Born to work

Honda’s TRX500 FA6 ATV is a best seller with Aus­tralian farm­ers. went to Dalby in Queens­land’s West­ern Downs to find out why

Farms & Farm Machinery - - New Equipment Test - Barry Ashen­hurst

Ihaven’t tested a Honda ATV for a long time, but thanks to Dalby Honda dealer Craig Hart­ley (Dalby Moto), I had a full day with the ma­chine on Ian Hayl­lor’s ir­ri­ga­tion prop­erty not far from town.

Ian’s been a Honda fan for years and was gen­er­ous in giv­ing us ac­cess to this re­mark­able fam­ily en­ter­prise.

The day be­gan and ended well thanks to the con­tri­bu­tion from both gen­tle­men.

When our tech ex­pert Reg Grant and I pulled up in the hire car at Dalby Moto, Craig had al­ready loaded his flat-top truck with a Honda FM6 and FA6, plus a Yamaha Wolver­ine and Honda’s 1000 Pi­o­neer side-by-side, “just to give you an idea of what th­ese other ma­chines are like”.

Craig drew us a mud map of how to get to Ian’s prop­erty, Kens­ing­ton Park, be­fore we jumped in the truck and took off. For some­one like me who hasn’t seen a 4000-hectare ir­ri­ga­tion prop­erty, Kens­ing­ton Park was a hell of a thing. Chick peas, wheat, bar­ley, and cot­ton are grown here on a scale that to me seemed vast.

The black soil of the West­ern Downs is one of the most pro­duc­tive in the coun­try. It’s also the rea­son farm­ers like Ian Hayl­lor pre­fer small, light work ve­hi­cles.

When the fa­mous soil here is wet, it’ll “stick your boots for a week”. Trapped in it, a heavy ve­hi­cle sinks to its axles.

Ian told us he was think­ing of try­ing a side-by-side by way of an ex­per­i­ment, and be­cause he be­lieves UTVs are safer, so it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see if a side-by-side can do the job as re­li­ably as a lighter ve­hi­cle in this ad­he­sive en­vi­ron­ment.

WE’RE NOT DO­ING THAT!

Honda has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to make its farm quads in any way recre­ational. Okay, so the FA6 has cur­rent styling, damn near-per­fect er­gonomics, a trick trans­mis­sion and fuel in­jec­tion, but it’s an agri­cul­tural worker and doesn’t as­pire to be any­thing more.

Yet it’s un­ortho­dox. The trans­mis­sion is not belt driven, as is the prac­tice with most ATVs – rather a sealed hy­dro­static unit with a dual-clutch setup. In other words, you can drive it as a full auto or as a push-but­ton man­ual with five ra­tios.

The ben­e­fit of a hy­dro­static tranny is that it has no belts to break or slip, and needs no ser­vic­ing. So they say.

The tranny also fea­tures what Honda calls a dual-shift map­ping pro­gram that au­to­mat­i­cally chooses be­tween two trans­mis­sion shift­ing modes – Cruise or Sport.

Honda says that “dur­ing ag­gres­sive use, Sport mode kicks in and holds the trans­mis­sion in gear longer”. Dur­ing more ca­sual oper­a­tion, Cruise mode al­lows the trans­mis­sion to shift up sooner for less ag­gres­sive per­for­mance and bet­ter fuel con­sump­tion”.

So that’s how it works. But is it a big deal?

We’re not sure. We asked Ian Hayl­lor how he uses the Honda, and he said: “I stick in auto and leave it there.”

Hav­ing re­ceived that pearl of wis­dom from the man him­self, we’re in­clined to be­lieve that most farm­ers and their em­ploy­ees would do the same.

When you’re tow­ing heavy and/or awk­ward gear around a rigidly sym­met­ri­cal prop­erty, where life is lived be­tween thou­sands of laser-straight fur­rows lined up with what looks like re­li­gious de­vo­tion to sym­me­try, you’re in­ter­ested only in get­ting the equip­ment where it has to go – not in which gear you might be do­ing it.

If the mea­sure of a trans­mis­sion is how un­ob­tru­sive it is, the Honda tranny works well enough, but fa­mil­iari­sa­tion is nec­es­sary. This is not your av­er­age stick shift.

Honda is de­ter­mined that the brakes should be ap­plied when the op­er­a­tor en­gages the trans­mis­sion, a rea­son­able safety pre­cau­tion in our opin­ion, but this means that noth­ing hap­pens gear-wise un­til you pull in the brake lever. You then push a but­ton on the left-hand switch­block and the trans­mis­sion en­gages. To en­gage low or drive, you push/pull a stubby lever on the left side of the ve­hi­cle into the L or D po­si­tion.

That’s straight­for­ward enough, but get­ting the Honda into re­verse en­tails a fin­ger fight that some will find too fid­dly for words. You pull in the same lever again, along with the smaller lever at­tached to it, then hit the lower of two trans­mis­sion switches to ac­tu­ally en­gage re­verse.

This pro­ce­dure re­quires two hands, and any­one lack­ing strong fingers will al­most cer­tainly have dif­fi­culty with it. The best that can be said for it is that it works as a safety pre­cau­tion. The sec­ond best is that it’s old fash­ioned and more com­pli­cated than sim­ply mov­ing a stick shift through the high-low-neu­tral-re­verse pat­tern found on most mod­ern 4x4 ATVs.

OUT AND ABOUT

Honda re­vamped the medium-size FA6 in 2015 with new styling, a new chas­sis, and the dual-clutch trans­mis­sion. The ma­chine has in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion front and rear, 239mm of ground clear­ance, power steer­ing, a lock­ing front

“We wouldn’t say shift­ing is the smoothest we’ve come across but, then again, the odd clunk doesn’t jus­tify with­er­ing crit­i­cism from us”

dif­fer­en­tial, a cushy new ‘grip­per’ seat, and build qual­ity bet­ter than any­one else’s. Ev­ery­thing on this ma­chine is well made and fits per­fectly. Even the paint job is ter­rific and the er­gonomics ex­actly what you’d ex­pect from Honda.

Tyres are rugged-look­ing Maxxis units – MU26 10-inch­ers on the rear and MU25 8-inch­ers up front. The tyres must per­form well in sticky sit­u­a­tions, or they wouldn’t be wel­come at Kens­ing­ton Park. The racks looked solid enough for farm work and were built in a man­ner pro­vid­ing am­ple tie-down points.

The 475cc sin­gle-cylin­der en­gine gives this TRX500 a top speed of 76km/h, or it did on the brand-new ma­chine we had. This is pretty much par for the 500cc course, and we see no rea­son why you’d need more speed on a prop­erty like the one we were on.

You might need more power if you were con­tin­u­ally tow­ing heavy equip­ment, but that’s an­other topic al­to­gether.

THE BITS WE LIKE

You could say there’s no such thing as a hard-rid­ing quad any more, though they do dif­fer in the way they han­dle.

The FA6 has a rea­son­able turn­ing cir­cle even with the diff lock en­gaged. The power steer­ing is slightly lighter than we’re used to, but still well cal­i­brated for the varied tasks this ma­chine will un­der­take.

The dis­tinc­tive footwells have very deep re­ces­sions. Maybe they drain bet­ter like that. Craig Hart­ley says he be­lieves the de­sign gives bet­ter grip for boot than a flat foot­board that typ­i­cally would be cov­ered in mud.

Out­right per­for­mance feels the same re­gard­less of the trans­mis­sion mode. This en­gine has good work­ing torque, is re­spon­sive, gets to its top speed quickly, and runs qui­etly. We wouldn’t say shift­ing is the smoothest we’ve come across but, then again, the odd clunk doesn’t jus­tify with­er­ing crit­i­cism from us. Lots of things go clunk, and lots of them are on ATVs.

In any event, we’re told that once the oil has been changed for the first time, and once hot, shift­ing be­comes smoother. The ma­chine has a disc brake on each front wheel and a disc on the rear drive­shaft. The setup doesn’t al­ways work well but does on the TRX. We thought brak­ing was firm with plenty of feel. We liked it.

So what ex­actly makes this ma­chine a best seller?

It’s a Honda, and farm­ers trust Hon­das. For those with lit­tle knowl­edge of ATVs, the safe bet seems to be if in doubt, buy a Honda. And no won­der; the prod­uct has a great track record in Aus­tralia and an un­matched rep­u­ta­tion for longevity. Er­gonomics are first rate, so the TRX is com­fort­able and easy to live with if you’re on it all day.

Apart from the quirky trans­mis­sion con­trols and that fid­dly re­verse thing, it’s sim­ple to op­er­ate, feels smaller than it is, and comes across as non-in­tim­i­dat­ing.

Women will find that the power steer­ing in­spires con­fi­dence. The same can be said for the steer­ing in gen­eral. This is not an ATV that wan­ders all over the place when nailed on a gravel road, or coughs in its rompers at the sight of black mud. If farm­ing is in the genes, this one was born to work.

Main: This is a well-made ma­chine with typ­i­cal rather than ex­em­plary per­for­mance. It’s not par­tic­u­larly fast – and doesn’t have to be – but has plenty of torque where needed. It’s also com­fort­able, un­in­tim­i­dat­ing, and re­li­able

1: Con­trols look dif­fer­ent be­cause the trans­mis­sion isn’t belt driven but hy­dro­static. Get­ting it into re­verse is fid­dly

2: Fluid and air fil­ter checks are

eas­ily car­ried out

3: Hard-work­ing MU26 and

MU25 rub­ber

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