Over the years, Honda’s liquid-cooled fuel-injected 420cc FourTrax® Rancher® ATV series has built a huge number of loyal followers—and for good reason. Whether the day calls for multiple tasks on a job site, chores around the homestead or a ride in the woods just for fun, the Rancher formula really hits a sweet spot by combining hard-working full-size ATV capabilities in a package with manageable dimensions. These are incredibly versatile machines packed full of Honda quality and reliability, and the Rancher’s pricing makes each model a real value in today’s market.
In large part, credit for the Ranchers’ extreme popularity and versatility must go to the multiple drivetrain configurations available to meet most any rider’s checklist. But the great news for 2014 is that these FourTrax Rancher models now feature an all-new chassis with a redesigned frame featuring new, longer-travel suspension plus a lot more. In addition, that new chassis can be easily identified because it’s wrapped in all-new bodywork with distinctively aggressive styling and added functionality.
A Wealth of Transmission Options
Honda’s unbeatable variation in drivetrain styles in this series gives consumers an extraordinary variety in choices: The two-wheel-drive FourTrax Rancher is available with manual gearbox or in ES configuration, featuring Honda’s highly regarded Electric Shift Program (ESP®) that makes gear shifts as easy as touching a button; the FourTrax Rancher 4x4 adds TraxLok® 4WD capabilities; the FourTrax Rancher 4x4 ES adds ESP push-button shifting to that 4WD equation; and the Rancher 4x4 Automatic DCT features Honda’s heralded Automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), a five-speed fully automatic transmission that also gives the rider the option of ESP mode.
For 2014, the Rancher 4x4 Automatic DCT now employs a new-generation DCT with an elevated level of sophistication: new updated dual-zone shift logic offers improved adaptation to all riding conditions based on rider and vehicle inputs. The result: the best-performing Automatic DCT we’ve ever put in an ATV that offers the right gear, at the right time, all the time, all automatically—to create a whole new level of riding compatibility.
To top things off, the Rancher 4x4 model and 4x4 Automatic DCT Rancher also offer the option of Electric Power Steering. Below you’ll find a chart that helps with quick correlation between models and technical features, and in the accompanying sidebar you’ll find additional detailed information regarding these different transmission systems and TraxLok technology. But regardless of how you look at things, it all adds up to a wealth of wonderful Rancher choices for off-road work or play.
Upgrades Galore for 2014
For 2014, these brand-new Ranchers incorporate a host of upgrades, starting with an all-new double-cradle steel frame developed with Computer Aided Engineering. This new frame features increased stiffness for even more precise handling, while more effectively transferring energy for a smoother ride.
An all-new swingarm with an enclosed rear axle was also developed to add strength and rigidity to the chassis. As another plus, this design allows the swingarm rather than the rear final gear bearings to support rear-wheel loads—a design that adds to driveline durability. This new swingarm mounts in new rubber swingarm pivot bushings that absorb input loads at the swingarm/frame junction, which adds to improved ride comfort. As a side benefit, since these rubber bushings are bonded to the inner and outer swingarm collars, dirt cannot enter into the swingarm pivot area—and that adds to long-term durability. In addition, this new rear axle setup locates the sealed mechanical rear drum brake inside the right rear wheel for improved protection and increased ground clearance. Larger, dual hydraulic disc brakes up front offer added stopping power.
This new chassis also incorporates brand-new suspension front and rear. The shocks feature new damping characteristics plus an increase in travel to 6.7 inches at both ends for a plush and controlled ride. These shocks also offer adjustable spring preload that allows for quick and easy suspension tuning to match varying loads and riding conditions. Also, new sealed steering knuckle bearings add extended durability and a full-length composite lower skidplate with integrated front brush guard add protection.
Aboard the Ranchers that incorporate Honda’s Electric Power Steering, a new attachment layout using a three-point mount for the EPS mechanism makes the entire unit more rigid in its placement, and that makes for even more precise steering. This EPS system is a next-generation setup for 2014 that incorporates new settings for improved linearity in steering response, reduced low-speed steering effort for enhanced maneuverability and decreased kickback traits for improved all-around steering action.
At the Heart of the Rancher
In the engine department, all Ranchers make good use of the rugged and proven OHV liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 420cc engine. In signature Honda style, these Rancher engines are longitudinally mounted to allow direct driveshaft alignment to both front and rear wheels for maximum drivetrain efficiency. The overhead-valve design provides compact engine dimensions for excellent ground clearance while maintaining a broad, easy-to-use powerband.
New mapping for the Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) system combined with new oxygen sensor feedback technology improves power delivery and throttle response, while also improving emissions and fuel efficiency for greater range and reduced tailpipe emissions. All models feature super-heavy-duty clutch construction for excellent driveability and towing capability. Downstream in the drivetrain, new tougher, plastic CV joint boots supply added durability thanks to their more puncture- and tear-resistant qualities.
Other changes for 2014 include a new fuel pump that is derived from Honda automobile technology: the pump mounts in the fuel tank for better heat isolation and offers an increase in filter life. All Ranchers feature increased AC output for 2014 to support electrical accessory needs: most models see a 16 percent jump to 416 watts, while the Automatic DCT model gains 21 percent to 450 watts. A stainless-steel exhaust system includes a USDA-qualified spark arrester/muffler designed for quiet operation and long-lasting performance.
More and More for 2014
Other more visible changes for 2014 include an all-new one-piece tank/side cover that allows easy access for maintenance—no tools are required for removal. This newly styled bodywork also provides better mud protection for the rider. Buyers who choose the new Honda Phantom Camo scheme will find it not only provides excellent camouflage properties that help the ATV blend into a wide range of field environments, but new Honda application processes also provide better graphic adhesion, excellent durability and improved resistance to fuel spillage to keep things looking better, longer.
A new meter display for all models (excluding the manual-shift 2WD Rancher) features added functions: an electronic fuel gauge, clock, coolant temperature gauge and a “maintenance minder” system that tracks both hours of run time plus miles driven. Also, the twin-headlight system has been redesigned and now features 35-watt headlights with a more focused light distribution pattern for improved visibility after dark. And a newly optimized rider triangle promotes added comfort, while a 0.8 inch-increase in seat foam thickness and softer seat foam density add further to rider comfort.
All things considered, this collection of new Rancher models for 2014 adds up to a dizzying array of choices. Throw in the 17 accessories available from Honda Genuine and Signature Accessories and the variations on the Rancher theme really get wild. Yet in the end, the decision of which model works best depends on the eye of the beholder, while taking into account the foreseeable uses that may crop up down the line. But regardless of the tasks at hand, with the 2014 Rancher lineup Honda continues to hit that sweet spot in the world of Multi Purpose ATVs.
Spotlight on Rancher Transmission Options and TraxLok
ATV riders find Honda’s Rancher lineup to be especially attractive, thanks largely to the proliferation of transmission/drivetrain configurations available that meet just about every need imaginable. First, there’s a traditional manual-shift five-speed that has proven to be extremely durable and is still favored by many riders.
Next, consider Honda’s Electric Shift Program (ESP): a convenient alternative to the manual gearbox that makes gear shifts as easy as pressing the upshift or downshift button. With ESP, an onboard Electronic Control Module (ECM) monitors information from four sensors—engine rpm, countershaft speed, shift drum angle and shift spindle angle—to control the speed of the electric-shift motor’s gear and clutch engagement. Gear-engagement speed varies according to rider usage: The transmission shifts more quickly when the riding style turns sporty. A Neutral lockout at speeds greater than two mph ensures available engine braking when descending hills. For smooth shifting, the transmission cannot be shifted from Neutral to First gear or Reverse at engine speeds above 3000 rpm. ESP is not dependent on battery power; it operates whenever the engine is running. Should the rider ever need to shift manually, ES models are also equipped with an auxiliary shift lever in the toolkit.
A first in the world of ATVs, Honda’s premium Automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) in the Rancher 4x4 Automatic DCT model makes it a standout. As mentioned in the main body of the Rancher story, for 2014 the Rancher 4x4 Automatic DCT now employs a new-generation DCT with an elevated level of sophistication: new updated dual-zone shift logic offers improved adaptation to all riding conditions based on rider and vehicle inputs, effectively and intuitively adjusting shift points whether riding under normal or aggressive conditions. Thanks to this change, the DCT significantly reduces gear “hunting”—that is, shifting back and forth repeatedly between two gears—as it performs the most appropriate shift actions automatically. The net benefits to the rider are many fold: better automatic transmission feel as the Rancher reacts more intuitively to the rider’s operational style and intentions; enhanced power feel; increased response; reduced engine lugging; plus less fatigue and more rider comfort.
The key to the DCT design is the innovative dual-clutch configuration coupled with a two-piece mainshaft. The first mainshaft has first, third and fifth gears all driven by the first clutch. The second mainshaft is sleeved over the first shaft. It carries second, fourth and reverse gears, and it’s driven by the second clutch. This design allows two gears to be engaged at the same time, and each gear is pre-shifted before power is applied. Shifting is then accomplished by disengaging one clutch and engaging the other.
One advantage to this DCT system is extremely quick shifts for less driveline lurching between shifts, especially under load, which means the chassis attitude remains more consistent during gear changes. When engaging downhill slopes, this system also provides true controlled compression braking. In addition, this automatic five-speed transmission’s maintenance needs are greatly reduced, while power-transfer efficiency is improved to make the riding experience all the more enjoyable. Furthermore, since this DCT uses conventional transmission gears, it’s as rugged and durable as Honda’s conventional manual transmission. This fully automatic transmission also gives the rider the option of using the ESP push-button shifting mode as desired.
The Rancher 4x4 models also feature TraxLok selectable 2WD/4WD capabilities that enable the rider to quickly shift between the nimble handling of a 2WD and the extra power delivery of a 4WD ATV. TraxLok incorporates a two-way mechanical roller clutch with a series of hardened-steel rollers that lock up in a mere six degrees of rotation for a smooth, virtually instantaneous response while either accelerating or decelerating on flat ground or an incline. This system also operates in Reverse. To ensure smooth operation, the TraxLok system only engages when the speed differential between the front and rear wheels is less than six mph. Once engaged, the system remains engaged on downhills for true 4WD braking.
In addition, when TraxLok 4WD mode is engaged, a torque-sensitive limited-slip front differential reduces steering effort for a lighter feel. This torque-sensitive limited-slip front differential automatically sends power to whichever front wheel has the most grip. This system also allows both wheels to maintain essentially the same speed and drive regardless of traction conditions. It also virtually eliminates torque steer and drastically reduces the effort necessary to initiate a turn, thus shortening the turning radius and improving handling.