TEST DRIVE: Honda’s 2012 Foreman

ATVs, Headlines, Home Page Slide Show, Honda, Utility — on April 19, 2011 at 11:58 am

 More power, a stronger overall feel, roomier ergos, updated suspension and better looks – we experienced all this and then some in our recent test of the totally redesigned 2012 Honda FourTrax Foreman 4×4 ES.

More power, new bodywork and improved suspensions alter the Honda Forman for 2012

More power, new bodywork and improved suspensions alter the Honda Forman for 2012

            Honda assembled the ATV media for a tour of the company’s 488,000 square foot ATV factory in Timmonsville, South Carolina, followed by a ride at Carolina Adventure World on the renewed Foreman. We came away impressed at both ends.

            In Timmonsville, we witnessed the extreme precision and care workers put into building each and every utility ATV in the Honda lineup. We also took part in a “Line-Off Ceremony,” where employees celebrated the importance of this new Foreman. It’s the first Honda ATV to go through a full model change here in the United States, from the initial conceptual phase and the development phases initiated at Honda R&D in Ohio all the way through production in South Carolina. This U.S.-centric process will be the new norm for utility ATVs for Honda going forward.

            The tour was great, but we were there for saddle time! The renewed Foreman felt bigger, stronger, faster and a bit more plush than the previous four generations of this historic Honda model. It didn’t completely change its character – the Foreman continues to focus on its chores before asking permission to go out and play – but the upgrades certainly add new spark to a popular machine.

 A New Foreman In Charge

Those familiar with the Foreman will notice some of the machine’s changes right away, before ever starting the engine. Looking at the Honda Foreman ES, it has a more masculine look up front, with a larger and higher front bumper, bigger and more shapely fenders and more sturdy-looking wheels. Throwing a leg over a red, green or camo machine, we immediately felt the slightly taller and wider handlebars, noticed the new gauge and appreciated the softer and taller seat.

All of this combines to make the entire machine feel taller, wider and more substantial – the spec chart says that the machine is just .7 inches longer (now 83.7 inches), .6 inches wider (now 47.4 inches) and .6 inches taller (now 47.1 inches), with a .8-inch higher seat (34.7 inches), but those little numbers add up. The Foreman just feels bigger and stronger in its new clothes, though not too big and bulbous like some competitive machines.

For 2012, Honda beefed up the swingarm and went with a larger, single shock on the rear of the Foreman.

For 2012, Honda beefed up the swingarm and went with a larger, single shock on the rear of the Foreman.

Bringing the Foreman to life and pulling down the trail, the other updates immediately become evident. It starts with the power. Honda officials added liquid cooling and fuel injection to the 475cc single overhead valve single while at the same time increasing the compression ratio from 8.5:1 to 9.5:1. This all creates 10 percent more horsepower and a 6 percent increase in torque, according to Honda officials.

We could feel those increases within the first mile. The Foreman engine was definitely more crisp right off the bottom and carried itself better throughout the powerband. It’s still not going to win many drag races, but it has strong power for work or play, and the fuel injection provides easy starting and perfect fuel-air mixture in varying temperatures or altitudes.

Power is run through Honda’s unique five-speed transmission with the push-button-controlled Electric Shift Program (ESP). Reverse is attained through the traditional Honda system of downshifting and pushing a button near the rear brake handle, which you also have to pull in. Too cumbersome, but it works.

Honda engineers gave the Foreman new suspension settings for 2012 to provide a more plush ride. There’s still a swingarm in back (vs. independent dual A-arms, like most competitors), but that swingarm is beefed up and damped differently. Gone are the two, small coil-over shocks on the rear arm – they are replaced by a larger, higher-quality, higher-volume twin-tube shock. It has the same weight carrying capacity, Honda officials said, but it offers a more plush ride, particularly in the first couple of inches of suspension stroke.

The Foreman is still a work-first vehicle, but it is even more capable of taking owners on a journey to someplace special.

The Foreman is still a work-first vehicle, but it is even more capable of taking owners on a journey to someplace special.

That’s matched by new suspension settings up front – again, the focus was on softening the first couple inches of travel without affecting the Foreman’s working capabilities. We could definitely feel the changes on the trails at Carolina Adventure World. Between the suspension changes and the softer seat, the Foreman definitely had a more cushy ride than previous models, but it gave up a tiny bit in handling as a part of the tradeoff. It still handled well, but it didn’t have the slotcar feel of the lower, more taunt Foreman of old. We’re guessing most riders will appreciate the changes, but some who like to sport-ride the Foreman will wish for less body roll. The steering was light in general, but ultra-easy on power steering-equipped Foreman models at the test.

The addition of horsepower encouraged Honda to add a bit more stopping power, in the form of 196mm dual hydraulic disc brakes up front vs. last year’s 180mm discs. The rear brake is still a single drum.

The other change of note was a switch to Maxxis-sourced, mildly aggressive, 25-inche tires replacing Dunlops in previous years. Without any previous models featuring Dunlops at the test, we were unable to notice any major changes due to the new skins.

Overall, the 2012 Foreman has new looks, better ergos for all but the smallest stature drivers, more responsive power and an improved ride quality – all good things. Look for a full review of the machine in the next issue of ATV Reviews.

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  1. 2012 Honda Foreman info/article - Honda ATV Forum - 9 Jun 2011