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2006 Honda 599 First Ride

Friday, February 17, 2006
Honda 599
The latest rendition of the Honda 599 features some jazzy upgrades to help justify its lofty MSRP, the highest in its class.
Wal-Mart is expected to open more than 370 new stores in 2006. Still, there are plenty of consumers out there who never step foot in one.

We're guessing these are the people Honda hopes to reach with its revised-for-'06 599. In our first test of the fun and likeable Honda in 2004, we noted that the 599 doesn't have a fashionable and effective aluminum frame or a fuel-injection system, yet its $7099 price exceeded all its competitors. We suggested back then that "the 599's biggest obstacle to success might be its price tag."

It turned out we were correct. Sales were so dull that Honda didn't even import the 599 in 2005, as there were still plenty of leftover models hanging around and the promise of an improved version for '06.

We were excited when we heard about the bike's revisions. The stone-age damping-rod conventional fork was tossed in favor of a more effective inverted design with cartridge internals, and a sportier front fender to match. A new triple-clamp and steering stem hold the 41mm fork legs a further 10mm apart, and its rake goes up 0.5 degree to 25.5 with 2mm less trail (at 96mm). The adoption of this more rigid fork required additional gusseting around the frame's steering head.

Honda 599
Upgrades to the new 599 include an inverted 41mm cartridge fork, as well as a two-piece mini-cowl flyscreen, redesigned front fender, and a new metallic black color.
Visually, the 599 gets a two-piece mini-cowl flyscreen that houses a new instrument cluster that includes a fuel gauge, mileage countdown, twin tripmeters, clock, and coolant temperature gauge. A dual-texture seat offers a grippy surface up top and smooth sides for unrestricted leg movement. Gold accents on the brake calipers and front disc carriers are set off by a new metallic black color that replaces the matte-black or yellow bodywork and tank.

So, all Honda had to do to make the updated bike seem like a relative bargain is to bring it in at the same price as before. The 599 was always good, just a little pricey. Unfortunately, the 599's MSRP was boosted $300 to $7399. For comparison, here is an inventory of bikes that list for less:

Suzuki SV650: $5949
Kawasaki Ninja 650R: $6299
Suzuki SV650S: $6449
Yamaha FZ6: $6799
Kawasaki Z750S: $7099
Yamaha YZF600R: $7099
Kawasaki ZZR600: $7299

Honda's problem with pricing is due to the 599 being built in Italy where the Euro exchange rate is playing havoc with products manufactured across the Pond. Honda simply had no choice but to increase the 599's cost.

Honda 599
The 599 compliments a rider of new or growing skill levels. Its 31.1-inch seat height also makes it a good fit for riders of shorter stature. Duke stands 5'8".
"We can't apologize for the price," replied Honda rep Jon Seidel. "We're not going to bring something in that's going to lose money."

Okay, so Wal-Mart shoppers might not find what they're looking for at the Honda dealership. However, more upscale buyers will delight in the changes made to this playful and earnest machine.

As usual, the 599 is a gem for riders on the ascension of their learning curve. After the minor hassle of using the handlebar-mounted choke lever to wake up cold carburetors, it is a highly newbie-friendly scoot. It's an incredibly cooperative handler and is great for dicing through traffic. A moderate clutch pull and a light-action gearbox makes maneuvering easy, and its 31.1-inch seat height fits smaller riders well (taller ones will be short on legroom).

Though the 599 makes a good fit for newer/shorter/female riders, Honda says buyers of the previous model straddled a very large-scoping demographic. The more experienced of those likely chose the 599 for its upscale items like its high-mount exhaust pipe, decent two-up accommodations with an aluminum grab rail, lengthy 16,000-mile valve service intervals and Honda's typical excellent fit and finish.

Honda 599
Seasoned riders will appreciate the cornering abilities of the 599 once they throw it around on the twisty stretch of pavement, like we did in Malibu's Latigo Canyon.
Those fast vets will be pleased with the revisions to this new version. The new fork and frame bracing have added a claimed 3 lbs to the bike's weight, which would make it scale in at 419 lbs with its 4.5-gallon tank empty. This, however, has no negative effect on how the bike gets around corners. The beefed-up chassis makes the 599 more voracious for winding roads than ever, and that's compared to the bike we described as having "a Mazda Miata-like hunger for a good thrashing."

The revised steering geometry, beefier front end and stickier Michelin Pilot Road tires result in an inspiring and cooperative scalpel for twisty roads. The slight rake addition and an extra 0.2-inch of wheelbase (to 56.1 inches) isn't nearly enough to overwhelm the great leverage from the 599's tubular handlebar and the in-control, upright riding position. Malibu's Latigo Canyon, one of the twistiest roads you'll find anywhere, was a perfect playground for the 599 that encouraged me to fling it around from one footpeg feeler to the other.

The more sophisticated fork is better able to cope with bumps, whether when leaned over or in a straight line. Plus, with a better controlled front end, the rather ordinary linkage-less rear shock is taxed less, resulting in enhanced ride quality. Rear preload continues to be the only suspension adjustment. Brakes remain the decent but unremarkable twin 298mm discs with old-tech twin-piston calipers up front.

Honda 599
The new 599's instruments are an improvement over the older model, with the digital speedo easier to read than the old analog gauge.
Though the 599cc four-cylinder engine is unchanged internally, it received a few tweaks to make it compliant with 2008 CARB standards. In addition to the usual catalyzer and air pump, the 34mm flat-slide carburetors are fitted with a system that shuts off fuel when decelerating. Despite this, I'm happy to report that I didn't notice a difference in sensitivity when reapplying the throttle. My main gripe about the motor is that it ran 223 degrees during 30-mph lane splitting on a 70-degree day, which seems a bit high under those moderate conditions.

We expect the engine output to be the same as before, which was a respectable but uninspiring 83.4 horsepower at 11,700 rpm, well short of its 14,000 rpm rev limit. Its linear powerband is perfect for a street motor, though it is without the grin-inducing top-end snap that some other Fours can unleash.

Speaking of revs, the 599's new instruments are very attractive. Together with the new mini-cowl, the cockpit goes a bit more upscale. The analog tach is very easy to read, but the LCD display for the speedo and other gauges could use more contrast in direct sunlight. Still, the speedo is easier to read than the small numbers on the old analog gauge. Up front remains the same excellent headlight that uses a cast-aluminum reflector, polycarbonate lens, and two single-filament 55-watt H11 bulbs that are claimed to provide 60% better illumination.

Honda 599
Our final verdict of the new 599 is much the same as the old: An impressive, fun, naked middleweight whose biggest flaw remains its inflated price tag.
The diminutive new cowl might offer a slight increase in wind protection, but the 599 still wouldn't be the best choice for touring interstates. Its short seat-to-peg distance will cause creaky knees over the long haul. As is typical of the CBR600F2/F3 motor the 599's is sourced from, it has a short but noticeable vibration zone. However, since it is most prevalent up between 5500-6500 rpm, it is easily avoided.

Just as in 2004, we came away from our day ride on the 599 impressed with what is a nicely finished, fun and cooperative naked middleweight. If you're in the market for such a machine, you won't be disappointed with the 2006 model, as it brings newfound cornering composure, a better ride and a much improved instrument cluster. Its most significant fault is its relatively high MSRP.

So, the question remains: Are you a Wal-Mart shopper?


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