Red and blue warriors
go on trial
All-terrain-vehicles continue to play an ever-larger part in the running of stock and arable farms alike. We begin this ATVspecial by comparing the performances offered by two top-of-the-range petrol models. Andrew Faulkner and
Andrew Pearce report
A FARMER wanting to haul weight into awkward places with an ATV needs four-wheel drive and a strong engine. Honda heard the message and imported the American-made Foreman 400 last summer; Yamaha brought in its latest Kodiak 400 this year.
Both are built to work, both are priced around the £5000-mark and both are apparently popped from the same mould.
Until you look closer. The Yamaha follows convention, putting a 24hp, ohc, single-cylinder engine motorcycle-fashion in a tube frame. The Honda doesnt; its pushrod 394cc single sits across a frame made mainly from D-section box.
Reorienting the motor makes sense, as once the crank is pointing towards the axles, the need for 90í driveline changes disappears. The result – at least in theory – is that more power can get to the wheels.
Hondas rethink goes deeper still. Rather than using a revvy motorcycle-derived power plant, its engineers went back to a pushrod engine producing maximum torque at 3500rpm. Then to improve drivability, they hooked it to a clutch which locks up sooner than usual.
By contrast, Yamaha again stayed traditional, with a motor peaking at 5500rpm (torque) and 7000rpm (power) and a higher lock-speed clutch.
The Kodiak has the most gears. A high/low lever alongside the tank doubles forward ratio number to 10, and reverse selection is up there on the quadrant too. Hondas long-serving, long-winded hand-and-foot reverse system soldiers on unchanged, overlaying a five-speed box.
Otherwise the pair are pretty similar. Front ends have double wishbones and coils, hydraulic drum brakes and a limited-slip diff. Rear axles are solid with a cable drum brake, and shafts do all the driving. Yamaha use a single suspension unit on the rear swinging arm, Honda a pair of the same.
Front and rear racks are standard, as are a fuel gauge, recoil starter backup and a tow hitch. The Kodiak pitches in at £4995, the Foreman at £5395.
To give the motors something to chew on, we ballasted a single-axle trailer to a gross weight of around 450kg and headed for September chalkland tracks.
Both ATVs can play with that sort of load on the flat and are stable heading downhill; where grip is good neither is pushed around.
Both brake set-ups suffer from spongy lever action, but deliver good ultimate stopping power – solo, the Kodiak can be stood on its nose – and the Yamahas low range, low first gear produces substantially more engine braking than the Honda musters.
A haul from arable land up to higher grazing reversed the position. Spec sheet figures give an inkling of whats to come and reality bears them out; Honda have built an engine for the job.
Despite producing fractionally less torque, the Foreman gets more of it to the wheels – so it pulls significantly harder for much longer and bites back at the load much faster on shifting down. Alongside it, Yamahas unit is decidedly short on mid-speed grunt and torque backup.
In places where the Foreman steams upward in third the Kodiak needs second, weaves about more and generally runs out of breath a lot quicker. Mind you, the test Yamaha was not completely run in and has the ultimate weapon of a low range box.
So where grip allows, it should out pull the Honda despite the latters wide ratio spread. But as tested, the Hondas torquier motor and steadier handling under power – notwithstanding a tendency to hop as traction runs out – puts it well ahead.
On the hills
Abandoning the trailer and pointing the ATVs at some steep, ridge-riddled banks produced more surprises. On first and second gear climbs the Foreman stays stable, showing good fore-aft balance and inspiring confidence even when the suspension runs out of travel and wheels start waving about.
The Kodiak is fine until its (lower) limits are reached, when it quickly gets light at the front and reminds the rider that enough is quite enough. Where brown trouser-terrain is the order of the day, youll need them sooner on the Yamaha.
Things fall out much the same on headlands and concrete tracks. At moderate rates of travel theres nothing between the pair, but as speed picks up its the Yamaha which shakes it head sooner and hunts for direction more.
Theres no obvious explanation for these differences, but they are very clear. Traction didnt much come into it as the ground was pretty dry, though the Foremans Goodyear bar grip tyres might have helped.
The Honda is a little wider in the track and longer in the wheelbase, though not enough to notice on jumping from one to the other. But the rider sits more in it, and where the Yamahas bars have to be muscled round against very strong self-centring, the Foreman is a doddle to steer.
On top of this, the Honda keeps power going to the wheels for longer as engine speed drops, so its more like riding a motorcycle with a manual clutch – which makes for better controllability in awkward spots and in tight turns.
So far it looks like a Honda walkover. Where does the Kodiak hit back? On transmission flexibility thanks to that second ratio set, which gives wider ratio choice for fieldwork.
And on gear shifting, thanks to a quadrant lever set-up (much better than Hondas fiddly system) and less clanky main box changes. Not only is the Kodiaks forward/reverse shift better to use (though the lever could be closer to the rider) but on coming back from reverse youre always in the forward gear you left, which is useful for shuttle work.
More significantly, with the rear brake lever pulled in it can be started in gear – good if youve stalled on a hill and dont fancy finding neutral.
On top of this the Kodiaks racks carry more (40kg front and 80kg rear, against 30kg and 60kg), its towing capacity is quoted as 410kg against 385kg and its rear stowage box is roomier. It also carries a speedo as standard, though this covers the full speed range and so is not much use in the field.
Recognising farmings low-input tendencies, both makers have gone out of their way to make durability high and maintenance simple. External body panels are moulded in deformable plastics, while wheelarch extensions are more pliable still. Top marks for quality go to the Foreman, whose switchgear, finish and detailing are just a notch higher.
Under each seat, and so in easy reach, live the air cleaner and battery, while engine and axle oil level are no problem to check. In both cases ignition is contactless, theres a recoil starter should the electric foot fail and the main driveshafts are enclosed.
Seen in isolation the Kodiak is a good package – tough, with wide speed capability and easy shifting from its two-range transmission, good load capacity and generous standard equipment.
But stacked against the Foreman, its shortcomings in driveability are obvious; Hondas decision to major on low-rpm torque and feed it through a low-loss driveline clearly pays off, and its chassis engineers have sealed the deal by making the whole outfit much more forgiving and pleasant to ride.
From the standpoint of a day in the Downs the Honda is the winner. And reverse gear selection aside, wed guess the verdict would be the same after a year on a hill farm or a seasons arable work.
How they compare
Honda ForemanYamaha Kodiak400 4x4Bear 400 4×4
Engine type4-stroke single, pushrod4-stroke single, ohc
Torque21.3lbf ft21.6lbf ft
Rack capacities30kg (f), 60kg (r)40kg (f), 80kg (r)
Others in the frame: Suzuki Bearcat 454 (28hp, £4995); Polaris 500 4×4 (32hp, £5,295)
The Hondas more forgiving chassis makes climbs easier work.
Kodiak front end has independent suspension and neat faired-in lights…
Yamaha has a single suspension unit at the back and a deeper stowage box, exhaust tailpipe is on the right.
…and the Honda is much the same. Bar tread Goodyears were specially developed for it.
Yamaha airbox needs screwdriver to undo, though battery has migrated to under the seat. Tank mounted fuel gauge (bottom right) features on both models.
Ups and Downs – green Yamaha Kodiak takes on red Honda Foreman.
Finding reverse on the Honda is OK with practice but never swift. First push down the red button, pull back the lever, then shift the gear pedal though neutral into gear.
Yamahas user-friendly quadrant lever (centre left) selects between high/low ranges and reverse.
The Foremans generous stainless steel exhaust exits at the left, saving a burnt arm if you prefer to stand to the right when hooking on a trailer. Tow hitch is welded to the axle; stowage box holds reasonable tool kit.
Honda airbox lid unclips to reveal filter; battery is behind it.
Pulling around 450kg, the Yamaha is down to second on this long drag; the Honda waltzed it in third, feeling much torquier in the process.