Notice that I haven’t said a whit yet about how the Talon twins move, because the first time I barreled into a whoop the size of a foothill at 45 mph and braced for a violent impact that never came, I started scheming, doing some desperate and feverish math. Could I sell my old, tired 4×4 pickup and pull one of these on a trailer with my Subaru track car? Use a Talon as intended, and you have too much fun to sweat the rough edges.
To be real about it, the rough edges are what help sport-oriented side-by-sides like the Talon hit a price point that can put Baja buggy-like capability in your garage for about $20,000. Since we’re usually more oriented to roadable pickups like the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or the Chevy Colorado ZR2, driving the Talon demonstrates that there’s a whole world of off-road performance available for a fraction of the cost or upkeep of that kind of truck. There’s less bodywork to mangle, more specialized capability right out of the box, and a very healthy aftermarket scene chock full of sexy accessories to upgrade these rides with — with the only caveat being how you’ll get it to the off-road park. It’s why the originator of this entire class of ATV, the Polaris RZR, is so wildly popular.
All this is old news to the ATV crowd, but Honda’s M.O. has always been to bridge the gulf between automobile and powersports. The company almost singlehandedly rehabilitated the bad-boy image of the motorcycle with the friendly, approachable Super Cub. So while the Talon is a little late to the sporty side-by-side game, and a little tamer than its turbocharged competition, it’s likely to have more crossover appeal to the uninitiated. That is why we traveled to the Sand Hollow area near St. George, Utah — an off-road wonderland, to put it bluntly — to see what sort of appeal the Talon 1000X and 1000R have for the roadable vehicle crowd.
The Talon is related to the utilitarian Pioneer 1000 but more spiritually connected with the powerful Africa Twin motorcycle. Its 104 horsepower 999cc inline-twin uses the Unicam SOHC setup, and adopts a 270-degree crank angle for V-twin like power pulse sequence. Power is channeled through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission and an i-4WD system, which is Honda’s innovative solution to the problem of difficult steering with a locking differential. Instead of a traditional front locker, it uses an automotive-inspired, brake-based traction system paired with a front limited-slip unit. When a wheel slips with i-4WD engaged, power is transferred to the wheel with grip through the LSD.
From there, the 1000X and 1000R diverge slightly. The 1000X is a little narrower and prioritizes nimbleness over absolute articulation, perfect for tighter trails and forested areas. It uses Fox Podium 2.0 (2-inch bore) shocks paired with a dual-A arm front and three-link rear setup. The width is 64 inches, and the travel is 15.1 inches front, 14.6 inches rear. The 1000R is optimized for compliance and articulation, and uses Podium 2.5 shocks (2.5-inch bore), and is wider at 68.4 inches. It uses dual A-arms up front, but a four-link setup in the rear, and has remarkable travel: 20.1 inches in the front, and 17.7 in the rear. For perspective, a Ford F-150 Raptor’s is 13 front and 13.9 rear.
The 1000R is a $1,000 premium over the 1000X. After driving both all over the dunes, rocks, and whoops, the 1000R seems the clear winner — the X’s enhanced nimbleness pales in comparison to the R’s enhanced travel, compliance, and comfort, although a reasonable person could disagree. I also found the 1000R to be significantly more comfortable and less stressful as a passenger. That’s important — bringing a partner or friend along is part of the appeal. The Talon’s excellent seats, which are automotive-inspired and legitimately good for all-day comfort, deserve a lot of credit for keeping soreness and fatigue at bay.
It’s easy to see the appeal of these high-performance SXS’s to a traditional truck owner like myself. There’s not much of a learning curve — the controls are just like a car’s, so everything is easy to figure out. A little screwing around on the dunes and you get the hang of how it handles and how you can get in trouble. The 1000R provides an extra level of feedback and forgiveness with its wider stance and longer travel. For both, adjusting the attitude in a turn is a matter of applying a little throttle to swing the rear around, or letting off and letting the ample engine braking tuck the front end in. The steering is lovely, direct and with plenty of feedback to feel how the front wheels are gripping.
Despite having a full day in both the 1000R and 1000X, I never quite got used to the very abrupt throttle tip in at a stop, leading to some jackrabbit starts — possibly due to typical low-speed DCT jerkiness — but underway the throttle is easy to modulate, even over bumps. The brakes, seldom used due to significant engine braking, are wonderfully grabby with lots of feel. The essential takeaway here is that when you romp on a Talon, with some room to play, there’s a deliciously seamless interplay between steering, suspension, and power. Blasting around at 50 mph feels like 70, which is incidentally where the Talon tops out if you have enough room and guts. And in low range, the Talon will walk up rock steps with ease, thanks to its generous approach and departure angles and up to 13 inches of ground clearance. Visibility is fantastic in technical sections, a real contrast to the anxiety of threading a $50,000 pickup through an outcrop without bashing something painted or filled with oil.
Like all great driving machines, there’s a point at which conscious thought gives way to muscle twitch and instinct, and you find yourself dancing in the desert to the stilted tune of the Talon’s lumpy twin. Scoop the rim of a giant bowl, crest the top and get a few inches of air, jig around the rock around the bend, and soak up a bump that’d break other machinery. The goofy bodywork, the gruff engine, the snatchy DCT fade away as the Talon tosses sand and mud skyward.
It works on two levels, being an excellent machine on its own that also reveals the broader appeal of all SXS’s. The Talon is like an everyperson’s Ariel Nomad for a quarter the price, a hilarious ZFG bundle of the sort of rarified, distilled entertainment that takes serious coin to emulate in a streetable vehicle. It’s easy to see why sporty SXS sales are exploding — and why I’m browsing the ATV classifieds instead of shopping for a winch bumper or rear locker for my truck. If I’m considering crossing over, maybe this SXS thing has some legs.