One of the only things more fun than piloting a SxS is having the capability to bring along three other people to enjoy the experience. With the recent announcement of Honda's new 2014 Pioneer line of SxS's, this feat is now completely possible. Available in either a two seat or four seat version, the Pioneer is a substantial improvement over Honda's previous Big Red SxS. Both machines are built on the same chassis with the same dimensions, but the Pioneer-4 raises the bar with Honda's innovative stowable rear seats. Since it's priced at only $1,700 more than the two-seat Pioneer, there is little doubt this model will gain the attention of new buyers.
Powering the Pioneer is Honda's venerable 680cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected power plant that's been utilized heavily in the Rincon and Big Red. With its automotive-style, three speed transmission and torque converter, the Pioneer shifts like a car. With no belts to get wet, it will work perfectly in environments where riders have to traverse streams or standing water.
During my time testing the Pioneer-4 at Honda's facility in South Carolina, I found it fun to ride. The engine is very torquey and will climb and tow impressively. With four large guys buckled into my test unit, the Pioneer-4 chugged along well, though I don't think I'd want to drag race my buddies with it.
Handling is crisp and sporty—even with four large adults in the cab, the Pioneer didn't exhibit nasty body roll and the front end didn't push in the corners. Ground clearance is affected though, so extra caution was needed when I negotiated a series of rock gardens. With more time to experiment and dial in a little rear spring preload, we may have been able to address the situation. Absent is the availability of Electric Power Steering (EPS). To Honda's credit, the steering is light enough that I never really missed it, but there always comes a time when you wish you had EPS and don't.
The highlight of the Pioneer is certainly the stowable rear seats. With the seats in the folded position, the bed can be used in the same fashion as a typical SxS, including the ability to dump. With the seats in the upright position, two additional passengers can safely be transported. The task of transforming the seats from upright to folded into the floor and vice versa is simple and only takes a few seconds after getting used to the process. With the seats in the upright position, an interlock is triggered that prevents the bed from accidentally dumping the rear passengers.
The Honda engineers should be credited for their attention to detail on the Pioneer. One of those details I immediately noticed are the elevated foot holders integrated into the plastic floor. If water is deep enough to enter the cabin, passengers can simply move their feet to higher ground and rest them on the upper footwell. Both front and rear seats are also very comfortable with non-intrusive headrests. I'm a tall guy, and I was still able to comfortably sit in the rear seat. The side nets are a little annoying to hook and unhook, but the added safety of keeping flailing limbs in the cab make it worth the hassle.
MSRP: Pioneer: $9,999; Pioneer-4: $11,699
-Honda nailed the price point for affordability in either 2 or 4 seat categories
-Engine is built upon a very reliable 680cc fuel injected engine
-Stowable rear seats revolutionize the four seat category of SxS's
-Steering is quick, nimble, and very predictable
-Mechanical differential lock makes this machine a great crawler
-Wide opening front and rear door make egress and ingress pleasant
-Safety mechanism prevents bed from dumping when rear seats are in a usable position
-Small, nimble chassis makes tight wooded trail riding fun
-Built in the USA at Honda's South Carolina plant
-No EPS option available
-No sealable storage other than the glovebox
-Suspension seemed a tad soft when loaded with four guys.
-The Pioneer is not a speed demon