In the Indian premium bike segment—150cc to 180cc—the Unicorn, Honda’s first motorcycle in the country, is a famous name. Not as flashy as the FZ series, not as aggressive as the Pulsars, not as sporty as the Apaches, yet the Unicorn was able to create a fan-following as a ‘powerful’ commuter bike. One of the first bikes in the commuter segment to get the rear mono-shock, it was quite comfortable too. However, because the competition kept on getting intense over the years—today there 15-odd 150-180cc bikes in India—so a new, more powerful Unicorn was needed. Last month Honda launched its 160cc avatar. For the record, this is Honda’s fourth bike in the segment, others being the CB Trigger, CB Unicorn 150 and CBR150R.
Old school, no-nonsense, conservative—the Unicorn 160, clearly, is not a head-turner. However, it’s got a design that can grow on you with time. The front is compact, there is black and silver cladding on the sides, and the black treatment of the engine and the exhaust looks good. The H-shaped LED tail light is unique. The rear-view mirrors offer good view of the road behind. Unlike most other jazzy 150-180cc bikes, the Unicorn gets a one-piece grab rail, single-piece seat, heel-toe gear-shift lever, a full chain case and relatively thinner tyres—all commuter bike features. The digital instrument cluster gets a fuel meter, an odometer, twin trip meters, clock, speedometer and tachometer. Ironically, there is no gear-shift indicator, nor is there a side stand warning light. As far as Honda standards are concerned, the switchgear quality is not up to the mark. There is no thumb-operated engine-kill switch either. Its seating position is upright and footpegs forward-set, conforming to its commuter-like character. While its design is functional, college-going youngsters, who are a big chunk of buyers of 150-180cc bikes, won’t drool over it.
The Unicorn 160 gets a brand new 163cc engine which generates a peak power of 14.5 bhp and a peak torque of 14.6 Nm. Like most Honda engines, the levels of refinement are high. The transmission remains the trusted five-speed box. Crank it and you are greeted with the typical Unicorn 150 engine sound. At low RPMs the vibrations are so limited that all it produces is a slight purr. But give it some gas on the idle and you will hear a slightly different note, primarily because of the redesigned exhaust system.
Get on the bike, slot into the first gear, let out the clutch, and the way the Unicorn 160 gains pace is quite an act. The engine is very responsive and its in-gear acceleration is excellent. In fact, the first gear itself packs a punch—it has the ability to touch 50 kmph in the first gear! While 14.5 bhp may not read too much of power, but because the Unicorn 160 is quite light (135 kg), this is enough to leave behind some other ‘sporty’ bikes in its class in a straight-line race. In our test, the bike touched 0-60 kmph in under 5 seconds and reached 100 kmph in a little over 15 seconds. The best thing is acceleration through the gears—in third gear it goes from 60-90 kmph in almost the same eagerness as in the second from 40-70 kmph. Lying down flat on the fuel-tank—so as to minimise air resistance—we touched a speed of 120 kmph (as indicated on the speedometer). Our GPS device, however, showed a true top speed of 111 kmph.
While the Unicorn 160 is quick, it is ideally a commuter bike. You can shift into the fifth gear at a low 35 kmph and take it all the way to the top—thus minimising gear-shifts in peak traffic conditions. The heel-toe gear-shift lever, again, is a commuter-friendly feature. The long seat ensures two people can comfortably sit. The claimed mileage of 62 kmpl from this HET machine seems correct considering the fact that we got 50 kmpl in peak traffic conditions and 65 kmph on the highway. The top variant gets the combined brake system (CBS), which distributes braking force between front and rear brakes. How does it work? Even if you press the foot brake pedal, the front disc brake is automatically engaged to an extent, leading to shorter stopping distance. While the brakes are effective, there is no rear disc brake. What many, especially the youngsters, may not appreciate is the upright riding position which doesn’t inspire you to ride hard around the corners. However, the bike is good at cornering and the MRF Zapper tyres offer good grip.
Not as flashy as the FZ series, not as aggressive as the Pulsars, not as sporty as the Apaches, the Unicorn 160 remains true to its character—a powerful, fuel-efficient commuter bike that makes an interesting case for itself. However, youngsters form a decent chunk of buyers of the 150-180cc bikes and, as I said, they won’t drool over it. For R71,924 for the standard version and R77,178 for the CBS variant, the Unicorn 160 isn’t playing the affordability game either (compare that to R70,693 for the Pulsar 150 and R73,904 for the Pulsar 180). The biggest competitor for the Unicorn 160 perhaps is its sibling Trigger—the former is a slightly better performer and comes at almost similar price. The Unicorn 160, in a way, also shows why Honda is having a hard time leading this segment—Honda has got very good products, but they aren’t flamboyant enough to attract young customers, and its flamboyant product, the CBR150R, comes at a price.
(Prices are ex-showroom, Delhi)