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Honda Foreman vs Rubicon

1. Introduction

There are actually 4 models of Foreman available. There are the two base (TRX500FM1 and TRX500FE1) models, and then there is a model with Electric Power Steering (TRX500FM2 and TRX500FE2). Engine displacement is the same on all models. As for the two different models, the letters do mean something. F stands for a foot shift and the E stands for being an ES model, which is the shifting done on the handle bars. The base model FM1 has a MSRP of $7099. It comes with steel wheels and no option to have four wheel drive with locking front differentials. The FM2 has a MSRP of $7649. It is the same as the FM1 but has EPS. The FE1 has a MSRP of $7599 and has the same features as the FM1, but with the ES transmission. The FE2 has a MSRP of $8099 and has EPS and all other features the same as the FE1. Color options are available for different price, but only one style of paint is available for the base price.

1.1 Overview of Honda Foreman

Honda Foreman has built a reputation as the go-to vehicle for large-capacity work. Its 475cc engine is strong and hard-working, and its 4wd and low range have excellent off-road performance. Other manufacturers make 500cc class machines, but Foremans are heavy, workhorses that share a platform with their non-shiftable automatic brethren, the Fourtrax series.

1.1. Overview of Honda Foreman

The Foreman’s available in a number of different models. There’s a basic 475 model, a 500 equipped with power steering, computerized shifting and alloy wheels, a 500 with an automatic DCT gearbox and power steering, and a completely different 520 model with dual clutch which is a radical departure from the Foreman we’ve known for all these years. At this point in time, it’s not known if the 475 model will evolve to the new Foreman platform or if it’s going to be discontinued. This 500 Foreman sits right in the middle of the rest of the lineup and could be called the best value on the utility/4×4 quad market when you consider the cost, reliability and low cost of ownership. With the well-known indestructible nature of Honda’s air/oil cooled 500cc power plant, this should be the last quad you have to purchase for many years. Period. The MSRP on this model ranges from $5999 to $6399, with the power steering adding $500. At face value, Honda has made some substantially bold moves and possibly flipped the utility market upside down on its head. It’s like Honda realizes not everyone needs a 5k+ lb winching towing/king of the mud/king of the whoops/king of the dunes/king of the big bore 4×4/king of the draining wallet 4×4 utility ATV with snazzy plastic and pop can thin aluminum wheels, graphics, and literally every bell and whistle on the market. By doing away with the Rubicon, Rincon and the 420 solid rear axle model TRX 500. They have simplified their 4×4/IRS ATV lineup to two platforms. The Foreman and the Rubicon. By not competing with themselves and offering a Foreman with IRS and a solid rear axle, or a Rubicon with swingarm rear suspension, they are now with a stroke of marketing brilliance, pushing the idea of the Foreman and Rubicon as the platforms rather than individual models, to your everyday average Joe utility rider. Which at some point in the last decade Honda forgot that the Foreman is the king of the utility market to those who aren’t quite ready for a maxed out big bore 4×4, sportsman, Grizzly, king quad, whatever the competition may be with a 750 dollar payment and a fridge full of cash. Step 1 bring the beloved Honda utility quad back to the spotlight. Now you may be wondering how does this affect the ego of Foreman and Rubicon owners? Fear not, there won’t be any fancy rebates on Honda’s site for trading in your old Foreman or Rubicon for a new model.

1.2. Overview of Honda Rubicon

The Honda Rubicon is the undisputed king of the Honda utility ATV lineup. Unleashed in 2001, the Honda Rubicon has firmly planted itself in the Side by Side Terrain, due to its affordable and extremely effective Hondamatic transmission. From tight trails to long work days, the Rubicon has arrived. Like the Honda Foreman, the Rubicon is equipped with the indestructible 500cc powerplant and offered in an automatic or manual shift. The great new feature that this engine has over the Foreman is the "bulletproof" Hondamatic transmission. This is a 3-speed automatic transmission with full Electronic shift. Honda has spent the last couple of years perfecting this setup on the excellent Rancher AT models. However, Hondamatic is now quite a bit more advanced than the original Electric shift setups used on those Ranchers. It has proven to be extremely reliable and effective, so much so that many customers have become repeat buyers of ATI models. This transmission simply puts Honda leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

2. Performance Comparison

It is fair to say that the Rubicon shines with its horsepower and fuel injection system, while the Foreman retains a reputation for its torque and cleaning functional 4wd system.

Advancing on this, the Foreman does provide torque sensitivity due to its now removed Traxlok 4wd system and manually adjustable front diff lock via a thumb switch. With the removal of these features, Honda has modified the Foreman's Traxlok system into a more traditional 2wd/4wd electric push-button shift system allowing for reliable and consistent 4wd cable actuation. This new 4wd system carries fewer mechanical parts and is shared with the Rubicon and its proprietary 4wd/2wd rear drive shaft disconnect function (due to the Rubicon's automatic transmission we will cover this system in a later driveline section).

In comparison to the Foreman, there is a noticeable power increase. As the Rubicon and Rincon share the same engine, Honda states the Rubicon's power output can be judged at the 32 horsepower mark, in comparison to the Foreman at the 28 horsepower mark. Both machines have plenty of power for what they are made to do, but if there was a necessity for a lot of low-end torque, or the nature of terrain and tasks you face require a lot of engine braking, the Rubicon's extra power would undoubtedly be a recommendation.

Engine power and torque First and most importantly, let's examine the engine changes. Last year saw the new 475cc power plant put into the Foreman (the Rubicon retained the 500cc mill last year). The Rubicon gets the new 499cc, liquid-cooled, longitudinally mounted single cylinder four-stroke engine inherited from the 500cc and 650cc Rincon, with computer-controlled fuel injection that makes starting easy under all temperature conditions and high altitudes in precise. The key to the fuel injection system for the Rubicon is that it features a closed loop system with a heated oxygen sensor and an altitude sensing ECU that continuously measures the air fuel mixture and keeps the engine running at maximum efficiency.

2.1. Engine power and torque

In terms of handling, power-to-weight ratios in both models mean that they are quite brisk for utility ATVs. They are nimble in tight going and can maneuver out of ruts and mud with ease. The Foreman does not have power steering with the exception of the EPS model; however, the improved weight distribution and center of gravity can make the Foreman feel more stable especially on cambered surfaces. With the Foreman's EPS model and the Rubicon's 4WD models now coming with power steering, there is minimal difference between the two in the handling department. Both machines also have drums for the front and rear racks to utilize engine braking on descents, which also means it's not excessively heavy with the utilization of a trailer.

Suspension is another area where both bikes are largely identical. Both the Rubicon and Foreman have dual A-arm suspension up front with 6.7 inches of travel and at the rear, both have a swing arm with a solid axle and 6.9 inches of travel. The major difference is that all the Rubicon models have a 4-wheel independent rear suspension setup allowing a better quality of ride and improved handling, whereas the Foreman has a conventional swing arm setup. With spring rates and damping being adjustable, the rider can also tune the suspension to suit different terrain and manage sag and bottoming resistance. Both models also have hydraulic brakes with twin-piston calipers and 180mm discs on the front and a sealed mechanical drum at the rear.

The comparison between these models should possibly start right with their specification sheets. When it comes to the Honda Foreman vs Rubicon 500, you'll find that there aren't many differences at all with either machine. Both bikes have a 475cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke engine that has been in service in one form or another since the dawn of time. The main distinction is the fact that the Rubicon's engine is longitudinally mounted in the frame as compared to the Foreman's engine which is mounted transversely. What this means essentially is that the Foreman's engine is laid on its side in the frame, which allows it to be mounted lower in the chassis thus lowering the centre of gravity of the bike and making it more stable. It also means that Honda has been able to keep the Foreman's old engine rather than conforming to the emissions regulations and detuning the Rubicon engine to some extent. This, along with the improved power steering model on both bikes, is the main reason why Honda 2WD vs 4WD is no longer the issue it used to be. Both models are housed in a chassis containing two upper and low gear ratios and the Rubicon also has the additional feature of being able to switch between 2WD/4WD and its automatic mode and the front differential can be locked using a new switch on the handlebars. Both models also have a 5-speed gearbox (plus reverse).

2.2. Suspension and handling

Ground clearance is very important for any serious off-road user, and when it comes to ground clearance both ATVs are very competitive. The Foreman provides 185mm of ground clearance and the Rubicon marginally more at 216mm thanks to larger tires. High ground clearance is particularly helpful in avoiding unexpected obstacles on a trail, in ruts, and when traversing a slope. Both ATVs have a very reasonable turning radius - a tight 3.0m for the Foreman and an even better 2.9m for the Rubicon. A good turning radius is essential for getting in and out of tight spots on the trail, or for a bit of maneuvering while working, and it's an area where all Honda ATVs tend to do rather well.

The Honda Foreman and the Honda Rubicon have identical suspension systems and both utilize independent front suspension (IFS) and a swingarm-type rear suspension. While this may not be the most advanced suspension system available on an ATV, Honda has managed to make it work very effectively. Double wishbone front suspension with preload adjustable shocks on the Foreman and independent double wishbone front suspension with preload adjustable shocks on the Rubicon allow for 185mm (Foreman) and 180mm (Rubicon) of travel respectively. The rear end of both ATVs is sprung very similarly as well. The Foreman has a swingarm-type rear suspension with a single shock providing 185mm of travel and the Rubicon has an updated version of this system with a similar amount of travel providing a smooth ride over rough terrain.

2.3. Towing and hauling capacity

Honda Foreman has a towing capacity of 850 pounds and a hauling capacity of 66 pounds. Towing capacity is more than what is needed to tow a small trailer or a boat, so you would be safe with the Foreman. The hauling capacity isn't much but the Foreman is also a recreation-based ATV and you could tow a small trailer with whatever you need on it into the bush, then unload and go for a good ride. Now the Rubicon, this ATV was based to be more utility-based and to be a good all-around machine. It has a towing capacity of 1250 pounds and a hauling capacity of 200 pounds. With the towing capacity being greater, if you have a bigger boat and plan on going on more extreme terrain, the Rubicon may be a better choice to tow the boat with. And with a greater hauling capacity, this just makes it easier to bring what you need into the bush for whatever tasks you have to complete.

3. Features and Technology

3.2. Differential Lock and Traction Control The Rubicon was the follow-up to the wildly popular Fourtrax 350 4x4 that made Honda's reputation in the utility ATV market. In the changing landscape of increased technical riding, the utility rider demanded more versatility and more capability, leading to the explosion of 4WD ATVs in the industry. In the years leading up to the Rubicon, 4WD systems on utility ATVs were often complicated, with various manual locking and shifting systems used to engage the front wheels when traction was lost. Honda's solution was the TraxLok system, introduced on the 2001 Rubicon. TraxLok is a simple, lightweight system that uses a shift lever on the left handlebar to engage the front differential. Next in the line of Rubicons for 2004, Honda introduced a new GPScape model featuring, you guessed it, GPS. We'll talk about the GPS part later. Anyways, the GPScape featured a radically different 4WD system that had a locking front differential to go with a new automatic mode. This was an improvement over the previous system that allowed the front differential to be locked but was still a 2WD mode with automatic engagement of rear wheels. In this 4WD system, Honda also added a torque-sensitive front differential, a fancy term meaning that it sent power to the wheel with the most traction, increasing the capability of the ATV. The Rubicon and GPScape's 4WD systems were far superior to those of any competing utility ATV.

3.1. Electronic Fuel Injection System Both the Foreman and Rubicon come with a powerful fuel-injected engine featuring Honda's acclaimed Programmed Fuel Injection, which delivers crisp throttle response in a variety of challenging conditions. It's the same system used on Honda's top-of-the-line Rancher AT, with the same multiple-hole fuel injectors for optimal atomization of the fuel. What does that mean? It's power you can use, smooth throttle response with no aftertaste, and the same fuel efficiency as a conventional carburetor. The Rubicon further features a new, unique electronic 4WD/ESP System. It features a new switch on the right handlebar that lets you change between 2WD, 4WD, and a new mode called ESP. In this mode, the system senses when the rear wheels lose traction, automatically engaging 4WD with no buttons to push or levers to pull. Then when traction is restored, it switches back to 2WD. And speaking of pushing levers, a Honda Rubicon first.

3.1. Electronic fuel injection system

Honda equipped the ES models with an all-new Electronic Shift Program. This is a serious dose of innovation. What Honda has designed is a system that allows the rider to shift with the touch of a button. There is no more fumbling with a foot shift while trying to navigate difficult terrain. This is a feature that appeals to many hunters and farmers because of the difficulty and inconvenience of foot shifting while working. Now the consumer can have the luxury of ESP and keep the familiar switch from 2WD - 4WD. Connecting the engine to the drive train, Honda has equipped all their models with a new map designed for improved efficiency. This means more work and play with less gas. Honda has always been a working man's quad and now the consumer has more time to finish chores in between fill-ups. Honda has decided to keep the Rubicon simple by keeping the automatic and manual transmissions in the same unit which did not change size from the Foremans. This means the Rubicon still has a bulletproof transmission as it has had in the past with an improved lighter shifting automatic and to top it off a manual shift mode for the rider who wants more control. The Rubicon still has its dual-range transmission which features a sub transmission with a low gear that multiplies the force of the engine and adds to the great torque this model has always had. For engine braking, the Rubicon features a new generation of downhill engine braking. This is a better idea than conventional engine braking for descending tough terrain. This option can be turned off and on with a new easy-to-reach switch located near the gear shift. Now the Foreman. Although there is not a full line of Foremans considering the ES lost its popularity, the manual shift has a slightly different transmission than the automatic Rubicon. The new Foremans feature a new reverse lockout. This makes it so the rider must depress the override button when shifting into reverse from first gear. The manual shift Fourtrax, to many riders' delight, has stayed the same. All models of the Foreman and Rubicon are now powered by a more efficient and reliable fuel injection system. There was a time when new technology was scary for Honda because they have always done well with the same quads and would keep them for extended amounts of time. Well, the Rubicon has had a serious dose of new technology in the past few years. With great success, Honda has decided to replace their ever-successful Rubicon with a fancier looking more powerful model. This left no room in the market to sell the old Rubicon and the fancy new one, so the old Rubicon has been discontinued. Never fear, Honda has made a new version of the ever so popular Foreman. With no more Foreman ES, Honda now has the Foreman with an automatic transmission and the option of a solid manual shift. Both the Foreman and Rubicon have a model with a different choice of color. With this move, Honda expects to satisfy the Canadian market who felt scorned from the discontinuation of the Rubicon and the attempt to replace it with a less lovable fancy new model. Step one for dissolving the old stock was to drop the price of the new Foreman and Rubicon to the price of the old Foreman and Rubicon, but that is the only price drop you will get from Honda. This is a brilliant marketing move by Honda and getting a glimpse of the new models leaves the consumer anticipating what Honda will do next.

3.2. Differential lock and traction control

Overall, both these Honda mid-sized ATVs offer a host of fantastic features to make the rider's life easier. Horsepower and price will be the major factors for any potential buyer, but to truly appreciate the technological genius of these machines, you really need to try one for yourself. These are the sort of features that can put a Honda rider one step ahead of the pack in a tough situation and really that's what makes these ATVs value for money.

Selectable 2WD/4WD at the touch of a button. Step into the Rubicon range and the technology is truly amazing. A complete game changer for the industry, the Rubicon has an all-new front differential that gives a direct front wheel drive in 2WD, something never before seen in an ATV. But arguably the best feature of the Rubicon range is the introduction of the ESP models and IRS models with Honda's IESP (Intelligent Electronic Shift Program) and the revolutionary new Hondamatic three-speed sub transmission. It's an incredibly advanced system with automatic and electric shift modes for the IESP and a manual mode with three levels of RPM performance tuning for the Hondamatic. This can greatly benefit riders in a whole variety of situations and an engine braking system will assist when riding down steep hills or towing heavy loads. The Rubicon really does have a technological edge in its class.

Similarly to the Foreman, the Rubicon also has the 2WD/4WD switch on the left handlebar. However, there are a few differences in the operation of the system. The Rubicon has a completely new selectable 2WD/4WD which can be changed on the fly. The first of its kind which allows a direct front wheel drive from the automatic (ESP) and electric shift models. In the normal 4WD mode, the Rubicon uses Honda's IESP (Intelligent Electric Shift Program) with the front differential to give the same easy steering and maneuverability. But the real jewel in the Rubicon's crown is the addition of the ESP models and the revolutionary new IRS only Hondamatic and IRS models come with the incredibly advanced IESP three-speed sub transmission that gives automatic shifting or push-button manual shifting, with three levels of RPM performance tuning. This really does put the rider in control and will be of significant advantage in a whole variety of situations.

The beauty of Honda's Traxlok system is that it gives the rider the best of both worlds. By having a switch on the left handlebar, the rider can change between 2WD and 4WD without stopping the machine. When the going gets tough, the rider can change to 4WD and when he's safely negotiated the obstacle and riding on a firmer surface, he can switch back to 2WD. This can all be achieved with Honda's simple torque-sensing Traxlok. This intelligent differential does away with the need for a diff lock in most situations by delivering all the available torque to the wheel with the most traction. When things get really tough, front wheel torque can be maximized by applying the mechanical lever at the front of the diff to lock the differential solid. This system gives the rider excellent maneuverability in 4WD with the added security of knowing he can manually engage a solid diff when more traction is required.

The differential lock is a well-known tool that can be used in sticky situations. It can be very helpful in getting that extra edge when climbing a tricky slope or getting through deep mud or snow. The only real drawback of a diff lock is that it can be engaged at the wrong place or time, with a sudden noticeable bang, and if still turning can result in a loss of steering control.

3.3. Electric power steering

Honda released the Foreman Rubicon in 2015 with electric power steering. This is the first time Honda offered the EPS on a Rubicon. It still has the same feel as the non EPS models, where steering effort is still light at low speeds while increasing as speed does. With the EPS models, the Rubicon comes with an EPS indicator which shows the system is functioning, and an EPS warning light, indicating malfunctions in the system. With the added EPS, slightly fewer turns lock to lock on the steering wheel. The Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicons are the peak of Honda's technology when it comes to ATVs. Boasting a powerful 500 class engine making it a logical choice for those drivers seeking a do it all ATV, and the ones succeeded in doing so in 2007, made big changes to the engine and chassis which furthered the Rubicons off roaded capabilities. With the Honda Rubicon models now equipped with electric power steering, it allows Honda's revolutionary TraxLok 2wd/4wd selectable system to be used to its full potential. Starting with automatic mode, torque sensitive TraxLok serves as a front differential lock mode which allows the driver to keep it constantly engaged, or to engage and disengage it with the press of a button. With the greatly improved EPS and EPS2 models, when TraxLok is engaged, the EPS will apply an electronic differential lock giving true to all four wheel drive without any slippage. All these features mean the Honda Rubicon is now the best choice for hunters or the riders using an ATV in cumbersome conditions since a full time four wheel drive can be difficult to maneuver. This is furthered more when revised gear ratios, and a new fuel injection system gave the Rubicons in 2015 increased towing capacities which now match their IRS and solid rear axle counterparts. Any mode which the rider sets, power is transferred through Rubicon's ultra strong new final drive system. With all these enhancements to increase off road capabilities, it makes sense Rubicons have become more and more popular over the years.

3.4. Digital display and instrument cluster

The Foreman 520 now has an easy-to-read digital display, incorporating the speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, and a well-thought-out fuel gauge function. Brightly lit for these old eyes, the display is a doddle to scroll through the comprehensive data readout relevant to engine hours, fuel used, shift position, and clock. Another new feature is the added shift angle indicator, a simple yet effective visual aid to display transmission gear selection and assist in successful ploughing, towing, or mud-plugging endeavor. Next up is the Rubicon, and with an improved digital display and extra features to match the Foreman previously dominated, Honda gives the impression they are after whatever Foreman market share is left over. The display readouts for speed, gear position, clock, fuel level, and 'maintenance due' reminder are all viewed within a larger LCD screen than previously used, now located centrally on the dash. Step up again in data feedback is transferred through the more comprehensive LCD readout, with information displays for water and air temperature and oil change interval timing. A handy new diagnostic function has been incorporated to display battery voltage readings and monitor the charging system function – useful for identifying potential electrical issues experienced in the field. When it comes to instrument clusters, the Rubicon takes the cake with its inclusion of an all-new independent gear position indicator, a feature displayed across all Rubicon models and unavailable on any Foreman or Rancher model. Gone are the days of relying solely on reverse engaged beeping or the easy to forget annoying sudden stoppage of a solid pull forward to realize you were pushing against the wrong gear. Now, a quick glance down will identify gear position, allowing convenient shifts from auto to manual or direct gear changes without the worry of muffing something up; just what the doctor ordered for a no-hassle working experience. Both machines have a useful storage pocket on the left-hand side of the steering column, well-protected from the elements and conveniently located to store any assortment of small items that you'd rather not keep in your pockets.

4. Price and Availability

The Honda Rubicon costs significantly more than the Foreman. They both are available with options push button selectable 4WD/2WD but costing $700 more to add the feature to the Foreman. The Foreman offers a base version straight shift model with no extras like electric shift or power steering which can cut costs. The Rubicon is equipped with a 500cc engine that can reach 54 mph. The acceleration is supposed to be a 25-30% improvement in torque over the Foreman, but the Rubicon is still heavier and top speed will likely be similar to the Foreman. Due to the similarities in performance, power and 4x4 functionality, the Rubicon seems overpriced. If you are not interested in the upgraded features like power steering and the top of the line 4x4 system, the Rubicon is not worth the extra cost over the Honda Foreman. Both the Rubicon and Foreman can be found used relatively easily today and they tend to be priced slightly higher than other competing models. There is not much of a difference between availability of these two vehicles, so the best approach to decision making would be to try each one and see which you enjoy riding more.

4.1. Price comparison

The Rubicon is a more recent addition to the Honda range as it was only introduced in 2001, whereas the Foreman has been available for several years with only minor changes. Sourcing prices from the official Honda website, the Foreman carries a price tag of $7,399. However, the price of the Rubicon starts at $7,799, which makes either model quite a substantial investment. It seems that the Rubicon's slightly higher price may reflect simply on the fact that it is newer with more advanced technology. Furthermore, due to the Foreman's age, it will only be available for purchase until 2007 when it will no longer meet strict emission requirements. On the other hand, the Rubicon is available whether in the Manual Shift, Electric Shift, or GPScape models across almost all of the United States of America. This, however, will vary unlike the Foreman, which is available anywhere in the USA. Coming back to the official Honda site, the availability and price of the Foreman and Rubicon vary in different states of America, but prices for both generally remain around $6,459 for the Foreman and $6,999 for the Rubicon. This is also the case if an online search is conducted at other websites. It is hard to compare the price of the Rubicon and the Foreman in the United States where both are well suited for the climate and rough terrain. However, in Australia, it would be expected that the Foreman is one of the more expensive quad bikes as the tough Australian standards mean that it is one of the preferred working bikes. And as mentioned before, prices on the official Honda website show that the Foreman is a very low $6,459. The Rubicon, however, is not as suitable for the tough Aussie conditions as it is more of a recreational vehicle designed to offer a smoother, more comfortable ride and offer more storage with the automatic model incorporating the innovative GPScape System. This makes the Rubicon relatively more expensive for what it offers in comparison to the Foreman. Priced anywhere from $10,000-$12,000, the Rubicon is not as good value for money as the Foreman in Australia.

4.2. Availability in different markets

The Honda Foreman and Rubicon are specially designed for different markets and therefore you'll find that certain models are available in some parts of the world but not others. The Foreman represents an all-rounder of sorts and is available in a variety of different configurations including both manual and electric shifting and the option of a 2-wheel drive model which may be more suited to farmers and forestry workers. The Foreman is a workhorse designed to last and therefore it has changed very little since its induction in 1987. The original Foreman 400 was later replaced with the Foreman 450, and now there's the Foreman 500. Due to changes in emissions and other regulations, the Foreman 500 is not available in the UK, for example, where new models have to be type-approved to be road registered. Consequently, the most recent Foreman that you'll find in the UK is likely to be a 450. The Rubicon, on the other hand, is more of a recreational trail bike and is available in many high-tech configurations including GPS and automatic transmission with optional manual shift mode. In comparison to the Foreman, the Rubicon is less often found due to its very specific target audience and its continual evolution means that earlier models may be difficult to find on the used market. During its later years, the Foreman has been largely tailored towards the North American market and can therefore be difficult to find in other parts of the world.

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