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Handlebars: Honda X-ADV (2017) motorcycle review

CAR logo CAR 15/07/2017 CARMagazine
Handlebars: Honda X-ADV (2017) motorcycle review © Bauer Media 2017 Handlebars: Honda X-ADV (2017) motorcycle review

► New Honda X-ADV tested in our Handlebars review

► Dirt-styled giant scooter

► The perfect commuter?

Word is, it took the powerful minds in Honda’s blue-sky lab some time to convince anyone with any clout that what the world needed was a large-capacity scooter wearing adventure bike fancy dress. Not helping them was the fact that, with the scooter/adventure bike hybrid market being as untapped as Mars’ mineral deposits, any indicator of potential sales success was difficult to come by. Presumably those behind the X-ADV simply pointed out the success of adventure motorcycles and SUV and crossover cars, smiled sweetly and waited for their rubber stamp.

And they got it, so we’ve got this: a monstrous step-through scooter that looks ready to commute the Namib desert. So, is it a bike or a scooter? On grounds of engine capacity (745cc) and weight (238kg, or just 4kg shy of Honda’s own 998cc, DCT-equipped Africa Twin adventure bike), it’s tempting to classify it as a motorcycle, but the running boards for your feet (as opposed to pegs), the absence of any foot controls (with no manual clutch the left lever on the handlebars works the rear brake) and the riding position (more sitting on the loo than sitting on a bike) suggest scooter. The X-ADV’s design takes familiar super-scoot volumes and twists them with a line or two of Africa Twin genetic code, and with considerable success – in my time with the bike at least half a dozen strangers found themselves compelled to tell me how good the Honda looked.

What on earth is it for?

Valid question. Honda promotes the X-ADV with all same blizzard of ‘rocky trails at sunset’ imagery and ‘ride any road’ spiel that comes as standard with any adventure motorcycle. But it’s hard to imagine anyone with real off-road ambitions plumping for a weighty step-thru swathed in ready-to-shatter plastic.

On loose surfaces the 17-inch front wheel, vaguely dirt-centric rubber and wide handlebars give pretty good control, and you can gently powerslide your away around without getting into too much trouble, but the scooter riding position feels alien in this environment, and the bike’s ever-present weight a liability.

So, forget all the adventure guff and think of the X-ADV as a handsome rival to existing big scooters like Honda’s own Integra, Yamaha’s perennially popular T-Max (£9599, relatively weedy 530cc twin-cylinder engine), Suzuki’s 650 Burgman (£9099, 638cc parallel twin) or BMW’s C650 Sport (£9750, 647cc parallel twin).

Suddenly the X-ADV makes a lot more sense, with decent performance relative to its rivals, a comparable price and a superior twin-clutch gearbox (most rivals use CVT transmissions) offering various auto modes and manual fingertip shifting. And like those machines you get a big lockable compartment under the flip-up seat, a stress-free riding experience and a feet-forward riding position that’s comfy and keeps your legs dry in the rain. The X-ADV’s five-position adjustable screen is also fiendishly good, needing no tools to adjust and providing great wind protection.

What’ll it do mister?

An indicated 107mph flat-out, because while 745cc may sounds like a lot, the 53bhp the Honda summons isn’t enough to make a 238kg motorcycle feel fast. Thanks to its brilliant gearbox the X-ADV launches like a carrier-borne fighter, leaving conventional bikes juggling revs and manual clutch in its wake, but beyond 50mph the X-ADV hasn’t the acceleration for reflex overtakes. Still, 85mph cruising is pretty effortless and the engine fights back hard on sheer efficiency – normal usage will see 70mpg, and even pasting it you’ll struggle to do worse than 60mpg, or around 140 miles on a tenner at today’s fuel prices. Shame the twin offers little in terms of character.

The gearbox is Honda’s now familiar DCT – the only transmission option on the X-ADV. With a little acclimatisation it’s hugely compelling, offering a brain-out, ultra-lazy D full-auto mode, a sportier S setting with a choice of maps and a full manual mode. With the limited grunt available, manual becomes your default, and its push-button shifting soon becomes second nature. Shifts are fast and truly imperceptible – feel free to shift up mid-corner, even in the wet: the rear tyre won’t even notice. The DCT is almost certainly a contributing factor to the X-ADV’s hefty mass but it’s worth its weight in gold, and it’s light years ahead of CVT-equipped rivals in terms of performance, shift speed, refinement and riding satisfaction.

Means of transport or fun to ride?

Both. The X-ADV shines on flowing roads, where its lack of acceleration matters less and you can concentrate instead on its accurate handling, impressive poise and generous ground clearance. The brakes, with basic two-channel ABS, won’t win any awards but chances are you can just let them off and turn most of the time, so happy is the Honda to swoop into corners. The suspension feels firm on rough roughs, with none of the pliancy you’d think an adventure style machine might have, but the payoff is a welcome lack of wallow or heave when you get a move on.

The X-ADV really is a bike you’d enjoy taking for a ride just for the hell of it, though it comes into its own when you’ve somewhere to be, on time, with a couple of things stuffed under the seat or in the optional topbox. The wieldy, effortless Honda monsters congested routes, darting through gaps, charging away from traffic lights and running with motorway traffic without breaking a sweat. Oddly for a scooter, it’s less comfortable on tight city streets, navigating gridlock, when its sheer size and weight, exacerbated by the lack of a manual clutch for ultimate walking-speed control, can make it feel a little awkward.

Verdict

A really likable machine, the X-ADV’s is a very Honda product: oddball, immaculately engineered and charming.

As a big scooter it works well, with a competitive price, strong performance and showroom appeal that eclipses its twist-and-go contemporaries. The detailing’s great too, from the neat instrument binnacle through the as-standard centrestand to the keyless go.

But compare the Honda to motorcycles and you realise you have to really want the X-ADV’s comfort, convenience and underseat storage. BMW’s evergreen F800GS starts at £9195 and offers far stronger on-road performance, infinitely better off-road ability and – with optional hard luggage in place – comparable practicality. Ditch any off-road pretensions and Yamaha’s fine Tracer 700 is cheaper still at £6999.

Ultimately though it’s the X-ADV’s easy, laidback character allied to its real cross-county ability that makes a lasting impression. It’d be an easy machine to live with (messy chain final drive aside), and would come into its own if you regularly face a congested inter-urban commute. That you might find yourself taking the long way home for fun stands it apart from the two-wheeled commuter crowd. 

Specs

Price: £9,599

Engine: 745cc 8v parallel twin, 53bhp @ 6250rpm, 50lb ft @ 4750rpm

Transmission: Six-speed semi-auto DCT

Performance: 107mph top speed, 61mpg (tested)

Weight: 238kg/steel, aluminium, plastic

Dimensions: 2245/910/1375mm

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