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Honda Activa 125 competes with Suzuki’s Swish 125 and the Vespa VX for the 125-cc scooter crown
Story: Piyush Sonsale
Photography: Sanjay Raikar
The Indian automatic scooter market is largely divided into two classes: 110 cc and 125 cc. Honda have the highest market share in the 110-cc class with a line-up of four distinctly packaged scooters, but they were absent from the 125-cc class until this year. The sales figures in respect of 125-cc scooters have seen a steady growth over the past few years and they have captured a small but significant chunk of the market. Therefore, Honda could no longer delay their entry into the higher class since they did not want buyers to opt for a different brand, thus reducing their dominance in the field. In comes the Activa 125.
Unveiled at the Auto Expo 2014, the 125-cc version of the Activa is an all-new scooter that was launched at the end of April this year. We had reviewed it in the June issue of the magazine and were impressed by Honda’s latest offering. However, this new entrant faces stiff competition in the 125-cc class from the Suzuki Swish 125 and Vespa VX. So we decided to compare the three scooters to see where the Activa 125 stands vis-à-vis its competitors.
The Honda Activa i is an Activa with a plastic body. What’s the point? You may ask, since the Activa’s built-to-last feel comes from its metal body. It does indeed, but it also contributes to the higher pricing of the Activa vis-a-vis its plastic-body alternatives in the 110-cc scooter segment. There are buyers who actually prefer the plastic body due to light weight and cheaper body panels.
Of course, Honda have the 110-cc Dio and Aviator scooters with plastic bodies. However, the Dio’s sporty design holds a lesser appeal for mature buyers looking for a utilitarian scooter, while the Aviator is a big scooter with muscular curves and costs more than the Activa. That’s where the Activa i comes in.
The Honda Activa i is leaner, lighter and faster than the Activa and also the least expensive scooter in Honda’s scooter line-up. But the TVS Wego and the recently launched Yamaha Ray Z aren’t going to make its life easy. Therefore, we compared the three scooters to put things in perspective.
The Activa i has a neutral styling with hints of the Aviator’s design and comes in four colours. The Wego has a wider palette of six colours and its design is angular at the front, but gets meatier at the rear. It looks fresh in spite of being the oldest one here while the Ray Z looks sharp and sporty. The Ray Z, unlike its sibling (the Ray), is aimed at male riders and has three dual tone colour schemes and sporty decals with carbon finish on a few surfaces. There is a small plastic screen over its head and it has an all-black theme for the wheels, engine and exhaust. It looks more aggressive than the other two scooters and also has a slightly better finish overall.
In terms of features, the Wego is the strongest. It has a robust all-metal body, telescopic front forks, five twin-spoke alloy wheels, a 220-mm optional disc brake on the front wheel and LEDs in the tail-light cluster. Furthermore, TVS have smartly placed the fuel filler cap on its tail, so the rider can fill the scooter up without having to dismount. It has the broadest seat with a very soft cushioning and a foldable side-step for the pillion rider on its left side. We also found that the Wego can be kick-started without putting it on the centre-stand unlike the other two.
The Wego is followed by the Activa i, which has combi-brakes (front and rear brake are applied simultaneously via the rear brake lever) and tubeless tyres. It also has the best under-seat storage capacity and a brake locking mechanism for the rear brake lever.
The Ray Z’s feature list includes telescopic front forks, carburettor with throttle position sensor for better air-fuel mixture, best looking information panel and a couple of pockets below the handlebar to store small items.
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We compare the TVS Phoenix 125 with the new and the established to see where it stands in the 125-cc segment.
Commuter motorcycles don’t have it easy. They are used every day of the year in all kinds of weather and are expected to do their duty without a complaint. Good looks and styling are always an added benefit and a compromise in fuel efficiency is tantamount to digging your own grave. And there is also the issue of pricing, which defines the segment. On the other hand, the reward for the manufacturers is the possibility of achieving high sales volumes, which has made this segment a very competitive one.
The commuter bike segment is further divided into three sub-segments, defined by engine capacity. It starts with the 100-cc sub-segment, which includes the most basic motorcycles. Then there is the 110-cc one, which has risen in popularity over the past few years, while the 125-cc motorcycles are classified as the executive commuter bikes. To be frank, this distinction is not very pronounced, since a difference of 10-15 cubic centimetres hardly makes a difference, these being very small engines not tuned for high performance. However, there exists a fierce competition in all three sub-segments.
Honda have been selling the CB Shine 125 for more than six years now and it has stood the test of time to emerge as one of the strongest and highest selling executive commuter bikes. Bajaj Auto have also been successful after re-entering the segment with the Discover 125 a couple of years ago. This year Bajaj added another bike in the segment under the Discover brand, with emphasis on touring. The Discover 125 ST (Sports Tourer) co-exists with its modest sibling, but as a slightly premium offering.
The TVS Phoenix 125 is the latest addition to this segment. TVS have paid a lot of attention to developing the Phoenix with the hope of capturing a sizeable share of the 125-cc market, which they have been missing. We were impressed by the bike when we rode it at TVS’ test track at their Hosur plant last month. This month we went ahead and compared it with the CB Shine and the Discover 125 ST in the real battlefield: the city roads.
Design And Styling
The CB Shine is a fine example of a proportionate motorcycle with a design that doesn’t look dated in spite of being the oldest of the lot. It feels solidly built and its fit-and-finish and paint job are impeccable, except for the poor quality of plastic used in the switch-gear. Apart from the body panels, the rest of the bike has an all-black treatment and graphics give it an upmarket look. Six-spoke alloys wheels are standard and it is the only bike among the three with tubeless tyres. However, there are a few areas where the Shine shows its age. The twin pod analogue instrument panel looks dated and contains a speedometer, fuel gauge and odometer while the headlight assembly lacks pilot lamps.
The Discover ST is a stylish motorcycle. The head cowl has a sharp design that gives the bike an aggressive look. The muscular tank makes it look bigger in size and the ribbed tail-light looks sporty. Its five-spoke alloy wheels have a sporty design and the front wheel has a 200-mm petal disc rotor. The Discover ST has minimal decals and an all-black treatment on the engine, chassis, wheels, front shocks and exhaust. The paint job is good, but the same can’t be said of the build quality of this bike. As with the CB Shine, the switch-gear of the Discover too has flimsy plastic. The instrument console has an analogue speedometer, fuel gauge, odometer and trip meter while the indicator section houses a battery level indicator along with the usual ones. The Discover has the best mirrors among the three bikes compared here. The design of the rear tyre-hugger is a subjective matter, but it is very effective in preventing the tyre from spraying mud or water.
The Phoenix has a simple design, similar to its smaller sibling, the Star City. However, that has been disguised by the flashy decals and we like the shine of the Phoenix’s paint. It has six-spoke alloy wheels and a petal disc and, like the other two bikes, the Phoenix has also been painted all black, except for the body panels. Its fit-and-finish is of high quality and the switch-gear has ergonomic buttons. It has a hazard light, which is activated by the red switch near the right handlebar. When switched on, the hazard light activates all the turn indicators simultaneously, which is a unique feature in this segment. The Phoenix has white LED pilot lamps like the new Apache. The lights look stunning in dark, but are hardly visible in daylight. The digital instrument panel contains a speedometer, odometer and a trip meter along with service due and battery level indicators. The mirrors of the Phoenix have a good shape, but the short stem reduces the field of vision.
Honda and Suzuki are determined to make their mark in India’s vast executive-commuter segment. We pit their all-new offerings against others in the segment
Photography: Sanjay Raikar
This might look like a civilised struggle among motorcycle manufacturers trying to make some room in the executive-commuter segment of India. In reality, this is a ruthless combat among industry giants, swinging their swords to gain ground in the lucrative 20-30-lakh-unit-a-year segment! And the apple of the eye for most bike buyers across the country has been Hero’s humble Splendor. Millions consider their bikes to be what Parle-G is to biscuits – simple, hassle-free and cost-effective, making Hero MotoCorp the largest two-wheeler makers on the planet.
Arch-rivals like country’s second largest two-wheeler manufacturers, Bajaj Auto, automobile major TVS Motor and internationally reputed two-wheeler makers, Yamaha, have carved a niche for themselves with bigger and sporty bikes, but have not managed to shake Hero’s firm grip on the commuter segment. Taking nothing away from them, there are lakhs of Discovers and Star Cities on the road and the YBR 100 proves to be a decent product. Since the market is so vast, there’s enough room for everyone, but none of the motorcycles has been able to make a major dent in Hero motorcycle sales. Well, until now.
The market is quickly transforming. Hero have bid Honda adieu, thus giving the Japanese company a free hand to launch a direct competition to the Splendor, which, by the way, is a Honda product in the first place. Here comes their most inexpensive motorcycle for India: the Dream Yuga. Meanwhile, as Hero models shed the ‘Honda’ tag, it has caused a slight flutter among buyers about the future products from the company. These recent developments have taken some brilliance off the already ageing Splendor. Sighting this opportunity, Suzuki also jumped into the fray and launched the Hayate, their most aggressively marketed motorcycle in India.
So we take these two new Japanese offerings and bring them face to face with everything else in this segment, including the segment leader in the Slpendor Plus avatar, along with the feature-rich TVS Star City, Bajaj Discover 100 and the refined Yamaha YBR 100.
Design And Features
The TVS bike has good ergonomics, a comfortable seat and solid build quality. It has everything going in its favour. Right from the best in class fuel tank of 16 litres (twice the size of Honda, Bajaj and Suzuki), giving it a staggering range of over 1,000 kilometres. The sporty all-black design, with the attractive white and blue body-art stands out in a crowd. It also has the most comprehensive switchgear in this shoot-out, complete with a mobile phone charging point.
The other sporty design comes from the Bajaj Discover, with its aggressive front fairing and nicely carved tank. The angular chopped exhaust with a chrome protector and clear-lens tail-light and indicators make it unique, although not my favourite aspects of it. The overall proportions are compact even though it has the longest wheelbase of 1,305 millimetres. The Discover has the hardest seat and instead of the ‘Ride Control’ switch, which is more of a marketing gimmick, an engine-kill switch would have been more appropriate. Even the plastic quality could have been better.
Hero MotoCorp sell more variants of the Splendor than any other bike. There is the Splendor Plus, which we rode, which comes with spokes and alloy variants but without electric-start (ES). An extra Rs 3,000 would get you the the ES equipped Splendor Pro, which is identical to the ‘Plus’, but has a black exhaust. There is not much that has changed on the Splendor over the years as the company believes, ‘Why try and mend something that is not broken?’ It has the most minimalistic design and hardly any features and this no-nonsense approach has been working in favour of the bike until now. The tall handlebar of this bike gives it an upright riding position, which is suitable even for well-built individuals.
Following the minimalistic theme is the Yamaha. Although the company is a master of design when it comes to sportsbikes, the YBR looks rather bland in its attempt to keep it simple. The finish and build quality are good, but the bike design as a whole is not very appealing. Like the Splendor it comes with a metal carrier that’s pretty useful.
The Honda Dream Yuga shows the sober cues of its elder sibling, the Shine 125. Since the latter has already been well accepted in India, this was the safest way to go. Its smoothly flowing lines improve aerodynamics while the bike is attractive without being overtly flashy – a smart design that would suit people of all age-groups. The features are on a par with most in the segment and, like other Honda products, the fit-and-finish is great. The long seat and comfortable riding position of this bike is a boon on long rides. This Honda is the only bike in this segment that offers tubeless MRF tyres, which improve road grip and handling. The only other bike to offer MRF tyres (non-tubeless) is the Suzuki.
This brings us to the Suzuki Hayate. The bike takes the right inspiration from the GS150R and SligShot. Its flared front fairing and fender work well with the superbike-inspired tail-light. The carbon-fibre patter on the side-panels and instrument console are interesting. The seat is wide, long and extremely well cushioned and the riding position is spot on. Adding everything, this Suzuki is the most ergonomic of the lot. However, it lacks a few basic features such as the pass switch and its protruding side-panels can be bothersome.
In terms of design it’s a close call between the Hayate, that most people in our office voted for, and the Dream Yuga, which has better features and has subtle cues.
Engine And Fuel Efficiency
In terms of the engine, all the bikes under consideration here are air-cooled, SOHC with two valves, although the Suzuki Hayate is the biggest with a 112.8-cc motor that produces 8.4 PS of maximum power and 8.8 Nm of peak torque. The TVS Star City’s 109.7-cc engine is one of the most powerful, capable of 8.29 PS and 8.1 Nm, while the Yamaha YBR comes with a 106-cc motor that churns out 7.6 PS and 7.85 Nm and the Hero Splendor Plus’ trusted 97.2-cc engine has the lowest power output of 7.4 PS and the maximum torque offered is 7.95 Nm. The Bajaj Discover has the smallest engine of 94.38 cc that belts out 7.7 PS and 7.85 Nm, but is the only motorcycle here to be mated with a five-speed gearbox, since all the other bikes offer four cogs. The advantage of an extra gear was evident in the fuel economy run, for this Bajaj stretched a litre of fuel to a very impressive 79.5 km on average. The Splendor’s 69.25 km per litre has been its USP, while the Star City and Hayate manage close to 68 kpl. And the YBR managed just 62.5kpl. The Honda Dream Yuga with its 109-cc mill, which also does duty on the Twister, produces the best-in-class output figures of 8.63 PS and 8.91 Nm and also addresses the clichéd but all-important question, ‘kitna deti hai?’, by delivering an impressive 72 km per litre.
On paper, the Bajaj looks most promising, closely followed by the efficient Dream Yuga.
Ride And Handling
The lightweight and compact Splendor is very easy to manoeuvre through busy streets, but it feels too light on the highway. The suspension set-up competitively seems too soft, especially when riding with a pillion. It’s good for the city, but does not feel very reassuring on the highway. On the other hand, the Discover has a hard seat and firm suspension, making it not very comfortable for long rides. During slower riding, road undulations are transferred to the rider and pillion. With its class-leading wheelbase it offers a good straight-line control, but is not the most agile of this lot. The Star City is tuned to be on the firmer side, but, unlike the Bajaj, it soaks up most of the bumps and imparts a solid feel while riding over bad roads. The TVS is fairly easy to handle, but tends to get nervous while negotiating fast corners.
Being tuned for comfort, the YBR offers a soft and relaxed ride. Its handling is not as engaging, but decent enough for this segment and the bike is well behaved during cornering. Similar to the Yamaha, the Hayate is focused on offering a soothing ride quality. It is stress-free and extremely comfortable over potholes. However, when ridden with a pillion at a reasonable speed, it does bottom out while riding over speed-breakers. Like most Suzukis it is very agile and easy to manoeuvre and the great riding position is the icing on the cake. In this shoot-out, Honda have struck the right balance by being neither too soft nor unbearably hard. The Dream Yuga’s long suspension helps it overcome bad patches of the road yet maintain its poise. Being among the lightest in the segment, it is nimble and cuts through traffic like a samurai sword. The two bikes that top this section are the Honda, which is extremely well sprung and very suitable for Indian road conditions, and the Suzuki Hayate, which is soft and is tuned for comfort.
The YBR has a pretty refined engine and feels best when ridden lazily around town. Not that it lacks punch or cruising abilities on the highway, but being the heaviest at 123 kg it takes what seemed like a very long 9.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 km/h. Even the mighty Hero Splendor shows its age and, at 9.39 seconds, did marginally better in the performance sprint. But in spite of being developed in the late 1980s this smooth engine is still a hot seller, powering six different Hero models currently. The Splendor weighs 14 kg less than the Yamaha, is smooth and efficient, but lacks outright punch, which can be felt while riding with a pillion.
The Bajaj bike uses ingenious technology like twin-spark and swirl induction and manages to have enough grunt across the rev range. The engine feels at home on congested city roads, but on highways it feels strained when revved hard. The fifth gear helps it cruise comfortably at 80 km/h, but the engine becomes noisy. This puny motor propels the Discover from zero to 60 km/h in just over 8.5 seconds, which is remarkably close to TVS Star City’s figure of 8.47 seconds.
TVS’ 109.7-cc motor is one of the largest, has strong power and torque figures and the bike is among the lightest, rather quick off its feet. Its steady flow of torque keeps the Star City going on low revs, aiding city riding, while the tall fourth gear comes handy during cruising. Like the Bajaj engine, even the Star City motor is reasonably smooth at lower revs, but coarseness creeps in when revved harder.
Having the largest motor helps the Suzuki Hayate become the second fastest in the performance run, managing to touch the 60 km/h mark in just 8.26 seconds. The power-band is well spread out and the bike can take both open roads and busy streets in its stride. Surprisingly, its engine is not as smooth as the Yamaha’s or Honda’s, but in terms of refinement it is ahead of TVS’ and Bajaj’s.
Honda’s Dream Yuga shines in this section as well thanks to its gem of an engine. Applying what the company calls ‘Intelligent Ignition Control System’ the acceleration of this bike is effortless no matter what the driving condition. This executive-commuter wipes competition off in the performance run by being the only bike to do 0-60 km/h in under eight seconds, 7.82 seconds to be precise.
Thus Honda and Suzuki impress again with very respectable 0-60 km/h figures and, more importantly, have a wide power-band, which make them a pleasure to ride within the city or cruise on the highway.
It is evident that the two new entrants, the Honda Dream Yuga and Suzuki Hayate, are the star performers in our test, clearly indicating that these modern offerings are well-thought-out products backed by advanced engineering. However, merely earning brownies here will not earn them sales, since a lot depends upon having dealerships deep within India and having a strong service and support network: a factor where Hero, TVS and Bajaj have an upper hand. Suzuki are determined to have 1,200 sales-and-service points within the next three years, while Honda’s target is to go up from 1,500 to 2,000 this year itself. As of now, no one comes close to Hero’s widespread network.
The other very important factor is price. The current market leader, Hero Splendor in its ‘Plus’ variant, retails at Rs 50,185 and the ‘Pro’ with electric start at Rs 53,488. The rugged Bajaj Discover carries a price tag of Rs 50,136, while the feature-packed TVS Star City is sold at an aggressive pricing of Rs 49,769 and the Yamaha YBR 110 at Rs 50,335.
This brings us back to the latest entrants since the two have completely different strategies. Suzuki have introduced the well rounded Hayate at the bottom end of the spectrum at Rs 47,735, which should get them a strong following from semi-urban areas and smaller towns. Honda, who have recently become the number two two-wheeler manufacturers in India, are cashing in on the respect they have garnered for their products and have priced the Dream Yuga at Rs 55,025, making it the most expensive in this segment.
The Hayate comes a close second. It’s a wonderful package, but loses out in efficiency, ride quality and, as of now, Suzuki have fewer dealerships. On the other hand, the Dream Yuga demands about Rs 1,500 extra compared to the Hero Splendor Pro, the segment benchmark, but offers great fuel efficiency and is equally powerful with new-age technology. More importantly, it comes with Honda’s quality assurance and widespread sales and service network. We’ll go with the Honda this time round.