For the past ten years, the Unicorn has been an important motorcycle for Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India. Raking in good sales numbers in the all-important 150cc segment, and holding Honda’s flag high in the premium commuter segment, this was back then Honda’s very first motorcycle in India. Time and tide wait for none, however, and so many years down the line, this venerable motorcycle was starting to feel a bit long in the tooth in terms of styling, as well as several other key factors when compared to newer, superior rivals, given that such able rivals sell in the same space, the Bajaj Pulsar 150 DTS-i, Yamaha FZ-S and recently introduced segment leader, the Suzuki Gixxer to name a few.
The new CB Unicorn 160 is not a new motorcycle from the grounds up. Honda has clearly stuck to the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' policy that it follows strictly with so many other products as well, such as the Activa. The manufacturer has followed the same overall, conservative design for this bike as seen on the old Unicorn, with a basic blueprint that’s remained close to same. The old Unicorn was not a bad looking bike, but it did have a very plain-jane look. New bits add up to make the 160 a refreshing looking package though, and give it a snazzier appearance.
And a snazzy appearance it is – the headlamp looks quite smart, with clear lens turn indicators flanking it on either side. The CB Unicorn 160 comes with a pilot lamp to complement its headlamp, a functional boon. The front mudguard is neatly designed, in dual tone shades. The front forks are the same skinny ones, and have reflectors mounted on either side. The upright handlebars are familiar, with boring, if nothing else, switchgear mounted on them. On the intrumentation front, the CB Unicorn 160 cluster is now all-digital, sleek looking, minimalistic, and very functional. Maintained is a no-nonsense look about it that displays all the important readouts, a speedometer, odometer, tachometer, dual-trip meters, fuel-level indicator and clock.
The tank maintains a similar profile, but now sports angular shrouds on either side. Moving on to the bike flanks, the CB Unicorn 160 has a nice play of different textures and a balanced mix of lines and curves which lead to the seat, rear cowl and swingarm. This gives the new Honda motorcycle a nice, flowing yet strong and purposeful stance. What stands out in contrast is an all-black engine, with smart bright red 'Honda' engraving. Honda has made several important updates to this powerplant. Although the CB Unicorn 160 felt just as high quality and well finished a motorcycle as expected from Honda, we did face one issue with the new bike, in that one of its bar end weights on the handlebars actually fell right off while parking.
The engine with increased capacity has some design changes visible on its exterior. Within, you get longer stroke, better heat dissipation and all this with no compromise on that dash of Honda refinement. Bits such as ridges on the crankcase are to aid thermal properties and help maintain good operating temperature. Crank the CB Unicorn’s 162.71cc, four-stroke, carbureted motor, and you're greeted with a familiar Unicorn engine sound, now with a little more grunt in the exhaust note, that’s apparent even at idle, thanks to a redesigned exhaust system. The new air-cooled engine feels even less vibey than the previous one, which was already gossamer smooth, and that would be thanks to the CB Unicorn 160 including a counter-balancer to one end of the crankshaft, that irons out all vibrations. Slot the single-cylinder motorcycle into first gear via its heel-and-toe shift lever, and all you hear and feel is a congenial, positive click. Let out the clutch, and the CB Unicorn 160 moves forward with more assertion than its older iterations.
The engine feels so much more torquey than earlier, and it pulls harder too, although do please hang on for all the details as we are yet to conduct a complete performance test. Honda claims the motorcycle will take you up to 106kph, however we achieved much higher figures when pushing the CB Unicorn 160 hard. It does take time to build speed further once you're in the higher 90kph range. Reaching there though is no problem at all for this peppy motorcycle. The revs climb up the counter quick enough, though you start to feel limited once the engine hits the electronic limiter at a little over 11,000rpm. You won't need to go there often though, because this engine stops making any significant progress above 8,000 rpm.
You sit upright on the CB Unicorn 160, much like on the older bike, and this is well suited for rush hour rides. Once you're astride the motorcycle, it is easy to settle into a comfortable position. And it is comfort that the CB Unicorn 160 is built for. The seat is longer than before, with more room for pillions. It even has different seat material, making it better suited for longer runs. The long stance of the motorcycle, combined with well-tuned suspension gives it a nice ride quality, and keeps it planted on the road at all times.
Bringing the CB Unicorn 160 to a stop is now easier, with a Combined Braking System (CBS) now used. Press the foot brake pedal, and the front disc brake is automatically engaged in a predetermined measure along with the rear to help bring the motorcycle to a rapid halt. Slam it, and you stop in a snap. You don't lose composure though, and all you'll hear is a howling from the tyres, which aren’t as good as what’s now offered on rivals like the Yamaha FZ-S, or Suzuki Gixxer.
On a bright note though, Honda has gone ahead to make its already good product slightly better. In a nutshell, the CB Unicorn 160 manages to retain the character of the old Unicorn, including an air of maturity and level-headedness. It has the same remarkable quality with most of its parts, apart from an engine that is so refined, all the while offering good comfort. We can’t wait to give the CB Unicorn 160 our full road-test treatment. Look out for this in our upcoming issue.