7 August 1998

Foremans job done

with ease & comfort

ATVs are becoming

increasingly powerful and

sophisticated.

Robert Newman took

the new Honda Foreman

450 for a ride and

discovered…comfort

HONDA has never been shy of incorporating the latest technology in any of its machines and the new flagship ATV – the Foreman 450 ES – is no exception.

Sales of large ATVs are increasing and Honda has now introduced two new models aimed squarely at this competitive heavy duty end of the market.

The 450 is wider and longer than its predecessor, the Foreman 400, and feels very stable and easy to ride over rough ground. New 62.5cm (25in) diameter tyres have given extra ground clearance and the wheel track has been increased to 90cm (36in) – welcome news for those wanting to use the machine for row crop applications.

Steering feels precise and not too heavy, while the turning circle is tight for a large machine. The ride is also good – the wishbone suspension at the front end soaks up bumps effectively, and enables good manoeuvrability even at higher speeds. And for those who appreciate a degree of comfort, a generously padded seat is provided.

The high specification ES version, provided for the farmers weekly test drive, allows the operator to select the gear electronically via two buttons mounted on the handlebar.

By pressing the upper or lower button the operator can change up or down through the gears as required. A small electric motor sorts out the gear movements within the gearbox and in use the change is very responsive.

What is really clever though, is that the speed of the change reflects the way in which the machine is being ridden – the change carried out more quickly when the machine is ridden fast, but taking place more slowly when the machine is ridden less hard.

In use, the electronic shift was found to be quite "snatchy" when the machine was ridden unladen on paved surfaces but this was probably a reflection on the gutsy engine, rather than the design of the gearbox. A more typical off-road surface and a light load smoothed the change.

It was, however, very easy to become used to the push-button shift and it is certainly more convenient to use than a normal foot pedal type change when wearing large mud-covered welly boots.

An extra benefit of the handlebar-mounted shift is that Honda has been able to fit full footwells, previously available only on ATVs with automatic transmission, and a real comfort boon for those working long hours on the vehicle.

Those worried by complex new technology will be pleased to see an emergency gear selector lever is included in the machines tool kit and, should the electric shift fail to work for any reason, the lever can be attached to a gear selector shaft allowing a gear to be selected to get the machine, and operator, home.

Mechanically, the 450 is very similar to the Foreman 400, utilising Hondas engine and transmission set up with its low revving single cylinder engine mounted long-ways in the frame to help ensure an efficient transfer of power.

The 432cc 4-stroke engine was impressive, providing real low down grunt as it effortlessly pulled a well loaded trailer up a moderate slope. In terms of gear ratios, five forward speeds are well spaced – from a very low crawler gear to a brisk top – with a good overlap between the gears.

Travelling downhill with a loaded trailer the 450 felt safe with the braking provided by the large engine and mechanical transmission – its Dunlop tyres providing good grip.

A comprehensive, easy-to-read electronic information display is fitted to the top of the handlebar mounted head lamp unit. This gives actual time, running hours, speed, distance and trip distance and on the ES version it tells the operator which gear has been selected.

Access for routine maintenance is good. The combined engine and transmission oil level is easily checked via the dipstick incorporated in the oil filler cap, and the oil filter is located at the side of the engine and can be changed in just a few minutes. The air filter is located under the seat and is an easily maintained washable sponge type. Also under the seat is the maintenance free battery along with the main fuses for the various electrical circuits.

Conversely, the spark plug is awkward to get to on the 450, being high up on the engine just under the main frame, although a spark plug spanner is included in the standard tool kit. There are no grease points anywhere on the 450, drive to the wheels being protected by shafts but the final drive boxes on the front and rear axles require regular oil level checks.

Overall, the Foreman 450 drives well and is likely to be easy to live with for those needing a large ATV. The ES version tested by farmers weekly is priced at £5599, £200 over the more basic 450S model with conventional foot pedal gear change.