Rincon means corner in Spanish. While an argument could be made that Honda's new 4x4 automatic is merely named to match the other "R" models--Recon, Rubicon and Rancher (we have no idea where Foreman fits in)--it could also be taken literally. In many respects the Rincon turns a new corner, at Honda and for ATVs in general, as Honda's idea of a true sport-utility ATV. Aluminum A-arms, gas-charged shocks and radial tires speak to the machine's sport intentions, while an automotive-style three-speed automatic transmission, large racks and tow rating of 850 pounds highlight its utility roots.
To introduce the press to the new Rincon, Honda took us to the Bar 10 Ranch, a remote outpost in close proximity to the northern lip of the Grand Canyon. The area is some of the finest virgin riding the southwest has to offer and one of the most spectacular visual treats. Unlike most press events we attend, a long technical briefing did not begin our sojourn, but rather we grabbed a quick bite and were out on the trails before the food settled. Splitting into several groups, the various publications represented were each led a different direction. Our first impressions of the Rincon were good. It started readily; we just slapped the left-side hand shifter into drive and took off. Easy, right? What we didn't discover until later was everything about the Rincon was deceptive. Starting on relatively smooth and groomed two-track trail, we swiftly ate the miles and arrived to progressively less hospitable trail. On our first day out, there was nothing super-challenging, though it did get interesting. The T2 Trail we tackled that first day gave us a good dose of scenery and the occasional heart-pounding drop-off into the Grand Canyon. It wound south toward the mighty Colorado River and included some spectacular lookouts from far closer than you'd ever get on the popular South Rim. The plush Rincon soaked all the bumps and ripples; independent rear suspension made uneven surfaces seem pretty even and we easily crawled up everything the trail threw at us.
While shooting photos, we started experimenting with the ESP (manual-style) shifting. It was necessary in the tight confines of some of our shots to get the Rincon up to speed in a hurry. So we blasted off in first, nailed the upshift and slid through the corner. In ESP mode, the tranny shifted on cue every time. It went from tapped out in first to the meat of the power in second with absolutely no hesitation. During the preride briefing, the Honda folks warned us the transmission didn't have a "safety"; it'd shift at any speed, up or down.
Riding an ATV with an automotive-style transmission was definitely an adjustment. If you want to go as fast as possible at all times, perhaps the ESP shifting is best for you; the auto tranny drive mode was fine for all situations shy of that. The suspension was deceptive, making a fast cruise seem slow by the way bumps and irregularities were dispatched. Beware, however, as we occasionally misjudged speed coming into medium-speed turns and overwhelmed the available traction. Downshifts in auto mode are easily executed by tapping the rear brake, which usually resulted in the motor dropping down a cog. The transmission is selectable on the fly, but there was a delay in shifting from two- to four-wheel-drive. From auto to ESP was a quick changeover, which will put you in whatever gear you were currently in.
Handling around fast corners was very controlled and composed for an independent suspension vehicle, though still not like a swingarm-suspended quad. Corners are best squared off on the Rincon; brake hard, whip it through the turn and accelerate hard on exit, without carrying much speed through the apex.
The left grip has controls...
The left grip has controls for the shifter, kill switch and lights.
After a day's worth of plane rides, a full afternoon of riding until sunset, a shower and a couple of full plates of ranch food, Honda treated us to the technical presentation. While we thought it a tactical error to leave the tech talk until after we were stone tired and full of food, it seemed Honda's faith in its technological achievements was well founded: only one editor (not from here) fell asleep before all was said and done.
Honda first led us on a trip into its long and storied history of ATVs starting with its invention of the ATC three-wheeler in the late '60s. The sand-intended creations never posted the sort of sales growth Honda had hoped for, at least until the '80s when the rest of the country figured out how much fun these babies were in a variety of environments. Then they were unstoppable by anything short of government intervention.The point of the story is that by the early '90s Honda was down to three models. This was all part of a strategy to rebuild a decimated market in slow, incremental steps. Through the '90s Honda added model after model, ending up with its current herd of 15. This, in Honda's book, is the ultimate expression of today's market, a big utility model that flat out hauls...er, has "sporty appeal."
In designing the Rincon, Honda left no aspect of the machine untouched. In a departure from its usual rugged-looking utility models, the Rincon is influenced heavily from sporty models in some of Honda's other divisions: The seat wraps around the tank like a VFR sportbike, the headlights blend onto the tops of the fenders like a late-model Prelude while the rest of the aerodynamic-looking nose bears a resemblance to some of Honda's touring motorcycles.
Beyond fashion Honda had a few concrete goals with the design of the Rincon. For one, the designers are true believers in the government's definition of an ATV as a vehicle that weighs no more than 606 pounds dry. In fact, Honda's reps challenged us to hit the scales when we compare this year's flock of Open-class 4x4s. To this end, one of the prime directives of the project was to keep the weight low. Honda was starting from a good place with its trademark longitudinally mounted ATV powerplant. The "sideways" engine saves frictional losses and bulk from driving the shafts in the same plane as the motor; not taking a 90-degree turn with the transmission has its advantages.
The right grip has shift-on-the-fly...
The right grip has shift-on-the-fly 4WD and auto/ESP modes.
Beyond the motor much of the weight savings came in unsprung weight, which has an advantageous effect on handling as well. Double A-arms suspend the machine at all corners. The upper front arms and all the rears are made from lightweight forged aluminum. Increased risk of damage is the reason for cheaper and heavier steel arms on the front lower arms. Additionally, the suspension "knuckles" are also aluminum, along with the 12-inch wheels, which are mounted with lighter and better-handling radial tires. Both front and rear brakes are centrally located inboard of the sprung parts; the front has a sealed drum, while the rear is a disc. The Rincon is Honda's first attempt at a independent rear suspension. It features a pair of nonadjustable gas-charged units providing eight inches of fully independent suspension action (with a sway bar). Conventional nonadjustable coil-over shocks give the front 6.9 inches.
The chassis is held together with a steel perimeter frame. The rear frame segment uses the final-drive gear case as a stressed member to further reduce weight.The car-style automatic transmission was chosen for a couple of reasons. The first was that unlike Honda's last auto trans, the Hondamatic (featured on the Rubicon), this transmission was to be made in the U.S.A., so the "clean room" manufacturing conditions needed to build this tranny didn't exist at a reasonable price. The second was the designers wanted everyone to recall the feeling of taking your old Camaro down a dirt road when you were 16. In a word: excitement. Engineers have enough trouble trying to make sure the parts they design will go the distance and perform as advertised, now the marketing guys wanted excitement?! The idea was that with an automotive-style transmission the rider would get the visceral thrill of feeling the motor shift ratios while on the throttle to the stop, speeding off down the road. This thinking was partially in response to the occasional comment that the Rubicon's transmission was too silky, taking all sensation out of the mix with its buttery feel.
But like the Rubicon, the Rincon has an ESP option so the rider can select ratios manually.
GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY
Having spent the night sleeping on all we'd learned so far, we had some thoughts. Our first impressions were that while the suspension was very plush and comfortable and the styling groundbreaking, the brakes were weak or the tires not tacky enough and the motor was peppy but docile. We also thought the terrain was scenic but not particularly difficult. First impressions are important but frequently inconclusive or flat out wrong.
The next day we headed for some more challenging trail going west toward Whitmore Point, a spectacular outlook into an offshoot known as Parashant Canyon. For a change of pace, we started our day on Honda's 500cc Rubicon. All of a sudden the Rincon took on a whole new character.
An unusual rear end. The muffler...
An unusual rear end. The muffler is across the top of the pic, aluminum A-arms are visible and the brakes are hidden on the shaft.
While the Rubicon is by no means bad, for the types of trails available in the Grand Canyon, the Rincon proved a far superior machine. The trails are mostly groomed and graded with the occasional irregularity caused by erosion, like the Grand Canyon but in miniature. On the Rincon these little disturbances were just that; they looked as if they might be trouble but we'd roll through and nothing would happen. On the other hand, the Rubicon would show the true character of the harsh terrain by bouncing around and getting out of sorts if ridden too fast. Where the Rincon's suspension would rapidly adjust to the ground and soak the punishment, the same could not be said of the more sedate Rubicon.
Later we remounted the Rincon with a whole new appreciation. What we took for slippery tires was simply our way overcooking it into corners. The machine is just so smooth on straights (regardless of surface) and sweeping corners that its normal handling of tighter stuff caught us out more than a few times. Not that it's bad in corners; no tippy behavior, you just run out of lateral traction in less tacky conditions like the dusty desert trails we found ourselves in. The engine acquitted itself of any charges of slowness as well; our normal sense of speed diminished by the super-smooth ride and the very broad, flat powerband. The motor simply doesn't hit anywhere, instead pulling steady from bottom to top. The suspension is almost like a small shot of Novocaine; rocks and bumps can be felt, but the sensation is damped. The transmission is the same way: It unobtrusively slips into the correct ratio. If you're paying attention, you can tell which, but most of the time it just goes.
The 12-volt socket is on the...
The 12-volt socket is on the instrument cluster.
Continuing on up to a high plateau we had a couple of good rock climbs to test the four-wheel-drive capabilities. Engaging the front wheels changed the character of the ride a bit but didn't effect the sportiness much. Honda's torque-sensing differential works as advertised, gaining purchase in some shifty situations. One example is the shot on our cover. Because the rangers in the Monument are sensitive to riding off the trails even by a little bit, we had to continuously ride forward, and then back up a fairly steep rocky incline to get the shot we wanted. But backward or forward the Rincon is its same steady, predictable self. It just glides up rocks, the more momentum the better within reason. The silky-smooth action of the gear selector was just as appreciated in situations like these: forward, back, it just goes into gear without any brake application or stickiness. If your Rincon is going to be used for work at all, you will like this little feature. What you will not find amusing is the really hot pipe that routes past your left leg. Even in tall riding boots our left leg got toasty.
A small locking compartment...
A small locking compartment is on the left above the fender.
A nice side effect of the torque-sensing front end is the Rincon doesn't try to pull the machine straight in corners, so powerslides are possible even in four-wheel-drive. This was exactly what we were doing as the day drew to a close and we had the opportunity to test the undercarriage protection. Sliding around a corner at stupid speeds, because it can, we came upon a rocky wash across the trail. We straightened out and braked hard but still hit a few sizable rocks with some speed left over. There was some banging and bouncing around off of hard parts, but the skid plate appeared to take it all and, other than some chipped paint, there wasn't any damage.
The Rincon is definitely a contender in the new breed of SUATVs. With ample power (indicated top speed is around 55), light handling, plush suspension and solid four-wheel-drive, it's bound to give the competition fits. Once we find a place worthy to host it, you know we'll be comparing it against all the latest and greatest.
Retail Price: $7599
Bore x Stroke: 100x82.6mm
Engine Type: Four-stroke longitudinally mounted OHV single
Carburetion: 37mm CV Keihin
Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
Ignition: CD with electronic advance
Starter: Electric with auxiliary recoil
Transmission: Automatic with hydraulic torque converter, three-speed with reverse
Final Drive: Shaft
Front: Independent dual A-arm/6.9 in.
Rear: Independent dual A-arm/8.0 in.
Front: 25x8-12 radial
Rear: 25x10-12 radial
Front: Triple-sealed dual hydraulic drums
Rear: Hydraulic disc
Wheelbase: 50.8 in.
Dry Weight: 600 lb
Ground Clearance: 10.0 in.
Length: 83.7 in.
Width: 46.1 in.
Height: 47.5 in.
Seat Height: 34.5 in.
Oil Capacity: NA
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal., 1.0-gal. reserve
Headlight: Dual 40-watt high/low beam
DC Outlet: NA
Instrumentation: Fuel gauge; speedometer; odometer; hourmeter; tripmeter; neutral, reverse, high-temperature indicators
Find More 2003 Rincon 650 Photos And Information In The October 2002 Issue of ATV Rider