The Dominar is a young motorcycle. It first came into being in the form of the Pulsar CS400 at the 2014 Auto Expo; and it only went into production as the Dominar 400 at the tail-end of 2016. In the slightly-over-two years it has been on Indian roads, however, the Dominar’s journey has been an eventful one. From trying to dominate the night to dissuading you from adopting elephants (ahem!) to finally, doing something called ‘hyper riding’ – the Dominar has kept Bajaj’s advertising division on its toes.
However, despite all of that, and despite being a fast bike thanks to its KTM 390 Duke-sourced motor, the Dominar didn’t exactly turn out to be a runaway success. This is because it was the perfect recipe on paper, but not so much in the real world. Now, Bajaj thinks it has taken the necessary action to change all of that. And thankfully, the advertising folks have been asked to take it easy and not come up with anything new. Let’s find out what exactly this new Dominar 400 is all about, by answering five important questions.
IS IT FANCIER?
Only a little bit more. Visually, the Dominar is largely unchanged, except for some bits of bodywork that have been blacked-out, the swanky new mirror-stalks and mirrors, and the wheels, which have gone back from being gold-coloured to black with polished-metal outer edges. The exhaust end-can is now a double-barrel unit and stealthily wears a matte-black coat while also sounding louder and throatier. A senior colleague present at the ride event did express his concerns about the upward-opening exhaust tips with regards to water ingress – and while Bajaj claims to have tested it for the same, I suspect it may have to be reworked. The headlight remains a full-LED unit and should offer the same performance as before, which is absolutely fine.
Apart from that, there’s nothing new to see here – a missed opportunity, perhaps, since the Dominar could do with some purposeful bits of trim to highlight its abilities as a highway-hauler. Maybe Bajaj has reserved that for an adventure-styled variant, but that’s not something we are certain of, at present. For now, it does get a set of four bungee straps under the pillion seat which is a small (and inexpensive) but thoughtful touch.
Interesting changes have been made to the rider’s interface. In addition to the fully digital instrumentation, which was already very good if not dramatic in any way, the secondary display panel (neatly integrated into the fuel tank) now issues readouts rather than hosting a bank of tell-tale lights as it did on the previous version. On this panel, you now get a scroll of data about dynamic and average fuel consumption, average speed, trip time and fuel range. Unfortunately, this display doesn’t fall within one’s peripheral vision and one has to look down, eyes off the road, to be able to read it. The mode and settings buttons now flank this display rather than the main screen and pushing them does make the unit move around inwards; it could have been integrated with some finesse, I’d say. Apart from that, the Dominar continues to offer back-lit switches, good switchgear, generous mirrors and an air of conservative premium-ness that suits its profile fairly well.
GOOD VIBES ONLY?
You already know where the original Dominar got its motor from, so I’m not going to bore you. Instead, let’s get on with what it did. With 35hp coming in at 8,000 rpm, and 35Nm of torque being churned out at 6,500 rpm, the last-gen Dominar was a seriously fast bike. Fuel-injection did its bit to keep things smooth and Bajaj even plonked in a set of three spark plugs, but the result was a motorcycle that was capable but not exactly refined throughout its rev range. This being Bajaj’s biggest single-cylinder motor (KTM, Bajaj, same thing, right?) thus far, made it somewhat acceptable to excuse this lack of perfection; but there was, undeniably, room for improvement.
On the new Dominar, that room has been filled up neatly. The new model is noticeably more refined thanks to improvements to the balancer shaft and the vibrations – mild, at best – emerge only past 8,000rpm, at the seat and the pegs. At the handlebar, they are largely muted, which goes a long way in making it a comfortable mile-muncher down the highway.
IS IT FASTER?
Yes it is. With 39.9hp (let’s just call it a 5hp increment, and therefore 40hp) being produced at a higher-than-before 8,650rpm and the same quantity of torque as before (although coming in 500rpm later), it instantly comes across as faster. Of course, it isn’t monumentally faster or anything, but it now packs that wee bit of extra punch that just makes it seem more confident to take on the roads.
More importantly, thanks to some thoughtful R&D hours Bajaj has clocked in, the Dominar now feels crisper and more at ease being ridden at high speeds, which goes on to make it that crucial bit happier over a day of long-distance riding. In this state of tune, the 373cc mill is less secretive about its KTM 390 genes; the older bike somehow felt more like a grown-up Pulsar NS200 than a scaled-down Duke. Throttle input effort and response has improved marginally and the already-good mid-range, generous serving of torque and niggle-free 6-speed gearbox all go on to make the Dominar better suited to what 'hyper riding' must be all about.
However, Bajaj should have taken this opportunity to introduce ride-by-wire to the Dominar, especially since it is freer of price constraints, but I suppose it has reserved it for the BS-VI version that will go on sale in 2020. Nevertheless, Bajaj has taken the Dominar's power figure much closer to the KTM 390 Duke and achieved this by moving to a DOHC set-up, while retaining the unique three-sparkplug design. The engineers have also increased compression ratio from the outgoing Dominar’s 11.3:1 to 12:1 – which means the engine may run a little bit hotter than before. Further, the redline has risen marginally from 9,800rpm to just over 10,000rpm. Given that it is now more powerful and also marginally heavier (by 2.5kg, even though the power-to-weight ratio has gone up from 192hp/tonne to 217hp/tonne), I do expect fuel-efficiency to drop by a sliver and our full road test should put that to rest.
The other fly in the Dominar-branded ointment was its suspension. On the previous model, Bajaj did quite well with the ergonomics for both, rider and pillion, and the seats were also generous and well-crafted. However, the firm suspension set-up sort of undid all that good work. Sure, on a smooth-as-silk surface, the Dominar benefitted hugely by being a poised corner-carver with immense high-speed stability; but on the sort of road that is usually a part of life in India, it wasn’t quite right.
Thankfully, Bajaj has proven, time and again, that it is a good listener and so this aspect was given some serious consideration and acted upon. One fine day, the R&D gentlemen wheeled-in an Endurance open-cartridge upside-down fork (nicked from the current 390 Duke’s production line), and immediately got around to bolting it onto the Dominar’s front end. This was, in fact, what the Dominar could have been offered with all along, had it not been for Bajaj’s then RE-conscious pricing constraints (the Pulsar CS400 concept wore USDs as well).
The 43mm USD fork is heavier (the old fork was a 43mm unit as well) but also offers softer spring action. However, I cannot tell you if this softer set-up has resulted in a slight loss of very-high-speed stability (just like on the new 390 Duke, as compared to the older one) since I only rode it on a public road and not on Bajaj’s test track. Even better news, though, is that the preload-adjustable monoshock is a significant improvement over the sometimes-unbearable monoshock offered on the older Dominar – and while the unit itself is the same, Bajaj has worked on re-engineering its mannerisms and it surely has made a world of a difference. Very impressive.
STILL A LOT OF VALUE?
Ever since Bajaj decided (or was left with no option) to stray away from targeting Royal Enfield motorcycles (if not that demographic entirely) the Dominar became destined for a better life. Now free from price restrictions or a more traditionalist approach, Bajaj has been able to make the Dominar exactly how good it should have been in the first place. However, this means that the subsequent price revision may not be an aggressively competitive one and can, instead, be a component-for-component-styled hike.
Having said that, Bajaj has written a success story or two in the business of selling motorcycles and so, with all of that considered, it would be fair to expect a sticker price of Rs 1.80 lakh, which is Rs 17,000 more than the outgoing Dominar 400’s Rs 1.63 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). At this price, the updated Dominar will still handsomely undercut the rest of its rivals – like the BMW G310R, TVS Apache RR 310, the newly-launched Honda CB300R and its own cousins, the KTM 250 Duke and 390 Duke. This, in turn, also means it will only get better in terms of value since it now offers so much more (better than some of its rivals, on most counts) for not that much more money. Not bad for a three-year old, eh?
UPDATE: We have learned that the compression ratio has increased over the previous model and have updated the text to reflect the same.
2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 revealed
2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 image gallery