If you’re an ATV rider and also a tech junkie, the Honda Rancher AT may well be your ride of choice. Or maybe you’re just one of the millions of Americans who consistently choose a truck or auto equipped with an automatic transmission—that’s about 90 percent of the population in the USA. Either way, the Rancher AT and its Honda automatic five-speed transmission is a popular choice for good reason.
Honda’s automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) was a first in the world of all-terrain vehicles and it continues to lead the way because it offers several distinct advantages. First off, it’s as rugged and durable as Honda’s conventional manual ATV transmissions because it uses conventional transmission gears. Even better, that construction also makes it efficient. This dual-clutch automatic boasts the same high efficiency as Honda’s manual transmissions.
In this innovative dual-clutch system, one clutch controls the gear pairs for first, third, and fifth, while a second clutch controls second, fourth, and reverse. If that thought makes your head hurt, just think of two separate transmissions side-by-side with two different clutches, all connected and housed in the same case. That’s the basic idea behind DCT operation. In actual use, though, the Honda system is much more elegant, eliminating the duplicate shafts and gears.
In a conventional transmission, a single gear pair is locked together (say, the input and output gears for first) while the rest of the gears are out of engagement. In the Rancher AT’s DCT, two gear pairs are engaged at the same time, but the clutch controlling one pair of gears is disengaged at the same time the clutch controlling the second pair is fully engaged. When the rider shifts, the clutch controlling the next set of gears is already engaged so the transmission shifts smoothly and quickly into the next gear.
This results in extremely quick shifts and less driveline lurching between shifts, especially under load, which means the AT’s chassis attitude remains more consistent while shifting. Compared to other ATV automatics, maintenance needs are greatly reduced with the Rancher AT transmission, while fuel efficiency and power transfer improve. Like a conventional ATV manual gearbox, there’s no handlebar-mounted clutch, so there’s no need to worry about stalling—a special centrifugal clutch unit with a low-rpm lockup takes care of that, as on all of Honda’s conventional-transmission utility ATVs. Finally, because this transmission is so compact, it takes no more space than a Rancher manual transmission, which means engineers could equip the AT with independent rear suspension without compromising the chassis balance Ranchers are known for.
At the rider interface, the Rancher AT offers two shifting modes. The first choice is full automatic—the transmission shifts itself just as an automotive transmission shifts. There’s also the choice of ESP mode, where the rider can shift the gearbox on demand via two handlebar-mounted buttons. Think paddle shifters in an automobile, but here it’s an upshift button and a downshift button in place of paddles.
On the trail, this DCT setup also provides true compression braking when traveling downhill—a very helpful advantage. In automatic mode, all shifting is controlled by an Electronic Control Module (ECM), which measures throttle opening, driveshaft speed and other parameters. When speeds drop, the system will downshift itself and that means you gain true controlled compression braking.
Given this advanced design in transmissions, along with its many other impressive features such as its powerful and bulletproof 420cc liquid-cooled engine, plush Independent Rear Suspension system, Programmed Fuel Injection, Electric Power Steering, TraxLok 2WD/4WD system and more, it’s no wonder the Rancher AT continues to be one of the most popular ATVs around.