Hello, this is Vineeth. Glad to see that a few of you liked my review on my very own Yamaha FZ 16. My review would be based more on the user experience and less technical. In this article, I would present a review of the new Honda Unicorn (June 2009) which belongs to my friend, Prajeesh. This is actually a mixture of the user review and a road test in the city and highway.
Honda is a name that has become synchronous with design, quality, ride comfort and above all optimum comfort. Honda refers to its Unicorn users as Wing riders (?). The Unicorn is a mythical creature, which is pure white and has a single horn, and why Honda chose to name this bike Unicorn is unclear. One thing can be claimed. The bike is refined and smooth and you may feel you are riding a true Unicorn (anyway, has anyone ridden it actually?). But the Unicorn is made by Honda, which has become a trustworthy brand like Hero Honda and Bajaj to the Indian people.
The Unicorn was introduced in the Indian market in 2004 and since then it has become one of the largest selling 150cc bike, second only to the Pulsar. Since then, the bike has undergone cosmetic makeover 3 times. The bikes available today come in the all silver, red with black and white stripe, black with red and white stripe and the cool all black. Also is the blue limited edition, but I think it looks a bit unfit for the Unicorn. Honda has done roaring sales with the Unicorn, and the Unicorn has been sold even in the executive commuter segment (125-135cc). People, old and young seem to be at heart to buy it.
My friend had been considering the Hunk and Pulsar 150 but chose the Unicorn (pearl black) over the other 2 simply because the Pulsar looked outdated and the Unicorn was widely popular. Also mileage was also a plus for the Unicorn over the other 2. The Unicorn offered a stability and ride comfort as compared to the other 2. Unicorn offered superior mileage and pick up and has all the features and facilities one could wish for. Besides Pulsar has the main disadvantage of engine problems after 1-1.5 years of use and the Hunk had a small back seat and hasn’t done great sales.
Based on my friends ownership experience for the past 4 months, we both proceeded for the test drive on the Trichur – Palakkad NH 47 and back. Around 200km was covered. At times the highway was smooth and lonely, while at some places, this was busier than the city. Hence I feel we may have tested both the city and highway conditions. The bike had completed 3000km and 2 services, before the review, so the bike could be tested, with its optimum conditions.
Engine and Performance
Honda Unicorn is equipped with extremely refined and responsive 4 stroke, air cooled 150cc engine. The bike has maximum power 13.3bhp at 8000rpm and torque 1.3kgm at 5500rpm. Well, looking at the figures won’t give an exact idea but riding the bike sure does. This has the most refined and smooth engine performance in its category. Put your finger on the start button and the bike fires to life. When, you start riding, you won’t feel that the engine is running.
The bike has a toe shifted 5 speed gearbox, which is smooth and can be changed with the minimum effort. This smooth revving engine has a high torque available at 5500 rpm. The pickup is great, almost like the Apache and FZ 16. It takes around 5-6 seconds for 0-60km/hr. It takes another 4 seconds for braking from 60-10km/hr. Both self and kick start are available. The self start is excellent and it takes only 2 seconds. My friend regularly uses the choke and kick start for cold starting in the mornings. This is advantageous for all bikes.
The pickup is decent and there is no sudden or explosive acceleration like the Apache or FZ. The power flow is smooth and steady. The power flow is same independent of road like whether it’s a flyover or downside incline etc..
In the test ride, all the above conditions were true, if possible at a higher level. The open highway invited the bike for racing. The bike completed 0-60 at an instant and we cruised at 60-65kmph for one stretch 50-55kmph for another and like. We were able to overtake the big trucks and KSRTC buses even at a slightest effort. And the average speed of these vehicles was 60-70km. You get great confidence at overtaking, but great care should be taken. The 5 speed gearbox ( 1 down, 4 up ) is good and the toe-changer is effortless and smooth. The gear changes were smooth and were done at 4000rpm and 2500rpm respectively for up and down shifting. The gear ratios are well defined such that you can ride at 25km/hr at 5th gear. Any gear start is possible. After riding a 75km in economy, we proceeded for the next step: the top speed. My friend till then had gone a highest only at 70km/hr, that too in the busy city.
Honda claims that the top speed is 101km and some riders claim to have gone upto 105km/hr. Well after riding the bike, upto 60km/hr was comfortable. Upto 75km/hr was also a bit comfortable, but after 80 all the refineness and smoothness disappeared and the vibrations started kicking in. The top speed we went was 95km but after 80, the vibrations were so hard that you can feel them under the seat. And to this, my friend’s bike produced a tearing or ripping sound like something inside the engine wants to get out. I thought riding for a long time in this condition would damage the engine and hence reduced the speed to the comfortable 65km/hr. ( I don’t know whether this is a common problem of all Unicorns, or of this specific bike, so please check your Unicorns too.). Hence the optimum performance of the bike is brought out in the highway. So we get a true cruiser for our Indian highways.
The bike comes loaded with 240mm Disc and 130 mm Drum at the front and rear. The brakes were kept tight after the service but it seemed safe. Braking was done by simultaneous use of the front and back brake. Using the back brake only, will only slow down and will not stop the bike. This is an important tip as using both front and back may provide more stable braking and wear of the back brake, may be reduced . Anyway, avoid using the disc only at wet places, as chances of skidding are higher. During the ride, we had to brake hard at many times and this makes you feel that this could be the best for use in highways.
Stability, Ride Comfort, Suspension
Like the Harley Davidson, and other cruiser bike originally meant for the highways, the Unicorn may be considered more of a cruiser than a city bike. The ride position is similar to the Bullet. You can sit erect and there was no back strain or leg strain, after riding continuously for an hour. The position of the handlebar is the best in its category. The seats are adequately cushioned and the stability is more toward the center and is good. As the bike weights 145kg, you can feel the weight at cornering or doing steep turns. But most of the time, this gives you a feeling of safety and protection much unlike the Pulsar and Apache.
The bike has monoshock suspension like R15 and FZ and I still feel this is the best suspension that is desired for our roads. This also keeps the centre of gravity shifted toward the center of the bike, which I feel is advantageous. The suspension of this bike was set more toward hard, which meant better control.
Unlike the Pulsars, Apaches and probably the FZs, Honda has designed a wide and comfortable pillion seat. Even as the foot pegs were a bit higher, pillion riding is comfortable. For city rides, the weight of the bike is desired minimum for great stability but at higher speeds, more weight is desirable, as the bike is more locked towards the road.
During the ride, we took turns to ride and neither wanted to leave the luxury of the front seat and ride comfort. We rode 50km each and changed positions at times. For a 150cc bike the 2.75 x 18″, 3.00 X 18″ mm are ideal but after riding for a long time, you feel that a bit more fatter tire would be advantageous. This bike had the ordinary tires with tuff up tube. At stretches, the highway was full of potholes, but the bike could be steered easily amongst the trucks and other vehicles. We zig- zagged though the gaps easily like a bicycle, not feeling the full extent of the potholes due to the monoshock. Hence the ride comfort is the best in its category for both rider and pillion. The headlights are powerful and focused.
Along all these characteristics, safety is also assured by Honda. There are no instances of Unicorn losing control like Pulsar, Apache and other speeding bikes. The bike is one of the safest bikes in the segment. A disadvantage like the lesser throttle response makes you think again while overtaking. The bike also comes with good quality wide crash guard, which prevent many a scratches
Looks and Display
With bikes like the Apache, FZ, Pulsar and Hunk for competition, in the looks department, the bike is a step below than its competitors. The older versions, the striped ones could easily be mistaken for the passion or the 125cc shine. But the full black and silver versions, with their accentuated headlights give a prominent “150cc” look to the bike and the black pearl bike is surely eye-catching. The fuel tank is large with a capacity of 13litres and 1.3 reserves. The bike has a large wheelbase of 1340mm and quite high ground clearance 168mm. The paint quality is top-notch and when you place the bike under the blazing sun, you can see a beautiful rainbow pattern on the tank and painted areas. Overall the bike has a feeling of a big bike but it still doesn’t look beefy or sporty for a 150cc bike. (It’s one of the reasons why even older people go for it.) The matt black of the silencer and mudguard also are of top quality. The horn is average and could have been more powerful.
About the display, when all the 150cc bikes, except Hero Honda go for digital, Honda still have put the analogue display. I am a fan of analog display. The dials are big and the speedometer at centre and the tacho and fuel at the sides form a good arrangement. The bike only has a low fuel indicator while other features like low battery and low oil and even engine trouble indicators seem to have been discarded. Anyway, considering the visor and head light, the analog display sure looks a fit for the Unicorn. (I have heard that the Unicorn could be fitted with the digital display of the Pulsar for Rs.8000-12000. I don’t know if it’s true). The mirrors are good. The tail lamp sure gives a feeling of the Honda Dio for the Unicorn. Led lamps are missed. In the looks dept, it would score 9/10.
Even superbikes like hayabusa and R1 displayed, Indians have the habit of looking into the mileage first. Well this clearly shows that we Indians are a sure price sensitive lot than others. Mileage is one of the main or may be the preliminary reason for the success of the Unicorn. On its manual, even on the Honda showroom entrance, you see the Unicorn cutout displaying “60kmpl” mileage. Well, the bike actually brings out a performance, which does justice to its ads and cutouts. Many Unicorn users have reported mileage in the range of 50-60kmpl. My friend, who drives mostly in city, gets 52-54kmpl regularly. He drives mostly at 4000rpm at 50-55km/hr. He has received a maximum of 57kmpl and minimum of 45kmpl, during 4 months of use. After the 2nd service, the mileage figures are constantly above 50.
In our test, we drove the bike at 60-70km/hr for around 20km, 50-55km/hr for 30km and the approximate mileage obtained was 58kmpl. So it is really a highway bike. In the return, I constantly rode the bike at 55km/hr, no sudden braking and no sudden acceleration and deceleration. The bike showed 62kmpl. So a mileage of 55-60 would be constantly expected. This gives the Unicorn no.1 position in mileage in 150cc. The Pulsar150 and Hunk also occasionally gives 60kmpl. The maximum mileage as certified by ARAI for Unicorn in highway is 68kmpl. For a 150cc bike anything above 60 is excellent.
Right from the time, the Unicorn was introduced, Honda have had a success. Out of total sales of Honda, Unicorn, among bikes and Activa, among scooters account for major sales. Both are no.1 in their respective segments. Thus for Rs.67000 on road (Kerala), you can get a smooth, greatly refined, comfortable (for 2 persons ), stable and good looking bike with excellent mileage. Even though the on road price really is Rs.64000, Honda charges greatly for the other add-ons like crash guard, dressguard, seat cover etc… The spares are also reputed to be costly. So finally, the cons are
- People report the starting problem in mornings. This is a common problem and may be avoided by using the kick (without choke) for 5 times and then with choke. Kick starting in cold is recommended.
- In the time of Apache RTR, R15, FZ and now Karizma, the Unicorn looks outdated just like Pulsar 150. As the sales are still going great, Honda has not bothered to make any modifications to the engine mapping or the look or performance. Honda may notice, when their sales start dipping.
- The bike is heavy, and you can feel the full weight during cornering and riding zig-zag is not as fun as the FZ.
- For a large selling bike, the service of Honda has to improve a lot. Some service center personnel have the feeling that a too much selling bike is not favorable as their workload would tremendously increase. I feel that 2-3 service centers should be opened in major cities for Honda.
- Main thing is the 3 months waiting period. Now it is around 50 days. You have to wait for the full 50 days till delivery, otherwise wait for any booking cancellation. And around 10% of Honda coustomers do cancel their bookings. Honda could have done more sales if they stock in advance, like Hero Honda. Customers regularly book the Unicorn, and when they find the waiting period so long, go for other 150cc bikes.
The disadvantages are not serious and when compared to the features of the bike, they simply seem to vanish. Hence the Unicorn is for those people who:
- Look for a 150cc bike with power and pickup and provide a decent mileage at the same time, that too the 150cc bike with maximum mileage.
- Executive commuters who travel more than 50km a day.
- Look for a bike which provides the best ride comfort (for 2 persons ) and have a smooth and refined engine (meant more for highways than busy cities).
- Who truly trust the quality and makes of Honda bikes
For 1st time bike users, if you go for the Unicorn, you can get a majestic looking, safe, refined and powerful bike with 50 plus mileage and also being a Honda, the parents or “sponsors” will also be satisfied. The Unicorn is a bike which does not disappoint you in any ways and is fully valued for its price tag. This is a true 150cc bike meant for the highways and long rides and even won’t disappoint in the city use. The bike sure has scope for more great sales if it comes with even a bit cosmetic modification.
Also for the price of Honda Unicorn, a likewise bike is the Suzuki GS 150r, which provides ride comfort and stability like Unicorn, also features a digital display and led tail lamps, at the same price of the Unicorn. But in India, Honda is better than Suzuki.
So at the end of my road test, I feel the best bike to use in the highways , for smooth power flow and sudden over takings at times, and for cruising at optimum power and with maximum mileage is the Honda Unicorn. I would recommend the Unicorn to those people who want a true Honda bike, made for exclusively; India . BE A WING RIDER. 🙂