Test Ride: 2016 Honda Pioneer 1000

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If you looked up the definition of Pioneer in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this is what you would find; to help create or develop (new ideas, methods, etc.). Well, upon first glance of the new Honda Pioneer 1000 EPS and 1000-5 Deluxe, I found that the name is well suited. The late-year launch makes it possible to compare these models to the established competition of the Polaris RANGER line and Yamaha’s Viking and Wolverine SxS’. Having just come from the launch of Can-Am’s Defender SxS, the memory is still fresh in my head of its performance and how impressed I was, it would take something new and refreshing to give it competition.

I was recently asked to trek up to Montana where Honda had arranged for various media outlets to take the all-new units out for evaluation in the mountains of the Blackfoot Valley near Missoula, MT. Why Missoula? Why not? The Resort at Paws Up would serve as the perfect staging area for this event, since it was centered right in the valley surrounded by hundreds of miles of off-road trails and majestic scenery. Just think of the movie A River Runs Through It, featuring Brad Pitt from a while back. That movie was based and filmed in this same area. Aside from loving the location, I’ve been extremely anxious to get behind the wheel of a new SxS from Honda. My last experience in one of their machines, Big Red, left me unimpressed in terms of power, handling and fun factor.

At what seemed like the crack of dawn, we all gathered at our staging area where both Pioneer 1000 EPS and 1000-5 Deluxe models sat on the dew covered grass waiting to be tested out on the trails. The fog was heavy enough that everything was covered in dew and the fact that it was nearly freezing, we all knew that our ride was going to be chilly from the start. I made my way over to the Pioneer 1000-5 Deluxe and started giving it a once over to get myself acquainted with the controls. It all looked fairly basic with a column shifter, left side mounted rotary switch for the LED headlamps and a 4-way center-mounted Hi-Low-Turf-Diff Lock lever on the dash. There was one thing on this unit that I’ve yet to see on any SxS and that was the addition of column mounted paddle shifters.

I know that the Pioneer 500 comes with paddle shifters, so this isn’t exactly groundbreaking but like I previously stated; this was my first time in a Honda SxS since the launch of the Big Red years ago. The two Pioneer models come with an automatic transmission that utilizes Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), which gives smooth seamless shifts, but also allows you to switch into manual mode where you can strictly handle all of the shifting duties from your fingertips. You also have the option of controlling what gear you’re in with the paddle shifters while in automatic for a little more of a sporty feel without having to fully worry about shifting the entire time.

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The back at first glance was simply a large bed with plenty of storage to handle any utility chores you had for this machine, but like a Transformer a pull of a door here and a flip of a floorboard there, you instantly had ½ of a rear seat with minimal storage behind the passenger. Do the same to the other side and you were instantly ready to carry 5 passengers since you had a comfortable 3-person bench seat up front. The standard Maxxis Bighorn tires mounted on the alloy wheels make for a nice touch for a clean, classy look of this machine.

As it was time to roll out, a simple twist of the key would breathe life into the 999cc engine and with almost no effort I pulled the shift lever to put the transmission into drive. I’m not going to lie and say that I was totally caught off guard with the performance of the automatic transmission. As our group pulled out of the staging area and I started accelerating, you could hear the shift but it was as smooth as a brand new car. I don’t exactly know what I was expecting, but surely it wasn’t action that nice. Since I was in the 5 and we had quite a few people there for the launch, I always had a passenger but we also opted to put people in the back seat to truly get a feel for the machines handling characteristics. The engine accelerated without effort and the auto-leveling suspension design of the rear automatically compensated for the additional weight of our passengers and leveled out the rear end.

Since it was so cold as we pulled out on the trail, there was one thing that was quickly apparent. Because of how high you sit in the cab in comparison to the hood of the Pioneer, the cold air comes right over and gets dumped into your lap when you’re moving. This can be a simple fix with the addition of a ¼ windshield, but if you’re driving in cold conditions like we were, be sure to layer up the lower half of your body. I would also like to point out that when you sit in this SxS, you actually do have a low center of gravity so it doesn’t have a top heavy feel in corners. It is just the height of the hood in relation to the bench that allows this airflow pattern.

As we continued on our ride, I wanted to get the full experience of what the Pioneer had to offer so I took the opportunity to sit in one of the rear jump seats. For the record, I stand at 6-feet, 1-inch tall and have fairly long legs. I expected to be seated with my knees pressed to my chest, but that couldn’t have been any further from my experience. I’m not going to lie and say that sitting back there was as comfortable as sitting in my Lazy-Boy at home, but it really wasn’t bad. Even as one of my associates was blazing through the trails, it felt very comfortable and I think I can count on one hand how many times the rear suspension might have bottomed out in some of the rough portions of the trail.

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To get a feel for both machines, I jumped into the Pioneer 1000 3-seat version and it was pretty easy feel the difference in weight from the lack of the rear bed cage. This unit seemed to accelerate much quicker but initially did feel much more rigid making the ride less comfortable than when in the 5-seat version. While this is usually expected because of it being a sportier model, I found it to be excessive. Later on this trip, I had the opportunity to get more seat time in this unit and play with the suspension settings. After taking out quite a bit of pre-load from the shocks, it felt as if I was really able to take advantage of the 10.55-inches of travel in the front and 10-inches of travel in the rear with the dual a-arm suspension.

I want to focus on the transmission some more since that really is the shining star of this unit. I know that I mentioned how smooth the shifting was as our group was rolling out of the staging area, but what about real world conditions on the trail. One thing I hated about Big Red was the fact that it would almost instantly upshift as soon as one of the rear wheels started spinning and completely eliminated the fun factor. Not exactly the case with the Pioneer 1000. This combination of engine and transmission allows you to drive aggressively but don’t expect to recreating any Ken Block Gymkhana scenes when you have the transmission in automatic. Even when you switch over to “sport mode,” all that is being done is raising the shift point, which didn’t really seem all that much help.

To maximize the potential of this transmission, you can switch it in to manual mode and have complete control right at your fingertips. I experimented with this setting in different terrains and definitely have mixed feelings. If you are in fast technical terrain where you’ll be sawing back and forth on the steering wheel, I preferred to leave the transmission in automatic mode where you still have the option to shift up or down with the paddle shifters. Having it in full manual felt as it things were too busy and felt like I was having to shift too much to be in the sweet spot of the power band. Once we took to the wide open fire roads, this is where it paid to stay in manual control so you could control those long fun powerslides. Maybe you’ll have a different experience in faster technical terrain than me, but either way the Pioneer is a blast to drive.

I truly feel that this motor/transmission combo is a sign of bigger and better things to come from Honda. For a 999cc engine, you can tell that there is a lot more hidden power than what is made available for this model and one would hope this might be the testing ground for more of a sport focused UTV. I don’t doubt that the DCT is capable of handling any additional power that they want to throw at it, and since this is the identical system to what is being used in Acura’s high HP supercar, the engineers at Honda seem fairly confident in it as well.

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By the end of this trip, my outlook on Honda UTV’s has completely changed. My experience in the Big Red was that of riding on a 25-cent ride that you used to find sitting outside of grocery stores as a kid, but a few days in the Pioneer 1000 left me feeling excited like I just tried a new roller coaster. It’s not a turbo’d RZR or Maverick, but you still had an exciting time that handled great on trails for recreational fun, but can still hold its own when chores need to get done and muscle is needed. Now it’s time to wait and see what comes next from the powerhouse that is Honda Motor Corp.

Words & Photos by: Eli Madero // UTVUnderground.com