by: Aaron Hansel
Working for Racer X can be a real bitch sometimes. On top of having an enjoyable, low-stress job that’s bursting with cool perks, there are times when I’m actually required to leave the comfort of my home and screaming children, and travel to cool locations to cover races. But that’s not all. Sometimes I even have to travel when there’s not even any racing happening. Last week, when I went to Sand Hallow State Park just outside of St. George, Utah, for a press demo of the new Honda Talon, was one of those times and it was a huge reminder of just how crappy this job is.
When I first learned I’d be the one attending the press demo of the Talon, Honda’s brand-new entry into the sport side-by-side market, my reaction was about what you’d expect. Why did I have to be the one to go blast around the gorgeous Utah desert in Honda’s brand new high-performance machine? Why couldn’t we just send someone lower on the company ladder? After being reminded that there is nobody lower in the company than me, I realized I’d just have to suck it up and make the best of this all expenses paid trip.
Upon arrival and check in at Sand Hollow Resort, I headed to my room, which to my dismay, was spacious and borderline luxurious. Even worse, I had it all to myself. This trip was not starting out on the right foot, but I put on a brave face and headed to the clubhouse where I choked down some perfectly cooked salmon and hoisted a few free beers while enduring a pretty interesting technical presentation on the Talon 1000X and 1000R.
If you’re wondering about the differences between the X and R models I’m not going to bore you by spouting off all the exact numbers and specs. Basically, the R is about four inches wider, has more suspension travel (the R has 17.7 inches up front and 20.1 in back, while the X has 14.5 in front and 15 in the rear), and uses a larger piston in the shocks. The X is intended more as a precise trail machine where maneuverability is key, while the R is a balls-out, across-the-desert-at high-speeds kind of ride. In Honda’s words, the R is built for big air and hitting obstacles at velocity, which we did plenty of!
Before I dive into what it was like to drive the Talon, let me first explain that I’m not an expert on these machines. I’ve been around them plenty, and even managed to roll a Yamaha Rhino back in my dealership days, but I don’t exactly go rip side-by-sides up and down dunes on a regular basis. I only mention this so you can decide whether or not you want you think my semi-informed opinions are worth listening to. Most people don’t, but enough of my social life.
The first thing that popped out at me was the look of the thing. It looks aggressive and badass! In the technical presentation they told us they were going for motocross-like styling, and in my opinion they knocked it out of the park. The interior is really nice too, and everything has a really nice feel to it. Nothing is janky. The seats, which have a pass-through so you can use a four-point harness, stayed comfortable all day despite the constant blitzing of whoops and smashing of stutter bumps. There’s a handle, kind of like a small motorcycle handlebar with grips, for the passenger to hold onto as well, which helps a lot when you’re traveling over rough terrain at high speeds. Had we rolled, which we didn’t, I imagine it’d also help you keep your hands inside the vehicle. The Talon’s window nets help with that too.
As far as driving it, the thing was a total blast. It’s been a while since I’ve had that much fun, and I’m not just talking about the post-ride beers. I was shocked at how well the suspension worked (see what I did there?). Even in the softest setting (it has three settings) I didn’t feel it bottom out over any jumps, and it devoured whoops faster than David Pingree can throw back a pint of cookies and cream. It’s not like the Honda guys were making us go easy on the vehicles either. They encouraged us to drive them hard and even led by example. In one particularly long whoop section I stole a glance at the speedometer and it indicated we were at 55 mph. For a second I honestly thought it was broken because it just didn’t seem possible the ride could feel that smooth and controlled on such rough terrain. I am not joking when I say the whoops were at least two feet deep, and they weren’t perfectly sculpted or even straight. Anyone who’s ripped through sections like this in the desert knows what I’m talking about. If you were in a truck or a jeep you’d have to roll slowly through in order to avoid tearing your vehicle up. It almost felt like a motocross bike it was so good, and I kept noticing myself trying to shift my weight back in an effort to hang my ass over a rear fender that wasn’t there.
As far as power, I had no complaints, although I’m sure all you power hungry, whack job, combustion and compression kooks (aka haters of durability) are going to find plenty of ways to bump it up. In fact, somewhere out there someone is probably already building a turbo for it. Unlike some of its competitors, the Talon doesn’t have a turbo and puts out 104 horsepower, which definitely isn’t a class leading number. All the same, I truly never felt like I needed more power, although I can imagine if you were trying to blast up competition hill with paddles you might find yourself wishing you had a little more juice. There was more than enough to get loose whenever I wanted though, and that includes when I was in four-wheel drive. For what it’s worth, Honda told us that since they don’t use a belt (power is sent to the wheels using driveshafts) there’s less power loss in transmission.
Speaking of transmissions, the Talon has a dual clutch, which allows you to go back and forth between manual and automatic. There’s also an automatic sport mode, which shifts more aggressively. I played around with the manual transmission, which changes gears via paddle shifters, but I pretty much just left it in automatic sport the whole time. Even in automatic mode you can still change gears with the paddle shifters, so if I felt frisky, or simply disagreed with the transmission’s gear choice, I had the option to do something about it without changing modes.
After all the high-speed hijinks, the Honda boys also let us try our hands at some rock crawling. I don’t think the sections we did would make a hardcore enthusiast bat an eye, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t intimidating. They were narrow, extremely steep, and had large ledges to climb up in already steep situations. Some of the journalists there worked for road-oriented publications and had almost no experience with dirt, if any, and you could tell a few of them were skeptical about trying to drive up what looked like a wall. One of them even wondered out loud if it was possible, which our leader quickly answered by rolling up and through the first section as casually as a pro golfer sinking a two-foot putt. We went through multiple sections like that, and not a single driver got stuck or had any issues at all, including the ones who were doing it for the first time in their lives. That’s a testament to how good and user friendly this machine is. That’s likely due in part to the I-4WD, which senses when a wheel loses traction, applies brakes to that wheel, and redistributes power to the other wheels. Pretty cool stuff.
If you’ve made it this far, you must really be into the Talon, which means you probably want to hear more about some of its features. Also, this is as good a place as any to include any bits of info I wasn’t smart enough to work in earlier. For starters, literally, there’s the hill-start assist. Imagine you’re stopped on an uphill section. The second you go to let off the brake to grab some gas the vehicle is going to start rolling backward. To prevent that, simply hit the hill-stat assist button, which temporarily holds the vehicle in place so you can safely get your foot back on the throttle and resume forward motion. Sure, you can get around this problem by using two feet to work the pedals, but there’s less room than you think down there in the Talon and I found it easier to just hit the button.
Something else cool about the Talon is that the engineers didn’t work in any kind of fuel or ignition cut that some of its competitors have. Basically, when an airborne vehicle lands with the engine screaming it experiences tremendous stress, especially on the drivetrain. To get around that some manufacturers cut power when the vehicle gets up in the air. The Honda guys told me this was something they didn’t want to do because it’s too intrusive on the driving experience, so they instead identified and strengthened any specific parts that would otherwise not be able to handle sudden spikes in load. I like that way of thinking, and I like being able to stay on the gas even more.
Since I’ve been gushing like a keg at a bachelor party this whole time I should probably find some things to gripe about. I found the cockpit a little small. I’m 6’1” so I’m probably slightly on the taller side of the average customer, but if you’re taller than I am, good luck with legroom for hours at a time, even with the adjustable seat and tilt steering wheel. I also didn’t like that there are no spots to rig up child’s car seats. And yes, I know that’s a completely ridiculous thing to complain about, but the whole time I was driving I was thinking how cool it would be if I could take my four-year-old son (I think my seven-year-old daughter would fit okay if I took it easy) out for a rip. But he’s little, so with no car seat hookups it ain’t happening for a few years. Thanks for spoiling that fun, Honda.
When the action ended everyone reconvened for dinner, and I was forced to choose between mouth-watering steak or breaded trout. I couldn’t decide so I just got them both. It’s rough life, I know. After dinner someone started a pallet fire and the beverages continued to flow, just like the hilarious behind-the-scenes stories from a few of the R&D boys.
So, there you have it, a grim day in the life of a moto-journalist on assignment. It’s not easy work, but someone has to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go pack and get ready for my next trip covering Monster Energy AMA Supercross. Could life get any worse?