The Kawasaki Z800 has been around for a while now. The most affordable in-line four-cylinder motorcycle was launched at the Auto Expo ’14. Dressed in green, the streetfighter received a lot of applauses from motorcycle aficionados in the country. At the same time, Honda also announced their own in-line four, the CBR 650F. A year and a half later, it is finally here, and immediately got us shaking our legs impatiently to get on Honda’s segment entrée.
Before we tell you what the motorcycle is like, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the CBR 650F’s price tag. Honda has priced its middleweight at Rs 7.30 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), which puts it in the same price league as the Kawasaki’s naked Hulk, the Z800. Both motorcycles are Japanese in-line fours, but the Kawasaki has a bigger engine, and at almost the same price. Thus we decided to pit the two against each other, and find out which one gives a better bang for the buck.
Honda has retained some of its CBR DNA in the 650F, but has held back from giving it the all-out aggressive appeal that its sibling, the CBR 600RR has. It looks a tad more conservative from the front, with the nose housing a single, conical headlamp. Above that is a large, clear windscreen with nicely designed rear-view mirrors mounted on the fairing.
The CBR comes with a broad, split instrument cluster, which works quite well, displaying all essential information that is easy to read even under sunlight. The clip-on handlebars are well positioned, and the quality of the switchgear is noteworthy. The control levers are finished in buffed alloy and the front brake lever is reach-adjustable.
The CBR is fully faired with cutaways showing off its engine, which is a nice touch. The fuel tank is well designed and nicely contoured to provide enough thigh grip. The seat is a slim single-piece unit, but is roomy enough for the rider to move around in, settle into a sporty crouch or shift weight when cornering. We rode the motorcycle with a pillion for extended periods of time, and neither the rider, nor the pillion were uncomfortable. The tail section of the motorcycle houses an LED tail-light.
On the other hand, the Kawasaki Z800 looks meaner and more muscular. The headlamp is low-set, and has tri-pod instruments on top. This unit, however, is a touch less legible than the CBR in bright sunlight. It has a straight, single-piece handlebar with good-quality switchgear. The Z800 too gets buffed alloy levers, and a reach-adjustable front brake lever. The fuel tank on this one is quite large with an angular design, and lends the bike the extra muscle. The seat for the rider is comfortable, however, the same cannot be said about the pillion seat, which is high and petite. The LED tail-lamp in comparison is razor sharp.
Dimensionally, the Honda is slightly longer and taller, while the Z is marginally wider. Not just this, the CBR has a wheelbase that's 5mm longer at 1,449mm. The Kawasaki looks bulkier, and is, about 16kg heavier.
Honda has given the CBR a 648.7cc, in-line, four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine that outputs 85.3bhp at 11,000rpm. Torque is good too, with the middleweight churning out 6.4kgm at 8,000rpm. The engine stays smooth as silk from the get-go, quickly and effortlessly climbing through a widespread powerband all the way until redline.
The Kawasaki gets a larger, 806cc, in-line, four-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine that makes much higher power, 111.4bhp at 10,200rpm. Torque is substantially higher as well – 8.5kgm at 8,000rpm. Power and torque from the high-revving engine are available quite low down the rev range, making this a really effortless bike to ride under all conditions. The engine pulls hard and fast, with a refined edge all the way to the top.
The Honda CBR 650F might not be an all-out track tool, but it seldom fails to disappoint. Twist the throttle, and torque is urgently delivered. Find a good, open road, keep the throttle pinned, and the rev limiter is hit fairly quickly. Complementing that is the otherwise silent exhaust note, which turns into a scream as the engine revs faster. The gearbox is butter-smooth and intuitive too. As the digits on the speedometer climb, you’ll find yourself approaching speeds in the proximity of 160kph really quickly. It took 2.35sec for the new CBR to reach 60kph, 4.23sec to touch 100kph and 9.59sec to 160kph. The sprint to 200kph takes 19.47sec, which is impressive for the class. All this while, the large and well- designed windscreen keeps you in relative comfort, with no wind buffeting even at speeds over 170kph.
On the open roads, the Kawasaki is quicker than the CBR. The Z800 touches 60kph in 2.31sec, 100kph is crossed in 3.90sec and 160kph in 7.96sec. We were able to push the green monster up to a top speed of 220kph before we ran out of road. Unlike the CBR, holding speeds in excess of 160kph becomes a challenge because of the lack of a fairing, and no wind protection. An average middleweight motorcycle owner practically spends more time ambling around in traffic rather than on the racetrack. This is where the Kawasaki Z800 has the upper hand, being easier to manoeuver through traffic. The heavier feeling and steering Honda CBR takes a lot more planning when it comes to riding in traffic.
The CBR gets telescopic forks up front, and a monoshock at rear. These are set slightly stiffly, but work well to keep the motorcycle planted on the road, and firmly in corners. Sadly, even at the premium at which it is sold, it misses out on upside-down forks. To make up for this, the Honda does however get an alloy swingarm.
The Kawasaki does have USDs in front, and similarly a monoshock at the rear. It is however tuned to be a bit softer, and is slightly more comfortably sprung than the CBR 650F. The Z800 despite the added comfort does hold lines well through corners too. It misses out on an alloy swingarm though, and makes do instead with a steel box section unit.
Brakes on the Honda CBR 650F are twin 320mm petal rotor units in front, and a 240mm petal disc at rear. Anti-lock braking comes standard, and works flawlessly, with just the right amount of bite and feel at the levers. On the other hand, the Kawasaki Z800 gets slightly smaller twin 310mm petal rotor discs on the front, but a slightly larger 250mm petal rotor unit at rear. ABS is standard here too, all working flawlessly under every circumstance we threw its way. Both the motorcycles use Dunlop tyres, and are similarly tyred with 120/70 section rubber in front and 180/55 units at rear, on 17-inch alloys. Grip levels are as a result equally good on both.
Out in the ghats, the CBR 650F, although sure-footed, is a lot heavier to manage than the Z800 and doesn’t feel as agile or nimble. This is again where the Z800 emerges on top, as it simply loves changing direction.
The Honda CBR 650F is a great motorcycle, and we really can’t pick any really major flaws with it. It gets full marks in terms of quality and equipment, as well as performance. In fact, for anyone entering into the middleweight segment, this makes for a great superbike to begin with. But then you can go only so far on it before you’ll want to upgrade into bigger shoes. At virtually the same price, the Kawasaki Z800 brings more to the table. Once you’re up to speed, you can push your limits harder and go further than on a CBR 650F. Not only is the Z800 more mature a motorcycle, but it also looks and sounds better.
Honda has gone overboard with pricing of the CBR 650F, and despite it being a great motorcycle, that’s the single biggest reason why this new motorcycle loses out and has to play second fiddle to virtually every other rival in the class.