ATV Review: 2014 Honda FourTrax Rancher

2014 Honda FourTrax Rancher4x4 Automatic DCT with Power Steering
MSRP: $7,399 (Test Model); Ranges from $5,199-$7,799

Honda's FourTrax Rancher line of ATVs has earned a solid and well-deserved reputation for being some of the most durable ATVs on the planet. It's not uncommon for ranchers raising free-range livestock on thousands of acres in the western U.S. to have a fleet containing several dozen Honda Ranchers. And they're run from day to night, for many years and thousands of miles, and remain virtually trouble-free. The all-new 2014 Rancher was developed to continue in those footsteps while also gracefully evolving into a more refined, comfortable, and capable mid-size ATV.

Consumers that prefer options and choices will love the FourTrax Rancher. With seven unique solid axle models ranging in price from $5,199 to $7,399, as well as two Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) models from $7,099 to $7,799, there's certainly a Rancher to fit the needs and price range of nearly anybody considering one.

The Rancher is powered by a 420cc liquid-cooled four-stroke power plant that packs a suitable punch for the Rancher's demographic. The test machine came equipped with Honda's slick Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), which provides quick, crisp shifts with thumb-activated controls. For riders who'd rather not shift, the onboard computer will perform those duties when auto mode is selected. Rancher models are also available with either a semi-automatic foot-shifted manual or an Electric Shift Program (ESP) manual. Mechanically, the ESP functions like the traditional foot-shifted semi-automatic, but gear selection is done with thumb-activated buttons instead of a foot shifter. Honda is the only manufacturer to offer these types of transmission choices.

The DCT transmission is unique in the power sports industry, although automobile manufacturers like Porsche, Audi, and Volkswagen have been using a similar transmission for years. The benefit of DCT is that it's super-fast -- gear changes happen instantaneously. I really liked the idea that I could choose manual mode when I wanted to row through the gears myself while ripping down a trail and then go to auto mode with the flip of a switch. Auto shifting was perfect when I used the Rancher to cart around a tree sprayer on my property to weave through my countless evergreen trees and spray fungicide to save them from a nasty needle cast disease.

The 2014 Rancher features an all-new chassis that is stronger than its predecessor. Handling is crisp and predictable. The Rancher I tested was equipped with the optional Electric Power Steering (EPS), which felt very natural. Great power steering should be almost imperceptible, and the Rancher's EPS fit that bill. Most users won't even realize the EPS is assisting until they hit a trail obstacle. I slammed a rock that should have ripped the handle bars out of my hands, but the EPS counteracted the impact with enough steering assist to make the hit barely noticeable.

My test machine was fitted with a solid rear axle, which makes sporty riding a lot of fun. In really rough, rocky terrain, my preference is always Independent Rear Suspension (IRS), which is also available on the most expensive $7,399 Rancher AT IRS. A locking front differential is one feature still missing on the 2014 Rancher line; this would certainly help elevate the Rancher's performance in extreme terrain.

The 2014 Rancher's ergonomic are textbook accurate. Controls are all easily accessible and the riding position is very comfortable. The new seat is softer than previous models, which will help on those all-day excursions. The Rancher feels small and light, which lends itself to riders who choose to navigate the tight woods. Fit and finish on everything -- from body panels to the fine details -- is exceptional.

The Rancher is built at Honda of South Carolina's (HSC) Timmonsville, S.C. factory along side numerous other ATV and SxS models. Since 1998, HSC has produced over two million engines, over two and a half million ATVs, and has won numerous manufacturing and safety awards.

HITS:
- Excellent build quality; legendary reliability
- Many model choices; 3 transmission choices
- DCT transmission is refreshingly different

MISSES:
- Solid axles models lack the smooth ride of IRS
- Old-school rear drum brakes
- Still no front differential lock