Can the new X - treme edition win back the 150cc crown for the Hero Honda CBZ ? Or is this bike a case of too little, too late? RISHAD COOPER finds out
The original CBZ was the pioneer in the 150cc segment - an innovative product that sold on power, performance and looks at a time when the sell-words were efficiency and economy. The CBZ was truly path breaking for its time. For a couple of years the bike was the uncrowned king of its segment. The Bajaj Pulsar's entry in 2001 meant that the CBZ had to give away its crown to the Pulsar, now making this segment a big draw for other manufacturers. Ever-increasing competition in the high-volume 100cc market is affecting margins; in comparison, the burgeoning 150 bikes make for higher margins. Hero Honda attempted grabbing back some market share with its Achiever and now with the CBZ X-treme is taking the battle to twin fronts. The X-treme has the task of carrying the CBZ torch ahead and regaining its lost crown from the Pulsar.
Design & engineering
Look at it from any which angle the CBZ X-treme looks pleasing to the eye. Styling on the X-treme is a good effort but it invokes mixed feelings. That's because the tank, side panels, mudguards, five-spoke alloys and rear bodywork are racy and attractively sculpted, while the front is bland and unimaginative. Overtly conventional looking, this confused bikini fairing mounts an oddly-located pilot lamp and gawky-looking integrated indicators and looks a tad similar to the TVS Apache. Bold analogue instruments are planted inside a brush finish alloy surround and a speedometer, tachometer, fuel-gauge and trip facility complement the standard warning lamps. It's a pity Hero Honda has left the triple clamp on the X-treme's steering head a pressed steel plate and not aluminium as on most other 150cc bikes in India. Switchgear should have been better also, but top-class grips and levers help the X win back brownie points. We didn't take to the body-coloured mirrors on this sports bike. The new CBZ enjoys a superbly sculpted fuel tank, replete with nice knee indents. It also provides an upmarket aircraft-style alloy filler. In a smart move, the saddle rides high onto this tank. Chrome-tipped side panels are a classy affair. And the tail and rear fairing are quite scrumptious too. A chic 'floating' two-piece grab handle adds its charm to the completely integrated tail section, where LED lighting is the norm for brake warning. The CBZ X-treme sports a delightful pair of five-spoke alloy rims finished in matt black, a theme that continues to its engine cases, silencer as well as half the chain shroud. A bulky-looking silver heat shield bolts atop the silencer. At foot level, the adjustable rear brake pedal is fabricated in a sporty shape, as is the toe-operated gearshift lever. We find this exciting Hero Honda loaded with too many differing styling elements for one package, but it is a well-engineered motorcycle as expected from the market leader. Paint quality, fit and finish and all rubber and plastic bits are right up there with the usual top class Hero Honda standards.
Powertrain & performance
The black-coated engine block on the bike looks purposeful. A bright red ignition cable lends relief and adds a sporty touch. This is the same air-cooled, four-stroke Honda-designed unit as found on the Unicorn and Achiever. The X-treme's aluminium alloy engine cases are smartly detailed and look attractive. While cubic capacity remains 149.2cc, this refined unit has now been tweaked to offer a class-leading 14.2bhp made at 8500 revs. Torque output stays the same at 1.3kgm at 6500rpm. The new CBZ breathes through a CV carburettor, comes with needle bearings cushioning in its rocker arms and offers a two-way air jacket to help it keep a cool head. And, just as on the Honda Unicorn, there's an offset crankshaft. The all-alloy motor is twin-valve- equipped and uses a single spark plug for combustion. There's the same proven wet clutch system as found on the Unicorn and among the best bits on the X is its slick shifting one-down and four-up gearbox. Gunning the new CBZ in X-treme mode makes for a fun experience. Smoothness and engine flexibility in all gears can be taken for granted as also a light throttle and snappy response. The gears shift with a positive, light feel and each ratio is perfectly spaced. Mid-range at around 4000rpm is more than adequate, but this engine feels strongest at a point just over the 6000rpm mark. That's when the power kicks in hard and develops in a linear fashion until around 9000rpm. The extra grunt ensures the X-treme sets significantly quicker acceleration than the Unicorn and Achiever. We achieved 0-60kph in a quick-for- its-class 5.53 seconds, with 100kph coming up in an impressive 20.77sec. Almost all roll- on times are relatively faster than the Unicorn as well. We achieved a top speed of 113kph on this bike. Not bad, for its class.
Ride, handling & brakes
Get astride the X-treme and the first thing you notice are the rear-set rider foot pegs. The riding position imparts a similar feel as on the sporty CBZ and an enthusiast is certain to take to the handlebars-to-seat-to peg geometry. The attractive stepped seat feels nice as do effective knee indents cut into the tank. The X-treme uses a stressed engine bolted into a single downtube frame. Its front telescopic forks are well up to their job and provide just the right damping and feedback levels. However, the rear suspension is different - the pair of twin hydraulic units does little to cushion the rider from road shocks. Ride quality is way too harsh on the new Hero Honda. Sporty bikes need firm suspension but the X-treme still feels too uncomfortable, and we doubt adjusting its dampers will solve the problem. The factory would have done better to adopt a monoshock as seen on the Unicorn, or at least gas-charged shocks as are fast becoming the industry standard. The box-section swing arm on this bike is silver-coloured. Hard ride quality is the by-product of sporty handling and here the new CBZ unquestionably succeeds. The bike comes shod with a meaty puncture-resistant rear 100/90 x 18-inch tyre and handles like a dream. Much time spent in the X-treme saddle shows that it offers best-in-class handling, with nothing to flaw in this respect. Turn-in is lightning quick, with rider inputs rewarded by snappy, accurate answers. Neutral steering can be taken for granted in any situation. Stability at the highest speeds is perfect with the bike literally cornering on rails. This brilliant set-up ensures high confidence levels and we found laying the bike down to ground its foot pegs easily possible. Similar encouragement was also experienced from the X's stable manners under emergency braking. A 240mm disc rotor comes standard on the front of the new CBZ, while the rear makes do with a 130mm drum- both adding up to provide perfect feel. The best 60kph to rest brake distance we could manage on the X was 17.06 meters.
Yes, the new CBZ utilizes the same engine as its relatives- the Achiever and Unicorn. But, the X-treme is tweaked to develop more power, and also uses a broader 100/90 x 18 inch rear tyre- two factors certain to impact economy. The bike is nevertheless economical to run for it returned a creditable 47kpl on its city fuel run, with that figure curiously dropping a bit to 46.7kpl when riding on the highway.
There is no doubt that this is a great effort from Hero Honda to get back to the crown. While the powerful and refined engine remains the bikes best forte, and along with the wide rear tyre and alloy wheels give it a purposeful stance. However, we would have liked it to be slightly lesser priced. Also, the front fairing design isn't to everyone's liking. Nonetheless, the CBZ X-treme is certain to delight the biking enthusiast. This bike delivering among the most willing handling for its segment. A class beater or not only time will tell but one things for sure Hero Honda isn't just resting on their laurels anymore.