SUVs

2019 Honda Talon first drive review: A hard-core adventure buggy

Honda's first sport side-by-side is an off-road terror.

Honda

I'm no stranger to Honda automobiles. My first car was a Prelude, my current track car is an S2000 and I've got an Accord with 318,000 miles on the clock that I use as a daily beater. I've driven all manner of Hondas over the years, for work and for play. But I've never been in one like this before.

It goes without saying, but driving the 2019 Talon off-road near St. George, Utah, is a very different kind of Honda experience. It's different in a good way -- a wildly entertaining first crack at the Honda powersport product range that includes motorcycles, scooters and ATVs.

Family resemblance

Designers penned the Talon's exterior with Honda's CRF family of dirt bikes in mind, resulting in a high beltline, functional shrouds and side vents that all work well on the plastic bodywork. The body is overlaid on a one-piece, powder-coated frame that all gets caked in dirt and mud as I blast through the trails in Sand Hollow State Park.

Inside, comfort is the focus, beginning with automotive-grade, steel-frame seats that feature comfy cushions. These cushy seats are greatly appreciated as I blast over the violent mounds scattered throughout the drive route, and a tilt steering wheel offers adjustability to help me find the perfect seating position. People riding shotgun aren't forgotten, either, with an adjustable passenger grab handle and two-level floor with raised sides for easy leg bracing, which helps them remain in place when you're speeding over rough terrain.  

For convenience, the Talon's cabin boasts a couple of center stack cubbies, cup holders capable of holding 30-ounce tumblers and a glove compartment to keep important items safe and dry. Around back, the trunk area is big enough to strap in a cooler or a spare tire just in case you suffer a flat out in the middle of nowhere.

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Dual-clutch delight

Powering the Talon is 999-cc inline two-cylinder engine with 104 horsepower. But the big news is the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox -- technology borrowed from the road car side of the Honda shop. The Honda-built gearbox is the first of its kind to be available on a sport side-by-side; the majority of the Talon's competitors use continuously variable transmissions. The dual-clutch 'box has two automatic modes -- Drive and Sport -- as well as a manual function with steering column-mounted paddle shifters.

With the I-4WD system, the Talon can be operated in two- or four-wheel drive modes with a torque-biasing front differential, traction control, and hill start assist to make off-road motoring a bit easier.

Activating four-wheel drive requires only a press of a center stack rocker switch. Rolling onto the throttle results in smooth launches with power getting livelier as the revs climb. I hit roughly 50 miles per hour over open sand. This might not seem like a lot, but 50 mph feels incredibly quick in a vehicle this small and without a windshield, not to mention a screaming engine nestled behind me.

Blasting through the sand at 50 mph in the Talon feels downright fast.

Honda

The transmission's action is a bit leisurely in its normal Drive mode, but perks up in Sport. The latter mode also holds higher revs for longer periods of tie and is more eager to step down a few gears under braking. Manual mode is responsive, but I'm happy leaving it in Sport/Auto for the majority of my drive because it's really nicely tuned. Real engine braking is another dual-clutch benefit, offering a more natural feel when lifting off the throttle, which is a feature many CVTs do not have.

Into the wild

Over whoops and ruts, my Talon 1000X's 87.6-inch wheelbase and 64-inch width return a wild, but tolerable ride. The Talon uses a double wishbone front and three-link rear suspension, with 2-inch, three-way adjustable Fox shock absorbers. Up front, the setup provides 14.6 inches of wheel travel, with 15.1 inches out back.

The dimensions and hardware make the Talon incredibly agile, able to tackle a variety of terrains. It's like an off-road go-kart, or miniature World Rally Championship car. Zipping up and down sand dunes, quickly changing directions on two-track trails or crawling over small rocks is all handled without a hitch, thanks to the light, communicative steering and 15-inch Maxxis MU9H tires. After pounding around for half a day, my co-driver and I don't feel physically wrecked and could easily handle much more, which speaks to the Talon's relative comfort.

The Talon 1000X has no problems crawling up and down small rocks.

Honda

Honda also offers a bigger Talon 1000R, which rides on a 5-inch longer wheelbase, and has 4.4 inches of additional width over the 1000X. The R also gets a unique, four-plus-link rear suspension with 2.5-inch Fox shocks providing 17.7 inches of front and 20.1 inches of rear wheel travel. All of that helps provide better stability and bump absorption ideal for high-speed runs through open fields and desert terrain.

Sadly, I didn't get to drive the R, but did go for a ride with Honda staffer Wayne Lambert at the wheel. Over an incredibly harsh stretch of terrain, the Talon R's suspension worked overtime. Holding onto the passenger grab handle and bracing my legs on the top tier of the floor helped me cope with all the movement. It was nowhere near a smooth, magic carpet ride, but considering how easily it handled this off-road carnage, it's a really impressive feat.

The price of off-road fun

The 2019 Honda Talons are beginning to arrive in dealers now with 1000X starting at $19,999, and the 1000R beginning at $20,999. Neither price includes $940 for destination charges.

The Talon isn't a bad way to do some exploring. 

Honda

Putting Honda's latest off-road fun machine in your garage isn't exactly a cheap proposition, but for an off-road toy, it's certainly less expensive than a big Jeep Wrangler or other off-road SUV. The Talon is a superfun way to explore off-road terrain, and take you places you might never have been before.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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