We love Alaska and we love wheelin’! We put the two together recently to test Honda’s all-new 2016 Pioneer 1000-5 on a nearly 50-mile-long run from the jumping-off-point of a popular trailhead system along the Knik River drainage, in Butte, to get an up-close and personal view of the Knik Glacier.
The Honda Pioneer 1000 is powered by a purpose-built 999cc parallel-twin engine that boasts the most displacement in the side-by-side industry, and has the industry’s first Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). The six-speed automatic has a sport mode and manual paddle shifters that can override the gear selection; it also has “transient shift detection” logic that mitigates multiple up-and downshifts and downshifts automatically when detecting a descent.
The 5-person models come with a sophisticated Electric Power Steering system (EPS) that reacts to vehicle speed and steering input to give precise driving feedback and reducing steering effort (and thus driver fatigue-an important criteria for backcountry travel!)). This is true even with the front differential locked, as kickback at the steering wheel is nearly eliminated in technical terrain. Tilt steering comes on all models with EPS.
The new model is able to haul 1,000 pounds (600 pounds for California models) and tow 2,000 pounds. The Deluxe model has standard LED headlights (37W high/low beam) that have a bright, wide beam pattern, with minimal power consumption.
We were of course hoping that it would be the perfect vehicle for what we had in mind. Located in a rugged and remote region north of Anchorage, the Knik River Public Use Area has a number of off-road trails that make it a popular destination for 4WD enthusiasts, and for others that use it for a wide variety of recreational pursuits, including hunting, fishing, trapping, target shooting, boating, flying planes, horseback riding, biking, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
Joining us for the day-long adventure were avid off-road enthusiasts Paul Vanona and Eric VanDusen, Jr., who are firefighters and search and rescue personnel at the Butte Fire Department. The firefighters are familiar with the trails from their own four wheeling trips and because this trails system is used for off-road training for the local fire department that has a small cadre of 4WD vehicles used for search and rescue operations in the backcountry.
Also along were Dave and Gwenn Bogart, of Wasilla, who brought their Honda Rancher ATV for more personal seat time and to provide a second vehicle as a winching aid, for tying off when crossing deep water, and for the safety backup of having a second vehicle, if needed. Besides, when wheeling with friends, more is always better.
There is a collection of things that we love about the new Pioneer 1000 that we drove on our Knik Glacier adventure. The power is great and there's plenty of torque-on-tap, especially when using the paddle shifters, which we found really helpful for steep descents and slick surfaces. And, having a selection of drive modes kept us from getting stuck-being able to "lock" the differentials is a blessing in deep mud and over treacherous track. Also on the 'positives' list is the ability to weather-protect riders and cargo with the windshield, hard doors, roof and even a heater. And what's not to love about seating for five, with the flexibility to carry fewer passengers and more gear? That said, with four onboard, there is little room for true stowage; the space behind the rear is limited to a few items of a slender nature.
We did tick off a couple negatives though. The front doors leave a lot to be desired ergonomically and practically, as they swing rearward and the straps designed to hold them don't do a good job. In fact, they are on a recall (we had our redesigned locally in Alaska at Hartley Motors, a Honda dealer in Wasilla). We also had dust intrusion from the underbelly that seeps through a number of open seams. And, although we traveled over some rough terrain and didn't experience any damage to the vulnerable bits under the front end, we made note to take extra care and plan our driving line carefully, just in case.
Every time we take it out, we like the Pioneer more and more. We have taken it on three adventures including one winter mountain climb and plan on many more, including mushing with Iditarod sleds dogs at a training camp north of Fairbanks in Sept and Oct. We’ll let you know how those outings went, and if we still like the 2017 Honda Pioneer as much as we do now.