Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler vs competition

Team OD  /
09 May 2013 16:11:06 IST

The Indian 150cc motorcycle is stuck in time. Just look at how the pace of upgrades has slackened since Yamaha last created ripples with the R15, and more to our purpose for this story, the FZ. Since then, neither Yamaha themselves, nor any other manufacturer in the segment has launched anything significant in the segment. By significant I don't obviously mean the growing sales curves, but the pace of innovation and product differentiation. When Honda launched the new Dazzler, we thought it was time to take a long look at what your options in the 150cc segment really are. We did discover that the 150cc segment is slowly being cleaved into parts, one where the motorcycles supply the essential needs of the commuter - and this they do rather well - but refrain from going any further in terms of role or character. And the others which can commute, do commute, but appeal to us as products offering a sportier nature, even if the actual engine performance is roughly the same.

To compare the new Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler, we roped in all the important 150s of the market save for the new Bajaj Discover. Our current favourite has been the Yamaha FZ series and the original FZ16 is here to represent that family. The super sweet commuter, the Suzuki GS150R is here and the Hero Hunk aims for that same spot but with its rather extroverted styling. As is the TVS Apache RTR 160, perhaps the sportiest motorcycle in the segment in ergonomics and chassis geometry. And finally, there's the segment leader, the Bajaj Pulsar 150.

Styling and design

The FZ and the Dazzler are clearly the most dramatic looking of the lot. The new Honda is inspired by their CB1000R and it takes some of the cues to almost manga-like exaggeration, especially the twin 'sabre-tooths' that extend down from the tank. They serve little functional purpose but they do look distinctive. They also draw your eye away from the side panel, which otherwise would probably get criticised for being an almost unshaped expanse of plastic. I do like the rear end though, which looks compact and fresh. I also like the stubby, pretty large fairing front-on where it does add a sense of presence and mass to the Dazzler.

Overall, I think the Dazzler - and I must say that's a pretty strange name for a youth/male oriented motorcycle - looks neat. But personally, I still prefer the FZ's styling to it. I think the more traditional, thoroughly modern lines of the FZ make for a better looking motorcycle. I don't care much for the stickering on the FZ-S variant, but the Fazer with its fairing and the all-naked FZ both look pretty sweet - no mean achievement given how long it's been unchanged.

Among the others, the Pulsar desperately needs a styling upgrade. It's own success is its Achilles heel. It's hardly a plain looking motorcycle, but its now ubiquitous and almost too familiar. I've never really taken a shine to the Hunk, and its almost cartoonish lines remain a very personal choice. I think the CBZ X-Treme, which is mechanically identical, is actually the better looking 150 of the two Hero Hondas.

And finally, there's the Suzuki GS. It's easy to overlook the Suzuki, but it is a handsome motorcycle. Suzuki have tended to play it safe in the Indian market and the GS has some very sweet details that their conservative approach hides. The GS meters, for instance, are among the best in the segment in design, and I also happen to like the the tank and the tailpiece. Finally, the RTR is once more, a very appealing, compact motorcycle that we've always appreciated for its sense of sporty focus. Something that the styling articulates rather well.

In terms of build quality and finish, the Suzuki is perhaps the best here with the FZ only a hair behind. I have to admit that this is splitting hair, because none of these motorcycles are anywhere close to being shoddily finished or built.

Engines and performance

Engine performance, at first glance, is very closely matched. Three bikes top out at 14PS - the Dazzler, the GS and the FZ, the FZ makes its power at 7500rpm, a 1000rpm less than all of the bikes and 1500rpm below the Pulsar 150. The Pulsar and the RTR are the only two bikes that offer more than 15PS, while the Hunk, at 14.4PS straddles the middle. The FZ produces the most torque and at the lowest engine speeds. The Pulsar has clearly made a trade-off for the peak power and comes in last on the torque front, making 12.5Nm at 6500rpm.

But in front of a stopwatch the differences emerge clearly. The Hunk and the GS both prefer civil, refined progress and are among the slowest here. However, they also feel the most stress-free when ridden at full clip.

We were expecting the Dazzler to do a lot better now that the Honda engine has high lift cams and the promise of a more potent top-end than the Unicorn. However, it doesn't work out, because there just isn't enough power and whatever is available dies out a 1000rpm earlier. The motor sounds a little more gruff and busy than the Unicorn, but in performance terms it's still among the slowest motorcycles here. It posts the slowest times on practically every performance parameter.

Which brings us to the Pulsar, FZ and the RTR which are the front benchers. The Pulsar posts good times, but because of the displacement, torque and weight advantage, the FZ and the RTR both are quicker and faster flat out. The FZ's low-end torque allows it to whoosh to 60kmph in the quickest time here, marginally quicker than the RTR. And then, the biggest and most powerful engine, housed in the lightest motorcycle here takes over. The RTR simply has no match here on practically all performance parameters. It's not the most refined of engines and you can feel that in the vibes that it sends out to the handlebar and footpegs, but it's a bold, lusty engine that likes its revs and propels the motorcycle hard. The sound and drama is very much at odds with the FZ, which even at full throttle doesn't lose its essentially smooth quality. The FZ and the GS also have the slickest gearboxes here. The RTR, Hunk and Dazzler can be notchy and the Pulsar 150 can feel too light and under full throttle acceleration, the gearbox doesn't feel as positive as the others.

It's a close run thing between the FZ and the RTR, but the TVS, clearly has performance covered, while the GS is the most refined of the motorcycles. The FZ impresses by staying close to the GS' refinement as well as the RTR's performance. However, over highway runs, you do notice the difference between the Yamaha's strong low-rev performance and comparatively mild top-end gusto. We know from riding the race-kitted FZ that this motorcycle, when it finally gets the sort of lusty top-end it deserves is a thing of beauty. But in stock form, it must play second fiddle to the RTR on engine performance.RIDE, HANDLING & BRAKING

This is the tricky part of the test. No manufacturer makes motorcycles you can easily oust as a laggard, and given that, all the motorcycles here do a rather good job on the dynamics front. The differences, then, are perhaps more in terms of character than actual performance. In this lot, my pick for the cornering demon here rests with the FZ, with the RTR only marginally behind it. The FZ's taut chassis is overconfigured for this motorcycle and that combined with stiff suspension and great tyres - the sole production radial in India - makes it a joy to corner. Be warned that extra long peg feelers can grind down because the FZ encourages lean angles in this company like no other.

The Apache couldn't be more different. It's compact, it feels light and it is the quickest turning motorcycle here. So much so, that if you've spent some time with the RTR 180 with the longer wheelbase, the RTR 160 feels almost twitchy. The Hunk is next up. It's a likeable motorcycle to corner, although the expansive bodywork can, initially, make it feel a little large. The feeling passes and you get a solid cornering machine. The Pulsar is perhaps the most stable motorcycle here in corners, but this also makes the Bajaj the motorcycle that requires the most effort from you to initiate a turn. Ridden back to back, the initial impression of the Pulsar can be that it's unresponsive. But you get past that and discover a friendly, stable package that is very new-rider friendly. Like all Pulsars we know that at the very limit the Pulsar's handling unravels a bit as the suspension turns out too soft, but for street use, it's a nice motorcycle to be on.

I do wish the Dazzler was higher up this list. It's got the Unicorn's neutral chassis, stiffer suspension and better rubber. But in the handling arena, the battle is close and hard fought. And there isn't much difference in overall ability between the Hunk, Pulsar and Dazzler although they do feel different.

That leaves the GS. This is a solid motorcycle that does what it's told. I've said before that I would have liked a little more from the Suzuki in terms of cornering enjoyment, but the ability is solid. It strikes a great balance between ride quality and handling and therefore can't top the handlers list. The ride quality charts, then, are almost the exact reverse of the handling list. The Suzuki GS is the best here, offering a lovely, plush quality. The Hunk is almost the same but one notch below. All of the others grow progressively stiffer.

The Pulsar offers a famously supple ride that absorbs big bumps but feels good and the Dazzler is only the tiniest bit stiffer than the Bajaj. The FZ and the RTR are the stiffest sprung motorcycles here and the Yamaha, for instance, behaves a lot better if you back off the pre-load a little bit. In our daily riding, we've found our long-term Fazer acceptable over bad roads, but by the tiny margins that mark this entire test, it is the stiffest of the lot here.

In the braking department, the FZ and the RTR have the sharpest brakes. The Dazzler, Hunk, Pulsar and the GS offer friendly disc brake setups trading off initial bite for a more laid back sort of feel. The RTR stops from 60kmph in the shortest distance, while the Dazzler and the Pulsar 150 take the longest.

Verdict

Like I've said earlier, there are really two comparos happening here. The 150s that lean towards the commuter end of the spectrum are the Hunk, the GS and the Dazzler. The Pulsar's in the middle and the FZ and the RTR are the sportier end of the 150s. Of the first lot, I have to say - and we've said this before - the Pulsar is no longer the best motorcycle in the segment. It's a solid contender, but it's neither the sportiest motorcycle here, nor the best commuter.

The Hunk also loses out in its class because as likeable as it is, it's a big, soft 150. If you like the way it looks and rides, it is a good all-round 150 to ride, unfortunately, it isn't the best of its kind.

Honda on the other hand believes that young customers who don't like the Unicorn's staid styling will be charmed by the Dazzler with its styling and the rear disc brake. It does have equipment, on that front, but as enjoyable as it is to ride with its newfound seamless power delivery that extends into the higher revs as well, the handlebars now feel too tall.

And that essentially brings us back to the Suzuki GS150R. Right at the first test, we said that the GS felt a little underwhelming to ride in terms of enjoyment, but that single point aside, it's the best commuter-oriented 150 on the market in this group. It's high quality is unmissable, it's super comfortable, has great ride quality and when corners come up, it handles them rather well too. It also happens to have one of the best pillion perches of this lot.

On the other side of the fence, the FZ and RTR are having a torrid battle of their own. The TVS has the performance crown here and it is, by a slim margin the cheapest 150 in this group. The RTR's only issue is that it's so quick and agile that it can almost be disconcerting. It can feel nervous if the rider isn't up to it and its size is a big factor as well. It's almost too compact and riding it two up can be awkward and even one-up, if you're a slightly larger person, the RTR will feel cramped.

It's the combination of all of those factors that once more, elevates the FZ to the top of the table. It's an effortless motorcycle to trundle or to buzz along. We do wish that Yamaha would release some more punch at the top-end - the race-kitted FZ is a totally different, far hungrier animal - but that and the tiny pillion seat aside, the FZ is a great 150. It's great fun to pilot, it can corner with impressive poise and it has some of the best brakes in the segment as well. It is a little expensive, but it also boasts great build quality and lately, a good reputation for reliability as well.

What I particularly like about the FZ is that it feels sporty without resorting to the committed ergonomics of the RTR or allowing the feeling of riding it to become frenetic, something the RTR tends to favour. You sit in a sporty enough position, but it's a comfortable position for commuting. That's why it wins the sporty-commuter, er, sub-comparison. We just wish that Yamaha would take the best 150 in the market and give it the thorough upgrade it needs to stay well clear of the competition.

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