The VFR800 is a cultish bike, with a loyal following. It’s a motorcycling tribe enamored by the V-Four engine, and Honda’s history behind it. But these hard-core VFR enthusiasts have been left wanting in recent years, at least in the US, as the 800 was dropped from American Honda’s lineup in 2009. In its stead was the VFR1200 – an intriguing bike in its way, but an expensive one and not a blockbuster hit by any means. Now Big Red returns the 800 to US shores with significant revisions as the 2014 VFR Interceptor.
As American Honda’s media representatives described the VFR800 demographic during our recent press ride in Southern California, the most distinguishing trait was that VFR riders actually ride – amassing higher-than-average mileage on their mounts. This claim stuck out in my mind in particular, as I’d recently received an email from a MotoUSA reader who mentioned his personal ride was a VFR with 70,000 miles on it. These are the sort of folk that geek out on the tech details and spec sheets. They likely have strong opinions about gear driven vs. chain-driven cams, and Honda’s VTEC system (more on this in a moment). This Interceptor redesign attempts to refine, rather than revolutionize. And after a day strafing through MotoUSA’s familiar Southern California testing haunts, including Palomar Mountain, I suspect VFR loyalists will be pleased with the result.
So what’s new? Styling updates are the most noticeable revisions, as new bodywork delivers a sleeker look. The LED headlight also draws attention. More subtle stylish cues include the bronze magnesium finish on the engine covers and 10-spoke wheels. A singlesided swingarm returns, but with a new cross brace to increases torsional rigidity. Honda ditched the dual undertail exhaust for a single right-side canister, which lightens up the back end both physically and aesthetically. A lighter aluminum subframe, which replaces a steel-tubed design, furthers the weight drop out back. All told, the 2014 Interceptor’s claimed 529-pound curb weight is an 11-pound reduction from the previous model.
The VFR is a slimmer bike too, thanks to a new stacked radiator configuration (as opposed to the previous side-mounted units) which narrows the bodywork by 1.5 inches. The subframe is also narrower, which allows a thinner seat. The result is an easier reach to the ground for riders despite its 31.8-inch seat height raising fractionally (0.1 inch). Shorter riders will also appreciate the seat’s two-position adjustability, lowering to an even 31 inches. Straddling the bike for our press ride, my 32-inch inseam saw me comfortably resting on the ball of my foot with the tall seat.
The 2014 Interceptor remains powered by a 782cc V-Four, but engineers have elongated intake funnels and tweaked the cam timing, engine mapping and fuel delivery to improve bottom-end power. The updates also promise a smoother transition of the VTEC valvetrain, when the engine switches from two to four-valves, at higher revs. The VTEC system is a bone of contention for some VFR folks, who have been leery ever since it made its debut with the 2002 generation – this latest iteration also changing from gear-driven cams to the current chain-driven design.
Fire the Interceptor to life and riders are greeted with a familiar V-Four cadence. I can’t vouch for improvements compared to the 2008 model, as I haven’t ridden the latter model, but the bottom-end power is more than enough for regular street and touring duty. The real treat for riders is when the V-Four ratchets up in the higher revs. The VTEC transition, between 6500 and 6800 rpm, transforms the VFR into a true sportbike.
Honda bills the V-Four’s revised settings as making for a smoother tickover from 2- to 4-valve operations. Again, I can’t compare without direct experience, but I found the transition smooth enough. (A future VFR event with my fellow Pacific Northwest riders may remedy this back-to-back comparison, so stay tuned…) There’s no sudden ka-chunk surge with the VTEC changeover, but there is a noticeable performance increase. My favorite change at higher rpm, however, is the V-Four’s wonderful intake howl and engine sounds. Only a truly hardhearted rider will fail to enjoy the Interceptor’s raucous high-revving tunes, and VFR aficionados will relish them.
(Above) Honda ditched the dual undertail exhaust of previous VFR800s for a single right-side canister. (Middle) Braking power improves with the addition of dual radial-mount four-piston calipers up front, and dual-caliper setup in the rear. (Below) The LED headlight it a new aesthetic feature which draws attention.
The VFR is not a ride-by-wire design, with the throttle feel steady and predictable. The bike scoots around at lower rpm with a buzz-free easy-to-ride power delivery. But the top-end performance gains are such that riders will happily put in the extra effort to keep the revs high, particularly during sporty runs. Thankfully, the six-speed transmission does its part well enough, although I did find a handful of false neutrals during the day. There’s no slipper clutch to be had, unlike many of its Supersport cousins, but I didn’t have any overly disruptive moments with downshifts.
Handling-wise the VFR feels smaller at the controls than its specsheet weight would imply, with a low center of gravity. The bike changes direction with minimal effort, but also maintains a stable and planted feel in the corner. The Interceptor splits the difference between the razors-edge performance of a 600 supersport and a larger displacement sport-touring mount – not too twitchy and not too heavy.
A 43mm Showa fork and single rear shock are adjustable for preload, with the shock offering rebound adjustment as well. Honda also offers a Deluxe spec that adds rebound damping adjustment for the front fork. I spent the majority of my time aboard the standard spec VFR and found the base setup more than acceptable for a sporting pace on some of California’s most famous backroads, including Palomar Mountain. Aggressive riders will want a firmer setup, but I found baseline settings a pleasing compromise of comfort and performance – as the VFR offers a plush ride in urban/touring duties.
Braking power improves with the addition of dual radial-mount four-piston calipers up front, and dual-caliper setup in the rear. The VFR’s brakes aren’t linked, with ABS standard on the Deluxe model and an option on the standard bike.
The Tokico front stoppers, which clamp on 310mm discs, deliver all the stopping power I need. I found the VFR’s two-finger actuation and fine-tune modulation at the lever preferable than the all-or-nothing bite delivered by some top-shelf brakes.
I’m not as fond of the Interceptor’s riding position, which is definitely on the sporty side. VFR fans are likely rolling their eyes at the wincing wuss writing this review, as sportiness is exactly what defines the VFR family. Fair enough, but the forward lean put pressure on my wrists – affecting all-day comfort. The seat, however, felt great and the footpeg position, while somewhat cramped, was not insufferable. Honda offers optional bar risers, which moves the handlebar placement up 13.5mm (0.5 inches) and slightly rearward. I reckon that change would make a world of difference.
Behind the controls Honda has given the VFR’s instrument console a solid redo. It may lack the crisp TFT display found on some high-end bikes, but it does showcase all the must-have info a rider really needs: Large analog tach in the center, flanked on the left by digital speedo and LCD display on the right with gear position indicator, tripmeter, clock and ambient air temperature.
The base model VFR Interceptor sports a $12,499 MSRP. The Deluxe version costs an extra grand and includes a host of options as standard kit, including: ABS, traction control, heated grips and self-cancelling turn signals. We spent only a couple minutes on the Deluxe model and can say this: Heated grips are always a treat, if unnecessary, and a great touring addition. The self-cancelling signals work too, even though I found myself cancelling them before they themself-cancelled… if that makes any sense. The VFR’s TC system is of the save-your-bacon variety, as opposed to the tunable performance aid on some sportbikes. Applying too much throttle in the gravel or hamfisting it on the road I saw the VFR’s TC indicator light up as the ECU cut in. Aside from the Deluxe add-ons, there are VFR accessory options galore. The obvious extras are 29 liters of space from integrated hard saddlebags, which are similar in function to the VFR1200 bags. Another notable accessory is a quickshifter, the first Honda has offered in its motorcycle lineup.
The Interceptor is yet another option in Honda’s now teeming model lineup. Honda reps stated this new VFR could appeal to riders wanting to move up from the also new-for-2014 CBR650F, or the CB500 units. But first and foremost, Big Red built this new Interceptor for its VFR faithful, who have been waiting a long time for an update. I think the VFR loyalists will appreciate the refinements made for 2014. As for future MotoUSA VFR plans, a sport-touring comparison is in the works – as well as a visit to a VFR rally here in the forthcoming weeks. Stay tuned.