ATV Review: Honda FourTrax Rubicon DCT EPS
The Honda Rubicon was built for comfort without sacrificing performance
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Riding an ATV is supposed to be fun. But as you get older, those all-day rides—and even the ones that last just a few hours—take a toll on your body. Most ATVs are built with a focus on speed and performance rather than comfort, which can exacerbate the problem for us aging joyriders. But the Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicon 4×4 Automatic DCT EPS lets me pretend I’m young again. I was able to trail ride the Rubicon all day with my teenage sons and still get out of bed the next morning without any help from my boys. The Rubicon is one of the first ATVs that truly focuses on an easy ride without losing too much performance. And that’s important for those of us who aren’t getting any younger, but need a machine we can rely on for work and play.
The Rubicon Is an Easy Rider
One of the most important components of a comfortable ride is the seat. Some ATVs feel like sitting on an unpadded bicycle seat, and that leads to much shorter rides. The Rubicon’s seat is as far from that unpleasant experience as you can get. The seat on the 2019 Rubicon was comfortable, but the 2021 model comes with an additional 2 inches of padding. While that might not seem like much, it’s a big deal when those 2 inches are between your rear end and a hard surface.
The shape of the handlebars also added comfort to the Rubicon. I’m only 5-feet 6-inches tall—smaller than the average male ATV rider—but the handlebars fit surprisingly well for my reach and made turning easy. Some machines have an abysmal turn radius, making it difficult to drive the ATV on uneven terrain. Since the handlebars fit me so well, I was worried they wouldn’t fit my husband, who is 6-feet 2-inches tall, but the placement and contours of the handlebars were just as comfortable for him.
Honda FourTrax Rubicon DCT EPS Specs
Here is a quick look at the rest of the 2021 Rubicon’s features:
- Engine: 518cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke
- Transmission: Five-speed automatic dual-clutch, with reverse and Low/Drive sub-transmission
- Drive: Direct driveshafts with TraxLok and fully locking front differential
- Front Suspension: Independent double-wishbone with 7.28 in. of travel
- Rear Suspension: Independent dual-arm with 8.46 in. of travel
- Front Brakes: 190mm hydraulic discs
- Rear Brakes: 170mm hydraulic disc
- Ground Clearance: 9.4 inches
- Wheelbase: 50.9 inches
- Seat Height: 35.8 inches
- Curb Weight: 729 pounds
- Fuel Capacity: 3.9 gallons, including 1.3-gallon reserve
- Towing Capacity: 1,322 pounds
A Boost in Engine Power
Honda’s 518cc engine gave me plenty of power to keep up with the boys and their machines. A few years ago, the Rubicon was built with a 475cc engine. Honda made the switch to the new 518cc, single cylinder, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine in 2020. The 475cc motor was good. The 518 is great. I can say this with full confidence and experience, because my dad has a 2018 model and we ran the two different ATVs side-by-side. That small increase in engine power gives you more mid-range boost and it’s still super smooth.
The suspension has independent dual A-arms at all four corners. With 7.28 inches of travel on the front, and 8.46 inches of travel on the rear, it makes for a balanced ride. Basic, gas-charged shocks functioned seamlessly between farm work and cruising, even at higher speeds. You don’t want to take big jumps with this ATV though; it’s a utility 4×4 for farm work, rural living, and hunting. The independent rear suspension provided an even ride through some deep ruts and over tree roots. The ability to adjust the shocks for trail riding versus hauling grain bags from barn to field also helped significantly to provide a more comfortable experience.
The Rubicon Is a Multi-Purpose Machine
A multi-functional machine is a big priority on our little Michigan hobby farm, because we hunt here as well. While being able to comfortably trail ride all day on a machine is definitely a plus, it isn’t the main quality I look for in an ATV—our machines must work harder than that. And the Rubicon definitely does. In contrast to other racks with rails all around the edges, the front and rear steel racks provide a large flat area. And when you’re loading grain bags onto the racks, flat is definitely better. The rails on other racks might seem convenient until they send a pile of 40-pound seed bags toppling to the ground.
And that same power that helped me keep up with the boys and their machines comes in very handy around our little farm and getting me to and from my hunting spots. In fact, the Rubicon handles very well in all weather, including cold and snowy Michigan winters. Even on the coldest days, the Rubicon never failed when I started it to haul water to our farm animals.
There are a few features of the Rubicon that handle icy and snowy conditions especially well. I never gave too much thought to guarding the driveshaft of an ATV, but Honda did. And when everything is iced over, the wide front driveshaft guards do a great job of protecting components I don’t want to have to replace when they connect with a chunk of ice. In addition, the inboard rear disc brakes are tucked up and better protected than the drum brakes on other machines. This might not seem like a big deal now, but it can make a huge difference when you are trying to get back home after deer hunting in sleet and freezing rain that has been coming down for hours, turning your hunting ground into a sheet of ice.
The 190mm front and 170mm rear brakes are more than capable of stopping the machine. Even with my relatively small hands, I was able to easily reach both the left rear and right front brakes on the handlebars. But when backing up, I liked the option of the rear foot control because sometimes my shorter arms just don’t always reach all the way to the ends of the handlebars for easy braking.
The Honda Rubicon’s DCT Transmission Is Superior
Most machines on the market have a Continuously-Variable Transmission. In true Honda engineering fashion, they came up with a solution that eliminates the worst part of a CVT: the drive belt. The Honda Dual Clutch Transmission provides shifting options that a CVT can’t. You can choose between auto or manual, but what’s really cool is the computer in the auto option learns how you ride and adjusts accordingly, making shifts that cater to your style of driving. It works so well, that I only used the manual option for the sake of testing. The machine’s computer quickly recognized whether I was hauling grain or trail riding, and shifted accordingly.
Sometimes low and slow is just as important as power and speed, like when you are going down a steep trail. The Rubicon’s DCT can handle this, too. I put the machine’s transmission into low range and crawled down a few sketchy trails. If you have it in manual, you have access to all forward gears in both high and low range, and you’re in control. In low range, first gear performance is insane in terms of how well the engine brakes itself. It’s great for towing, or getting through a nasty mud pit.
One more thing that Honda has really improved over the past couple of years is how you shift the machine into reverse. On previous machines, I avoided backing up as much as possible because it was overly complicated: I had to pull the short lever at the same time I was pulling the rear brake lever, then shift into reverse. I’m not the strongest, nor the most coordinated. Reversing wasn’t something I wanted to do if I could avoid it (and I often did). The 2021 Rubicon just has a short reverse lever that you pull while shifting. This makes for a much easier process, particularly while plowing snow, when easy reversing is critical for clearing the driveway quickly..
The Honda Rubicon’s Stock Tires Had to Go
There is one thing on the Rubicon that needs modification, no matter what application you have in mind. The 25-inch Maxxis tires were not up to the same level as the rest of the machine, which is typical of stock tires on any vehicle, from ATVs to pickup trucks. So I replaced them with 27-inch Sedona Buck Snort tires. While I was making modifications, I also switched out the stock rims for Sedona Split 6 Beadlock Wheels. I didn’t have a great reason for switching out the wheels other than they are blacked out and look badass. The pair combines with the other great features of the Rubicon better than the stock tires and wheels and gave me the traction and performance I was looking for.