Has Honda got the classic roadster recipe right in its very first attempt?
The Indian two-wheeler market has been an enigma for most brands. Despite its mind-boggling volumes, only few manufacturers have managed to crack the code for success. The biggest enigma among all the two-wheelers has to be the Royal Enfield Classic 350. It came from a company that was on the verge of going bust, didn’t have a particularly great engine, and even the styling was far from impressive. Yet, it managed to script a success story that has been unrivalled. Now, Japanese two-wheeler giant Honda has taken a leaf out of its rich history and launched the new Honda CB H’ness CB350 in a bid to take on the Classic 350. It has similar displacement and styling, but gets a host of new features. Can Honda break the Classic’s monopoly?
- Retro styling has been beautifully executed.
- Loaded with features like all-LED lighting, traction control, and a modern semi-digital instrument console.
- Brilliantly refined engine and the lightest clutch action in the segment.
- Brakes offer superb stopping power.
- Engine lacks low-end performance.
- Pricing could have been better.
- Restricted Big Wing dealership network.
- The most refined motor in the segment.
- Instrument console is loaded with features with bluetooth connectivity as an option.
- Only bike to offer all-LED lighting in its segment.
If you have to take on the Classic 350, you need to go the retro route, and that’s exactly what Honda has done. The styling of the H’ness has been inspired by iconic machines like the Honda CB750 and the CB1100. Up front, you are welcomed by a classic round-shaped LED headlight with a chrome nacelle. It also features a large chrome mudguard and alloy wheels which give the front-end a good stance. For me, the design highlight is the simple yet beautiful fuel tank, and I particularly like the Honda badge that looks straight from the 1970s.
Other interesting details are the Honda badge on the engine case and the round LED indicators. The black finish on the engine is beautifully contrasted by the chrome highlights on the engine fins, and the protruding tail light also looks unique. While the overall styling is very balanced, the gap between the rear tyre and the mudguard looks odd. I found the chrome finish on the rear shock absorbers a bit too loud as well. Our test bike was finished in matte black, but my personal favourite is the blue-and-white shade. We think Honda could have offered brighter dual-tone colours on the DLX Pro variant. One thing I would like to add is the fit and finish levels of the motorcycle are among the best in the segment, and the switchgear quality feels premium as well.
Because it is a roadster, you have fairly neutral riding posture on the Honda H’ness CB350. Unlike the Classic 350, you don’t sit ‘on the bike’; you feel more like a part of it. Also, the handlebar is curved back towards the rider, which results in an upright and comfy riding posture. The 800mm seat height means shorter riders won’t complain, and the bike isn’t very wide either. But one thing I felt was that the rider doesn’t feel special or get the sensation of riding a big bike, relatively speaking, of course. The one saving grace here is the premium-feeling switchgear. And talking about switchgear, Honda has placed the indicator at the bottom and positioned the horn above it, which can get confusing and irritating.
Seat cushioning is firm, and although I couldn’t clock long hours on the saddle, it did feel good over the hour-long commute in Mumbai traffic. The flat seat is also pillion-friendly and decently spacious. The only grouse we have is that you feel the weight (181kg) of the bike while parking and have to muscle the CB350 in and out of the parking space.
TECHNOLOGY AND FEATURES
While the H’ness CB350 has the appearance of a retro-roadster, it does pack a bunch of modern and segment-first features. It receives all-LED lighting, slip and assist clutch, traction control system, and a semi-digital instrument console loaded with details such as range, real-time fuel efficiency, gear position indicator, trip meter, and odometer. There’s also bluetooth connectivity on the DLX Pro that enables turn-by-turn navigation and call/music controls.
ENGINE AND PERFORMANCE
Thumb the starter and the bike comes to life with a rather loud rumble before settling down to a melodious idle. Before I set off, the first thing that I noticed was how light the clutch action is. For a moment, I thought the cable had snapped, but that wasn’t the case. Slot the bike in first with a mild clunk using the old-school heel-n-toe shifter, and off you go.
|Acceleration||Honda H'ness CB350|
|Roll-ons||Honda H'ness CB350|
Throttle feels very light and the rumble from the exhaust adds to the experience. I see an open stretch of road and go hard on the throttle, only to be disappointed. While on paper, the engine has a long-stroke configuration, it doesn’t feel like one in its torque delivery. Acceleration can be best described as peppy, with the exhaust note making you feel that you are going fast (but that isn’t the case). The bike doesn’t feel eager at lower revs, and you feel there’s a flat spot before the mid-range. But once you cross that, the bike does feel more lively.
|Fuel Efficiency||Honda H’ness CB350|
The H’ness CB350 will not wow you with its performance, but will definitely impress with its refinement and a brilliantly smooth gearbox that just screams Honda! The rev-hungry motor is more on the lines of the Jawa than the Royal Enfield. For city-speeds, third gear is fine as it’s pretty tall. Owing to the featherlight clutch, riding in crawling traffic is also effortless. The fifth gear is unreasonably tall, and the only purpose it serves is holding triple-digit speeds. Overtaking at over 100kmph will require you to downshift, which can get a bit irritating.
The nature of the motor makes the CB350 a great commuter. Honestly, it’s quite fun to hustle, but only until one takes away the exhaust note. Then, it feels like any other generic Honda engine. This isn’t a flaw, really. In fact, many brands strive hard for this ‘Honda nature’. But on a retro roadster like this, you want to ride the torque, use the low-end grunt. Unfortunately, that’s missing on the H’ness.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Honda engineers have employed a half duplex frame on their new offering. You won’t be going apex hunting on the H’ness with its 1,441mm wheelbase, but spending most of your time hustling your way through the traffic-choked urban roads of our country. On that note, it does a great job as the bike feels compact enough on our roads, squeezing through tight gaps with swift direction changes on tap. The wide handlebar offers good leverage, and it is only while riding at slow speed or taking U-turns can you feel the bike's weight. If you were to show it some mountain twisties, the H’ness would offer neutral and stable handling rather than outright thrills.
Honda has opted for Nissin calipers, and they do a fantastic job of shedding speed. Lever action, bite, and progression are spot on. In fact, the H’ness has the best brakes in the segment, and that too by quite a margin.
|Braking||Honda H’ness CB350|
Suspension setup is also apt for India roads, especially the rear shock absorbers that offer a comfortable ride isolating the rider from jolts. The telescopic fork also offers good damping on most occasions but it does tend to bottom-out over sharp bumps. Even over large speed breakers, the CB350 never scrapped its belly, owing to its ample 166mm of ground clearance.
The Honda H’ness CB350 is available in two variants: DLX and DLX Pro. While the former is available in three colour options, the latter comes in as many dual-tone shades. The three additional features on the Pro are dual-tone colour schemes, smartphone connectivity, and a twin-horn setup. You can read more about the variant differences and colour options.
Before we head to the verdict part, let’s get pricing out of the way. The Honda H’ness CB350 DLX retails for Rs 1,86,500, whereas the DLX Pro carries a sticker price of Rs 1,92,500. As you can see, the CB350 is priced at a premium in comparison to its rivals, typical of Honda. That said, the Japanese giant has delivered a strong product with the new CB350.
Honda has managed to capture the aura of a retro roadster but with a twist of modernity, which makes the new H’ness that much more attractive. It looks the part, is a comfortable bike, and has loads of features. Also, being a Honda, quality and reliability will be of the highest degree. For me, the only letdown in an otherwise great package is the engine. Don’t get me wrong, the H’ness is mighty impressive with its refinement and is a good bike to hustle in the city. But the lack of low-end torque makes the riding experience a bit less exciting. It's like a wonderfully cooked delicacy that hasn’t been seasoned properly.
The other issue is that the H’ness CB350 will be sold exclusively through Honda Big Wing dealerships, which restricts its reach. All major cities have only one dealer, which is fine for a premium motorcycle but not for a mass-market offering like the CB350. So unless you stay close to the dealer, making a long trip just to get your hands on one is asking for too much, especially in today’s day and age of doorstep service. Sure, on these two fronts, the Royal Enfield Classic 350 has the advantage. But the CB350 is a better bike than the current Classic 350, that too by a huge margin. The real test between the two bikes will happen when the J-platform Classic 350 arrives.
Until then, if you live close to a Big Wing dealer and don’t mind the high-revving, modern-nature of the motor, the Honda H’ness CB350 is a good option to kickstart your retro-roadster journey. Our pick here will be the base variant, as the connected features on the DLX Pro are something you will only be able to use if you have a Bluetooth headset. And if you have one already, you don’t get much added functionality anyway.