It's About Time Honda Joined the Fight

2019 Honda Talon Review: a Bold First Attempt Raises the Bar for Sport Side-by-Sides


March 22, 2019 Cars By Photo by Bryan Campbell and Drew Ruiz
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Honda’s no stranger to either off-roading or powersports, which makes it odd the company took so long to jump into the sport side-by-side market. But the Talon 1000X and 1000R mark the brand’s entrance into the high-performance SxS sandbox for 2019, and those machines come with a segment first: a dual-clutch transmission. From the powertrain and suspension to the styling and durability, Honda wasted no time flexing its know-how in this fast-growing segment.

The Good: The performance and balance from the Talon 1000R’s suspension beggar belief. Plowing over washboard trails, skipping over dips and small jumps, a two-seater SxS should feel more chaotic. A short wheelbase can get swallowed up between high-frequency crests in the tail, upsetting the whole machine, but the adjustable Fox Podium shocks soak up everything for a stable, planted ride.

Who It’s For: There’s intense brand loyalty in the SxS segment — in fact, it seems Honda’s banking on it with the Talon duo, betting most customers looking to buy a Talon won’t be first-time Honda buyers, whether that means past cars, motorcycles or any other of the countless machines Honda manufactures. The Japanese brand’s first sport side-by-side is positioned to lure the faithful into the lifestyle, and if they happen to sway a few buyers away from Can-Am and Polaris, all the better.

Watch Out For: The slightly more affordable Talon 1000X starts at $19,999, which is a lot of money for what the Talon brings to the table. The similarly priced Polaris RZR Turbo and Can-Am Maverick X3 Turbo are, as their names suggest, turbocharged and more powerful. Honda claims the competitors’ CVT belt transmissions bleed horsepower and their final figures aren’t accurate, but buyers who swear by the spec sheet may not be convinced, and there’s no arguing with Honda’s sparse interiors. Honda justifies its price tag by claiming their engineering and architecture is more durable, but you’ll have to take an expensive plunge to prove them right.

Alternatives: Honda was upfront that they benchmarked the Talon against the Polaris RZR and Can-Am Maverick. The turbo-powered machines are segment stalwarts; if there’s a crown to be stolen, it’s coming from one of those two machines.

Review: In the world of side-by-sides it all comes down to weight, power and control. Style and aesthetics take a back seat: nail the first three and it doesn’t matter what the machine looks like. The Polaris RZR and Can-Am Maverick are hideous handfuls of plastic, metal, and rubber, but expertly bolted together and some of the most capable off-road machines I’ve ever driven. As Honda’s first foray into sport side-by-sides, the Talon needs to come packing heat. Luckily, Honda has a deep and storied well of engineering expertise from which to draw.

When Honda announced the Talon, its dual-clutch transmission grabbed the headlines. A DCT is hardly a new invention — it’s been shifting car gears for years, and Honda already features the technology in its utility-minded Pioneer side-by-side — but on the sport side of the SxS market it’s a first, and a big deal.

For years, the continuously variable transmission was the law of the land in the segment. Many still swear by it, but it has its drawbacks. From a performance standpoint, the CVT uses a belt and pulley system that tends to slip under hard acceleration, which can cause power loss, overheating and, eventually, belt failure. Moreover, there’s no engine braking, so you can’t rely on the compression of the engine under deceleration to help slow you down. Lastly, without defined gears a CVT invariably imbues an engine with an unlovely droning sound. So Honda’s DCT is rightfully seen as a game changer in the sport SxS market.

At crawling speeds the DCT is a little jerky, constantly compensating for the lack of power input to keep the engine from stalling. But once up to speed and clicking through the gears, it’s hard to imagine going back to a CVT and not dying of boredom. The transmission is specially tuned for the Talon, adjusted for holding higher revs and shifting more aggressively than in the Pioneer from which it was pulled. Plus, there’s engine braking to help bring the 1,545-pound machine to a relatively quick halt, even on loose surfaces. Going into sweeping turns or medium speed corners, the brake pedal isn’t even needed; just lifting off the throttle is enough to adjust the Talon’s speed.

The DCT may have been the story when Honda first paraded the Talon around the EICMA and IMS shows, but the machines poise when hauling over dunes and through turns is the real story. The 1000R gets a longer wheelbase, wider stance, and more suspension travel over the X; it’s designed for high-speed desert blasts. The narrower and lower (though barely) 1000X isn’t a lesser machine, it’s just designed for tight trails and quick cornering. The 1000R has bigger, more impressive numbers, but whether it’s a better machine depends most on where you’ll be driving the thing.

You’ll have to trust Honda’s claims of better build quality and durability to justify, along with that DCT gearbox, a near-$20K price tag for something that looks at a glance to be a $16K machine. But it’s true that the Polaris and Can-Am competitors don’t come with as much standard equipment, look cheaper, and are plagued with breakdowns and recalls (CVT belts are the most replaced parts on both machines). Honda’s deserved reputation for mechanical reliability and longevity should reasonably apply to the Talon as well — but only time and distance will tell.

Verdict: Honda took its sweet time joining the sport SxS party, but such a delay can have its advantages. While the Talons were under development, Can-Am and Polaris dominated the space until Yamaha came out with the YXZ1000R and its non-CVT sequential gearbox. Those machines may have had more time to gain a reputation in the market, but Honda’s reputation means it has a leg up when it comes to establishing the Talon name — whether it’s your high school buddy’s ’95 Civic, your neighbor’s CB500X, or the gas generator your dad uses to keep the lights on during a storm, Honda products are known to just work, every time. Add an exciting application of DCT technology and it’s fair to say that while the Talon 1000R and 1000X aren’t necessarily game changers, they’ve sure as hell raised the bar.

What Others Are Saying:

“The brakes, seldom used due to significant engine braking, are wonderfully grabby with lots of feel. The essential takeaway here is that when you romp on a Talon, with some room to play, there’s a deliciously seamless interplay between steering, suspension, and power.” —Alex Kierstein, AutoBlog

“With both eyes open we hit the whoops and pressed the pedal down until we reached our takeout and just a tap on the brakes got the front of the Talon in shape to make the righthand turn… The FOX Podium 2.0 shocks soaked up the hits well and I was really impressed.” —Rick Sosebee, ATV.com

2019 Honda Talon Specs

Powertrain: 999cc Paralell Twin, Six-speed Dual Clutch Transmission
Horsepower: 104
Ground Clearence: 13 in. (1000R)
Weight: 1,545 lbs
Top Speed: 74 MPH

Honda hosted us and provided this product for review.

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