Replacing An Institution: Creation of the Next-Generation Honda Foreman

11/22/2004 9:56:38 PM

It's great when a machine has become a household name and an industry benchmark-unless you're a member of the engineering team tasked with replacing said machine. And so when it came time to create an all-new FourTrax Foreman, a machine that would carry the highest expectations ever for this gold-standard marque, Honda's team of ATV engineers really had their work cut out for them.

Where to start with such a daunting task? No better place than with original-source research-out in the field, all across America. For months, Honda R&D personnel spent uncounted man-hours performing visits with ATV owners as they put their machines to work in a myriad of ways, under an unimaginable variety of conditions. Deep mud, freezing, snowy conditions, dusty farm usage, towing trailers and other work implements, running through hills and more, under all kinds of real-world situations, many of which blew right through all definitions of abusive service.

Overall, the consensus was universal: Foreman owners loved their machines. They lauded Honda's vaunted durability and dependability, and they enjoyed the many features included in the design of this do-it-all workhorse. But bit by bit, little tidbits of information and long-term-use insights from Honda users began to form ideas that Honda's engineers could add to the big picture of where they wanted to go with the next-generation Foreman.

The new machine takes shape

And so the new TRX500 began to take shape. The engineering team subjected prototypes to exhaustive research and development testing under virtually every condition imaginable-riding across mountains and desert, slogging through the deep mud and extreme water conditions found in Louisiana swamps and other locales, plus ice and snow. Of course, increased performance was a given expectation with this machine-in-the-making, in both the engine and chassis departments. Introduced in 1998, the Foreman 450 engine had been derived from the 395cc Foreman powerplant, which dated back to 1995. While each had been a masterful stroke in its time, the 2005 Foreman was due for an all-new engine, and the natural course pointed toward a 500-class machine.

And so the TRX500 received an all-new air-cooled, longitudinally mounted OHV engine with an entirely different cylinder head configuration and valve arrangement. Thanks to this brand-new, freer-breathing configuration that produces more efficient combustion, even though the 475cc actual displacement of the TRX500 calculates out to a 9.6 percent increase over the 433cc engine used in the TRX450, the new Foreman churns out about 15 percent more power than its precursor. This powerplant also features a whole new bottom end, including a new five-speed gearbox with reverse, plus a larger, beefier clutch to handle the increased power output.

More power, better power

And it's not just the quantity of power that has increased, it's also quality; this new powerplant is a distinctly freer-revving engine, which gives it a definite boost in the fun-factor department. In fact, it yields a drastically more modern feel that can fool seat-of-the-pants receptors into believing the Foreman has gained 100cc or even 150cc in displacement rather than its actual 42cc increase, thanks to the new engine design and the way it makes its power so effortlessly. Credit is also due to the TRX500's larger carburetor (36mm vs. 32mm), now with a throttle position sensor for increased response and performance all through the rev range. As before, the new Foreman features the convenience of electric starting, but with the 500 the starter now operates when the machine is in reverse for even more ease of operation.

Taking the Foreman chassis upscale

Honda's engineers decided this new 500-class engine deserved to be housed within a larger, more sophisticated 500-class chassis as well. To accomplish this upward transition, the team borrowed heavily from a frame design that had already been well proven by Honda's renown 500-class workhorse, the innovative FourTrax Foreman Rubicon. As a result, the new TRX500 features a wider track front and rear compared to the 450, and it has grown 1.5 inches in overall width to tape out at 46.8 inches. It now stretches to 83 inches in overall length, almost 6 inches longer than the TRX450, over a wheelbase of 50.7 inches compared to the former machine's 50.2-inch wheelbase. Myriad hours were spent in developing shock valving specific to the TRX500 for the four high-quality Kayaba shocks, which deliver 6.7 inches of travel front and rear, up 0.8 inches over the 450. The result is a noticeably plusher, more controlled ride with more latitude for bottoming resistance-benefits that will surely please Foreman 500 owners. Overall, these changes mark a huge step forward from the 450; in side-by-side comparisons, the TRX500 feels noticeably more modern and decidedly upscale. It's a bigger platform overall, yet it feels remarkably light-handling and nimble for a machine in the 500 class.

Foreman 500 buyers will also enjoy another distinct advantage with this chassis. By adapting the Rubicon's basic frame layout and production methods to build the new Foreman 500, Honda passes on a noticeable savings in production costs to all TRX buyers-a benefit reflected in the bottom-line price. In like manner, many of the Foreman's new SUV-style body parts are shared with the Rubicon for additional cost savings along with the most up-to-date ATV look on the market.

Three options to suit every Foreman shopper

To give prospective buyers a full range of options, Honda offers the TRX500 in three variants, one two-wheel-drive manual-shift model, and two four-wheel-drive options, one with manual shifting and the other with Honda's acclaimed ESP™ (Electric Shift Program) for push-button shifting. Both 4WD models feature a lighter, smaller, next-generation version of TraxLok®, which enables the rider to shift between 2WD and 4WD with the simple flick of a switch. This on-demand 4WD option allows for great handling in 2WD, with an overall feel that is noticeably lighter than when the 4WD mode is engaged. Yet when conditions call for the added traction and pulling power afforded by four-wheel drive, Honda's torque-sensing front differential yields a significant reduction in torque steer, to produce a steering effort that is distinctly lighter than the steering sensation common to other brands of 4WD ATVs. This torque-sensing front differential is also a next-generation unit, one that is both smaller and lighter than the system used previously on the TRX450. Amazingly enough, all this attention to detail results in new weight specs now make it only 2 pounds heavier than the TRX450FE.

For recreational riding situations or workplace applications that don't call for the advantages of 4WD, the 2WD-only Foreman 500 offers a distinctly lighter, more recreational feel. Credit the 40-pound decrease in weight and the single driveline to the rear wheels for this noticeable benefit. Yet the trail-crawling prowess and working ability of the 2WD TRX500 is not to be discounted; it can still accomplish nearly as much as the 4WD model, and in some cases its decreased weight, added maneuverability and lighter steering will make it easier to ride in tough going-a reasonable tradeoff for doing without four-wheel drive. In addition, those who choose the 2WD Foreman will also enjoy a substantial savings in purchase price over the 4WD model.

Making it better, making it smarter

Regardless of choice in drive mode, all models of the Foreman 500 have been blessed with a host of improvements over the TRX450. For instance, a common request among hard-working Foreman owners focused on increased fuel capacity, all the better for a longer working day. And so the Foreman 500 boasts a capacity of 4.2 gallons for a range of up to 112 miles; that's a full gallon more than the 450 holds. Also, new dual front disc brakes add significantly to the 500's stopping power. These disc brakes feature new collet-style brake calipers that are self-centering, and the calipers also feature integrated scrapers that eliminate build-up of debris such as mud or ice that might otherwise impede their stopping capacity. The 500 also enjoys larger rear drum brakes, which measure 180mm in diameter, versus the 160mm drums used on the 450.

The development team also devised another brand-new feature for the TRX500 line to enhance long-term reliability. It's one of those "Why didn't I think of this?" kinds of additions that only serves to strengthen Honda's reputation for engineering excellence. Knowing full well that Foreman ATVs are often subjected to heavy-duty tasks in extreme mud conditions, the engineers devised a dual oil cooler system, with the second cooler mounted high in the fender area where it won't get clogged with mud over the course of a long, soggy day's work. Naturally, this bright-think idea for extra cooling is patented, so you'll see this great idea appear only on the TRX500.

The proof is in the riding

Once again, the 2005 FourTrax Foreman 500 stands as positive proof of Honda's commitment to ongoing progress and innovation. By beginning with research in actual user-directed work and riding conditions, followed by exhaustive real-world testing, Honda has created three new options that far surpass the highly regarded and well-loved Foreman 450. With the introduction of the 2005 FourTrax Foreman, FourTrax Foreman 4x4 and FourTrax Foreman 4x4 ES, Honda reinforces its already impeccable tradition for innovation and excellence in ATVs.