Honda was a late starter in the side-by-side market when it launched the Big Red MUV in 2009.
The Honda Pioneer 500 has a good following among people looking for a compact machine: dimensions 1270mm wide x 2605mm long and a kerb weight of 485kg; it’s easy to manoeuvre and light on the ground.
Using componentry carried over from the venerable TRX 500 quad, a 475cc single cylinder engine delivers 29hp from its mounting low in a robust ladder-framed chassis.
A conventional transmission has five forward and one reverse speed, with shaft drives to front and rear axle differentials.
A maximum speed of 65km/h is complemented by engine braking delivered by a shaft-drive set, and the machine has no belt drives to wear or break when pushed hard.
For the 2017-18 season several upgrades should find favour with users, particularly an auto-shifting function in the transmission. Allowing the ability to operate the machine in a set-and-forget mode, the transmission smoothly shifts through the gears under acceleration, and downshifts as speed is reduced. It is selected by a dashboard mounted switch, and the operator can override the function at any time using paddle-shifters under the steering, or select manual shifting if required.
Also upgraded is the suspension: dual-rate springs in all corners act with the dual wishbone suspension to offer a smooth ride with up to 295mm of travel.
Testing the machine over several days and about 100km on a large dairy farm in central Waikato brought an extremely positive response from all operators. Their key observation was “you sit in the machine, rather than on it”, getting a feeling of safety and stability, probably enhanced by the substantial roll frame.
Also getting a big tick were the half doors with safety nets and torso protection bars, easily opened with quick-release door knobs.
Operators said the maximum speed of 65km/h was more than enough for a dairy operation, and they noted the ultra-low first gear was well-suited to following cows down a race at idle.
The windscreen and roof options tick the boxes.