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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @

January 2009 - Off The Pegs

Bone Stock 200 Horsepower-No Longer Just Fantasy


In the performance segment of the ATV scene, Honda’s been facing a bit of a bad rap. While their competition has been making motocross bike-style upgrades to their 450cc models each year, Honda has seemed quite content to allow the TRX450R to remain, for the most part, unchanged. While everyone else has been bustling to integrate fuel injection and aluminum frame spars into their quads, the TRX keeps on trucking right along with its steel and carburetion. The motto here may reflect the wisdom that if it isn’t broke, Honda sees no need to fix it. Interestingly enough, if we take a step back to look at Honda’s involvement in other areas; namely in the personal watercraft market, we find that there is no shortage of technological innovations coming from Big Red.

Not unlike our own industry and in fact maybe even more so, the personal watercraft industry has come under heavy scrutiny of late in the matter of environmental impact. Strict EPA and CARB regulations calling for a 90% reduction in emissions resulted in the death of the two-stroke engine in this arena as well. In its place, the OEMs have implemented fuel-injected four strokes for the task (sounds familiar). Like in our own sport, carbon emissions and noise pollution are down while refinement, overall weight, and horsepower gains are up.

The instantaneous “hit” of the two-stroke’s power delivery often tricks users into believing that these machines were more powerful in the era before the pollution crack-down. In truth the fuel injected four-stroke mills that replaced the old oil-burners are putting out stifling gains in the horsepower department. Don’t believe it? Consider this; as recently as 1998, the average three-seat model two-stroke powered craft put out between 82 and 86 horsepower. A single decade later it isn’t uncommon to find vehicles of the same size and spec to put out as much as 250 horses! How is this possible you ask? Don’t forget that companies like Honda and Yamaha produce more than just ATVs and jet-skis. While the transition to an all four-stroke environment happens to be relatively young in our niches, these companies have been tweaking and harnessing the power potential of the four-stroke engine all along. Think about the type of figures coming from Supersport bikes or, in Honda’s case specifically, their automobiles.

This year’s AquaTrax F-15X from Honda has received one such makeover that exemplifies the idea of innovative advancement perfectly. Up from a 1.2 liters to 1.5 (1500cc to us quad-types), this fuel-injected, DOHC, four cylinder revs to a modest 7,100 rpm (to meet the unofficial personal watercraft cutoff speed of 65 mph) and features an IHI turbocharger that pushes 10 psi of intercooled boost into the formula. What is the result? 197 horsepower, bone stock, and a 0-30 acceleration time of 1.9 seconds.

The downside of all of this technological advancement is, of course, weight gains. On average, personal watercraft have gained close to 400 pounds of heft in the last decade! This is thanks in part to the heavier, more complicated nature of the four-stroke but also due to the trend of vehicles that have been increasing in size physically as well. Whereas once personal watercraft were just that, personal, these days its common place to be able to seat three comfortably with room to spare for gear, the GPS, etc.

So how does all of this tie into ATVs? I suppose I should conclude that one can never count Honda out when it comes to master plans. I’ve been spending a lot of time testing the 2009 450s and though the venerable TRX450R has been seemingly lost in the proverbial shuffle of all of the latest and greatest models being dropped upon the scene, Honda has in fact been far from idle. Our turn will surely come in the department of a thorough makeover, if not a complete redesign.

In the mean time, what does it hurt to imagine some of the spillover technology from the personal watercraft to find its way into the ATV side of things? 197 horsepower from a compact turbo-charged four-cylinder sounds pretty wild, especially if it were to maintain the concept of seating three comfortably (a trend that has yet to make its way here). Toss the rev limiter to the way side, and you would have yourself one powerhouse dune shredder or rock-crawler. The only thing we can hope wouldn’t make the transition is the dry weight- did I mention the F-15X checks in at 950 pounds?

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