The ultimate luxury touring motorcycle of all-time goes up against BMW’s K1600 GTL and Can-Am’s Spyder RT Limited watch the 2012 Honda Gold Wing Comparison Video and see what bike comes out on top.
For the last 37 years Honda’s Gold Wing has been the definition of luxury motorcycle touring. Through clever engineering and a relentless commitment to perfection the Gold Wing offers motorcyclists the utmost in comfort, practicality and performance. And the 2012 Honda Gold Wing ($27,099 as tested) is the pinnacle of the Japanese brand’s effort.
For ’12 the G-Wing received a well-deserved face lift to give it a more contemporary look. Still its silhouette hasn’t deviated much compared to past models and appears more conservative when viewed against the BMW or Can-Am. The shape of the bodywork makes the bike seem even larger than what it is.
Throw a leg over the seat and without question the Gold Wing is a hefty-sized motorcycle. The seat is a bit wider than the Beemer’s, but feels more plush like the Spyder’s. Measured seat height is lowest in class (29.1 inch) yet it doesn’t feel quite as short as the BMW’s (lower-setting) for some reason. The handlebar feels a bit wider than the competition but is still easy to reach. An abundance of buttons, switches and toggles greet the rider when he or she is parked in the saddle. It’s almost overwhelming how many controls there are but after you study the layout for a few minutes you’ll realize that everything is laid out in an orderly manner. Still we could see why some riders could prefer the more consolidated layout of the K-bike or Can-Am.
(Top) The Honda Gold Wing offers manual windshield adjustment compared to the electronic set-up on the BMW and Can-Am. (Center) The cockpit of the Honda Gold Wing resembles that of an airplane with a myriad of controls, dials and buttons. (Below) Unlike the BMW the hard cases cannot be removed from the motorcycle. All the cases can be locked electronically via a remote key-fob.
Fire up the big six-cylinder engine and it whirs to life with a high-pitched fast-idle purr. Once up to operating temperature we measured a sound reading of 78 dB at idle and 91 dB at 3200 revs (half of max rpm) which gave it title to being the quietest machine in the shootout.
Similar to the BMW, the Honda uses a conventional manual-style (5-speed) transmission which, unlike the Can-Am, requires its pilot to know how to shift. The clutch lever offers a light lever pull and considering the abundance of immediate engine torque getting rolling from a stop is about as uncomplicated as it gets, at least for a motorcycle.
The Gold Wing’s boxer-style Flax-Six engine provides excellent propulsion for a bike that tips the scales at 923 pounds (fully fueled, ready to ride) plus it’s exceptionally well balanced releasing zero engine vibration through its 6400 rpm rev range. On the dyno the engine pumped out a respectable 101.3 lb-ft of peak torque at 3900 revs (37.09 more than the Can-Am but nearly 13 down on the BMW). The overall torque curve is flatter and more consistent than the other bikes too. Horsepower-wise the Gold Wing starts out strong pumping out more power at lower rpm but by around 4500 rev it gets surpassed by the BMW. Maximum pony power arrives 1000 rpm later with 93.74 horsepower available at 5500 rpm. That’s a whopping 43.1 horses down on the BMW but 15.46 more than the Spyder.
In our straight-line acceleration tests the Honda accelerated from a dead stop to 60 mph in a time of 5.42 seconds. That’s 1.38 seconds quicker than the Can-Am but still just over a second behind the class-leading BMW. It sprinted through the quarter-mile in 14.11 seconds at a trap speed of 105.6 mph which was good enough for runner-up honors too. We encountered zero problems with the five-speed transmission and really appreciated the functionality of the electronic reverse which, like the Can-Am, makes things easier when you’re trying to back out of a parking spot.
“I really like the Honda’s engine,” admits Gauger. “It’s smooth, quiet and offers a lot of low-end torque which really helps when you’re passing cars on the freeway or climbing up steep grades. Sure it doesn’t have the high-rpm performance of the BMW but it still performs well for what it is.”
“While the G-Wing doesn’t have the outright charisma of the K-bike it still gets the job done,” adds Steeves. “The exhaust note sounds similar to a Porsche (both vehicles share the same Flat-Six engine configuration) plus at high-rpm the engine whirs to life like a turbine. I wasn’t expecting the Gold Wing to be as much fun as it is.”
Considering its added heft and slightly larger engine displacement we weren’t surprised that the Honda was a little bit thirstier for gas than the BMW. We recorded an average of 33.3 mpg. Fuel capacity is identical to the Can-Am (6.6-gallons) which equates to a range of almost 220 miles between fill-ups thanks to its far better fuel efficiency.
Gold Wings have always been known for their fantastic ride quality and it’s incredible how comfortable it is for both rider and passenger. Although it doesn’t offer the same level of electronic suspension adjustment as the BMW for the most part the suspension settings are well-calibrated and only start to come up short when the bike is pushed aggressively in the corners. Our biggest complaint is ground clearance and how the rear end tends to wallow a bit when you’re really getting after it on a curvy stretch of road. Though by raising the rear suspension preload electronically to its highest setting (25) ground clearance is raised slightly with a negligible effect on ride quality.
(Left) Our passenger’s reported the Honda Gold Wing as being the most comfortable bike in this test. (Center) We were surprised by how nimble the ’12 Honda Gold Wing is. (Right) The left handlebar houses switches for some of the audio controls.
“In terms of handling performance the Honda comes up a bit short compared to the BMW,” notes Steeves. “But man does it deliver a smooth ride. I remember riding over a really old, dilapidated stretch of road and it didn’t feel that much different than the smooth roads we were riding on earlier.”
The dashboard looks similar to what you’d expect to see inside a Honda Accord passenger car. The analog gauges are big and brightly backlit which makes them easy to read day or night. A well-proportioned color LCD display at the center provides a variety of different information including GPS-routing directions and audio information. At night the headlights are brighter and more powerful than the Can-Am’s but are now second-rate as measured against the high-tech illuminators found on the K1600 GTL.
(Top) Honda engineers gave the Gold Wing a face lift for ’12 but the styling is still too conservative. (Center) Ground clearance was more limited on the Gold Wing when ridden at a fast pace in corners. (Bottom) The 2012 Honda Gold Wing finished in second place in this year’s Luxury Motorcycle Touring Shootout.
As opposed to the slick electronic windshield adjustment of the BMW and Can-Am the ‘Wing makes use of a mechanical set-up that requires the rider to get off the bike to make any adjustment. It’s certainly not a deal breaker but it is something that could be improved on. Besides that small nit-pick the cruise control, seat/hand heaters, stereo controls are all easy to reach and simple to use. Another nice touch is the cockpit-mounted lever that when open blows warm air expelled from the radiator onto your legs when riding in cooler weather We also love the functionality of the GPS and the sound quality from its four-speaker stereo. In fact, if you’re an audiophile, then the Gold Wing with its top-shelf sound system is the bike for you.
“The electronics package on the Gold Wing is second to none,” says Gauger. “I can’t believe how good the stereo sounds. Plus the giant LCD display makes navigating through all its features and options much easier. The GPS also performed great, though I wish you could enter new destinations while moving since it requires you to be stopped to enter new address commands.”
Steering effort is light and you’ll be surprised by its agility. While it’s not quite as quick on its feet as the BMW it’s still by no means sloppy. Surprisingly the Gold Wing doesn’t employ any stability or traction control while the other machines make a big deal out of it. Though with its smooth, hit-free powerband and excellent grip offered up by the Bridgestone tires it doesn’t really need it.
In terms of cargo capacity the Gold Wing offers nearly 40 gallons of storage. One large top case at the back of the motorcycle is sized so it can fit two full-face motorcycle helmets. Hard cases on either side accommodate even more gear and everything can be locked via a handy automobile-style electronic remote. Our only real complaint is that the luggage is fixed and can’t be removed. We have a similar gripe with the Can-Am.
In the past we haven’t been fans of Honda’s proprietary linked braking system in which the front and rear brakes are mechanically linked together to some degree. But the set-up on the Gold Wing works real well. Braking power is strong and feels on par with the BMW but there is slightly less lever feel. And since its carrying 156 pounds extra pounds it takes a couple more feet of stopping distance to get hauled down from 60 mph. The ABS also performed well and felt very similar to the set-ups on the other two machines.
When the dust settled and the points were tabulated the mighty Gold Wing finished in second position behind the BMW. While it excelled in a number of subjective rider scored categories including Rider Interface, Overall Comfort, and Electronics/Instrumentation, Passenger Comfort and even Bike of Choice it simply gave up too much to the new K1600 GTL in the objective performance categories. Until Big Red can inject more performance it’s going to come up short against the high performance BMW.