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The 5 Best Honda Go-Kart Engines (Full Guide)

Honda go-kart engines are most commonly found on rental karts, rather than racing karts, and on off-road karts and DIY builds. However, regardless of what kind of karting you’d like to do, it helps to know what the best Honda go-kart engines are.

The 5 best Honda go-kart engines are:

  1. Honda GX270
  2. Honda GX120
  3. Honda GX200
  4. Honda GX390
  5. Honda GX160

An engine is the heart of a go-kart, so you want to be sure that you’re choosing the right one. There are some crucial factors that you need to keep in mind when buying one. Below, we consider these factors in detail, before discussing the pros and cons of each of the engines above.

What To Look For In A Go-Kart Engine

Go-kart engines are crucially important to the overall performance of your kart, so you need to make sure that you understand what you’re looking for. When it comes to racing karts, the choices are relatively simple, as you’re most likely looking at a specific racing series near you, and you therefore need to pick an eligible, normally 2-stroke engine (be it Rotax, Briggs, IAME etc).

However, if you’re looking at rental or dirt karts, or building your own one, there are more options to choose from. Honda is one of the best manufacturers to consider when it comes to 4-stroke engines. 4-stroke kart engines have different specifications that affect your kart, so let’s take a closer look at them.

Power 

The first factor to consider of course is power. Getting the most powerful engine always seems like the best option, right? Unfortunately, in 4-stroke engines specifically and karting in general, that is not always the case. More power means bigger and bulkier engines that you need to bolt onto the kart. As we know, in motorsport, being heavier is usually a hindrance, even if you have more power.

Heavier engines mean that your kart will be weighed down, which can cause slower acceleration and top speed despite your engine producing a higher power output. It all comes down to the power to weight ratio, so you could make your kart lighter in other ways to counteract this factor.

Power is important in any kart, but there is a limit to keep in mind. The most powerful Honda karting engine produces nearly 12 horsepower, but it weighs twice as much as many other engines. In this scenario, it is often more effective to use the smaller engine even though it puts out less horsepower.

If you’re looking into Honda engines for rental karting purposes, power will most likely not be at the top of your priority list. Most rental karts don’t have a ton of power available, mainly because they would become more dangerous with inexperienced drivers at the wheel. If you’re looking at dirt karting, more power might be what you’re after, so it all comes down to what the kart’s used for.

Weight

As we’ve discussed, more power is great, but these engines are also bulkier and heavier. Aside from affecting your kart’s acceleration and top speed, a heavier engine will also impact the handling of your kart. It’s important to keep this in mind because handling is one of the most important factors in karting.

Because of their lack of power and top end speed, karts need to be quick and nimble through corners. The key factor in this is keeping the kart lightweight. Heavier engines will make the kart more sluggish through corners, and you may notice that the steering becomes less responsive. 

There’s a good reason for the decrease in handling that comes with a heavier engine. Aside from the driver, the engine is the heaviest part of the kart. Having a heavier engine will reduce the jacking effect of the chassis when cornering. It is essential for the inside rear wheel of the kart to lift when cornering effectively due to their use of a live axle, and heavier engines can limit this.

Heavier engines will also put more weight on one side of the kart compared to the other, which upsets the balance of the kart. Ideally, you want the lateral balance of the kart to be neutral to keep it stable and predictable through corners, which requires you to have a relatively lightweight engine.

Price

The price of the engine is also crucial to keep in mind. Karting is an expensive sport, so you need to make sure that you always stick within your budget. There’s no point in buying the most expensive and most powerful engine if you can’t put fuel in it or keep it properly maintained to hit the race track!

If you’re looking at engines for rental karting, the cost of the engines is going to be one of the most important factors to consider. Rental karting engines take a lot of punishment, so you need to budget for repairs and replacements. Oftentimes, it’s best to go with the cheapest option, even if they don’t have the most power or the lightest weight.

In dirt karts, the price will be important too, but as long as you stick within your budget you can choose whichever engine suits you best. Always keep in mind that an engine that costs more will also usually cost more to repair and maintain. This is something that people often overlook in karting!

Maintenance

Kart engines need to work incredibly hard, especially in rental karts when the engines will be running nearly constantly. Ideally, you want the engines to be cheap and easy to maintain

There are some engines that require special knowledge and expertise to maintain or repair. This can cost you more money in the long run. Always make sure that the engine you’re choosing is easy to repair and doesn’t require any specialist knowledge that you don’t have access to.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that there may be times when you need to get spare parts for your engines. Before making your final decision, you need to check that spare parts are readily available both locally and internationally. Keep in mind that there may be excessive shipping costs, shortages, or special tools that you need to get as well.

Reliability

Karting engines need to withstand a lot of pressure, and they often work hard too. This is especially true if you’re using the engines for rental karts. Rental karts can sometimes run a full day on a track, only stopping for short breaks when drivers switch out in between sessions.

You want to make sure that your kart’s engines are as reliable as possible. Any issues (no matter how small they might be) will cause you headaches in the future. There are many 4-stroke kart engines that aren’t reliable and often have failures and parts that break, especially after long-term use.

This also ties in with the maintenance factor, because if you’re spending more time repairing the kart engine and replacing parts, then it’s ultimately not worth using that particular engine. Always make sure to do thorough research on each engine before you buy it just to make sure that there are no major issues related to that specific model.

Fuel Efficiency

As with any other kart (except electric karts), you will need fuel to run the engine. Having good fuel efficiency will make a massive difference in your karting experience, and it will help you stick within your budget. Some 4-stroke engines can be incredibly thirsty, so you want to make sure that you’re looking into engines that have better fuel efficiency than others.

In karting, there isn’t much you can do when it comes to improving fuel efficiency. If an engine has poor mileage, you’re going to have to make it work. It’s important to keep in mind that this will affect your overall budget for the kart on top of other running costs such as maintenance and spare parts.

KEY POINTS

• Honda engines are generally used for rental and dirt karts, rather than racing karts

• When choosing one, you need to consider more than just the power of the engine

• Picking one that’s reliable and cheap to maintain and replace is the way to go

The 5 Best Honda Go-Kart Engines

1. Honda GX270

Power: 8.4 HP | Weight: 25 kg / 55 lbs

The GX270 engine has decent power output at 8.4 HP. This is enough to power a light chassis such as an adult rental kart at a decent speed. This is ideal for rental karting as it’s also a hard-working engine that is reliable and can be used for several hours per day on a consistent basis. 

Cheap & Easy Maintenance 

The GX270 also has easy maintenance that allows you to quickly repair any potential issues that it might be experiencing. Since it’s such a popular engine, you can also get easy access to spare parts. With spares readily available, the cost of repairs and maintenance is also significantly reduced since there won’t be hefty shipping fees involved in getting your hands on spare parts.

With the GX270 being the engine of choice when it comes to Honda four stroke units, there aren’t many drawbacks to using this engine. The only disadvantage that the GX270 has is that it is slightly heavy at 25 kilograms (55 lbs). While this is still a decent weight for an engine, it’s important to keep in mind that the karts will become slower as the weight increases.

It’s Pretty Heavy

Depending on the weight of the driver, there will be a significant reduction in the overall top speed and acceleration of the kart. For most rental kart setups, the weight of a GX270 engine is not massively over the top, and you can still have a great time with one of these karts out on the track.

As for dirt karting, the engine is still relatively heavy, and you may feel that it’s not delivering enough power for its weight. The difference is that in rental karts, the weight can be advantageous as it pushes the kart into the ground. However, with dirt karts, you need to try and keep the kart light so that it can float over bumps and gravel as smoothly as possible.

This is the engine of choice for 4-stroke rental karts specifically, but the GX270 engine is also great for dirt karts since it has a decent power output. You might struggle with torque, but there won’t be a lack of traction from your driven axle. Nevertheless, if you need a cheap, reliable, and relatively powerful engine, the GX270 is one of the best options from Honda.

2. Honda GX120

Power: 3.2 HP | Weight: 13.2 kg / 28.9 lbs

The GX120 is a much smaller engine than the GX270. This engine is ideal for Minikarts that take younger drivers between the ages of 3 and 9. The smaller engines make it much safer for these younger drivers to operate, and it gives them the opportunity to try out karting for the first time without having to deal with a bigger engine that delivers a ton of power.

A Lighter Choice

These engines are also great because they weigh just 13.2 kilograms (28.9 lbs), which is the lightest engine on offer from Honda’s four-stroke division. These engines can be used in rental karts and professional races depending on the engine restrictions that they might have in place.

The tiny GX120 engine is the least powerful in Honda’s range at 3.2 horsepower. This means that the engine can only be used for smaller kids’ karts that have a lightweight frame. It’s perfect for cadets and bambino class karts, but not much else. This means that you shouldn’t be considering this engine unless you have a driver that falls into one of those categories.

Tougher Maintenance 

Since the GX120 is a much smaller engine it’s also more difficult to maintain. The way the engine operates is far different from the other larger engines such as the GX270, which requires you to learn a couple of extra maintenance procedures that you need to follow.

These engines are less common, so you may also run into a problem with spare parts being limited locally. Your local karting shop might not be stocking a lot of spares for GX120 karts unless there is a large community of kids’ karting events in the area. Be prepared to order spare parts online at a steeper price and with extended delivery timelines.

Less Intimidating

But another factor that makes these engines more suitable for the next generation of racing drivers is that they have extremely low noise and vibration levels. Younger kids won’t be afraid of the engines since they’re not loud at all, and they don’t send heavy vibrations through the seat and steering wheel, leading to a much smoother ride. This engine takes second place as it’s perfect for kids’ karts.

3. Honda GX200

Power: 5.8 HP | Weight: 16.1 kg / 35 lbs

The GX200 Honda engine has decent power output for rental karts, at 5.8 HP. This is slightly lower than the GX270, which is the ideal engine for rental karts, but it’s still a decent power output, especially if you can reduce the weight of the kart in other ways. Doing so will increase the power to weight ratio and make your kart faster.

The GX200 engine contributes to this better power to weight ratio as it is reasonably lightweight, at 16.1 kilograms (35 lbs). The GX200 is nearly 10 kilograms (22 lbs) lighter than the more powerful GX270 engine. However, this does not necessarily give the engine an advantage because it still lacks power compared to the GX270 engine.

Lower Power Output

Because of this engine’s lack of power, it’s not ideal for anything other than rental karts. Heavier chassis, such as the ones used in off-road karting, will struggle with this engine, even though it is lighter than the GX270. Rentals karts are light enough for this engine to pick up a decent amount of speed with the GX200 engine.

The GX200 is very similar to the GX270, which means that their spare parts are interchangeable, and the maintenance requirements are practically the same. Both of these engines have spare parts that are readily available because of how popular they are, and they are extremely easy to maintain.

4. Honda GX390

Power: 11.7 HP | Weight: 31.5 kg / 69 lbs

The GX390 is the flagship model for Honda four-stroke engines. It’s the most powerful model, capable of producing 11.7 horsepower. This makes the GX390 engine ideal for faster rental karts that can be used in competitive events. One of the ideal rental kart chassis for the GX390 engine is the Sodi RT8, which is much faster than the usual rental karts that have the smaller GX270 engine.

This is also the best engine for dirt karts because it has the most power. The additional power will help to propel the heavy chassis of a dirt kart. It’s also much easier for the kart to push through thick sand and mud, which makes it a much better engine for going off road.

The Heaviest Choice

The GX390 engine is the heaviest model at 31.5 kilograms (69 lbs). This is still relatively lightweight in general terms, but in karting that is the heaviest component aside from the driver. Luckily though, the GX390’s additional power helps to compensate for this heavier weight.

Because of the weight that the GX390 engine carries, you will need to use a ballast to balance the handling. With the heavy weight on the righthand side of the driver, it can have a seriously negative effect on the handling of the kart and its ability to lift the inside rear wheel.

Karts handle best when they can use the jacking effect, which is more difficult to achieve if there is a heavy weight offsetting the kart. If you’re using a rental kart, you might need to balance the opposite side of the kart with a weight, which would add to the overall weight of the kart and make it slower.

Best For Off-Road Karting

However, this engine is still an excellent option for dirt karting because of the additional power. The heavy weight of the engine can be positioned in different areas on a dirt kart, which prevents it from becoming unbalanced.

5. Honda GX160

Power: 4.8 HP | Weight: 15.1 kg / 33 lbs

The GX160 is another great option for kids’ karts. It has a low power output of 4.8 HP, which is slightly more than the GX120. This means that it’s a great engine for kids as they become older and progress into more powerful categories of karts. These engines are a bit too strong for kids under the age of six (in most cases).

However, these engines are not powerful enough to power heavier chassis. They will struggle with heavier weight, especially with older drivers. The GX160 engine is also incredibly lightweight at just 15.1 kilograms (33 lbs), just a mere 1.9 kilograms (4.1 lbs) heavier than the GX120 engine.

Good Power-To-Weight Ratio

The additional horsepower without a major increase in weight will give the kart a big performance boost. For kids who are still getting to grips with the sport, it’s the perfect stepping stone that allows them to progress into more powerful karts.

The low power output of 4.8 horsepower is also a drawback though, because it means that this engine can only be used for kids’ karts. The engine is not powerful enough to power a heavier chassis or a heavier driver.

In addition, there is a good chance that spare parts will be limited in your local area, just like with the GX120. This means that you may need to plan ahead to order spare parts and ship them in, or keep them in stock if you have the space.

Challenging maintenance is another factor to consider with the smaller GX160 engine. The engine is set up differently to the bigger engines, which means that you will likely need to use different tools and maintenance techniques. However, if you need a kart engine for younger kids, the Honda GX160 is a good one to consider.

Which Honda Engine Is Best For Rental Karts?

The most commonly used Honda engine for rental karts is the GX270. It’s more or less the mid-range engine from Honda, and while it might not be the most powerful with an output of 8.4 HP, it’s certainly powerful enough for a light rental kart chassis to race at decent speed.

If you’re looking to run a fleet of rental karts, you want to find an engine that is affordable and reliable. When it comes to rental karts, performance is not the main priority, so you’re most likely not going to be looking at the power output of the engine, or even the overall weight of the engine.

The GX270 engine has a decent dry weight of 25 kilograms (55 lbs). That’s not the lightest engine in the range, but it’s light enough to ensure that the kart will remain stable through the corners, and there is still a slight jacking effect.

Maintenance is also incredibly easy and affordable on these engines, and spare parts are readily available. Overall, this engine is an excellent choice for rental karts, and it’s recommended by some of the biggest rental karting brands, such as Sodi

Which Honda Engine Is Best For Dirt Karts?

The ideal Honda engine for dirt karting would be the GX390 because it has the most power in the range, at 11.7 HP. It might not sound like a massive amount of power, but with a light frame, your kart will have more than enough torque and power to offer impressive speed and acceleration.

In dirt karts, you want more power and torque. The weight of the engine is also an advantage in dirt karts unlike in rental karts. Having a heavier engine is good because it allows you to put some weight on the rear wheels. If you’re driving in mud or loose sand, putting more weight on the driven wheels can help to give you more traction.

How Do Honda Engines Compare To Rotax?

Honda engines are in an entirely different class from Rotax engines. The biggest difference between the two is that Honda engines are 4-stroke and Rotax engines are 2-stroke. You’ll immediately see and hear the difference between these two engines!

Rotax engines are used in professional karting series, such as the World Championships and many FIA events. This is the engine of choice because they’re fast, lightweight, and relatively easy to maintain, making them ideal for drivers to use in racing.

Honda’s 4-stroke engines are ideal for rental karts, and for cadet and mini karts because they are cheaper than Rotax karts. These four stroke engines are also weaker and heavier, which is normally a disadvantage in karting, but when you have kids or inexperienced drivers in the seat it can be helpful.

Final Thoughts

Honda manufactures some of the world’s best 4-stroke karting engines. They have affordable and reliable engines that come in a wide range of specifications. This allows kart owners to choose whichever engine suits their needs best. With such a wide range of engines to choose from, making a final decision is tough, but overall, the best choice is the GX270.