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2017 Pulsar NS160 vs FZ-S FI vs Gixxer vs Hornet comparison

19th Sep 2017 11:24 am

Does the Pulsar NS160 have what it takes to make a splash in the established premium, sporty 150-160cc segment?

It’s really interesting to see how the 150cc space in India has evolved ever since the Hero Honda CBZ was launched way back in 1999. These 0.15-litre offerings have progressed from being the highest performance domestic bikes to lust after (after the two-strokes got outlawed) to commuters (think Unicorn, GS150 and SZ150), to now encompassing a virtual smorgasbord of motorcycle styles. The big step up in the game started with the original Yamaha FZ16, which really introduced the idea of ‘premiumness’ in the 150cc segment. Others have followed suit, and this niche sub-segment has been occupied by three bikes, the Yamaha FZ-S FI v2.0, Suzuki Gixxer and Honda CB160R Hornet, for the last few years. It may be a little late to the game, but Bajaj has now jumped in with a new Pulsar, the NS160, to take on this lot. It certainly looks like a strong contender, both on paper and in the flesh. But what does this mean for the segment?

Design

The NS160 looks nearly identical to its larger sibling, the NS200 which has been around since 2011, with the differences being the mechanical bits such as the engine, forks, swingarm and tyres. That means the newest bike of this lot has the oldest design; ironic! That’s not to say it’s a stale design from any angle, and it manages to look as exciting, if not more, in this well-established company. Classy graphics, a chunky fuel tank and sharp panels culminating in a tidy tail give the Pulsar a muscly demeanour, though the skinny rubber does create a bit of a chicken leg syndrome.

The best-looking bike, we think, and many would agree, is the Hornet, with its beefy fuel-tank design (devoid of floating panels) and angular lines. Even though the plain black and silver bike we’ve got here isn’t available in this exact pattern anymore (now available in much funkier colour schemes), it still manages to look striking thanks to its handsome proportions. And that 'X'-shaped tail-light is simply delectable.

The original Yamaha FZ16 was the bike that got this brawny design language back in the day, and its silhouette is more or less unchanged on the FZ-S FI. However, we do believe that the cleaner panels of the previous bike were more fetching, and all the extra stickering makes this current FZ’s design look a little too busy, which detracts a bit from the bike’s bulk. And in design terms, the Gixxer started off almost as an FZ clone, so it’s easy to see a lot of similarities in the two. However, the Suzuki manages to look leaner and more chiselled in places, and the less cluttered aesthetic scores high in our books. But it has the least ‘big-bike’ feel in this lot and that could be a seen as a negative by some. 

 

150cc comparison

The Hornet, Gixxer and FZ offer all-LCD instrumentation, yet again a trend that the Yamaha kicked off, while the Pulsar gets an analogue tachometer next to a digital panel identical to the NS200's. From the three fully digital instrument clusters, the FZ’s misses out on a gear position indicator as well as a clock. The Gixxer’s and Hornet’s displays are equally informative, but the Suzuki’s is the best laid out and easiest to read. However, there’s no denying the slightly old-school charm of an analogue tacho like that on the NS160, even though it lacks a gear position indicator.

When it comes to switchgear, the Honda’s feels a bit outdated and is missing a kill switch as well, which makes it feel like it was lifted straight from one of its smaller displacement bikes. The Pulsar’s backlit switches are a nice touch but don’t score very high in terms of tactile quality. The Gixxer’s and FZ’s switchgear is very similar in design and feel, and definitely the segment benchmark.

Technical Specifications
Yamaha FZ-S FISuzuki GixxerHonda CB160 HornetBajaj Pulsar NS160
Engine layoutSingle-cyl, air-cooledSingle-cyl, air-cooledSingle-cyl, air-cooledSingle-cyl, air-and-oil cooled
Displacement149cc159.4cc162.71cc160.3cc
Power13.2hp at 8000rpm14.8hp at 8000rpm15.25hp at 8500rpm15.5hp at 8500rpm
Torque12.8Nm at 6000rpm14Nm at 6000rpm14.7Nm at 6500rpm14.6Nm at 6500rpm
Gearbox5-speed5-speed5-speed5-speed
L/W/H2073mm/770mm/1050mm2050mm/785mm/1030mm2041mm/783mm/1067mm2012mm/803.5mm/1060mm
Wheelbase1330mm1330mm1345mm1363mm
Seat height790mm780mm790mm805mm
Ground clearance160mm160mm164mm170mm
Fuel capacity12 litres12 litres12 litres12 litres
Kerb weight132kg135kg140kg142kg
ChassisDiamond frameDiamond frameDiamond framePerimeter Frame
Front suspensionTelescopic forksTelescopic forksTelescopic forksTelescopic forks
Rear suspensionMonoshockMonoshockMonoshockMonoshock
Front brake242mm disc266mm disc276mm disc240mm disc
Rear brake130mm drum220mm disc / 130mm drum220mm disc / 130mm drum130mm drum
Tyres (F/R)100/80x17 / 140/60x17100/80x17 / 140/60x17100/80x17 / 140/60x1780/100x17 / 110/80x17

Ergonomics

Let’s get one thing clear – these are not out-and-out performance bikes and as such, they need to handle everyday riding duties. So, riding positions and comfort levels are critical. Hop off one bike on to the others and you’ll realise that they all have somewhat similar ergonomics – fairly upright sitting stances, requiring only a slight lean forward to reach the wide handlebars with mildly rear-set footpegs. However, the Honda feels slightly awkward with the odd, slightly high placement of the footpegs, and I also found one of the character lines on the tank to be a bit pokey when gripping hard with my thighs; one of my taller colleagues, Rishaad, had no such problem though. The NS160 is a very familiar bike to sit on, if you’ve ridden any of the modern Pulsars, such as the NS200 and AS200, before. At 805mm, the Pulsar’s seat height is the tallest amongst this lot, and while it’s not tall enough to deter shorter riders, it does make the bike a bit top-heavy. But the NS feels bigger than the other three, and that is something that will appeal to a lot of buyers.

While the FZ-S FI and Gixxer might be similar looking, there are a few crucial differences in how they feel from the saddle. The Yamaha’s seating geometry is a lot more neutral and immediately more comfort-oriented. The pegs aren’t set too far back, you sit fairly upright and the seat is quite accommodating as well. It’s perfectly suited for both, city commuting and even long-distance riding duties. Though not by a huge margin, the Suzuki feels the sportiest in terms of its riding position. It’s also the slimmest bike here and this allows for a much better interface with the rider’s thighs when holding on to the tank. While there are some who might prefer the other bikes because of their burlier stance, we absolutely love this slimness as it helps the Gixxer feel extremely connected when you’re chucking the bike from corner to corner.

Engines and performance

The FZ-S v2.0 is the oldest bike in this lot but is the only one with fuel injection. With 13.2hp and 12.8Nm, it actually makes lesser power and torque compared to its predecessor and has the lowest figures here. Even though it’s the lightest bike here, its lower output figures mean that it accelerates to 100kph from a standstill in 21.77sec. There is decent mid-range thrust to be had, though it quickly runs out of breath as the revs climb and lacks a strong top-end. But what it loses out in outright performance, it makes up for in refinement and efficiency. The riding experience remains vibration-free almost all through the rev range, making it great for the urban hustle. And in this city environment, it returns a mileage figure of 46.5kpl – the best here! Out on the highway, it manages 48.6kpl.

The Hornet is more powerful than the FZ-S FI and the Gixxer, and the performance really shows. Zero to 100kph is dispensed off in just 16.51sec, thanks to the 162.71cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled mill producing 15.25hp of peak power and 14.7Nm of peak torque. It has great low-end response, but as the rpm climbs, so do the vibrations, in a manner that’s quite uncharacteristic to a Honda. In fact, any sustained high-speed riding on the Hornet feels quite stressful thanks to the high vibrations. While this is the same motor from the Unicorn 160, the higher state of tune has also led to a drop in fuel economy. In city conditions, it managed 39.5kpl and on the highway, this number rose to 48kpl, which is quite respectable.

Performance
Yamaha FZ-S FISuzuki GixxerHonda CB160 HornetBajaj Pulsar NS160
0-60kph5.6s5.3s5.07s4.88s
0-100kph21.77s19.25s16.51s15.33s
30-60kph (3rd gear)5.94s5.45s5.91s4.83s
40-80kph (4th gear)8.55s10.03s11.91s8.12s
Braking 60-0kph17.55m16.1m16.9m19.87m

The Gixxer has always been our darling when it comes to performance. Though its 154.9cc engine has a lower output than the Hornet (14.8hp and 14Nm), and 0-100 is quite a way off (19.25sec), the motor does feel very sprightly when you’re riding. There’s lots of mid-range grunt available and in roll-on acceleration, it outpaces the Hornet. In 3rd gear, it gets from 30 to 60kph in 5.45sec, while in 4th, it does 40 to 80kph in 10.03sec; the Hornet takes 5.91 and 11.91sec, respectively. In the real world, this quickness in the mid-range helps the Gixxer feel faster than the Hornet. It a lot more refined compared to the Hornet too, although it can’t match the smoothness of the FZ-S FI. However, the Gixxer does take a hit when it comes to mileage, managing 41.7kpl in the city and only 44.2kpl on the highway.

What surprised us here was the Pulsar NS160. While the air-and-oil-cooled motor makes the highest power and second highest torque figures here – 15.5hp and 14.6Nm  – we expected its heaviest-in-class kerb weight of 142kg to throw off the performance a little bit. But the motor is extremely rev-happy and the run from 0 to 100kph took just 15.33sec. And this showed even in the in-gear acceleration figures, with the Pulsar taking just 8.12sec to get from 40 to 80kph. Thanks to its shorter gearing, it’s extremely tractable at slow speeds as well. And to top things off, this is the smoothest Pulsar engine till date. Even at a steady 100kph, when the tacho needle had climbed past 9,000rpm, there were no vibrations at the handlebars, with the buzz felt only in the pegs. That said, it can’t match the refinement levels of the Gixxer or the FZ, and feels smoother than the Hornet only at the top end. And, to be honest, even though the engine doesn’t feel too stressed at higher revs, it sounds a bit thrashy. City mileage wasn’t impressive at 40.7kpl, but just like its performance figures, the highway efficiency blew us away by hitting 53.4kpl.

Fuel efficiency
Yamaha FZ-S FISuzuki GixxerHonda CB160 HornetBajaj Pulsar NS160
City46.5kpl41.7kpl39.5kpl40.7kpl
Highway48.6kpl44.2kpl48.0kpl53.4kpl

Ride and handling

When it comes to chassis, suspension and rubber, it seems that Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda all took the same page from the same book – a conventional diamond type frame, fat telescopic forks up front, a monoshock at the back, 17-inch wheels at both ends shod with identically sized tyres. The way they’re all setup is quite different though. The Hornet feels softest of the lot, but it’s the FZ that handles broken roads best. While the way the FZ turns into corners isn’t ponderous, it’s not as sharp as the Gixxer and Pulsar. Neither the Hornet nor the Gixxer offers a plush feel over bad roads. That said, while the Suzuki has the same 160mm ground clearance of the FZ, it tends to squat quite a bit when carrying a pillion and can even end up scraping its underbelly on taller speed breakers if you don’t jack up the preload on the rear suspension.

However, the way the Gixxer handles is just phenomenal – it turns quickly, feels planted through the corners and the chassis and tyres are extremely communicative. You can literally get off a proper sportbike, hop on the little Suzuki, take it for a spin around some winding roads, and you’ll still have a smile plastered on your face. The Hornet is a bit odd here because even though it turns in rather quickly, the soft suspension robs mid-corner stability and the bike ends up feeling a bit twitchy for it.

 

150cc comparison

The Pulsar stands out here. It has skinnier forks than the others and much slimmer tyres, but it does boast a beefy perimeter frame that's borrowed from the NS200. It also has the longest wheelbase. So, even though it’s very quick to change direction, it doesn’t sacrifice any mid-corner stability. The suspension is a bit on the stiffer side, but that doesn't make it uncomfortable over bumps by any means. It’s a fun bike to ride but lacks that intimate connection of the Gixxer, which is hands down the most engaging and enjoyable handler of the four.

When it comes to brakes, the Hornet has the largest front disc and also offers a rear disc setup. Even the Gixxer has a rear disc option, while the Pulsar and FZ only come with a drum brake at the back. However, it’s the Pulsar and FZ which have the best braking feel and offer very accurate modulation at the lever, even though their smaller brakes have them shedding speed over the longest distance. Both the Gixxer and Hornet’s bigger rotors and front-rear disc brakes help deliver the best braking performance. However, feel at the lever for the Hornet is a bit vague, while the Gixxer’s is even more so. ABS is not an option on any of these bikes, but the Hornet offers optional CBS.

Verdict

The Gixxer, FZ-S FI and the Hornet have been around for a while now and have been compared endlessly. Of the three, the Gixxer has been our favourite thanks to how its punchy motor and incredible handling come together to create a brilliant everyday bike. The new Pulsar does a lot of things right, and if we had to pick between the NS160, the FZ and the Hornet, we would veer towards the Bajaj. It’s good looking, nimble, tractable, frugal and fairly comfortable. Sure, it won’t outdo the FZ in pure commuting duties and long-term reliability, but it undercuts both the Yamaha and Honda in pricing. It's also the fastest bike here as well. However, if you’re like us, who likes their 150cc (or 160cc in some cases) bikes to be more sporty than 'commuter-y', then the Gixxer is probably the bike for you. It’s just that much more rounded in the thrills it offers and a little lighter on the wallet too!

Price
Yamaha FZ-S FISuzuki GixxerHonda CB160 HornetBajaj Pulsar NS160
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)Rs 83,042*Rs 77,015*/Rs 80,121**Rs 81,836*/Rs 86,303**Rs 78,368*

*Disc/Drum variant  

**Disc/Disc variant

Disclaimer: The Suzuki Gixxer and Honda CB160 Hornet used for this shoot are BS3 models. However, all testing was done with the latest BS4 models of these bikes.

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