By: Bill "WBGO" Lanphier
At Honda’s press intro for its new TRX700XX, the company explained that it’s definitely a sport quad, but in positioning it in the marketplace, Honda showed us pictures of guys buzzing around on sporty four-bys.
There’s no denying that utility ATVs are getting sportier all the time, and Honda thinks the XX will be the perfect crossover machine, with a blend of speed, handling and comfort never before seen in ATVing.
The XX is powered by a 686cc fuel-injected, four-valve, four-stroke, five-speed, based on the engine used in a proven dirt bike. The quad motor has been tweaked for a more compact size and lower center of gravity.
Honda claims that this, the most powerful Honda ATV engine ever, has the highest peak power in its class, and a top speed of 76 MPH. In the world of sport ATVing, the XX is on the heavy side, due primarily to independent rear suspension (IRS) and a bigger chassis layout. Compared to most sport-utes, it’s light and nimble.
IRS, in addition to helping the rear wheels stay planted at speed and providing a plusher ride, allows running a large, 7.6-liter airbox for better airflow. But the most impressive new design feature on the XX is a more centered, rear chain drive and brake rotor setup, which results in better ground clearance and allows longer drive axles, for less stress on the CV joints and more mass centralization. This design, plus uniquely offset, 11-inch rear wheels, allows longer A-arms and less wheel camber changes when the suspension compresses.
All four shocks are adjustable for only preload, but each front shock has dual springs, each spring being single rate. The XX was designed for a target rider weight (with gear) of around 200 pounds, as compared to a more typical 175 pounds for other sport quads.
XX IN THE DESERT
As we expected, the weight of the XX makes it a little slower to accelerate and the power isn’t what you’d call thrilling compared to the sportiest of sport quads. It is, however, smooth, predictable and plenty fast for most riders. Clutch action is positive, light and fade-free.
For a big-bore motor with a beefier tranny, shifting is relatively smooth and gear ratios are well-spaced. Reverse actuation is quick and easy: pull out a hand lever near the right side of the tank and downshift from first. Disengage by upshifting back into first.
Steering action is very light and smooth, although one test rider noted a rather wide turning radius. We all noticed some pushing up front, or understeer in aggressive turns. By shifting your body weight forward, it’s possible to limit this, and most of us got used to it after a few hours of seat time.
For many riders, particularly those who like going really fast in really rough terrain, the measure of great suspension is how well it works in whoops (a series of rolling bumps, preferably taken at a speed which allows you to skip over the tops of them). Said our new staff editor Jeff Henson, who’s 6-foot and 220 pounds, “I expected the XX to perform great in whoops, but it was even better than I expected. In that respect, it’s probably the best stock quad—utility or sport.”
Of course, the suspension works well in other places, too. You’re much less likely to be tossed on your head if you accidentally hit a gulley or land nose-first from a jump.
Generally, you can attack stuff much faster than you’d expect. If the XX does get out of shape, it’s easier to pull it back into line. Low-speed ride plushness doesn’t match the big Polaris four-bys, for example, but it’s still very good for a sport quad. High-speed ride stability is very good and the front end feels light, due to the rear weight bias.
In jumps, the XX tends to launch and flies level. The quad feels lighter than the specs would suggest, and it’s possible for a larger rider to manhandle it. And when that’s not possible, the IRS does an excellent job of soaking up landings you’d expect to be rough, even off-camber landings. It just squats down, doesn’t bounce, and hooks up.
The plastic skid plates on the XX are tough, but we still managed to tear one off in riding over big rocks. The skid plates are replaceable, but this probably won’t be necessary on a regular basis; ground clearance on the XX is almost as amazing as the suspension. It’s more on a par with what we’ve come to expect from 4x4s, not sport quads.
Said tester and frequent contributor Jesse Wozniak, “It opens up a new riding technique. On a quad with a straight axle, when you run out of ground clearance, you smack the swingarm skid plate and often come to an abrupt stop. When you run out of clearance on the XX, the skid plates glide right over.”
Adds Henson, “We found a long straight with rocks almost the size of basketballs. We centered the XX over them and kept cruising along at speed.”
Other than the body roll we experienced in high-speed turns, (due to the IRS), the XX stays surprisingly level for a quad with so much ground clearance, proof that a quad can have that, plus a relatively low center of gravity. Braking power is good, even in the slightly tackier hard pack sections we found.
Just as the suspension is set up for a bigger rider, so is the overall layout, which is noticeably roomier than any of the 450cc sport quads. The XX feels more like sitting on a four-by. It’s a perfect fit for plus-six footers, and they won’t feel fatigued after a full day of hard riding. For a 5’9", 165-pound shrimp like me, the XX doesn’t feel big, but really roomy. When I stand for whoops, though, the bars could be a little closer, and that’s an easy fix via the aftermarket.
The seat is comfortable, yet allows moving around quickly for aggressive riding. Honda also paid careful attention to the seat and tank junction, an area on many quads that rubs riders the wrong way. Not so on the XX.
Vibration is minimal and all the hand controls work easily. Water protection for the rider is typical for a sport quad without floorboards (meaning, there isn’t much of it). Although, the fenders do help deflect rocks. Except for the small round plastic storage tube under the seat, which holds a few hand tools, there is no other storage on the XX. Because tension and alignment of the chain drive stays more consistent than on a quad with a swingarm, adjustment (which looks simple via two cam adjusters) won’t be necessary as often.
SPORTY MADE SIMPLE
So who is a good candidate to own a new TRX700XX? People who want the plush feel and significant ground clearance of independent rear suspension of a sporty utility quad combined with the lighter weight and aggressive feel of a sport quad. It fits somewhere between Can-Am’s Renegade, except with two-wheel drive and a manual tranny, and Yamaha’s Raptor 700R, but with IRS and shaft drive.
Yes, this is a sport quad, but it’s like no other. Based on the criteria of a fast, very comfortable, manual-shift sport quad with unbelievable ground clearance and an insatiable appetite for rough terrain, this is an excellent choice.
2008 HONDA TRX700XX
Engine type: 686cc liquid-cooled SOHC dry-sump single-cylinder four-stroke, four valves
Bore and Stroke: 102 x 84mm
Induction: Keihin PGM-FI with a 44mm throttle-body fuel injection system
Ignition: CD with electronic advance
Transmission: Five-speed with reverse
Suspension, front: Independent dual A-arms with dual, single-rate, preload-adjustable shocks, 10.6 inches wheel travel
Suspension, rear: Independent dual A-arms, steel uppers, aluminum lowers, with piggy-back reservoir, preload-adjustable shocks, 9.3 inches wheel travel
Brakes, front: Dual hydraulic 174mm discs
Brakes, rear: Single hydraulic 200mm disc
Tires, front: 21x7-10 Dunlop radial
Tires, rear: 22x9-11 Dunlop radial
Length: 71.5 inches
Width: 45.9 inches
Height: 44.7 inches
Seat height: 32.7 inches
Ground clearance: 10.5 inches (at frame front)
Wheelbase: 49.6 inches
Turning radius: 8.5 feet
Fuel capacity: 3 gallons
Colors: Metallic black/silver, metallic black/red
Ready-to-ride weight: 505 pounds
DIGGING DEEPER INTO THE XX
What’s the secret to the XX’s amazing ground clearance and rear suspension performance? The more centered rear sprocket and brake rotor play a big part. On an ATV with shaft final drive, the drive line to the rear wheels is already nearly centered. Honda rejected a shaft drive because, compared to a chain drive, it’s much heavier and doesn’t transfer power as efficiently. And a CVT tranny was rejected because it doesn’t have the durability or sportier performance Honda was after.
On an engine with a conventional tranny and chain drive, the drive line is on the side of the motor. Honda’s unique solution to centering the drivetrain was a series of three gears — drive, idle and driven — housed in their own case and located directly behind the engine. Instead of the standard drive sprocket, a drive gear is attached to the end of the countershaft. That drive gear spins an idle gear, which spins the driven gear. The inward-facing drive sprocket is mounted to that driven gear.
Now, the rear sprocket can be mounted closer to the centerline. The sprocket and brake rotor are just 33 millimeters offset from the centerline and this provides significant benefits. First, more ground clearance. Next, it allows longer drive axles, which means less of an angle on the CV joints and less stress on them. Also, these drive axles are the same length. Because axles twist a little under acceleration, this means consistent power to both rear wheels. Finally, the centered drive means better mass centralization and contributes to a lighter-feeling ATV.
But that’s not all that’s going on in back of the 700. The unique design of the 11-inch rear wheels allows the lower A-arms (and drive axles) to extend farther inside the wheels. Longer A-arms mean less wheel camber changes as the suspension compresses and more predictable performance, as we saw in our tests of the XX.
The rear wheels are made from steel of varying thickness and Honda claims they are lighter than aluminum wheels of the same strength. We’re told Dunlop is developing an aftermarket version of this unique rear wheel design.
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of ATV Magazine.