Small Improvements Make a Big Difference

Honda's new Big Red has some impressive ratings, and performance to match.

Published on: Nov 17, 2010

Yesterday, we told you of the improvements and improved load and towing capacities for the 2011 Honda Big Red.

Today, we're telling you the machine can back up the ratings and, overall, is more comfortable and refined iteration of Honda's 2008 entry into the side-by-side utility vehicle market.

The biggest news is a 1,000-pound cargo box load capacity, and a towing weight capacity boosted to 1,500 pounds. Figure in a tongue weight rated limit of 150 pounds, add them all together and go pulling and climbing with two people on board.

The result, the engine sounds like it's working harder, but with a thousand pounds of sand in the cargo box and a 1204-pound trailer on back the overall rig will accelerate well, stops in a civilized straight line and climbed a rather ominous nearly 45-degree hill Honda had built for their machine's press debut. Even with the trailer on, the front end of the machine was stable at speed, and weight and pulled-load didn't affect handling -- other than asking more from the 675 cc fuel-injected single cylinder engine and automotive three-speed automatic transmission. "More" was always there.

Fully loaded, the machine's "shift on the fly" 4WD rear diff lock, and 4WD "both" diff locks, was smooth and uneventful.

Before we added the trailer, I'd taken the machine up the "tabletop" hill laid out before us and realized there was plenty of "guts" to climb fully loaded. On the downside, there were plenty of braking capacity, both pedal and "parking" to hold the load with complete control.

The improved capacities come from a single-stage spring over an adjustable rear shock and a beefier rear suspension A-frame. With only one exception hammering around with the sand load, and later with the sand and the trailer, the machine remained within the load carrying limits of the rear shocks. Other than that one "bottoming" we always felt the machine was carrying the load in its prescribed manner. Other features that make the heavier loads possible include new wheel rim designs and a set of 4-ply Maxxis Big Horn tires, designed especially for Honda with stiffer sidewalls.

Driving an unloaded 2011 Big Red is a good experience, too. The proven engine driving an automotive 3-speed automatic transmission shifts audibly (hard to tell if you really felt it shift, but you can hear it) and downshifts in a straight-forward manner that gives you extreme confidence pushing into corners on loose gravel. The overall stance of the machine makes power steering unnecessary, even in 4WD "double diff-lock" -- sure it's heavier, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The new seat makes getting in and out of the 2011 Big Red easy, and engineers worked diligently to redesign the parking brake to make room for the extra seat between what was bucket seats in the original. And, while the seat back is three-position adjustable, like the original, you'll need wrenches to adjust it! A fully adjustable seat would be a good addition to this otherwise well-thought-out machine.

Overall, the attention to detail in upgrading towing and load capacities involved more than slapping on new decals, but Honda had a proven platform that was already capable of handling the new weights. The way they made the machine live up to them -- and not sacrifice safety or mechanical margins, ride quality, or handling -- is a real success story.

The new Big Red sports "incremental changes" but in our opinion, those changes come where it counts.



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