300EX was very comfortable and had more-"upright" ergo-nomics than the Raptor, which, I'll admit, was confidence-inspiring and good for cruising. But when the speeds increased, the longer wheelbase of the Yamaha came into play. Coupled with the Raptor's stiffer suspension, that resulted in more comfort in more-aggressive conditions.The Yamaha's better high-speed handling came at the price of shifting more often and using more clutch. The Honda never left me looking for gears. Something I found noteworthy (as a beginner ATV rider) is the throttle feel. The 300EX's throttle return spring was much stiffer than the Raptor's. For a beginner who doesn't have the thumb-muscle power, it's difficult to stay on the gas for longer than a few minutes. Despite that minor issue, I think the 300EX would be ideal for the casual cruiser; but for the aggro-in-training, I'd recommend the Raptor.