Published on June 3rd, 2021 | by Joe
2021 Honda Foreman Rubicon 4×4 EPS 520 with Manual Shift Test Review
2021 Honda Foreman Rubicon 520 EPS Manual Shift Ratings
Summary: The Rubicon is the ideal machine for the hardcore explorer, work, or even as a low maintenance mud machine because of the advantages of the Honda Transmissions over the commonly used CVTs. There are some sacrifices in performance compared with the competition, but that didn’t prevent us from having a blast on the Rubicon.
6 Month Test
We’ve had the 2021 Honda Foreman Rubicon 520 for quite a awhile now, and to be perfectly honest with you we’ve come to appreciate this machine more and more over time.
Our expectations for this machine, after the number of high-performance tests we’ve done over the last two years we’re certainly tempered, and rightfully so. It’s not the over powered performance-oriented machines that are offered by other manufacturers.
But having the Rubicon around for so long gave us the opportunity to see exactly why so many enthusiasts ride red their entire lives.
Using it as chase vehicle during other tests for both ATV and UTVonDemand we found ourselves going back to Rubicon over and over again especially as conditions got worse. Nasty mud, grab the Rubicon, Heavy Snow, Rubicon. Post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland… Well you get the idea.
But the reason we kept going back to the Rubicon and will absolutely miss this machine when it’s gone is the reliability, utility, and consistency throughout those less-than-ideal conditions. The Honda never disappointed, and despite some of the less than impressive spec sheet numbers, it delivered more than it’s fair share of good times.
For 2021 there aren’t any major upgrades to Honda’s Rubicon 520 and we weren’t expecting any after the changes unveiled on the 2020 models nearly two years ago.
The Rubicon’s last update increased the low and mid-range performance by boosting engine displacement by 43cc’s to a total of 518ccs. The engine is a liquid-cooled Overhead Valved, longitudinally mounted single-cylinder four stroke engine with electronic fuel injection.
Electronic Power Steering is still an option and we think it’s nice that Honda offers either the Automatic DCT Rubicon 4X4 without EPS at a base price of $8,699 or the Manual Version with EPS like our test machine for $8,799 dollars. This allows customers to pick the features most important to them, while potentially saving some money by passing on features they don’t need. Customers who want both an Automatic Transmission and EPS will find the Automatic DCT with EPS version of the Rubicon at an MSRP of $9,399 dollars. The deluxe model adds Aluminum Wheels, color matched suspension and painted bodywork for $9,899.
The Foreman’s including the Rubicon’s along with Honda’s Rancher line offer three different transmission options featuring 5 speed gear boxes with reverse.
Electronic shift models have buttons mounted on the left-hand side of the handlebars for shifting up and down through the gears. When in automatic mode, the electronic shift will temporarily override the automatic transmission which allows the rider to down shift sooner for increased torque or engine braking, or upshift sooner to lower the RPMs and decrease sound output.
At Honda’s release of the revamped ATV lineup in 2019, they were pretty proud of the updated electronic reverse on their automatic and DCT models.
Manual versions of the Rubicon still have the manual lever reverse which find slightly more difficult than shifting a CVT equipped ATV but didn’t cause any issue once we got used to it. Simply pull the reverse lever in with the brake and down shift until you hit reverse.
The gauge display screen is a little small but provides plenty of information including gear indicators which is a nice feature especially on the manually shifted machine.
Steel racks and bumpers make the Rubicon look fully protected and provide a ton of utility with plenty of tie down options. Front rack capacity is listed at 99lbs with the rear racks listed at 187lbs. Towing capacity is respectable at 1322lbs but we were left a little confused as to why an ATV with a workhorse reputation wouldn’t come with a hitch receiver.
Like most of our tests, we were excited to spend the majority of our time on the trails getting a feel for how the Rubicon performs. We wanted the manual shift option because it provided the sportiest feel for spirited riding with full control over the transmission.
The manual clutch is a far cry from the traditional manual transmission found on sport ATVs or motorcycles. The gear selection is really just a torque level control because the automatic clutch won’t allow the machine to bog too far down or stall out making for an easy riding experience.
Low and mid-range power is good on the Rubicon and the ability to control the gear selection, even on the automatic machines means you can call on more torque when needed with more control than CVT style transmission.
Dimensions are pretty standard for the class with a 51” wheelbase and 47.4” width but the Rubicon feels slightly top heavier than some of its competition with a comparably taller seat height at 35.8 inches. The taller seat height does make for a comfortable riding position for taller riders due to the additional space between the seat and foot pegs.
Curb weight completely wet and ready to ride is 700lbs which is reasonably light considering the Rubicon’s solid build and beefy suspension components.
Front suspension is an Independent Double-wishbone set up with preload adjustable shocks with 7.28 inches of travel. Rear suspension features Independent dual arms with preload adjustable shocks with 8.46 inches of travel. Ground clearance is fairly modest for it’s class at 9.4 inches.
We left the rear suspension all the way soft the entire time we had the Rubicon and found it a little stiffer that we would have preferred. The stiffer suspension made for a pretty bumpy ride when staying a little too spirited over choppy terrain. The front suspension was stiffened one notch to combat a slight amount of front-end dive on sharp cornering. Overall, the Rubicon is fairly agile and the updated reverse system allows you to get out of a jam a little easier. Our biggest criticism was a fair amount of body roll when treating the Rubicon as if it had a solid rear axle in tight woods.
25×8 inch tires up front and 25×10 inch tires are wrapped around 12-inch steel wheels. We had no complaints with the capability of the tires and were pretty impressed with their performance on the wide variety of conditions we rode them on.
All hydraulic disc brakes provide adequate stopping power which is assisted by the ability to down shift in order to supplement the brakes with engine braking.
Trail performance in the high horsepower, premium suspension sense, isn’t the forte of the Rubicon. The Rubicon’s advantages are found in it’s build quality and reliability which makes the Rubicon an excellent choice for folks who want to explore off the beaten path and get out and back at a reasonable pace with the ATV in one piece at the end of the day.
As a capable explorer, the Rubicon can do it all very confidently but where we see Rubicon’s and Honda’s in general being used the most recreationally in our area, is in the constant search for a mud hole. So as the day went on, we started looking for more and more mud and began to appreciate some of the Rubicon’s qualities that make it ideal for this kind of riding.
We had several opportunities to test the 4wheel drive system which is perfect for the Rubicon. The driveline consists of Direct front and rear driveshafts with TraxLok and a Locking front differential. 4WD is selected by a familiar right side mounted push button with a switch to engage the diff lock. As with any true 4×4 and locking differential, handling is significantly impacted with the differential lock engaged, extending the turning radius significantly. But this is the perfect 4wd system to compliment the Rubicon’s rugged capability.
Any machine will break when subject to the right amount of abuse, but Honda tends focus on quality components, attention to detail, and fit and finish that leads to extended lifespans. The Rubicon is the ideal machine for the hardcore explorer, work, or even as a low maintenance mud machine because of the advantages of the Honda Transmissions over the commonly used CVTs. There are some sacrifices in performance compared with the competition, but that didn’t prevent us from having a blast on the Rubicon.
You can find out more about Honda’s full ATV lineup at powersports.honda.com/atv
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