I’m about halfway through my second day of driving the Honda Talon 1000R-4 side-by-side when I see a log fallen across the forest trail at Mid-America Outdoors motorsports park in Jay, Oklahoma. The thought of lifting off the throttle crosses my mind for a brief second, but then I remember what I’m driving. I’ve got nearly 18 inches of suspension travel in the front and 20 in the rear, four-wheel drive and Fox shocks. I don’t have to lift for anything.
I keep my foot in it and hardly feel the log as we pop over it. What can’t this thing do?
Talon 1000X vs 1000R
Actually, there are a few elements where the Talon waivers, but let’s get into the nitty gritty first. The Honda Talon UTV is available in a few different configurations. The X series is for folks who want to play around a bit while the R series with its wider stance, longer wheelbase and more suspension travel and is geared towards performance driving. My R tester features the new four seat configuration, so bring the kids along – your family is going for a ride.
What sets the Talon apart from competitors like the Polaris RZR and the Can Am Maverick is its transmission. While other side-by-sides feature a belt-driven continuously variable transmission, the Talon goes with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This makes the Talon much more enjoyable to drive. It does great on its own, with Sport mode holding the gears longer, but I can also switch it to manual mode and use the column mounted paddle shifters. While a side-by-side is a good application for a CVT, allowing for easy hill climbs and smooth acceleration, I much prefer this DCT. I feel like I’m in total control of the vehicle.
I’m also a fan of the new power steering system in the Talon. It might be weighted a bit on the lighter side, but it returns to center quickly and has a quick ratio. The system also reduces bump steer while on rocky terrain. This is especially noticeable while driving up a rock-bottomed river. I can’t see what lies beneath the 12 inches or so of water, but not once is the steering wheel ripped out of my hands as I hit the unseen rocks. After a day of wheeling through said river and rock-strewn, rutted out forest roads I don’t feel like I’ve been in an all-day cage match with Andre the Giant. This thing is really easy to drive.
We clamber up and over hills, shifting from two-wheel to four-wheel drive on the fly. Most hills can be conquered in four-wheel drive high but I try low gear to get me down some of the steepest slopes. There aren’t any mechanical lockers here. Instead the rear gets a brake-based torque vectoring system and the front gets a limited-slip differential. It’s fine out here where the hills are rutted out with just a few rocks but I’d love to get the Talon into a rock crawling situation to see how it does.
Honda likes to tout the Fox live valve shocks on the Talon with Normal and Sport modes in both high and low gears. Sport can provide more stability at higher speeds and with heavier loads than normal but on these trails it’s tough to feel the difference through the old butt dyno as we aren’t really going too fast.
However, I get to ride right seat with pro driver Elliot Watson in a stock 1000R-4 on the short course at Mid-America and here the shocks really shine. We fly off jumps, sail through the air and land softly with no bottoming out or wheel scrub. Taking the turns at what feels like a million miles an hour always makes me feel like we’re a half a second away from rolling over, but the shocks can handle much more body roll than I think. It’s a blast, even from the passenger seat.
You want tech? Too bad
Absent is any kind of navigational system. Honda mounted up a Garmin nav system for our drive that’s available as an accessory for $750.00, but it wasn’t all that intuitive to use. If in-dash technology is important to you, look to Polaris and the Ride Command system that goes above navigation with performance data, bluetooth, a back-up camera and more.
Inside I like the comfy seats and the new gauge cluster is front and center – previous years had the meter in the center stack for … reasons, I guess. The doors provide plenty of protection from the elements and they come standard with door nets to keep wayward objects out and flailing hands in. There are cup holders, a little storage cubby in the center console and storage nets, but I couldn’t find a USB port. There is a 12-volt outlet, however.
More horses, please
However nimble, fun and capable the Talon is, it’s far from a perfect ride. Although the Talon revs up to 8,500 rpm, it only produces 100 horsepower from its naturally aspirated engine. I feel the lack of power climbing a steep hill on the short course. Both Watson and I want to go faster but the Talon doesn’t have it in her. Meanwhile you can get a turbocharged CanAm Maverick with 135 horsepower or a whopping 200 ponies. Even the Polaris RZR XP base model comes in with 114 horsepower and it’s some 300 pounds lighter to boot.
The Talon has the smallest tires of the bunch, wearing 28-inch Kendas wrapped around 15-inch wheels. They do everything I want them to do on my test drive, but two other journalists got flats during our multiple runs.
Still, I can’t deny how fun the Talon is when the trail gets twisty. Honda also throws me in the right seat in its race prepped 1000R-4 with Ethan Ebert behind the wheel. This rig has been modified for just two people while keeping the longer wheelbase, and its wider to boot. There is some race-specific equipment here but the powerplant remains the same. Ebert doesn’t care one bit about the narrow trails and keeps his foot on the throttle despite the myriad trees lining the track. The Talon keeps its composure and nimbly threads the needle through the obstacles and I’m giggling with unbridled glee. I have one “code brown” moment where I’m sure we’re going to tumble ass over tea kettle, but Ebert assures me we are far from the Talon’s limits. We reach the end of the track and all I want to do is have another go.
The Talon 1000R-4 starts at $25,799. That’s about the same price as the base Polaris RZR XP 4 and the Can Am Maverick X3 four-seater. You’ll get more power with the latter but the dual-clutch transmission makes the Talon much easier to drive.
If you plunk your money down for a Honda Talon, you should find a riding school before heading out to make dumb driving decisions. Side-by-sides are very capable vehicles and it’s easy to drive beyond your limits. I also encourage you to follow the Tread Lightly principles and align yourself with fellow riders who demonstrate land stewardship. As always, wear your safety gear and save the adult beverages for trails’ end.