From concept (below) to the all-new VFR1200F (above) - Honda has kept the press and public guessing since day one as to what this latest VFR would be.
Is it a sportbike, or a touring bike?
The 2010 Honda VFR1200F refuses to politely slot into those rigid class structures we enjoy so much. In fact, Honda’s latest VFR baffled the press right from its inception, crashing onto the scene as a concept model at the 2008 Intermot Show. The word concept is a stretch, it was more like a concept of a concept – an interpretive sculpture of a VFR Honda would like to build…one day. We remember. We were there, with all the other journalists, when the curtain raised to reveal red bodywork with an odd, ominous X-shaped headlamp. All looked at one another with furrowed brows wondering, what is this?
Flash forward a year and the VFR1200F broke cover, squashing all the tasty rumors that had taken off after the first enigmatic reveal. Honda was making a V-5 superbike, or was it a V-4 800cc supersport based off its MotoGP racebike? Then the first images leaked, the new VFR was… a touring bike? Again, collective brows furrowed in motorcycle media offices around the world.
Even after we finally got to sample the new VFR at the press launch in Japan
, riding this supposed touring bike on the Sugo racetrack, of all places, we left pondering the new Honda’s true nature. Again, is it a sportbike or a touring bike?
So, to answer the question, Motorcycle USA offers up an unorthodox comparison test. We snagged the VFR and pitted it against the Suzuki Hayabusa and the Kawasaki Concours 14. The mighty Hayabusa represents the furthest edge of the hypersport class, while the Concours rests on the opposite end of the touring ledger. Somewhere in between the VFR must fall.
Our test route would stretch near 1500 miles and cover a wide range of roads, everything from tight mountain canyons to wide sweeping backroads, with a healthy dose of freeway travel. The usual data collection occurred too, including dynos, weights, fuel mileage and performance tests. With the four-day tour still fresh in our minds, we have reached some conclusions on the new Honda. We think.
A pulsing V-Four engine defines the Honda VFR lineup. The latest incarnation, a 1237cc 76-degree design, showcases Honda innovation. There’s the Unicam valvetrain, developed on the CRF450R motocrosser, with a four-valve head and flatter, more efficient combustion chamber. There’s Honda’s first Throttle By Wire (TBW) system, the link from rider to engine now electronic, not mechanical. There’s the unique cylinder layout, with the rear cylinders located inward on the center of the crankshaft, thus making the rear cylinder head more compact - in turn making the seating position narrower. All told the new changes make for a more compact engine than even its 800cc VFR Interceptor sibling.
Though down on CC, the Honda VFR splits the horsepower difference between the Hayabusa and Concours 14.
Compared to the Inline-Fours in our test, the VFR mill stands out. The Hayabusa (1340cc) and Concours (1352cc) feature larger displacement and the physical dimensions, in particular the width, dwarf the Honda. Straddle the super slender VFR, thumb the starter and the engine characters further diverge. Where the Busa, and particularly the Concours, engines sport a smooth wail, the VFR hops to life with a clattering rhythm and audible difference at idle. The V-Four feels quite balanced, with the Vee configuration lacking any balance shaft, but kicks with more chatter and vibration. The vibes don’t rise to obnoxious levels, yet they are more pronounced than those from the Inlines, and on decel the shakes rise up through the VFR tank to let a rider know there’s a hulking V-Four churning down there.
Rolled onto the dyno the VFR acquits itself well, producing 144 hp and 81.26 lb-ft rear wheel power. This splits the horsepower difference between the Haybusa (166.6 hp) and Concours (134.7 hp). The VFR’s torque, while lower in peak power than both the Inlines, sports a power curve with robust top end, pulling hard from 6-10K, far beyond the Kawasaki.
On road the VFR’s performance contrasts both the Busa and Concours. As the dyno suggests, the V-Four sings past the 6K marker, but has a peculiar flat spot before it. In the lower gears, the muted engine response is more pronounced until about 5500 rpm. The sensation is intentional, a power valve in the exhaust working with the throttle-by-wire system to harness the Four’s power. When asked, Honda reps say the system makes the VFR more accommodating to a wide array of riders. We imagine the aftermarket shops, like Bazzaz Performance, will be quick to find a fueling map that works its way around this failsafe.
The low gear/rpm restriction aside, Honda’s TBW system delivers seamless fueling and throttle response. Once in the mid-range the VFR rips with immediate ferocity at the right grip. Acceleration outpaces the Kawasaki, though doesn’t match the tenacity of the Suzuki.
The Suzuki Hayabusa's Inline-Four, with its unhindered, raw performance, proved unbeatable on the dyno and the quarter-mile - at least in this comparison.
The Hayabusa represents unbridled engine performance, though Suzuki does utilize the Drive Mode Selector (DMS) sytem, with its three-position A,B and C mode. All three parlay a noticeable difference in power delivery. While it seems gimmicky, and maybe it is, we found the muted C mode pleasing for city traffic, lacking the intense acceleration of the A default. (C-mode on the Suzuki at low rpm, feels similar to the VFR’s low end). Once the road opens up a little, however, back to A-mode and its unconstrained aggression.
As for the Councours engine, in this test, it doesn’t inspire awe quite the way it does amongst its usual sport-touring crowd. That said, the Kawasaki’s Inline-Four exhibits a refined, immediate thrill. The one word that comes to our mind the most is smooth. It’s quite easy, too easy probably, to be motoring hum-drum down the highway thinking you're going 60mph to look down and see 90+mph on the Kawi. Considering it weighs an extra 100 lbs, the Connie carries its heft with a considerable amount of steam.
The Kawasaki proved its mojo during our performance testing, with a respectable 11.38 quarter-mile time. Again, the Honda betters the Kawi at 11.08, and we feel with more familiarity the Honda’s time could improve. The Suzuki, for which the drag strip is a natural habitat, proved to be the fastest at 9.87 in the quarter-mile.
|Kawasaki Concours 14
The VFR engine performs admirably, but it’s difficult for our testers to be overwhelmed - double true when riding it next to a Hayabusa. Honda’s biggest challenge with the VFR’s engine in particular, and the design as a whole, is living up to soaring expectations. Remember, some expected this VFR to be a street-legal version of its MotoGP bike! The V-Four notion in some of our heads was raw, unadulterated, overboard – like the ridiculously un-Honda Star V-Max. The rallying cry “performance, performance, performance!” is best heeded in in our testing cadre by Road Test Editor Adam Waheed, who sums up the VFR mill:
Once in its robust mid-range, the VFR1200F rips hard all the way to the five-figure redline - delivering autobahn performance for the willing rider. Too bad we don't have any autobahns here in the US of A!
“My biggest complaint with the bike after my first couple of rides, and now even after riding it some 1000 miles, is its engine. Honda spent all this cash and R&D time in creating this bad-ass, high-tech 1200cc V-Four engine, then they dumb it down so far that it feels almost the same as the CBR1000RR engine only smoother and with a different muted exhaust note,” opines Adam, whose recent V-Four experience includes the V-Max and a torrid year-long, love affair with a Desmosedici test bike.
This tester's estimation of the VFR mill is different. Though the low gear rpm handicap lacks the raw feel of the Hayabusa, it does make the power on tap more user-friendly for a less aggressive rider. And when you want to crank up the speed, or as one of our favorite test riders likes to say, really ball the jack, the Honda will not disappoint. Keep that red mount singing up at 6K, high noon on the analog tach, and it will flat out fly.