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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 20 June 2008
It’s one of the longest running models on the market, and now the VFR sports-tourer has undergone its sixth major overhaul.
First introduced in 1986, the VFR has continually set the standard in the sports-touring class, its refinement and reliability have made it almost legendary. Many consider it to be an almost perfect motorcycle, and it’s as happy commuting as it is touring or scratching - there’s little the VFR can’t do well.
The only drawback for some is that it’s almost too refined and civilised, making it lack character and attitude, but now that’s all changed. And not only is the new version is a definite improvement over the existing model, which will please die-hard VFR fans, it’s also got more style and attitude which should bring in some new sporsbike-biased buyers. All this should help it continue to reign as the ultimate sports-tourer on the market.
There was little wrong with the current bike, in fact it’s been the best selling VFR of the lot. But increased competition from rivals like the Aprilia Futura, Yamaha FJR1300, Triumph Sprint ST, and Ducati’s ST4S has forced Honda to come up with some new ideas to keep its bike at the top of the class. And that’s exactly what it’s done.
The new VFR is a completely new bike. It’s redesigned motor features V-TEC variable valve timing, and uses cam chains for the first time. The frame is all new, and the sharply styled bodywork gives it a sportier and futuristic look, particularly the twin triangular section underseat pipes.
There are two versions. The standard model, priced at £7,995, and an ABS variant which costs £500 more. They should be in the showrooms by November.
Climb aboard the new bike and you’ll instantly get a feeling of deja-vu. The riding position is remarkably similar to the current model’s - it feels like you’re slipping into your favourite armchair.
The comfort offered by the bike endears you to it straightaway, and within just a few miles the comfortable stance, plush seat and ample protection from the fairing and screen will encourage you to bomb off to somewhere distant like the South of France for the weekend. All the VFR hallmarks are in place, and apart from the usual comforts, the light controls, classic V4 engine purr, and a supremely easy-to-get-on-with character guarantee approval of it from the off.
But get the Honda running a bit longer, spin up the engine and you’ll appreciate the major redesign within the new engine. It’s called V-TEC and not only does it work well, it also gives the motor a much more flexible yet sporty personality. It’s the first time a Honda bike engine available outside Japan has featured this effective dual-purpose device, and it fits into the multi-role identity of the bike perfectly.
The system is complicated in operation, but it’s easy to understand and feel its contribution. It works by only operating two of the valves in each of the four cylinders at lower rpm to give greater torque and grunt. Then, when the engine speed rises to 7,000 rpm, a signal from the ECU is sent to a solenoid valve to send extra oil pressure to the V-TEC assembly. At this point a small pin within the valve assembly is pushed in to let the cams activate the remaining two valves, which gives an improved gas flow and provides four valve power. It’s a clever arrangement and helps to give the motor the best of both worlds - torque at the bottom end and midrange, and more power at the top.
But it’s the feel that it gives to the engine’s power delivery which is the most beneficial point about the new system. Pootling around at lower rpm, the motor produces loads of classic V4 stomp. Stay in that zone and there’s little need to trouble the very slick six-speed gearbox to accelerate promptly. Then if you then hang on to the gears and let the engine’s revs rise, the extra burst of drive from 7,000 rpm is very impressive. As all four valves become active and help the motor breathe to its full potential, the kick is easily detectable and the bike feels as though it’s just gained another 20 bhp. It’s not a sudden or brutal increase, and won’t have you worried in any way, but along with the significant increase in induction roar, which makes it sound like an RC45 racer, the power step gives the VFR a level of excitement it’s never had in its long history.
Suddenly it feels more like a sportsbike than a tourer, and it’s all the more thrilling because of it.
It’s difficult to resist sampling this power zone at first, and it brings out the devil in you just to hear and feel its effect. Though it’s good to know when the revs die down again, the more typical smooth and punchy delivery quickly returns.
V-TEC isn’t the only major revision inside the cases of the glitch-free fuel-injected engine. Gone is the famed gear-driven cam arrangement, and so too is the characteristic whine that went with it. It’s been replaced by a silent-running cam chain, which is more conventional in operation, and saves weight, space and frictional losses. And, as it’s cheaper, it gave the Honda engineers the chance to develop other areas of the bike without increasing its overall cost.
Part of the extra budget went into improving the handling. And though the bike is about 5 kilos heavier than the old model, revisions to the frame and suspension give it a firmer and more rigid feel with better feedback. The twin spar alloy frame spars are thicker than they used to be, and the steering head has been reinforced. Suspension feels slightly firmer, though not without any loss in the all important area of comfort.
Considering the new VFR’s 213 kilo dry weight, blasting down tight and twisty backroads takes little effort. It’s easy to throw around, and though the steering isn’t particularly quick it doesn’t take either much time or effort to get the bike to change direction, and the Honda’s chassis geometry gives good stability, even under pressure of speed or bumpy terrain.
Bridgestone BT020 sports-touring tyres help with the confident feel when cornering. They offer good grip in all conditions and have the benefit of working well even before they’re fully warmed.
Another part of the bike which deserves praise is the braking system. The linked CBS arrangement hasn’t always won praise from testers, but there are bonuses, especially for less experienced riders who can’t always judge the required balance of front and rear brakes when trying to slow down or stop in an emergency.
There’s certainly enough power and progression from the VFR’s stoppers, and hauling up the Honda, even suddenly from high speed, never gives cause for concern.
Traditionalists who are not keen on the CBS system will be pleased to know there’s more front brake bias on the version fitted to this VFR, making it feel a little more like a conventional unlinked set-up. There’s even a bit of dive in the forks if you brake very hard. And the extra £500 you’ll need to spend to get the ABS version makes slowing down safer still. It’s not much to pay if you think about the cost of things like fairing panels, bars and footrests which you’re bound to damage in a spill caused by wheel lock. The ABS version also has a remote preload adjuster for the rear shock, making life easier when you’re carrying either weighty luggage or a pillion.
Other nice touches which show attention to detail include the digital instruments which give you clear and easy to read info on road speed, fuel level, time, and even air temperature. And the dual pillion grab rails, centrestand, and bungee hooks all make the already easy life on the VFR even more convenient.
As an indication of just how well thought out and sorted the new VFR is, the only real thing you can moan about is the lack of underseat storage. Given the excellence of the rest of the bike there’s little cause to worry about that. Besides, if luggage capacity is important there’ll be a range of goodies available for the Honda when it comes out in November, including panniers and a top box. And those who use their VFRs in all weathers will also be pleased to know there’s a taller screen, and heated grips included in the list of accessories.
There’s no doubt the latest VFR is the best yet. It has all the usual refinements, with the bonus of a sportier look and feel which will help rid it of the dull and boring image it has with many bikers. Now it’s even more of an all-rounder that it ever was, and that’s saying something.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda vfr800 v tec.
Engine..........Liquid cooled 900 V-Four, 16 valve, four stroke, cc 781.7cc
Claimed power (bhp)..........105bhp @ 10,500rpm
Frame..........Alloy twin spar
Front suspension..........43mm telescopic forks, adjustable pre-load
Rear suspension..........Monoshock, adjustable pre-load and rebound damping
Front brakes..........Twin 296mm discs, combined three piston calipers
Rear brake..........Single 256mm disc, combined three piston caliper
Top speed..........155mph (est)
Fuel capacity..........22 litres
Current price..........£8,345 (otr) ABS model: £8845