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Honda Recon vs. Honda Rancher

1. Introduction

When in the course of human events did it become necessary for the buying public to take note and consider the impact of buying a specific new vehicle into their lives? It could be any new vehicle, for buying any new vehicle can and usually does have a profound effect. Whether you are a corporate fat cat or a starving artist, a good value can go a long way. Thus is the case with Honda's ATVs, the Recon and the Rancher. Both are basic but valued. They are well known to be at the top of the four-wheeled revolutionary food chain for being simple but effective. So the point of this dissertation is to provide some insight to someone who is considering the purchase one of these fine simple machines. A little help before the plunge if you will. The Recon, as said before, is a fine simple machine. It's a wonderful halfway point between the all out conundrum of a two week expedition into the Congo rainforest, and a simple walk in the woods. The automatic transmission is truly what sets it apart for casual riders. Console shifters, this modern luxury is an unknown to you, but for the rest of the world it is a huge relief no longer having to explain to someone how to shift in the middle of a ride. Why this writer himself has often thought each gear was reverse. Drum brakes and storage utility complete a nice package here. A low cost, simple runabout with more benefits than a full scale utilitarian machine would offer. Now whether or not those benefits are desired is a matter of opinion.

1.1. Overview of Honda Recon

A capable mid-size ATV for a value-minded audience, the 2014-2017 Honda Recon is offered with a capable 286 cc engine and an innovative 2-wheel drive or electric shift 4-wheel drive system, allowing the rider to tackle the toughest terrain. We classify the Recon as a mid-size ATV, not only based on engine size but also on actual physical size. When compared to full-size models like the Honda Rincon or Rancher, the Recon is a few inches shorter in overall length and width and also almost 100 pounds lighter. This does not mean the Recon is not capable. At the heart of the Honda Recon is a 250-class engine, which can be found in a number of Honda all-terrain vehicles. Honda uses the same 229 cc air-cooled single that powers the tried and true Honda TRX250X sport machine, a handy little powerplant with plenty of pull and great durability. The Recon features a 2-valve head with a gear-driven counter balancer to reduce vibration and noise, aid in long engine life, and help the machine be more rider-friendly with smooth power delivery. The durability of a sturdy five-speed transmission and an automatic clutch allows riders more control over power delivery and torque. For even more flexibility when taking on the trail, the 350-class mid-size ATV is available with two different drive systems. The base model offers a part-time 2-wheel drive Honda Recon with the same reliable 5-speed transmission and automatic clutch that work together for optimal power and torque.

1.2. Overview of Honda Rancher

Honda Rancher was mentioned in the introduction as being a better and more reliable ATV provided by Honda. With an electric start being a standard feature and a more powerful engine, the Rancher is able to tackle more difficult terrain and can bear a heavier load. Available in 2 wheel drive, 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel drive with GPScape and now automatic or manual clutch. The Rancher is now able to be suited to a wider variety of riders. The Rancher also boasts a larger fuel tank so it will last longer on those long day out rides. With options of solid rear axle or independent rear suspension the Rancher can also be specifically set up to cater for the terrain that you will be riding on. All in all, the Honda Rancher is a versatile ATV which can suit a wide variety of riders by providing a reliable, durable ATV which is very affordable. (Chou et al.2022)

2. Performance Comparison

Out of all the improvements in any suspension system, it usually means a loss in another area. However, Honda has proven this to be untrue with the Recon. Although it has more suspension travel than many of its 250cc class rivals, the Recon actually rides better because it has superior weight distribution and a low center of gravity. The rear axle design is also another important factor. Unlike most part-time 4WD systems, the Recon 4WD selector does not engage the front wheels at the differential. This means that the front drive train only spins when the front wheels gain traction. At that point, the IFS allows the Recon to steer normally and handling characteristics remain constant, no matter what the surface. Steer on an incline with a solid rear axle and you'll notice a difference, a very unsettling one to say the least. Lastly, the Recon has a shorter wheelbase and narrower overall width, so it is much less likely to get into a situation where a recovery in reverse is necessary. On the other hand, with more travel and ground clearance and a slightly wider stance, the Rancher's suspension and handling characteristics are superior for the riding enthusiast who seeks more aggressive experiences. Specifically, it will ride better in rough or rocky terrain and at higher speeds.

2.1. Engine Power and Torque

The Honda Recon has a lightweight and compact 229cc OHC single-cylinder engine, producing much more power and torque than the original Rancher, which had only a 350cc engine. With a physically larger 329cc air/oil-cooled OHV single-cylinder engine, the current Rancher has a definite power advantage over the Recon. The extra engine power in the Rancher comes in handy when using it for tougher jobs such as towing or hauling heavy loads. The differential in engine power is evident by the Recon's and Rancher's differing torque and power curves. The ratings for both machines can be compared through the following chart. This data was taken from the Honda Service Manuals for each vehicle. As can be seen from the graph, the Rancher's engine produces much more torque than the Recon, however, the two machines are nearly equal in horsepower. This would suggest that the Recon would be able to perform on flatter ground as well as the Rancher, but the Rancher would be able to pull heavier loads and perform better on tougher terrain due to its torque advantage.

2.2. Suspension and Handling

Unsprung weight is the weight associated with engine, chassis and body, riders and cargo. While suspension systems, wheels and tires are part of unsprung weight, their significance becomes apparent when we consider their effectiveness in allowing the vehicle to move over bumps and maintain contact with the ground. The greater a vehicle's ability to maintain contact with the ground, the better the traction force and control. The Rancher has a 90kg carrying capacity compared to the Recon's 40kg, this is indicative of superior load carrying ability and unsprung weight of the Rancher.

This is perhaps the most significant difference between the two models. The Recon is fitted with a single shock swing arm rear suspension and double wishbone front suspension. While front suspension would be similar for both the Recon and the Rancher, the rear suspension on the Recon does not compare at all to the Rancher's swing arm rear suspension. The swing arm rear suspension on the Rancher is a twin shock system that provides exceptional handling ability. This greatly contributes to stability of the vehicle on uneven ground and reduced body roll when traversing a side slope. The Recon's single shock swing arm rear suspension system is suited for very light off-road duties or predominantly road use. This system minimizes unsprung weight but this is not a significant consideration for the recreational off-road user.

2.3. Fuel Efficiency

According to Honda's official website, the Recon gets an estimated 33 mpg, whereas the Rancher comes in at 28.6 (ES/PS) or 28.8 (ES/S) MPG. While we are only talking about a difference of 4-5 miles to the gallon, this can add up to substantial annual savings on fuel. If you prefer to ride your ATV in lower RPMs and save gas, then the Recon is going to be the better choice. But if you are indifferent or prefer the extra power of the Rancher, there is nothing wrong with opting for the bigger model and being frugal off the throttle. An example of when this fuel consumption difference might be a decision maker is if you own a large plot of land and would like to run an ATV all day, the Recon would save you money over the course of a year. But if you plan to use the ATV for a lot of big utility jobs and would like to utilize the bigger towing capacity of the Rancher, the difference in fuel efficiency may prove to be a non-issue. But regardless of potential preference in uses, the Recon is superior in fuel efficiency.

3. Features and Options

Part-time 4-wheel drive models are available from actuators in the ES model to fully locked in on the manual shift model. While both are a great improvement over the increasingly rare swing arm 4x4s, the Rancher's is lighter and smaller. It achieves this without reducing effectiveness due to improved steering and a solid rear axle replacing the Recon's swing arm rear end. However, it is a closely matched contest in terms of ground clearance when comparing the two. The two-wheel drive model Recon and Rancher feature identical suspension setups with the exception of spring rates. Independent front suspension and a single rear shock provide a smooth ride and plenty of comfort. The lighter weight Recon slightly edges out the Rancher in terms of performance with its impressive turning radius and high-revving engine. However, the Rancher's increased stability at speeds and ability to handle rough terrains is preferred by some riders. (García-Rosell & Tallberg2021)

3.1. Transmission Options

The two ATVs are outfitted with different transmission options. Both come equipped with electric start as standard but the Recon offers an optional electric shift. The Rancher offers two automatic clutch types: a foot shifter S/ES model where the rider can manually shift but never use a clutch lever, and an automatic ES model with the ESP five-speed transmission. The Recon has a foot shifter manual and the aforementioned ES electric shift. They both have excellent, low maintenance 2WD/4WD, direct rear driveshaft models for when the going gets tough. The Rancher makes the call between 2WD/4WD with a button on the right handlebar, while the Recon has a traditional lever next to the left hand grip, where it's hardly out of reach. Of the Rancher models, the manual shift model is a 2WD/4WD machine while the ES and ES EPS are both three-speed transmissions with reverse gearing and a torquey 4WD feature. Overall, Honda has extensively tested all of these transmissions on different machines in various conditions to ensure top performance and durability.

3.2. Storage Capacity

The Recon has a small rack on the front and a cargo box in the rear. The front rack has a 33 lb capacity, and the rear cargo has a 66 lb capacity. The Rancher has a larger front cargo rack with a capacity for 66 lbs, and a rear cargo area that's capable of carrying up to 133 lbs. The Recon also has an accessory box which attaches to the rear which is extremely useful for carrying small items. The Rancher has both front and rear racks available which can be used for carrying numerous outdoor items as well as a larger utility trailer for more heavy-duty tasks. Both models are shaft driven, and the Recon only weighs approximately 500 lbs in total. The Rancher is about 150 lbs heavier due to its larger size and liquid-coolant system. This should be taken into consideration when making a decision based on storage capacity because payload weight will be a contributing factor towards hauling capability. Overall, the Rancher has much more storage capability for heavier, larger items, but the Recon is more than adequate for lighter tasks such as yard work or light trail riding. (Winegar, 2022)

3.3. Comfort and Ergonomics

Both of these Honda ATVs are designed to be comfortable, with easy ergonomics and plush seats to help reduce rider fatigue. Rancher seats are more plush and give you a little bit more room. Recon seats are a bit firmer but not so much that you'd really notice. The soft tail of the Rancher also adds a bit more cushioning to the ride. Coming from a Recon, it definitely feels more comfortable on rough terrain. Sit? I suppose most riders would agree that the Recon does not give you much of an option. The soft tail on the Rancher provides suspension that is a lot softer than the standard issue suspension on the Recon. Both ATVs feature racks rated for 33.6 kilograms on the front and 68.1 kilograms on the back. It should be enough to carry gear for the duration of any ride. The ease of carrying that gear to the ATV is another story, the Rancher is available with a version that comes with an electric shift option and SES (Honda's famous push button shifting) which can be easier than using a manual shift transmission. If you are carrying a lot of gear or doing any work which will require putting the ATV in reverse many times both will appreciate the fact that the Rancher's ESP model features reverse stop on the auxiliary brake lever which allows it to be locked in place so that you do not have to shift back and forth from reverse to neutral when not moving. It is a small feature that many owners have grown to appreciate. The Recon does not have this feature but still provides reverse gear on the manual shift model. (Kirol, 2021)

4. Pricing and Value

The Rancher's resale value is substantially greater than the Recon. It has been cited to be one of the best in its class. What makes this value most relative is the fact that someone who buys a Honda ATV has a good chance of purchasing another in the future. A Honda, like a Toyota, is a vehicle brand that is widely known and highly respected for its reliability. Specifically noted from kbb.com, "the Rancher had the best resale value in the entire industry on the ATV." Resale value essentially reduces your cost of ownership based on the following equation: (purchase price - sell price) / number of months it was owned. Using this common purchasing equation, you find that the Recon may cost more than you bargained for and it is very plausible that it will need to be replaced with a newer model in the same price class. High resale value adds "credit" to a vehicle's dependability factor and indicates that parts for the vehicle will be popular and easy to find. The longer a vehicle is made, replacement parts become easier to find and are available at better prices. Resale/rate of depreciation data from kbb.com.

2019 Honda TRX250TM FourTrax Recon 250 Standard Equipment

2004 Honda Recon 400AT Standard Equipment

Pricing intel from kbb.com.

Both the Recon and the Rancher offer their own sets of value for what you initially spend. The Recon is obviously cheaper, with an average of about $1000 less than the Rancher. The price tag can be very persuasive based on what you're going to use the quad for, just for the mere fact that something you're going to run into the ground doesn't have to be too hard to replace monetarily. For a working vehicle or secondary extra-curricular toy, the Rancher is still moderate in price compared to most in its class. At nearly $6000, it's only marginally more expensive than the Recon, but again for what it comes with in abilities to keep it in running condition or in the event that you may sell or trade up for a new ride, the Rancher is more valuable.

4.1. Price Comparison

Over the years, I have noticed some customers are very wary of buying new ATV machines for their kids, especially if they have multiple kids or if they live in an area with a high rate of theft. People have recognized the Recon's reputation as a very reliable quad, cheap to fix and run, and may choose to buy a used Recon from years ago rather than a new one. Recons are found dirt cheap on the used market, and many have a story of how they have abused them for almost two decades and still run great. Prices can range anywhere from sub $500 to $2,000 CAD, depending on the age and condition of the ATV. With an average 16-year age span of these machines, it is very possible to pick up a newish Recon as a project to fix up or an older one for dirt cheap that only needs basic maintenance and still be looking at a steal. In comparison to this, many of the Rancher buyers I have seen may have been successful or unsuccessful depending on family and theft, considered buying a higher-end model that was a safer bet to not be stolen, and may find a used Rancher for themselves. The buyer with fewer mouths to feed and less concern about kids, though, may not find it as practical to invest in an older Rancher when compared to an older Recon, and the large price gap would lead buyers to believe that on a used market, Recons are better value. (Gerstle, 2022)

In 2005, both the Recon and the Rancher can be found on the dealer floor, with the base model Recon having an MSRP of $3,099 and the Rancher at an MSRP of $4,199. In 2006, Honda increased the MSRP of all their models, and the Recon price jumped almost $300 to an MSRP of $3,399, and the Rancher to an MSRP of $4,249. Fast forward to 2020, and the base Recon model is still available for a price just over $4,000, with the Rancher experiencing a price hike of $6,000, with an MSRP of $6,099. By comparison, the Recon is offered in an economy model and a more expensive ES model. Honda offers the Rancher in 5 models, including Manual Shift, Electric Shift, Auto, ES, and DCT, ranging in price from $5,349 to $7,399. At this point, my opinion is that the Recon has not done that bad in price change between the base model and the top model, but the Rancher has had a significant price increase. This leads us to consider that since the price of both models has gone up, if there is still a significant price gap between them which makes one model better value than the other.

4.2. Resale Value

Reliability of an ATV is another factor when considering resale value. The Honda Rancher is known as one of the most reliable ATVs out there. It's a fact that every year Honda has made great strides with the reliability of their products. The exact same thing was discovered when comparing the Foreman and the Foreman Rubicon. People have been known to "rinse and repeat," buy a brand new Honda Rancher and then sell it years later for only a few hundred dollars less, then keep doing it. This is the exact reason why Honda ATVs are so sought after. The Honda Recon is, somewhat ironically, the newer brother of the Honda Rancher. But still, the discontinuation of it will hurt the resale value. Parts for the Recon will be quite common since it used the same exact engine design as a TRX250EX Sportrax sport quad. But when it comes to comparing a new Recon and old Recon to a new and old Rancher, the differences are quite obvious.

Resale value is how much an ATV will be worth over time. The Honda Rancher is probably one of the best ATVs when it comes to resale value. People have been bragging about how much they got for their 10-year-old Honda Rancher. This is caused by the Honda Rancher being around for so long and being so reliable. With the Honda Recon being discontinued, this will hurt the resale value. Typically, a newer ATV is still definitely of good quality, but an older ATV is no longer made and parts may be hard to find or more expensive when there are fewer of them.

4.3. Maintenance and Reliability

Overall, regular maintenance on the Recon and Rancher is very cheap and simple to do. With no major issues concerning the reliability of these models, maintenance repairs will be very few and far between. This results in a very low cost of ownership for both the Recon and Rancher.

The air filter on these ATVs can be cleaned and oiled and effectively reused over and over before a replacement is needed. This saves a lot of money as an OEM replacement filter can cost around $30. A new quality foam air filter for these ATVs costs around $10, however, these foam filters do not filter as well as the OEM style paper filters. A spark arrestor for these ATVs is also easily accessible for cleaning and should be done on a regular basis to prevent excess backpressure, which can lead to decreased engine performance. Checking tire pressure, tire tread, and general condition of the tires is always a good idea to prevent unexpected tire failure that can leave you stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Regular maintenance on the Honda Recon and Honda Rancher can be done entirely by the owner. Both ATVs are designed for easy maintenance and have most of the regular maintenance items located in easy to find and easily accessible areas. The necessary maintenance items such as oil and oil filter changes, air filter replacement, cleaning the spark arrestor/muffler, and general checks on things like tire pressure can easily be done by anyone that can turn a wrench. With mid-grade oil, oil filter, and an o-ring for the drain bolt, a Recon or Rancher oil change can be done for under $10.

The Honda Rancher has 2 different engine size configurations. The first is a 350cc engine that is featured in both the 2wd and 4x4 manual shift and electric shift models. This engine is also based on an older Honda utility ATV engine that has proven to be one of the most durable ATV engines ever made. Honda has continually used and refined this engine design over the years as it is the same engine that is also in a Honda FourTrax 350. This engine is so reliable that Honda used it in their previous version of the Honda FourTrax Rancher as well. In 2004, Honda came out with an all-new 400cc engine that would be the new upgraded power plant for the Honda Rancher. Though this engine is still fairly new, it has also proven to be highly reliable.

Honda is well known for their reliability and low cost of ownership, and their ATVs are no different. With a highly reliable carbureted 229cc engine, the Honda Recon is no exception. This engine is very similar to the one that is in the Honda FourTrax 250 and the all-new Honda TRX 250X. This engine is proven to be indestructible and with minor regular maintenance will last for many years.


Chou, H.Y., Khorsandi, F., Vougioukas, S.G. and Fathallah, F.A., 2022. Developing and evaluating an autonomous agricultural all-terrain vehicle for field experimental rollover simulations. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 194, p.106735. sciencedirect.com

García-Rosell, J.C. and Tallberg, L., 2021. Animals as tourism stakeholders: Huskies, reindeer, and horses working in Lapland. In Exploring non-human work in tourism: From beasts of burden to animal ambassadors (pp. 103-121). De Gruyter Oldenbourg. ulapland.fi

Winegar, D., 2022. New Materials and Methods for Western Saddlery. uoregon.edu

Kirol, C., 2021. Patterns of nest survival, movement and habitat use of sagebrush-obligate birds in an energy development landscape. uwaterloo.ca

Gerstle, G., 2022. The rise and fall of the neoliberal order: America and the world in the free market era. mandagroup.com

Honda Recon vs. Honda Rancher

For those interested in comparing the Honda Recon and the Honda Rancher, here are some resources that can help you make an informed decision:

Visit the links above for detailed comparisons of the Honda Recon, Honda Rancher, and other related models.