First Ride: 2003 Honda Rincon

SUV of ATV's

Jul. 01, 2002 By Dean Waters
After seeing the Rincon prototype at last year's Rocky Mountain ATV Jamboree, we could not wait to get a ride on Honda's new entry into the big bore sport utility segment. Honda is actually classifying the new Rincon 650 as a recreational machine, not a utility machine and not a sport machine. Labeled as "The SUV of ATV's," this may be just what the growing segment of recreational trail riding enthusiasts is looking for.

Looking inside the new Rincon

We thought Honda would use the innovative Hondamatic transmission used in their Rubicon model, but in their quest to make the Rincon sportier, Honda has introduced yet another innovative transmission. The Rincon features a true automotive-style transmission using a torque converter similar to your SUV. This transmission gives your three forward gears and reverse. Just shift the Rincon into "Drive" and let it shift through the progressive gear ratios. Want a little more control? Then activate the Rincon's Electronic Shift Program (ESP) and you can select the gear using push buttons located on the left handlebar. The ESP system will disengage the clutch, shift the gearbox, and re-engage the clutch. This new transmission also features a "creep control system" to allow the Rincon to idle in gear without moving forward. Don't worry about holding the brake, the Honda ECU will disengage the hydraulic clutch for you when you are stationary and idling.

Honda added another feature to this innovative transmission so the Rincon also has engine braking capabilities on steep downhills. The Rincon's torque converter has a built-in one-way lockup clutch that transmits power to the crankshaft instead of the torque converter during deceleration. The transmission uses a filtration system that protects against external contamination and has no belts to replace, like the competitors.


The Rincon brings with it the largest displacement engine among all of Hondas ATV's. The power plant is an all new liquid-cooled four-valve 649cc four-stroke overhead-valve engine. The new overhead-valve design is shorter than an overhead cam design would be. This gives the powerplant less topside bulk and a lower center of gravity. The Rincon uses the same longitudinally-mounted engine and driveline layout as was introduced in the 1995 Foreman 400 and is currently used in the Foreman 450, Recon, Rancher, and Rubicon. The engine makes use of a counter-rotating balance shaft and rubber engine mounts to control engine vibration. In addition, Honda engineers used a unique pushrod design to create a light, quiet, high-revving valve train. The pushrods are made of a new aluminum alloy material with a unique pushrod end shape that allows for two tiny steel bearings where the pushrod would wear. The engine is liquid-cooled for consistent engine temperatures. The cylinder uses a nickel silicon carbide plated lining which is lighter and more durable than the conventional steel-sleeve cylinder. A 37mm constant velocity carburetor with a ribbed float minimizes sloshing on rough terrain and the integral carburetor-heated ensures operation when the weather gets cold. All of this is topped off with a stainless steel exhaust system that is center mounted across the rear of the Rincon.

Longintudally-mounted engine
Cutaway of the new power plant

Independent Rear Suspension

The Rincon is Honda's first fully-independent ATV rear suspension. The rear suspension uses a double-wish bone design with forged aluminum knuckles and upper/lower A-arms. The rear knuckle pivots use lightweight metal bushings instead of conventional ball joints and radius arms. This design eliminates toe-in as the rear suspension travels through its stroke and maintains proper rear wheel alignment. Lightweight single-tube gas-charged rear shocks and an anti-sway bar are used to provide dampening. A center-mounted hydraulic disc brake and self-adjusting mechanical rear parking brake is mounted on the rear propeller shaft. This rear suspension design helps reduce unsprung weight, contributes to the overall handling of the Rincon and allows for 8 inches of rear wheel travel. The rear driveshaft joins the rear final-drive gearcase at a 77° angle to eliminate additional shafts and joints.

Honda's first rear independent suspension design
Center mounted rear disc brake

More High-Tech Features

The Honda Rincon is not limited to these new innovative features. The Rincon features Traxlok, which allows the rider to shift between 2WD and 4WD via a simple thumb operated switch. The front differential is equipped with Honda's torque sensitive limited-slip which directs the torque to the wheel with the most traction. The Rincon features a dry weight of only 600 lbs due to extensive use of aluminum and careful design. The Rincon is equipped with radial tires to provide a smooth ride with 25 x 8-12 tires in the front and 25 x 10-12 tires in the rear. These are mounted on large-diameter 12-inch aluminum wheels.

Torque-sensing front differential
Large diameter 12" wheels and 25" radial tires


The Rincon has a multifunction LCD instrumentation panel that is waterproof and has readouts for gear position, speedometer, odometer, trip-meter, and hour-meter/clock. The panel also includes LED lights for Drive, Neutral, Reverse and a temperature warning label. A fuel gauge is located in the housing. A waterproof accessory socket is provided for your 12-volt accessories, with 12 amps of power and a built-in temperature-type fuse. The front headlights have adjustable reflectors with multi-reflector 40-watt halogen bulbs. In the rear fenders are dual stop/taillights with dual-filament 21-watt bulbs. A 360-watt generator provides plenty of power to the 14-amp-hour maintenance-free battery.

LCD Instrumentation panel
Honda Rincon controls

So how does it ride?

The Honda Rincon rides like a Cadillac. It has an unbelievably smooth ride. The Rincon soaks up the terrain so well that you can sit back and enjoy the ride where you would have to take a more aggressive stand-up approach on other ATV's. The ride is so plush that we suspected it may be a bit on the soft side for very aggressive riding. We were able to confirm this when we picked up speed and bottomed the front suspension a couple times. We did not have a lot of gear with us but we believe this may become more apparent when you load up the rather small rack to a capacity of 66 lbs. That said, unless you ride VERY aggressively, you will probably never notice this. The Rincon handled corners very well, although somewhat different than a standard swingarm type ATV. It seemed to have a minor push if you went into a corner too fast, as the independent rear does not tend to slide as much as swingarm type ATV's. Again, I believe only a very aggressive rider will notice this as it handled beautifully at moderate speeds. With the large 4.5 gallon fuel tank and plush suspension, you can cover many miles of trails in comfort.

LCD Instrumentation panel
Honda Rincon controls


If you spend a lot of time trail riding and want the top of the line quad, there is no doubt in our minds that the Rincon 650 should be your choice. If you need a workhorse, then you may want to look to the Honda Rubicon. The Rincon has good power, but if you want the fastest big bore, don't expect it here either. Honda has really taken a step away from the other big bores and has done a great job at presenting a quad for the recreational trail rider.

Great new styling!
Rear independent suspension provides a plush ride

More great pictures of the 2003 Honda Rincon

Contact Information

American Honda Motor Co, Inc

1919 Torrance Blvd
Torrance CA 90501
Motorcycle Division
310-783-3745 Newsletter
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