Hero Karizma XMR review: What’s in a name?

    The new XMR is a vastly superior bike to the older Karizma, but also a very different one.

    Published on Aug 31, 2023 10:00:00 AM


    The Karizma XMR launch was one of those rare events where a large chunk of the auto media had a personal story to share about the original version of that bike. I suppose that partly gives away the age of the average Indian auto journalist/creator, but it also clearly demonstrates that the Karizma really was one of those iconic, defining bikes in the Indian motorcycling scheme.

    In my case, it was one of the very first geared motorcycles I got to ride and I still have three deeply imprinted memories. First, the bike felt big and special, second, it was unbelievably soft and cushy to ride, and third, the easily accessible, low-end torque was awesome! And it’s those very memories that have left me with one big question – how much of that Karizma lineage has flown down to this brand-new machine?

    This is not only a brand-new platform for Hero, but it also represents many firsts for the company. This is the first Hero with a liquid-cooled, DOHC motor, the first with a steel trellis frame and the first to have dual-channel ABS. All good things, but I’d argue that it's also the first to wear a well-conceived sportbike style design, and I think Hero has done a very nice job here. 

    The bike has a good sense of proportion and it’s neither very large nor disappointingly small. The sharply styled fairing panels as well as the striking tail and bright yellow colour come together to make this a real head-turner. And this is where Hero has struck upon a very nice balance, because while the XMR looks rather sporty and aggressive, it's far from it when you actually ride the bike.

    The seating position is pleasantly comfortable – not as upright as the average street naked but much closer to the likes of the Bajaj Pulsar RS200 than the painful Yamaha R15 or KTM RC 200. Seat height is 810mm, which should be okay for most average-sized riders, although the tall rear seat can result in some amusing antics if you’re trying to convince a short person to hop onto the back. Overall, this riding position is about as comfortable as you can hope for from a bike that looks like this.

    The same goes for the suspension set-up. The Karizma soaks in rough and rutted roads surprisingly well. That along with the kindness of the riding position means that your wrists, shoulders and back don’t take much of a beating. The suspension is by no means soft and floaty like the old-school Karizma, but it still retains a sense of plushness in most scenarios. It’s only when you hit a nasty pothole that the front fork has a tendency to bottom out; and the speeds don’t need to be very high for this to happen. 

    When it comes to handling, the baseline chassis feel is very good. There’s enough agility that the bike is easy enough to ride in thick traffic, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as light as the R15. This is reasonable because the XMR weighs 22 kilos more than the Yamaha and at 163.5kg, it's about on par with the KTM RC 200 and Bajaj Pulsar RS200. Nevertheless, the bike feels stable at all times and you can push it quite hard through bumps with no concerns about whether the front end will get into a headshake, and that sense of trust is always a good thing on a motorcycle.

    Still, this is closer to the likes of the Pulsar RS200 and Gixxer SF 250 when it comes to handling and it's not as focussed as the R15 or the RC. The rear shock in particular feels a little too soft when you push the bike hard on a winding road although we’ll give the bike the benefit of the doubt for now. That is probably down to the fact that the preload is set quite low (two out of six) from the factory and we did not have the opportunity to change it in the few hours that we had with the bike. Nevertheless, this is a world apart from the OG Karizma that was a vague, squishy mess when you tried pushing it hard and the new XMR is most certainly capable enough to entertain. 

    What’s also a world apart is the new engine. The old Karizma was all about a fat torque curve at lower revs, but the new one takes it to the other extreme. Hero’s new liquid-cooled creation is all about the top-end. To its credit, the engine is very calm and mellow at low revs with a smooth throttle connection and absolutely no lurching or signs of complaint. If you’re in the mood for just a chill ride, this very much delivers, but the moment you ask for some power, you’ll find that the engine feels quite flat till about 6,000rpm

    The real fun arrives at around 7,000rpm and it has a very KTM-like rush from 7,000-10,000rpm. Hero wanted this motor to have the highest power and torque figures in the sub-220cc category and they have just about managed that, but to do so with such a small capacity will result in an engine with this peaky character. As for the exhaust note, it’s a pretty nondescript single-cylinder sound at lower revs, but you then get treated by a fun intake rasp above 7,000rpm accompanied by a loud and raw exhaust sound. Again, rather KTM-like, and rather good fun. 

    The new six-speed gearbox feels a little more crisp and communicative than the transmissions we’ve seen from Hero to date and the clutch action is reasonably light. The bike comes with a slip assist clutch as standard, but if you try hammering in some aggressive downshifts and backing in the rear on the brakes, the ABS system gets freaked out and significantly extends the braking distance. The front brake itself (300mm disc) is perfectly good enough, but not particularly sharp either. Both these things are just another reminder that while this bike may look all racy, its main intention is to be something that’s comfortable for daily use.

    On that topic, liquid-cooled motorcycles tend to feel quite hot when stuck in heavy traffic thanks to the hot air blast coming off the radiator fan. On the XMR, you will feel some warmth around the thighs when crawling through jammed traffic, but we never noticed any uncomfortable blasts of hot air directed at any particular region of the legs. As for refinement, there are some vibrations that you will feel at different points, but they’re well controlled and don’t really stand out as a problem. 

    The engine’s smooth low-end responses as well as its relatively short gearing and flexible nature make the XMR a nice bike to ride in the city. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get an opportunity to investigate what the performance is like above 100kph, but Hero tells us that you should see a top speed somewhere between 140-150kph. 

    As for features, the XMR is quite nicely equipped. You get an LED projector headlamp with an ambient light sensor that automatically turns the headlamp on when it gets dark. We did get to briefly try the headlamp out after the shoot was done and found that it has a decent level of spread immediately in front of the bike, and the high beam throw is quite powerful, which is nice. Again, this was on illuminated Gurugram streets, so we’ll have to spend more time with the bike before coming to a thorough conclusion on the lighting performance.

    As for the display, it uses an LCD instead of a TFT, but this screen is nicely laid out, easy to read and quite informative when it comes to ride information. In addition to things like fuel consumption data, average speed and gear position, you also have Bluetooth-enabled features like turn-by-turn navigation. There’s also hazard lights and a USB port smartly mounted right next to the key slot. Another thing worth mentioning is that the stalk-mounted mirrors are both stylish but also nicely functional, with a good amount of adjustability. One of the accessories that caught my interest was the promise of anti-glare rear view mirrors, which is something I’ve often found myself wishing for on a motorcycle.

    The USP in terms of features is a height adjustable windscreen. This uses a neatly designed mechanism where you push a button on the right side of the fairing and simultaneously pull the windscreen up or down with your other hand. The windscreen itself is quite low and we didn’t get the chance to see how much of an effect the 30mm range of adjustability has on wind protection, but it's a fun feature to show off to your friends. 

    The only two signs of cost-cutting are the basic-looking box section swingarm and the telescopic fork. That second point may prove to be a pain point for Hero considering that the R15 (and Hero’s own Xtreme 160R 4V) comes with a USD. However, the results of this cost-saving exercise are evident in the price. 

    At an introductory price of Rs 1.73 lakh, ex-showroom, the Karizma XMR not only gives you a lot of motorcycle, but it also costs significantly less than the likes of the KTM RC 200 and Gixxer SF 250. In fact, it’s on par with the aged Pulsar RS200, but crucially, it costs about Rs 10,000 less than the base-spec Yamaha R15. And that’s important because the R15 is the key target here – 10,000 units a month is a hard sales figure to ignore. 

    Overall, I remain unconvinced about the Karizma name on this motorcycle. Yes, it is still a fairly versatile bike, but it significantly deviates from the original in terms of style, ergonomics and the overall genre it fits into. Mainly though, the engine represents a very different sort of riding experience. That being said, nostalgia is a powerful drug and while we all have fond memories of the original Karizma, it would present quite a flawed and dated riding experience in today’s landscape. 

    The new XMR is a vastly superior bike, but also a very different one. In that sense, I suspect all those people in their 30s and 40s today who used to ride a Karizma in their college days will find that this bike isn’t what they expect it to be. But times change and the Karizma has finally changed with them. This new bike is targeted at a much younger audience and it has quite a lot to offer to that crowd. It’s a great time to be in the market for a fully-faired, sub-250cc motorcycle. 

    Also See:

    Hero Karizma XMR video review

    Tech Specs

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