There is no replacement for displacement, as goes the old American saying, with which the rest of the world often nods in agreement. Increase in the number of cubic centimeters of fuel that our engines burn, seems only to be a pleasant idea to almost every petrolhead. More power, more torque and a healthier sounding grunt from the exhaust are the common expectations from larger engines. Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) has walked this same path, to add 10 extra cubic centimeters of capacity to the now proven CB Unicorn engine, to make the Honda CB Unicorn 160.
Although some of the features of the older CB Unicorn have been bettered, we’ve gone ahead and pitched it right in at the deep end, to face off against the very best in the segment to find out the exact degree to which this motorcycle has improved. So, in steps the Suzuki Gixxer, a Japanese-made premium commuter that’s fast rising to the top of its segment, with enough promise to overshadow all of the competition as the market stands today.
The CB Unicorn 160 and Suzuki Gixxer make sharp-looking, modern motorcycles, and in the case of the Unicorn, it definitely is a leap forward from the plain-jane looks of the previous one. It has a much sleeker looking headlamp, and sharper lines across its sides. Standing side by side, the Gixxer is clearly the more muscular bike though, with more bulges showing through in its tank region, and a hunkered down headlamp cluster. It even has beefier tyres, which only add to the motorcycle’s powerful presence.
Look at the two of them from the back, and you could notice a larger rear wheel arch on the Gixxer, giving it a more action packed look. Even the grab-rails look meaner, split and neatly incorporated into the rear cowl. Among all this, a highlight remains the Gixxer’s stubby exhaust, which has chrome finish to its side and end. The end also has a dual-pipe finish, which gives it a more sporty air than the Unicorn 160’s old school, more conventional longer unit.
Get astride, and there is a huge difference in how these two motorcycles feel. The Gixxer has a sporty, slightly forward inclined, legs-back seating position. Still not too extreme though, and you can get comfortable with a little adjustment. The Honda, on the other hand, has a more upright, truly comfortable seating position, as you sit with a straight back, legs straight down and arms wide apart, and relaxed. While you sit comfortably on the Unicorn 160, it still does not feel as ergonomic as the Gixxer. You have to stretch a little to meet the handlebars, just that wee bit extra than the Gixxer, which feels well thought out. Also, while overall quality and build is good on both Jap bikes, the Honda seems to have taken some important steps backwards, for example the position of the choke on the Honda has moved down next to the carburettor, below the tank, and you have to reach down to engage it. Likewise, you will feel disappointed, like you’ve taken a step backwards, when you see that there are now tubular steel sub-frame sections that mount both pillion footrests, instead of up-market alloy bits as Honda were previously offering 150 buyers on the original Unicorn. Then there’s the lack of a clutch adjustment nut at the left control lever on the Honda. The Gixxer, on the other hand, clearly feels more generously equipped, in so many ways.
The main talking point of the comparison here though, is the Unicorn’s larger heart. The 162.7cc, four-stroke, carbureted motor now outputs 14.5bhp at 8,000rpm and 1.5kgm of torque at 6,000rpm. Thumb the starter and this refined Honda engine comes to life with barely a frown, and a dash of extra grunt in its stronger exhaust note, before settling down into a smooth idle. Rev the Honda hard and the needle swings rapidly to meet its redline, at about 11,000 revs. Honda has totally redesigned its powerhouse, increasing torque with a longer stroke than before.
On the other hand, you’ve got a 155cc, four-stroke, carburetor-fed Suzuki engine in the Gixxer. This makes a little higher power, 14.6bhp and 1.43kgm of torque at the same engine speeds as the Honda. Bring the motor to life and it sounds potent and gruff, and easily able to settle into a steady idle. When you rev the motor on the Gixxer, it spins just as eagerly to the redline as the Honda.
HITCH AND RUN
The riding characters of these two commuter bikes feels completely different. The Honda has stability and loves following a straight line. Not that it won’t turn that easily, but just that it feels a little less comfortable around corners than the Gixxer. The shorter wheelbase and better suspension are great contributing factors. Take the two out on empty roads and the differences become even more apparent.
Wring the throttle, and the Gixxer shoots off with a well-tuned low and mid-range power delivery, eagerly, but with power tapering off rather quickly once you reach higher rpm. The Unicorn, on the other hand, has a much better tuned mid and high-end power delivery, and feels faster, which it is! Take a look at our performance table with this test to check the finer details, although numbers aside, both these bikes feel evenly matched when ridden hard. It takes a little more to reach the Honda’s mid-range, and once there, it’s no trouble to stay here, the new bike staying as smooth as expected of all Hondas, and relatively vibe free.
Bringing both motorcycles to a stop is a different experience on each of these two Japanese rivals. The Suzuki Gixxer uses Bybre, which is Brembo in India. The brakes manufacturing giant sells its small-to-mid segment-focussed brakes under this name, and they work well. The brakes on the Gixxer offer good initial bite and excellent feedback. The story isn’t so rosy with the Unicorn 160 brakes though. Although the manufacturer has installed its Combined Braking System (CBS) on the top-of-the-line bike, braking performance isn’t as confidence-inspiring, which can be attributed to Honda not matching the Suzuki on suspension or tyres. The Nissin-made front disc brakes feel progressive. With CBS, when you apply the rear brake, the front is also applied to some measure, but despite that, the lack of equal tyres and skinnier forks in front meant the Honda lagged behind the Suzuki and didn’t feel as confident.
As far as ride quality goes, the Honda feels absolutely smooth over bumps and needs a serious challenge from the roads to upset it, pliant at all times. The Suzuki is well sprung too, with its fat 41mm front forks performing quite well on broken roads. However, more stiffly sprung and sporty feeling as compared to the Unicorn 160, makes it a touch less easy to live with on poor roads. Take these bikes to the mountains, and here’s where the Gixxer overshadows the Unicorn 160, by a fair margin. The stiffer suspension, well balanced weight and wider, superior compound MRF tyres make this an eager bike to enter and exit corners. The Unicorn feels less inclined to attack corners with as much gusto, and is no match at the handling stakes.
Just how much of a step up is the Honda Unicorn 160 over the previous Unicorn? Let’s answer that – not much really. It’s not a completely new motorcycle from the grounds up as Honda would like you to believe. It has a tweaked, higher capacity engine though, and feels a touch more torquey now.
We managed 42.4kpl in the city and a better 48.6kpl on the highway astride the Honda. In comparison, the Gixxer managed an almost just as good 41.7kpl in the city and 44.2kpl on the highway.
To sum it up, were we to pick between them, it’s the Gixxer that wins hands down. The Honda, although better in some ways than its predecessor, is just not good enough to match the Suzuki, a superior machine in so many ways. The bolder Suzuki is way more agile and confident, feeling far more willing to take on what riders ask of it. The Gixxer it is then, a clear winner in this test and that much more complete feeling a motorcycle, whereas the Unicorn
160 leaves us wanting for so much more in the end.