Honda's popular Rancher ATV sports a makeover for 2007. After selling a half-million of the Ranchers since it introduced the model in 1999, Honda boosted the ATV's horsepower, increased its torque and added electronic fuel injection. Today, the new Fourtrax Rancher is easier to handle and steer than the model it replaces and provides a smooth ride. Rancher fans also will notice a new body style that incorporates extra water and mud protection along with integrated headlights and LED taillights.

Honda is betting the remake of its high-selling ATV will be a hit with customers, including farmers. “The Rancher has been our number-one-selling product, and anytime we redo it, we put in a lot of thought,” reports Jon Row, Honda motorcycle department. The new model is available in electric or manual shift, and 2-wd or 4-wd.

Japanese details

The Fourtrax Rancher is built in Honda's Timmonsville, SC, plant where 262,000 ATVs and 231,000 engines were manufactured in 2006. Workers in the facility also assemble about 11,400 personal watercraft a year. The Honda facility employs 1,600 workers, referred to as associates. This respectful attitude towards workers is reflected in the state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities that are large, clean and bright. Honda promotes high-quality manufacturing standards and requires all workers to wear white uniforms to help them keep cleanliness in mind.

The Japanese attention to detail is highlighted in the test track located near the manufacturing facilities. The 1½-mile track is an exact duplicate of two other Honda test tracks located in Japan and Ohio. Honda imported dirt and laser-measured the Timmonsville track so that it would exactly match the other two. This way test drivers and engineers can check vehicle performance on any of the tracks without concern for track variables.

A team of test drivers put new Honda vehicles through their paces on the track. The track includes 40 embedded timbers, mud and water pits, a tabletop, and plenty of curves and bumps to challenge any vehicle. The testers also drive the vehicles through a wooded course next to the track. This all sounds like fun, but test drivers do it day after day in South Carolina's hot, humid climate while wearing a full set of riding gear.

Test drive

The value of the test track came to light when I, and several other journalists, drove both the old and new models of Rancher ATVs on it. I found the new Rancher to be more powerful, better handling and more comfortable than the older models. The new models also had more power to pull a loaded cart around the course.

We also took the Ranchers to the woods for a drive that turned into an obstacle course. The new Rancher easily wove through tree saplings, over ruts and through mud with no trouble. I particularly noticed that the Rancher handled split-second turns to avoid trees. Only once did I slam into a tree (operator error, of course). Overall, the Rancher proved to be a great-driving ATV with plenty of power to handle heavy loads.

420cc engine

At the heart of the Rancher makeover is a 420cc, liquid-cooled engine, which replaces a 350cc, air-cooled engine. It is an in-line engine with the crankshaft mounted longitudinally. A Honda design, the in-line engine allows direct driveshaft alignment to both front and rear wheels so it has fewer parts and less cranking torque needed to start than crankshafts with conventional designs do. Plus, the in-line design lowers the Rancher's center of gravity and offers more stability.

Honda equipped the new ATV with electronic fuel injection to help the vehicle start in cold weather and at high altitudes. It also added dual front disc brakes to improve braking.

All of the Ranchers have a five-speed transmission with reverse and an ultralow first gear. A Traxlok 4-wd/2-wd selector level allows an operator to switch to 4-wd in tough driving conditions. The suspension includes independent double-wishbone in the front and steel swingarm suspension in the rear.

Prices for the TRX40 models are as follows: TM (2-wd, manual shift), $4,499; TE (2-wd, electric shift), $4,699; FM (4-wd, manual shift), $5,299; and FE (4-wd, electric shift), $5,499.

For more information, contact American Honda Motor Company, Dept. FIN, 1919 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90501, 310/781-5139, visit www.powersports.honda.com or www.free productinfo.net/fin, or circle 101.