2019 Honda Talon 1000X and Talon 1000R Review | Africa Twin Goes Four-Wheelin’

2019 Honda Talon 1000S and Talon 1000R Review - scenic
2019 Honda Talon 1000S (left) and Talon 1000R

2019 Honda Talon 1000X and 1000R Review:
SxS Experience

The 2019 Honda Talon 1000X and 1000R is Big Red’s first foray into the rapidly growing sport UTV (Utility Terrain/Task Vehicle) segment, aiming to capitalize on the market’s momentum, as well as their success with the multi-purpose Pioneer UTV line. Honda has been in the UTV game for several years, and the company has set its sights on an SxS (side-by-side) class that’s filled with naturally aspirated extreme off-road capable models such as the Arctic Cat Wildcat, Can-Am Maverick X3, XX Polaris RZR XP 1000, and the Yamaha YZR1000R.

Until driving the new Honda Talons and beginning to write this story, my experience with UTVs worked like this—through the miracle that is human eyesight, I was aware of their existence. However, my well of UTV knowledge is thimble-deep.

Here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we’ve been known to review or spend time on vehicles that have more than two wheels, while still falling firmly in the motorcycle camp. Generally, when contraptions are equipped with four wheels as well as steering wheels, that’s two wheels too many and, thus, are referred to as cars.

Honda wanted an outside perspective on its sport UTVs—one that wasn’t overly encumbered with trivial things like experience, knowledge or skill when it comes to the side by sides—so you are getting a taste of the uninitiated. If you want a review that is supported years of honed knowledge with these four-wheeled beasts, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I approached this story as if it were any other motorcycle, and oddly enough many of the off-road techniques I use when riding apply here.

In terms of appearance, these machines aren’t foreign to me. I immediately picked up on the edgy, jagged styling that Honda was putting forward. I soon learned that the styling—particularily the Talon 1000R—was inspired by the Honda CRF motocross line, giving them a much more sporting look than Honda’s previous SxS units.

I’ll begin with the vehicles themselves. Honda made it easy on neophytes by creating two machines that share plenty of componentry between the models—a one-piece tubular chassis, Africa Twin related 999cc liquid-cooled Unicam OHC longitudinally mounted parallel-twin with six-speed Dual Clutch Transmission, paddle-shifters, on-the-fly switchable 2WD to 4WD, i-4WD, hill start assist, electronic braking distribution, the interior, and more—in short, everything other than suspension or color options.

What does separate the two units and give them a defined scope of work is the suspension differences. The Venn diagram of performance has quite a bit of overlap between each model, though they will outshine one another in certain environments.

The 2019 Honda Talon 1000X is positioned as a trail-ripping SxS, with an emphasis placed on maneuverability and agility. To that end, it makes use of double A-arm front suspension, loaded with Fox 2.0 Podium QS3 shocks featuring spring-preload adjustment, three-level compression damping adjustment (hence the QS3 designation) and 14.6 inches of travel. In the rear, a triple-link suspension set-up is used in conjunction with Fox Podium 2.0 shocks with the same amount of adjustability and a tad more travel. Supporting the trail-ready cause is a tighter 87.6-inch wheelbase. For our motorcycle readership, the ‘2.0’ in the shock specification refers to the internal piston size. Other changes include a slightly stiffer setup, mainly to make up for the reduced travel.

Meanwhile, the Talon 1000R wields roughly five inches in additional travel and width, giving it a broader footprint in the form of a massive 92.7-inches. These dimensions allow the R to gobble up whoop sections at high-speed thanks to its leggier stance and tackle extreme rock crawling sections.

The 1000R boasts a beefier suspension set up with larger Fox Podium 2.5 shocks and 17.7-inches of travel. An even more notable difference is in the rear suspension, which uses a 4+ Link trailing arm suspension with a toe link and, again, Fox Podium 2.5 the same amount of adjustment, but now controlling a whopping 20 inches of travel.

The 4+ Link design is a crucial part of the 1000R’s recipe, as it keeps toe deviation to 0.3-degrees. For those of us that ride motorcycles, wheel toe isn’t something we talk about. However, it’s a big part of keeping a four-wheeled vehicle on the straight and narrow. Excessive toe will cause the car to be finicky and unpredictable, especially when jumping or raging through whoops.

Our test began with the 2019 Honda Talon 1000X, firing up the liter-class powerplant that makes a claimed 104 horsepower. That is more than enough to get into trouble no matter what Talon you find yourself in. Many of the observations will apply to both models. It sounds familiar with its throaty rumble at idle and it should, as Honda representatives informed us that much of its architecture is similar to the engine in the Africa Twin DCT adventure bike, although more closely related to what’s in the Pioneer 1000 UTV. The Unicam technology is straight out of the CRF450R motocross bike, for example.

I’ll admit, I came equipped with a sizeable two-wheeled superiority complex, and I’ll go on record saying that it began to dissolve fairly quickly. With the campsite in our rearview mirror, we dove headlong into the fray, setting our sights on curvaceous dunes and berm-laden trails.

On the first tap of the throttle, the Talon pounces forward—I’d even describe the initial 5-10 percent range to be jumpy at low rpm. Once you’ve found your stride, modulating the power is done with ease, as the motor has a proper distribution of power throughout the rev-range.

In short order, most anyone with any off-road driving or riding experience will be settling in and pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone or more accurately, their passenger’s. There is more than enough punch to light-up the rear wheels, helping you finish turns or send roosts for all to see as if it were a display of masculinity to potential SxS mates.

The twin’s 270-degree firing order imbues the exhaust with a nice growl—something that isn’t obnoxiously loud while being more than enough to keep your attention and make your presence known.

Each model has manual-shifting, and two DCT modes—Drive and Sport. Drive is a more relaxed shifting experience. Being a fool-hardy moto-journalist, I saw the point of it but used it sparingly.

Sport mode is where I spent most of my time, as it holds gears on longer for greater use of the power and downshifts earlier, increasing engine braking when you’re wailing in the trails. It’s a handy feature as it helps slow the beasts when rushing into tight corners. At any point, you can tap the paddle shifter to change gears as you’d please.

The DCT’s shifting is smooth in either mode—as it is on the Honda motorcycles—but the Sport setting adds a whole other performance feel to the chassis that spices up the entire affair.

As we were focusing on close-quarters trails in the X, I’ll talk about its handling specifically, which is nothing short of impressive. The Talons feature electronic power steering, so it doesn’t require one to muscle the steering wheel around like on grandpa’s old ranch truck.

Railing into berms, I’d give the X a bit of input and let it rocket out of the turn—it’s something that will never get old. That’s the type of situation that the Talon 1000X was designed for and is adept at.

There is almost a slightly sportier feeling to the X’s suspension, as Honda engineers ran stiffer damping and springs to compensate for the shorter travel. It’ll gobble up almost anything you throw at it, with a bonus of reducing body-roll. Thankfully, it filters out most of the harshness and doesn’t transfer that through to the occupants. This isn’t handling comparable to that of a tuna boat; it’s just a stiff chassis ready for action. For me, that translated to an incredibly easy vehicle to come to grips with.

What truly helps either machine stay upright and make them manageable is the sophisticated I-4WD system that incorporates an off-road Brake and Traction Control System. Both Talon models manage to slip between the left and right front wheels by applying brake pressure to the low-grip wheel, effectively transferring up to four times the power to the wheel with traction.

I did switch between 2WD and 4WD while piloting each model. In 4WD, the Talons act as if they’re a cat with dinner-plate dilated eyes, clawed into the trail, darting from point to point. In 2WD, the X lost some of its agility, making it understeer and lack the connection with the trail that I felt before.

Stopping power is more than ample, especially when we consider that the weight of each vehicle is around 1500 pounds. Regardless of the model, they feature the same components; 250mm rotors all around, with twin-piston calipers and singles in the rear. Braking feel is quite good, and aggressive to match the personality that Honda is aiming at with its new models. It is easy to use the brakes to initiate a slide or transfer the weight to the front end to dig into the corner.

My first sampling of the UTV world was positive, to say the least—the X was a great entry point. On paper, these two machines should offer pretty much the same experience—at least that’s how a layperson such as myself saw it. I’m happy to admit that I was very wrong.

If you want to blast through high-speed whoop sections completely unabated, rock crawl up things that would make any Jeep owner that’s plunged the cost of a house into suspension envious, or merely engage in things that no loving parent would approve of, the 2019 Honda Talon 1000R is for you.

The impact that the longer travel suspension has on the handling is immediately noticed. The set-up is slightly softer—the body rolls when turning, and the turning sensitivity is reduced a bit. All of that was felt when trolling out of the staging area at less than five mph—it’s that easy to pick up.

The route through Utah’s Sand Hollow State Park reflected the Talon 1000R’s desire for fast sections, too. We peeled out and took a hard turn up a rock section that the X could handle, meanwhile the R happily scampered over unphased. It was then that the pace increased.

Through whoop and rutted out trails, the 1000R comes into its own. It is designed to be driven as fast and as hard as possible. The long-travel Fox suspension quickly soaks up everything that you can throw at it while doing a solid job of keeping the chassis in line. We only managed to bottom out a shock or two in sizeable squared-off holes.

The Talon R will stay balanced, poised and controlled through those faster-paced areas and with a bit of wind in its hair, it remains just as easy-going and confidence inspiring as the X. Light inputs on the R go a long way, and its performance threshold needs to be respected. Sadly, a bush was harmed during our adventure.

What was most impressive about the 2019 Honda Talon 1000R is how agile it was. Yes, the X will beat it out in that regard, but the R is no slouch, especially in deep, loamy sand.

We found ourselves strafing a dry river bed, burying the front end into freshly cut berms by the lead UTV. Although the amount of body-roll was unsettling at first, you begin to become acclimated to it, learning how to put the power down while still finishing the corner.

There is a downside to its size, though. With a wider wheelbase, you’ll have to be far more conscientious of your lines and wheel placement to avoid getting pinch flats. Be careful when threading the needle through rocky terrain with the R. Again, the X begins to stand out as the close quarter’s vehicle in that regard.

In 2WD, my main critique remains—the R didn’t hook up as well. Still, there are times and places for it, such as on harder compound dirt and in wide open spaces. The chassis is looser in 2WD, and you’re able to engage slides. Pair this setting with a dry riverbed or salt flat, and you’ll be in for some fun.

The 2019 Honda Talon 1000X has an advantage in maneuverability; there’s no doubt about that. Meanwhile, the R has another trick up its sleeve in the form of rock crawling. With its leggier stance and 4WD low engaged, it can itsy bitsy spider its way up sections of slick rock that look insurmountable.

That seems like hyperbole, but looking at it from a motorcyclist’s perspective, there are routes that just look like a horrible pain in the derriere to climb unless you’re on a trials bike and know how to use it. Yet, the R negotiates them in the most uneventful fashion possible. There’s no drama—it just does it.

In either case, the feel through the chassis was more than apparent. I came into this thinking that I’d have a vague understanding of grip or where and what the wheels were doing. That isn’t the case at all. If you happen to be coming from motorcycles, none of this will be completely foreign to you; it’s a different dialect, not a new language.

Helping you across boulders, through the sand and mud are Maxxis MU9H tires that were developed in conjunction with Honda. The 28-inch tires on 15-inch rims combo is common, so swapping to another option won’t be difficult, although these did quite well in my completely uneducated opinion.

For those that are concerned about protection, you need not worry too much. The 2019 Honda Talon 1000s are built to take some abuse as the rock crawling sections demonstrated. The undercarriage has durable plastic skid plates to help deal with blows to the chassis without permanent disfiguring. The driveshaft boots are well covered by outboard guards that can be supplemented with optional parts, too.

Honda’s crack marketing team has come up with a quirky slogan to accompany their new sport UTVs: Life Is Better SxS. I appreciated the inherent optimism of the phrase, but was skeptical of its legitimacy. During our test, we experienced piloting and copiloting each vehicle. To me, this seemed like playing videogames with an unwitting younger sibling or cousin, giving them a controller that wasn’t plugged in, and hearing them exclaim, “I’m participating!”

The concept of being a passenger is disturbingly alien to me as a motorcyclist. However, I knew at some point that I would pilot the Talons, so it was alright. Luckily, I was paired with another man of two wheels, Jenson Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber. We also had a system from Rugged Radios to communicate with one another and the group – an absolute necessity for the UTV experience.

Each Talon offers decent accommodations for my 5’ 10’’ self; it’s cozy rather than cramped. If you’re a taller individual, you may not agree with that sentiment. The seats are supportive without being uncomfortable, and the cabin doesn’t have any plastic protruding to abuse the occupants when the going gets rough. The driver seat can be adjusted, as can the steering wheel. The passenger must make do with holding onto the grab bar.

Also, the grab bar is adjustable, with quite a long reach. Yes, you’ll be able to scare short-armed people, too. Out of the factory, each 2019 Honda Talon 1000 comes equipped with niceties such as seatbelts and nets. If you prefer, the seats can accommodate a four-point harness.

As a victim copilot, you’re along for the ride, and it seems like a one-sided affair; the pilot rages forth with glee, while you take the abuse. That is a pessimistic view, but I’d soon find out that it creates a team effort, one akin to that of a rally team, slashing their way through European villages with bystanders that park themselves on the edge of a road. This is the closest you’ll ever get to that experience.

Whether you go for radios, Bluetooth communication devices, or some other method of in-helmet communication, the passenger plays a somewhat significant role. First, the passenger has some level of self-preservation, meaning that the copilot will act as a check against your desires to mimic whatever you saw happening in a World Rally Championship video on YouTube. The navigator is also a spotter when rock climbing and can be the devil (or angel) on your shoulder. Communication is the secret ingredient to fun in a SxS.

Sure, driving the Honda Talons is an excellent experience and luckily, being a passenger isn’t half bad either. The Talons, and if we walk the logic out to all other UTVs in this class, are best enjoyed with friends—like most other things in life. To capitalize on the comradery, one does need to invest in communication devices, as they’re not standard issue items.

At $19,999 for the 2019 Honda Talon 1000X and a grand more for the Talon 1000R, you’re getting a whole lot of performance. Although there are hidden costs with the UTV market—trucks, trailers, and storage—the Talons are priced right on par with the rest of the sport SxS offerings.

Speaking as someone who was utterly uninitiated before, it’s my humble opinion that the 2019 Honda Talon 1000X and Talon 1000R offer up quite a bit of off-road performance. The bottom line question is this: Will a motorcyclist enjoy this? I can only speak for myself when I say this, but if you have any sport driving or riding blood in your veins, I’d venture to say that you will. From where I was sitting, it became a lot clearer why these things are rolling straight off the showroom floor and onto trailers.

Photography by Drew Ruiz

2019 Honda Talon 1000S and Talon 1000R Review Photo Gallery