Honda squared its sights on Kawasaki’s Ninja 300 with its 2015 CBR300R and succeeded in beating the green machine in head-to-head competition, placing third-overall. The diminutive sportbike received updated styling, revised fueling, a restyled exhaust canister and only a $200 price bump over the outgoing 250R version for 2015 and the package as a whole proved surprisingly gratifying to our testing crew. Especially for those that had experienced the previous iteration, the CBR300R is a vast improvement over the 250.
“If there’s a bike that’s the most transformed for 2015, it’s got to be the CBR300R,” says Waheed. “I was never a big fan of the 250R but the 300 I like a lot. The extra little bit of displacement makes a big difference.”
To be clear, though its name indicates it’s a 300, the Honda is actually 286cc. Even so, the four-valve, liquid-cooled Single is only 6.7 horsepower down on the 296cc Kawasaki at its peak, and exceeds the Ninja in pull with 18.72 lb-ft of torque available at 6600 rpm, compared to Kawi’s 17.37 lb-ft at 10,000 rpm. The Honda pulls stronger earlier in the rev range and maintains higher torque until 8400 rpm, where the two bikes are equally matched. After that the Kawi gets into the best of what it’s got to offer while the Honda begins to drop. This made for peppier acceleration out of corners but a bit more work through the gearbox.
“Off the bottom it has a good amount of torque,” explains Abbott. “Bottom and mid it’s pretty good. The top kind of falls off a bit so I think you need to short shift it more than some of the other bikes.”
(Above) Honda’s front brake was impressive, providing the second-best braking performance of the field. (Below) The CBR300R’s cockpit was one of the most comfortable of all the bikes in the shootout.
The CBR300R is at its best in the 6500 to 8500 rpm range, where a rider will be right in the meat of peak torque and horsepower. Thanks to Honda’s reliable and smooth six-speed gearbox along with a feather-light clutch lever, the short shifts necessary to stay in the sweet spot are a breeze. And, even if you forget to drop a gear coming into the corner, the CBR300R still has enough pull in the lower revs for it to forgive the mistake. The Honda did suffer in acceleration testing for 0-60 and quarter-mile testing, but only slightly. It was four-tenths slower than the Kawi in the quarter-mile and five-tenths slower than the Ninja in the 0-60 mph test.
On the plus side, the CBR300R has one of the most pleasing exhaust cadences of the pack, emitting a satisfying and somewhat unexpected low-tone growl. That pleasing rumble is doubly nice if you’re looking to keep the decibels down, since Honda placed second-quietest behind the SYM with 88 dD recorded at its peak.
Honda’s chassis earned it second-position overall in subjective scoring, the feel encouraging the experienced riders of the group to push with more gusto in the twisties. Like the Kawi, the Honda is suspended by a 37mm non-adjustable fork and single, preload adjustable shock out back. But the package on Big Red’s machine proved the more refined of the two.
“In the corners I really liked the way it handled,” says Waheed. “I felt really connected to the chassis and you could push the bike a little bit harder than you could some of the other 300s.”
“The suspension package is super stable,” adds Abbott. “I found myself going faster and feeling better in the corners than on any other bike.”
The Honda’s handling is boosted by its weight, or rather, it’s lack thereof. The CBR300R placed top among the five bikes in the shootout at 360 pounds, ready to ride. The KTM came closest in second overall at 366.
In addition to the commendable chassis, the CBR300R’s comfort level is on point as well. Abbott was particularly taken with the Honda’s ergos and rider cockpit, describing the mount as “probably the most comfortable out of all of them.” It’s got the lowest seat height of the group at 30.7 inches and a more relaxed riding position than some of the other rides thanks to a set of handlebars that sit up slightly higher than those on the KTM, Yamaha or Kawi. A rider can still tuck in if the pace is upped, but for more leisurely rides the Honda offers less stress on the wrists.
The Honda is available with ABS for an extra $500 over the $4399 base MSRP. Our machine was sans-ABS, but its braking scores didn’t suffer for the lack of technology. Subjectively, testers ranked the Honda mid-pack above the Kawi and SYM but in the 60-0 brake test the Honda came to a stop in 138.9 feet, making it second-best of all behind the R3.
Another area in which the Honda placed second overall is MPG, where its 52.8 miles-per-gallon put it behind the fuel-sipping SYM. The CBR300R has one of the smallest tanks of the group though, giving it a mid-pack range of 180 miles per tank.
Despite all the praise for Honda’s improvements over its previous entry-level mount, the package as a whole didn’t wow all the testers in the group.
“It’s a very typical Honda bike,” says Dunstan. “It does everything pretty darn good but nothing exceptional.”
But for an entry-level rider having a solid, reliable and predictable motorcycle is better than trying to tame a fire-breather. And the Honda provides smoother, more linear power through its rev range than some of the other bikes in this test, along with a solid chassis and braking abilities. These elements will all serve a rider well, especially as they develop the skill to push a little harder on that Sunday ride through the mountains. High marks for handling, curb weight, overall comfort along with solid results in other performance and rider subjective areas place the 2015 CBR300R a solid third in this year’s shootout.
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2002 Honda FourTrax Rancher 350 ES
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2002 Honda FourTrax Recon 250 ES