Wheels

Honda CB300F First Impressions: Has The Play-It-Safe Strategy Paid Off?

We set off to Hyderabad's Ramoji Film City to take Honda's latest premium bike for a spin

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Its been three years since I first walked into Bigwing’s inaugural Gurgaon showroom. 80+ new outlets later, Honda certainly seems more present — but for anyone interested in more than single-cylinder ‘Royal Enfield-killers’, the clock seems to have stopped.

In all this time, Bigwing hasn’t successfully released too much outside of the CB350 within the sub-600cc segment. There’s the updated BSVI CB300R and the CB500X — both of which were CKD units at launch and eventually plagued by non-competitive pricing, Covid-delayed parts logistics, and lukewarm sales figures. 

So, when we heard that Honda was ready to release a new premium motorcycle in mid-2022, we began brainstorming immediately — what would work best for the Japanese manufacturer in today’s Indian market, and what stoked our fanboy proclivities? Our expectations were certainly all over the place, with some clamouring for the CRF, a thoroughbred off-roader, others considering the prospect of a single-pot CB300X, and even a few hopeful whispers regarding a new CBR. Personally, I was hoping for the Rebel 500.

None of this discourse mattered too much to Honda, however. The brand has decided to play it safe for 2022 with the CB300F — a bike that, quite frankly, I’ve yet to see on anyone’s wishlist.  

Honda’s first promotional image for the CB300F | Credits: Honda Bigwing

With an invite to Hyderabad’s Ramoji Film City and a set of riding gear in hand, we headed off for a four-hour, 50-odd kilometre flirtation with Honda’s ‘Formidable’ new streetfighter, not realising that there was more than met the eye with this understated newcomer to the Bigwing line.

Ramoji Film City is a rather surreal place to test a motorcycle. Built atop hills, and featuring plenty of tight lanes, swift elevation changes, and well-paved roads, it also gave our party of automotive journalists a range of quirky, picturesque film locations in which to observe the motorcycle’s looks and features — although the pristine asphalt was a bit too good to represent average Indian riding conditions.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

At First Sight – Honda’s ‘Formidable’ Styling

I’ll be the first to admit — when images of the CB300F were circulated earlier this August, I approached the motorcycle’s styling with a healthy dose of scepticism. It appeared extremely ‘commutery’ for a bike positioned as a ‘formidable’ streetfighter, with conventional trimmings that recalled images of the sub-200cc Hornet 2.0.

In person, while I still think the styling brings nothing new to the table, it offers a lithe, muscular frame that’s easy on the eyes, especially when sculpting the 14.1L tank alongside the CB300F’s shrouds/quarter panels. 

The tank shrowds may not be functional, but they sure look the part. | Credits: Honda Bigwing, Sharan Sanil

There’s plenty of tech on offer, too. Honda’s voice-activated smartphone tech HSVCS is relatively simple and uncomplicated to set up, and belongs to a suite of new features geared around safety and rider friendliness. Traction control, dual-channel ABS, side-stand detection, and the addition of the CB300R’s gear indication and slipper clutch features all round out a thoroughly modern package. They’ve even added in a hazard light switch and type-C port — thanks for listening, Honda. 

The Elephant In The Room

Winding through faux airports and open lots as tourists began to pour in, the CB300F proved itself with the same comfortable, effortless handling characteristics I’ve come to expect from the manufacturer. Aided by a pair of twin USD forks by Showa and axial callipers by Nissin, the CB300F felt planted and grippy, lending enough confidence to attempt a few wheelies and tight slaloms, while encouraging me to go the extra mile when it came to capturing camera-friendly lean angles.

If you’d have noticed, there are a host of design parallels between the CB300F and the older CB300R. Some are obvious, such as the upmarket Japanese brakes and suspension. Others, such as the 17-inch alloys, LED lights, and rear footpeg designs would stand out to a ‘300R owner, such as yours truly.

The biggest difference, however, between these two models are their engines, which take an otherwise comparable experience into vastly different zones. The CB300R engine — a bored out 283cc version of the indestructible powerplant behind the CBR250R — offered a no-BS linear powerband, plenty of torque in the mid-to-higher rev band, liquid cooling, and most of all, excellent levels of refinement. 

The CB300F, on the other hand, has a brand-new, oil-cooled 293cc engine designed nearly a decade after its counterpart. Initial speculation suggested that the engine would be a bored-out Hornet 2.0 unit, or the very same stalwart I’ve mentioned above — so I was quite curious to take Honda’s latest single-cylinder to its limits. 

The CB300F engine comes in a two-tone finish, similar to Honda’s 4-cylinder options | Credits: Honda Bigwing, Sharan Sanil

The Film City path led outside of the gated premises and into a pre-marked hill-climb route filled with straights, occasional hairpin turns, and exciting views. It was on one of these straights, while pushing the CB300F to my recorded top speed of 130 kmph, that I realised a sad truth about this motorcycle: 

While nimble, decently-crafted, and feature-laden, the CB300F is considerably let down by its engine, which I believe is likely to disappoint anyone looking to ride aggressively and push the motorcycle beyond everyday commuter duties… which is the whole point of a streetfighter, isn’t it? 

Take the figures into account. The CB300R draws a peak torque of 27.45 Nm at 7500 RPM, while the CB300F draws a slightly weaker 25.6 Nm at a surprisingly low 5500 RPM — only the CB350 H’Ness offers a lower peak 30Nm @ 3,000RPM from Honda’s roster. These figures make sense given the respective bikes’ natures — the CB300R is a ‘Neo-Sports’ concept focusing on zipping through city streets and urban highways, while the CB350’s relaxed cruiser dynamics offer a comfortable, laid-back approach to the same task. 

Stuck bang in the middle, the CB300F is a well-made machine, but at first ride, comes off as having a bit of an identity crisis. From its marketing to its feature set and styling, the bike offers the promise of a tough, aggressive streetfighter, and yet seems happiest while plodding along at commuter speeds and weaving through traffic. 

Credits: Honda Bigwing, Sharan Sanil

The power curve, combined with considerably short gearing, means that the CB300F struggles when being pushed and clearly dislikes being anywhere north of 80 kmph, retaliating with considerable levels of vibration, especially from the front footpegs. There’s also the somewhat anaemic 24.7 PS on tap, which makes those late-gear sprints last much longer. 

Combined, all of these factors make a rider want to reconsider yanking back the throttle on an open road and instead, return to the compact, urban conditions the CB300F feels most at-home in. 

Verdict

And then there’s the price.  

The CB300F comes in at Rs. 2,25,900 for the DLX model and Rs. 2,28,900 for the DLX PRO, the latter of which offers the new connectivity system. This makes it Honda Bigwing’s 3rd-cheapest offering at roughly 30k higher than the CB350 and CB350RS, and a whole half-lakh cheaper than the CB300R. 

This leaves the ‘300F in a precarious position within the market, contending with heavy hitters such as the Duke 250, Dominar 400, Suzuki Gixxer 250 and more. The pricing strategy has been a routine complaint from Honda hopefuls for years now — just take the CB500X’s price cut from this February, where Honda was forced to slash the cost by over a lakh.

Is the CB300F a good bike? Certainly. It offers a unique commuter-on-steroids experience, and is capable of quickly and efficiently carving through urban Indian roads. Is it the one for you? Almost. Give it a chance to breathe, however, and it simply sighs instead — perhaps a sign that Honda could have taken some risks, played a more unpredictable hand, and maybe given us a more exciting product to write home about.

Lead Image: Honda Bigwing, Sharan Sanil

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