It’s no surprise the brave little CBR250R takes some knocks in this shootout. It fell short to the Ninja 250R two years ago, so there was little hope of besting a more refined 300. But like a scrappy fighter punching above its weight, the Honda acquits itself well as an entry-level commuter, and even lands a couple performance shots against the bigger brawler.
The CBR’s obvious deficit comes from the 47cc disparity of its 249cc liquid-cooled Single. On the MotoUSA dyno it registered 23.75 peak horsepower and 15.66 lb-ft of torque - giving up a staggering 11.66 horsepower to the new Ninja. Against the older Ninja 250, the CBR’s Single also lacked peak top-end power, but it countered with more pleasing torque down low. Against the 300, however, the Honda faces a sizable power deficit across the entire rev range. It only comes close to catching the 300 with its mid-range kick, around 6000-8000 rpm, and even then gives up a couple ponies. After 8K the CBR signs off and watches the Ninja make tracks with its robust top end.
Riders don’t need a dyno to determine the more powerful mill on the street. The CBR’s bottom end, formerly its saving grace, now feels lackluster compared to the much-improved Ninja. The Honda’s acceleration data says it all, as our test rider required an extra 2.58 seconds to get up to 60 mph. And once on the move the CBR can’t match the Ninja in roll-on power, as it struggles to keep its green rival in the crosshairs. The performance gap was particularly notable on the freeway, during inclines and when gassing out of a corner.
This time around red can't cross green, anywhere...
“The Honda’s power is lacking in comparison to the Ninja as you would expect,” admits Justin. “Even so, it still is pretty peppy for a 250cc Single. Keep it spinning and the little quarter-liter Honda will scoot.”
The Single does make for an easy-to-ride powerplant, and only in comparison with the now-larger Ninja does it seem timid. As a stoplight-to-stoplight commuter its tractable powerband and low gearing excels. Seamless fueling and a forgiving throttle response ensure newbies aren’t overwhelmed either. However, the CBR’s EFI advantage is now canceled out by the once-carbureted Ninja’s upgrade to fuel injection.
Engine vibration is another area where the CBR gives ground, owing to the Ninja’s improvement. Where the Honda was once praised for smoothing out the inherent vibes produced by a Single (thanks to its gear-driven counter balancer), by making the Ninja’s Twin less buzzy, Kawasaki shifts the vibration disadvantage back to Honda. For what it’s worth, the single-cylinder CBR does emit more polite exhaust tones, registering 82 dB at idle and just 91 at half-redline (5250 rpm) - compared with an 88/97 dB registry from the Kawasaki.
“The CBR’s mill revs slower and just doesn’t have any sort of rush,” says Justin. “It’s acceptably smooth unless you let your knees touch the bike, then you realize how well the footpegs and handlebars are dampened.”
A well-sorted six-speed transmission makes for easy launches, with the Honda offering a light clutch lever pull. Our testers find no serious fault with the Honda transmission, but the Kawasaki’s clutch provides smoother engagement.
“While the CBR shifted just as well as the Kawasaki, the clutch just didn’t have the feel and actuation of the Ninja. Not a deal killer for sure, it just wasn’t quite as good,” rates Justin.
There’s also the matter of the slipper functionality offered by the Ninja's clutch – a clear advantage for the Kawasaki. The CBR does nothing wrong or unexpected, but bang thru the gears with an ill-advised downshift and the rear end will hop, skip and chatter where the Ninja’s does not.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the plucky Honda! Our testers deem the CBR brakes superior to the Ninja, despite a 60-0 braking evaluation that actually shows it at a slight disadvantage (143.4 feet to 141.8). Both mounts feature single-disc fronts, but the Honda’s Nissin calipers deliver a more forceful initial bite and enhanced lever modulation. The CBR’s ABS and linked braking also feels more effective in action. The back-to-front linked system may not be favored by all, including our dirt-oriented editor, but the newbie-friendly feature does settle the front end for a controlled stop.
“Although I’m not a fan of linked brake systems or ABS,” admits Justin, “the CBR brakes bring you down from speed with excellent power and better-than-expected feel.”
Lightweight handling and easy flickability are two more areas where the CBR shines. Its 366-pound curb weight scrubs a full 20 pounds from the Ninja, but we'd guess the sprightly Honda even lighter by the way it hustles. A physically narrower bike, the slender CBR sports a 1.4-inch shorter wheelbase (53.9 inches) and two-degree steeper rake (25.0 degrees). This geometry translates into a sharp-cutting ride when the road kinks up.
“The Honda was so light and flickable in the turns, and for me that was the deciding factor,” says Justin. “On the bigger bumps the chassis would protest, but the trade-off on the tight mountain roads was worth it.”
A non-adjustable 37mm conventional fork holds up well in slash-and-dash maneuvering, but starts to flex when pressed hard. Quick to turn in but twitchier as well, the nimble CBR gains agility at the expense of high-speed stability – where the larger Ninja fares better.
The dimensions of the Honda make for a more compact cockpit, ideal for shorter riders. A 30.5-inch seat height makes for an easy reach to the ground, but taller riders will find the footpegs cramped.
“The Honda is a smaller machine all over and would definitely be my choice if I were a small statured rider,” reckons Dawes, adding: “If I could have taken the CBR’s seat with me when it was time to ride the Kawasaki, I would have.”
Both MotoUSA test riders agree the Honda’s cush seat is far comfier than the Ninja’s stiff perch. We also found the CBR’s bodywork and windscreen, while less encompassing, to be quite effective. These two aspects make the Honda our preferable mount for pounding out freeway commutes.
Honda fit and finish is evident in the levers and controls, and the CBR feels sturdy and well made. However, the instrument console already looks dated, particularly compared to the new Ninja. Another gaffe is the fuel cap, which fully detaches from the tank instead of retracting up. While more of a chore to fuel up, the CBR does deserve credit for its more miserly fuel usage. We observed a 58.7 mpg fuel efficiency aboard the Honda, with the Kawasaki measuring 53.2 mpg. Forced to ferry the 200-plus pound weights of our test riders, the Honda should net well over 60 mph for lightweight riders and more forgiving throttle hands.
- Nimble handling excels at low-speed maneuvering and traffic, making for a great commuter mount
- Economical ride with more affordable MSRP and light gas sipper
- Soft seat makes Ninja perch feel like a brick
- 300 Twin makes the 250 Single feel slow, real slow...
- Can't match the Ninja's cush extras, namely that slipper clutch
Frugality at the pump extends to pricing, where the CBR makes its most impassioned case to consumers. The 2013 model bumps MSRP up $100 to start at $4199, with our ABS model ringing in at $4699. Honda undercuts the base model Ninja 300 by $600, with the ABS version an even tidier $800 value. Kawasaki will counter that the performance gains offset the pricing disparity, and we’d agree. But a budget-minded newbie or commuter can beg to differ, with justification.
In this comparison the Honda clearly suffers from its 47cc displacement handicap, but there’s much to hail about the humble CBR. Riders should praise its cost-effective fun and utilitarian functionality. Most important for consumers, the once moribund entry-level class has been stoked up by this little 250’s challenge.