“Hooligan” Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler: “Ultra” Comprehensive Road Test Review
Warning: Long read but if you’re in the market for a 150cc sporty commuter, you simply have to endure the long read as we’ve gone out and done all the hard work which we hope you’d be spared from doing.
My first fling with a Honda Unicorn was way back in 2005, when my best friend bought one of the very first Honda Unicorn’s to be sold in Bangalore. Back then, the Honda Unicorn was launched right at a time when the Bajaj Pulsar was setting sales afire for it’s radical styling, acceptable performance and more importantly a killer price tag. Amidst all this, Honda launched their first motorcycle, a 150cc motorcycle, without an electric starter and alloy wheels and the styling at best conservative. No, the Honda Unicorn didn’t unseat the Bajaj Pulsar at the hustings but what it did was, it gave Indians like me a sample of what a good 150cc motorcycle can deliver both in terms of quality as well as performance. As my best friend, Mr Birla, bought his Honda Unicorn in the halcyon student days of road tripping and carefree living, I had many an opportunity to tour across India on the Honda Unicorn, after writing(note not clearing, only writing) the supplementary exams in engineering of course. Any which ways, I was smitten by the Honda Unicorn’s many charms and I continue to be smitten with motorcycles and exploring India on them.
5 years and many refreshes later, the Honda CB Unicorn still remains a high quality, highly capable motorcycle. But half a decade is a long time when rivals like Bajaj, TVS, Hero Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki have launched more contemporary and newer looking products whose novelty value, more than anything else have resulted in the Honda CB Unicorn being more of a motorcycle that appeals to the 30+ crowd who value a no-nonsense 150cc commuter that can do a fair bit of touring. So, what does Honda do to gain market share in the ultra competitive 150cc motorcycle segment where motorcycles are expected to go fast, deliver great mileage, commute to the office with the Missus/Girlfriend on the backseat and on the weekends, go touring? Phew, what a list. Honda comes up with the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler as it finally realizes that a gem of a 150cc engine can only do so much in a aging or already wrinkly with age, Honda Unicorn’s body.
On first glance, the Honda Dazzler continues Honda’s latest philosophy of being inspired by bigger, high capacity motorcycles in it’s range. While the Honda CB Stunner uses a PGM-FI fuel injection system similar to one used by the Honda CBR1000RR, the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler in essence is a 150cc version of the Honda CB1000R, a brilliant 1000cc street fighter motorcycle in Honda’s global motorcycle range. The reason for the Honda CB1000R’s particular design being partly miniaturized into the Honda CB Dazzler is quite simple. Honda wants to gun straight for the Yamaha FZ16′s jugular, which incidentally is a miniaturized version of the the Yamaha FZ1000 street fighter motorcycle.
Coming back to the Dazzler, seen straight on and straight from behind, there is no mistaking the striking resemblance of the Dazzler to the CB1000R. Right from the front fairing to the the floating cowl, the Dazzler looks like a beautifully downsized CB1000R. While the Dazzler might not be as radical looking as the Yamaha FZ16, it certainly looks more contemporary as I, like most others, am a little tired at seeing the same old Yamaha FZ16, whose two year old design now seems a tad dated when compared to that of the Honda Dazzler. Thus, for me, the Dazzler comes across as a fresher looking motorcycle as was evident by the gawks which later got transformed into questions, mostly of the mileage and cost kind, about the Honda CB Dazzler at most traffic signals I stopped at. Therefore the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler’s design looks fresh and oh yeah, people do take note of the newest Honda in town.
Astride the Honda Dazzler, if you’re someone used to economuters like the Hero Honda Splendor, you’re right hand will instinctively reach out to flip open the kick starter. On the Honda Dazzler, doing this will find you swapping thin air. For, there isn’t any kick starter on the Dazzler. Just like the Yamaha FZ16, the Yamaha R15, the Hero Honda Karizma ZMR and the Bajaj Pulsar 220, the Honda Dazzler completely does away with the kick starter and instead completely relies on the trick start to get the engine up and running. Bajaj Pulsar owners won’t like what they’re about to hear but the extremely smooth and quick way in which the Honda Dazzler’s electric starter button responds is a revelation. Just the experience of thumbing the electric start for the Dazzler’s engine to respond in a split second reeks of Honda quality and it left me impressed right away. Bajaj, please learn from the Honda Dazzler on how an engine should start on thumbing the trick start.
Once the motor settled into a steady 1000 rpm idle, I immediately noticed that the engine wasn’t as smooth as the Unicorn. No sir, the Dazzler has the smoothest 150cc engine in India bar for the Suzuki GS150R and the Honda CB Unicorn itself. While the engine idling away smoothly is almost imperceptible to the rider’s palm on the handlebars, on the GS150R and the CB Unicorn, this simply isn’t the case with the CB Dazzler. The engine makes sure that you know it is spinning on the Dazzler and this is the biggest difference between the Dazzler and the Unicorn. While the Unicorn will smoothly pull away in first gear, the Dazzler will lurch ahead sportily and make its sporty intentions very clear.
The grunty motor comes to life at about 3000 rpm from when the engine note turns into a growl which in my opinion is one of the best growl that an Indian motorcycle makes after of course the TVS Apache RTR and the Bajaj Pulsar 220. Honestly I expected a butter smooth engine that would barely make itself felt but the white coats at Honda seem to have deliberately engineered that intoxicating growl from 3000-6000 rpm after which the growl transforms into a full throated scream right up to the Dazzler’s red line of 9500 rpm. I feel that the paper type freer flowing air filter design which the Dazzler shares with bigger Honda motorcycles like the CBRs could be the reason for this growl as the growl is more from the engine than the muffler. Meanwhile, if you are used to shifting gears with a heel toe shifter, you’ll feel a touch uncomfortable initially not to mention end up with frayed boots all the time as the Dazzler comes with a toe only gear shifter.
Moving into the maddening peak hour Bangalore traffic which simply is getting madder by the day, the Dazzler felt much less cumbersome than the Honda Unicorn, which somehow for me isn’t too flickable in slow moving traffic. On the Dazzler, just like the Yamaha FZ16, weaving through traffic at low speeds is a real breeze and the more you do it, the more confident you become. This can be due to the fact that you sit lower on the lighter Dazzler and this along with the superb weight distribution and 17 inch wheels give the Dazzler great flickability. So, if you’re upgrading from a Unicorn, you’ll definitely notice the 8 kilos that the Dazzler has shed over the porky 148 Kilo Unicorn. But one big grouse I had was the absence of an engine kill switch on the Dazzler. In start stop traffic, turning the ignition key off every time at a traffic junction was a royal PITA. Now, the Honda Dazzler buyers will most probably carry a pillion on their commutes and if this is the significant other, rear seat comfort becomes a top priority that could even influence or sabotage purchase decisions. So, lets begin the girl friend on the pillion test.
I rode all the way from Bangalore’s IT hub, Electronic City, to about 20 Kms into the city with my girl friend on the Dazzler’s back seat through peak hour evening traffic. The clutch like all Hondas is light but well weighted. So, the left fingers stay happy even in traffic crawls. End of the commute as we stopped for sandwiches, I got a earful of how awful the Dazzler’s seat is for pillions on longish distances. While people with Kareena Kapoor size zero behinds won’t complain, all the other Indian women won’t like spending more than say half an hour on the Dazzler’s rear seat. This, in spite of Honda providing a wider seat on the Dazzler as compared to the Yamaha FZ16. I simply shudder to think what my girl friend would say after sampling the FZ’s narrow back seat for 20 kms and ending up with a very sore bum. So, if you want you significant other to sit in absolute comfort as you trundle through your daily commute, the only motorcycle in town that can do this with your pillions behind happy is the Royal Enfield Thunderbird Twinspark. But me, I was thoroughly enjoying weaving across town to bother about anything about comfort or the likes. In other words, I was pretty ok after the long commute in rush hour traffic although a little weary at the end of it.
As dusk approached, the Dazzler’s headlights illuminated my path but honestly, they are simply no match for the Pulsar 220s brilliant projectors or the Yamaha R15′s twin beams. I simply put this down to the non DC set up on the Honda Dazzler which means that the headlights beg the alternator for power and hence the Dazzler’s headlamp simply fails to dazzle and instead flickers every time the tacho needle approaches the idle rpm. While this isn’t too big a gripe to really bother, morons who’ll want a HID set up on the Dazzler to dazzle and blind the oncoming traffic will find it a royal pain in the backside to convert the Dazzler’s AC set up to full DC. Serves them right I say, although I still would prefer full DC electricals on a motorcycle that boasts of a sealed maintenance free battery and an otherwise decent set of instrumentation. So, time then to call it a day before a long tomorrow of high speed testing awaits.
Tomorrow comes rather quickly and I set off for a long-long ride to see whether the Honda Dazzler can dazzle me when it comes to my kind of riding, the hooligan, engine-begging-for-mercy kind. As usual I wake up late after burning midnight oil keeping the board ticking and by the time I leave home for a rip, the sun, for an unwelcome change, is shining, er burning bright and saying, it’s eleven ‘o’ clock. Straight into another bout of Bangalore traffic blues? Nope, at 11 AM, surprisingly on a Tuesday morning, traffic wasn’t all that thick and I quickly made it onto the elevated express way, yeah the one built for the IT folks. First ergonomic issue of the day. You see, the Honda Dazzler has a brilliant instrument cluster that consists of a big tachometer, a neat fuel and odometer readout plus the digital speedo. Now, the elevated expressway mandates riders as well drivers to stick to the 80 kph speed limit failing which the now omnipresent Bangalore Traffic Police’s speed interceptors wait like hawks to prey on unsuspecting, er, over speeding victims.
All good but with the sun behind me now, flashing bright on the speedo makes it almost impossible for me to see the digital speed readout. So sticking to the 80 kph limit makes me crane my neck fore and aft trying to read the speed. Thankfully, the interceptor was on the other side of the divider. What Honda could do about this is, they can simply add a shroud onto the Dazzler’s speedo, a-la-Yamaha FZ-S, which would prevent this from happening. And before I forget, one good thing about the Dazzler’s speedo cluster is the fact that it remains perpetually backlit right from when you turn the ignition key on. This nifty feature is particularly useful when you go through underpasses where most other motorcycles’ speedos would have been unreadable without turning the headlights/pilot lights on. People like me wouldn’t care much as I never turn off the headlights when I’m riding.
Meanwhile, The Honda Dazzler which I picked up for the road test was just 52 Kms old and as the miles logged, first in traffic and then on the highway, the motor became more and more responsive. So, time to rev ‘er up for some action, shall we? Open her up I really did with the motor barely run in. Here I was on the Bangalore-Chennai NHAI revving the #its off the Honda Dazzler’s motor trying to go faster and faster to grab the mutton “bhai” biryani at Ambur. Enroute, some speed and acceleration tests ensued. Nought to sixty on the speedo came up in about five and a half seconds while hundred took a while, at close to 16.7 seconds. Not bad at all I say as the engine which was a little constrained when brand new had really freed up after 200 kms of wide open throttle. Here the 150cc engine was, begging to be revved right up to it’s redline and the intake growl only spurring me on further. More than a few times while getting the acceleration tests going, I managed, just for the heck of it, to redlining the motor in the first, second and third gears. the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler was simply a divine delight as the rpm needle continually bounced back from it’s redline of 9500 rpm.
If you do push it real hard and see a 105-110 in fourth gear on the speedo, a 125 kph on the speedo can be seen which when cross checked with the GPS yielded about 118.6 kph. Not bad I say, especially with an engine that was never run in like it should have. So, a well run in Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler should manage a genuine 120 with a 65-70 kilo rider like me aboard. Any heavier, you’re bound to see the speeds going at least 5 kph lower as a 150cc engine is pretty sensitive to rider weights. Yeah, this also reminds me of the Honda Dazzler on the up slopes. On the steepish up slopes, getting the Honda Dazzler to speeds of 100 plus is a challenge except even with plenty of momentum going into the slope in the first place. Forget it if you are on the heavier side with an equally heavy pillion aboard.
In other words, while the Honda Dazzler has a stunning top end which is further aided with an engine that begs to be revved to the moon, it still in essence is a 150cc motorcycle. This is a major departure from the ultra refined Unicorn’s engine which now feels like a grunt house that makes all the right noises and performs too. Kudos to Honda engineers for engineering a brand new soul in the same 149cc four stroke single. That said, while it feels and goes marginally faster than the Yamaha FZ16, it simply isn’t as grunty as the Apache 160. The low end power in first gear feels especially powerful while the mid range is not bad. The top end past 6000 rpm is where the real action is and keeping the motor spinning above this rpm will give you enough thrills, alright, at least enough thrills that can be had without killing yourself on most Indian roads. Honda Dazzler vs Yamaha FZ16 on performance and engine refinement: The Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler wins, but not by too much.
On a particlarly long downhill with plenty of momentum going into the slope, I managed to touch a 131 on the speedo. No, I don’t crouch on any of my top speed runs as most folks don’t crouch while riding their motorcycles fast and if wind and aerodynamics are so big a factor, so be it. Meanwhile, I hit Ambur pretty fast and after a sumptuous “Bhai” Biryani(you must definitely try these delights if you’re enroute this place), U-turn back to Yelagiri hills. Hill riding usually brings out the best or the worst of what a motorcycle’s handling offers and Yelagiri’s twisties were intentionally chosen for this. While going up the hill, I simply took it easy as the scary TNSTC buses hurtling downhill put the far of god back into me. While coming downhill though, the visibility was way better and the time being late afternoon ensured that traffic was minimal.
So, plenty of downhill twisties showed me the real nature of the Dazzler’s wonderful suspension and weight distribution. The motorcycle went where I pointed it to and even with the riding position not being too radical, leaning onto the bars and sitting deeper into the saddle ensured that scraping pegs while thrilling was easy. Also, the rear mono shock is adjustable for three settings of damping and this really makes a difference as the hard setting makes the motorcycle sharp and twitchy while the softest ensures a velvety ride. Medium feels like the best compromise between out and out cornering stability to good ride quality. Also on bumpy twisties like the ones we have in Gandhiland, a medium setting is best as the hard setting might unsettle the bike majorly in bumpy corners.
As I stopped at a couple of view points to take in the wonderful vistas the terrain offered, one more drawback came to the fore. That of the side stand being positioned too vertically. This is an issue that has dogged Hondas right from the very first Unicorns and this issue meant that parking the Dazzler on the side stand in slightly sloping terrain was simply not possible. Now, the braking. Braking on the Dazzler gets a huge fillip in terms of a rear disc brake. While the front disc offers great bite it is the rear that I ended up using a lot of times when correcting my lines on the corners. And the rear disc was imply brilliant except for the fact that trying to go as hard on it like say on a drum brake, you’re bound to lock it up with the rear tyre sliding merrily. So, folks upgrading from motorcycles with drum brakes on the rear should exercise a little more caution while slamming down the rear anchors as it could catch you unawares. All said, the rear disc brake offers plenty of feel and you needn’t worry about it being as sharp as the front disc as it simply isn’t as sharp.
Instead of racing back to Bangalore even as the skies were turning orange, I wanted to see how much I could stretch a tank of fuel. Ergo keeping the tacho 4000 rpm and 60 kph, I simply sat bored on the saddle munching mile after mile, albeit slowly even as cagers zipped past me at speeds which made me feel I was standing still. Bangalore finally came with the stars shining bright and the tripmeter read 458 kilometers. This, an addition to the 97 kilometers I covered on day one in city traffic test mode. So, a range of 550+ kilometers for a tank of 12 liters with the low fuel warning blinking is a very creditable fuel efficiency indeed. While I didn’t or rather couldn’t check the exact reserve to reserve mileage, with experience during my student days of fueling up for 25 bucks each time and listening to what the fuel tank says, I am pretty certain that close to half a liter of petrol was left.
So 11.5 liters for 555 kilometers translates to a combined efficiency of just a smidgeon over 48 kilometers per liter of dinosaur remains. Brilliant, I say, as these figures reflect real world conditions with top speed testing, continuous bouts of acceleration and redlining, twisties and going up a hill, urban traffic crawls and some sedate riding after all the madcapping. So 55 KMPL with a steady throttle hand to 45 KMPL with a ham fist is a realistic figure. One more detail difference is, when the Dazzler hits reserve, you need to turn the fuel cock downward instead of upward like most other motorcycle. In essence, turning the fuel cock up gets you into main fuel mode while pushing it downward by 90 degrees stops fuel flow. Another 90 degrees down gets you reserve. This is a major departure from most commuter motorcycles and folks upgrading from commuters must take note.
Coming to the rest of the motorcycle, the Dazzler like most Hondas is solidly built with all the parts exuding high quality. Right from the way the hoses are routed to the way the handle grips which feel soft but firm and don’t leave dark residue on your palms after long hours on the saddle. The mirrors which ensure great all round visibility are easy to use and adjusting them is also easy. All said, the Dazzler doesn’t have the comfort of the Honda Unicorn and the Suzuki GS150R, who by virtue of their relaxed riding positions and larger sizes make the rider feel unstressed on longer distances. On the Dazzler, you need butt breaks every 50-60 kilometers failing which your backside will start complaining of soreness. But, the Dazzler feels sporty and flickable, two aspects in which the Unicorn and GS150R are not so good at. So, you win some and lose some and thus the Honda Dazzler is the best compromise in the Indian market between a sporty motorcycle and an out and out commuter in the 150cc segment. Would I recommend one? Go for it with your eyes closed if you’ve read this comprehensive review and feel that the Dazzler is you’re kind of motorcycle. This, because the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler is a great sports commuter and for a motorcycle that is an evolution of the Unicorn, is is simply brilliant.
Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler 150cc vs. Yamaha FZ 16
Why must you buy the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler over the Yamaha FZ16
- You get a better engine that is much more refined, faster and one whose intake growl sounds terrific. Think of a 150cc motorcycle running a K&N filter and that’s how the Dazzler sounds each time you cross 3000 rpm.
- You get better fuel efficiency by up to 10 KMPL extra in a combined riding cycle. Here the needlessly huge 140 section of the Yamaha FZ16 spoils the party for the FZ.
- It is a fresher and a newer product and it being a Honda, the resale value is usually the best in the business which is an important factor in the scheme of things if you do decide to upgrade to a bugger capacity motorcycle in the next 2-3 years.
- It offers a rear disc brake and this is one big feature that is an extra for an almost identical price tag of INR 75,000 on road Bangalore.
So, there, these are a few areas where the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler scores over the Yamaha FZ16. If you’re a bloke who only cares about going around corners and leaning to Valentino Rossi’s lean levels, you’d be better off with the Yamaha FZ16. Otherwise, the Honda CB Unicorn Dazzler is the 150cc sports commuter for you which is the real Hooligan of the otherwise relatively mild mannered small capacity Honda motorcycles in India.