The Honda Rubicon ATV continues as a 2013 model relatively unchanged from previous models. The Rubicon's claim to fame is the most unique transmission in the ATV world. It's called Hondamatic, but it operates as a fluid driven constantly variable unit. Since there is no direct mechanical connection between engine and transmission, it makes for a different riding experience.
The Rubicon seems to be aimed at those who actually need to do more work with their utility ATVs. Technically, this model is called a Foreman Rubicon, and as similar as the two models are, that would be appropriate. They're very close to the same size, with the Rubicon having a slightly larger engine. Suspension and brakes are a step behind the updated Foreman, but adequate for the kind of utility work intended for the Rubicon.
So that leaves the transmission as the main difference between the Rubicon and the Foreman. It works very much like the ones in industrial equipment that have to work hard every day. And that is why the mission of the Honda Rubicon is more towards serious work than play time. Have heavy pulling to do? Need to snow plow that driveway? Skid some logs? Move a heavy load precisely? You may need the Rubicon ATV.
You can watch the video below for a good overview of the Honda Rubicon. The 2013 Rubicon is almost identical to the 2011 shown in this test. so everything covered in the video will still apply to the current model.
Engine - Like all the other Honda ATVs, the Rubicon has a longitudinally mounted single cylinder four stroke. Basically the same engine as the Foreman but with a little longer stroke for 499cc versus 475cc, and more low end pulling power. It's the same OHV style with liquid cooling, but unlike the Foreman, the Rubicon has an old school carb instead of the fuel injection of the Foreman.
In a utility oriented ATV like the Honda Rubicon, not having fuel injection is not that big a deal, and even though the carb is a little out of date, it works fine and may be easier to repair if there is a problem. When you're in the middle of nowhere with work to do, that may be more important than having the latest technology.
Transmission/Driveline - Like we already said, the tranny is what makes the Rubicon unique among all the Honda ATVs. So what are the actual advantages of this type of unit?
As you can see from this list, almost all the advantages are aimed at the ability to do more work with better reliability.
Honda does include a set of pre-programmed ratios and a handlebar mounted electric shifter if you feel the need to entertain yourself.
Just know that's less efficient than just letting the transmission do it's constantly variable thing.
Four wheel drive is engaged by a lever on the left of the tank which activates an automatic torque sensing front differential. Shaft drive is used at both the front and rear. Honda doesn't use a diff lock, so you'll have to rely on the Rubicon to decide when all wheel drive is needed. That is one less thing to have to think about though, and it seems to make the right decision most of the time.
Suspension and brakes - The Honda Rubicon is almost identical to the Foreman at the front. You get a conventional double a-arm set up with disc brakes that are slightly smaller than the Foreman's.
At the rear you'll find a solid axle, but with the older style twin shock arrangement. Once again, the focus remains on utility rather than sportier handling. The two shock rear end will handle heavier loads more evenly than a single shock, at a small sacrifice in higher speed handling compared to the Foreman. A sealed drum brake with mechanical actuation slows things down at the rear.
Spring pre-load is adjustable at both ends to compensate for the weight of different loads.
Electric power steering - The excellent power steering unit is optional on the Honda Rubicon, and highly recommended if you plan on handling heavy chores or operating in rough terrain in four wheel drive. It just makes tough riding easier, and is one of those things you'll be glad you have, long after you've forgotten about the extra cost.
It seems the Rubicon, with its' special fluid drive transmission, is aimed at a niche of ATV owners with serious work to do. If you're not in this category, then this machine really doesn't make much sense, and there are other utility ATVs that will fit your needs better.
The fact that Honda hasn't updated the Rubicon in years, and it remains as the only 4 wheel drive model without fuel injection makes us wonder how much longer it will be kept in the line up.
Owners that buy the Honda Rubicon for what it is designed to do best, which is heavier towing and plowing at slow to moderate speeds, seem perfectly happy with them. Others that purchase them for general use and trail riding aren't quite as happy.
This is a case where you need to evaluate what you want an ATV to do. If most of your use will be heavier work, there isn't another mid size ATV on the market that will handle it as well as the Rubicon with it's stout tranny. Just understand that you will be giving up some comfort and performance in return.