The new Centra armed with its VT-i engine has arrived to encroach on Splendor territory-the segment that sells the maximum number of motorcycles worldwide.
Source - Autocar India Feb 2004.
The most critical aspect for the value conscious l00 cc motorcycle buyer is minimum fuel consumption from point A to B. Hero Honda's Splendor Plus delivers just that throwing in a dash of panache, and lo and behold - you have the largest selling bike in the world. Bajaj's answer to this is the slow sipping four-stroke Boxer CT. Entering this viable fray is the all-new Centra from the TVS Motor Company. We were the first to ride this new TVS motorcycle and give you the lowdown on its technology packed engine. But, what you_ and plenty of other prospective buyers have been waiting to know is whether all this technology translates into superior mileage delivered by a good, reliable motorcycle on the road?
We've wasted no time in pitching these mileage champions together to get you these answers.
DESIGN & ENGINEERING
The rationale behind the Centra's styling is to lure buyers using a larger looking bike in a segment used to smaller machines. The front end offers a smiley bikini fairing that blends into a broad tank. Sadly, like many motorcycles in India, the Centra tank recesses do not accommodate a tall rider's knees. TVS's lineage is visible in the Centra's broad flanks with hints of the Victor noticeable right up to the swooping rear, ending in an alloy grab-handle and inverted apple tail-lamp. Instruments are simple, yet clear on all three bikes. The Centra is the only bike with push-cancel indicators available as standard. Perplexing flaws in an otherwise very ergonomic package are the switches for the headlight and the high/Iow beam not being placed in their traditional position, and an old-fashioned fuel tank cap.
The Splendor+ has found success utilising a retro look that initially took people a while to get used to, but has today proved evergreen. A flared bikini up front, teardrop fuel tank with flush filler-pod and nicely rounded side-panels and rear-end complete the picture. Twin instrument pods with levers and switchgear that have been around for over a decade are the norm on this Hero Honda.
The Boxer is the most staid looking bike in the trio. The minimal front fairing houses a clear and round headlamp. A traditional looking fuel tank and side-panels mould into the rear, highlighted with a chrome grab-handle wrapping around the tail lamp unit. Prehistoric switches and levers on the Boxer date right back to the days of the good old KBl00, yet, this remains the only bike of the three with an engine kill switch. Paint and chrome quality on all three econo-misers, are well up to the mark.
Riding our contestants through murky winter-nights we found the Centra and Boxer CT headlights well up to the job on hand, while the Splendor + has room for improvement.
ENGINE, GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE
Surely the best bit on the Centra has to be its VT-i (Variable Timing Intelligent) engine. In our January :004 issue we outlined the depths of this engine. The Centra and Splendor engine are visually similar. But never judge a book by its cover, for inside they are as different as chalk and cheese.
Unlike Bajaj who use twin sparkplugs on its Pulsar DTS-i bikes to aid combustion, TVS's Centra engine uses a single plug firing twice on the same stroke -- the head size of a l00cc engine makes it difficult to slot in twin plugs. Dual mapped digital cm or Capacitor Discharge Ignition are in common use on Indian bikes, but the Centra is programmed to fire in four stages. Two are a power and economy curve - and switching between either is based on inputs fed in by a combination of the throttle position sensor as well as an engine RPM sensor. The third curve supports the twin ignition sequence and the last map in the Centra cm unit supplies stronger ignition to a cold engine till a sensor in the oil sump reports optimum temperature. To ensure no mishap in the event of the temperature sensor malfunctioning, there is a two-minute override interval after which the ignition reverts to other modes. The system ensures that the engine reaches its optimum temperature quickly. Another clever goody is a solenoid valve mat minimises fuel wastage on deceleration. Friction is kept low by roller cam followers, a slippery tin-coated piston and a Teflon-coated timing-chain guide. The engine runs with a crisp note and feels a cut above the other two bikes. A glance at its power and torque curves shows it to be a winner yet again. Though the max power of the Centra's 7.5bhp at 7500rpm and max torque at O.76kgm at 5000rpm are only a little healthier than the other two bikes, it is interesting to note that the peaks are reached a good 500lOOOrpm lower in the power band. This translates into better rideability and mileage. A well-weighted clutch aids working through the positive and all up four-speed box.
The Splendor's 97.2cc engine pulls out 7.5bhp at 8000rpm and O.69kgm of torque at 6000rpm. A creamy smooth gearshift and clutch relation are no less than the high standards we have come to expect from the Hero Honda. An irritant is the heel and toe shift-lever making shifting upwards with only the toes impossible. This is due to a thick flat metal piece that cuts shoes, replacing the usual little rubber-wrapped stub.
Bajaj have a lot of catching up to do in the engine department. The Boxer arrives at its 99.35cc's employing a near square configuration of 50x50.6mm. The CT engine is the only unit with exposed oil lines - an eye sore for sure. It differs also in an all-down shift pattern and the engine, as well as the gearbox, simply lack the feel and refinement levels present in the other two bikes.
Putting all three bikes through their paces we found them to be very closely matched for acceleration. The Splendor+ managed the sprint from 0-60kph fastest at 7.90 seconds, the Centra breathing down its neck at 7.93sec and the Boxer CT trailing behind at 8.37s.
RIDE, HANDLING & BRAKES
One must realise these bikes are not built to be track-racers or rock solid high-speed handlers, the priority of purpose is for them to be nimble and comfortable to ride within city boundaries. We found all three to fulfil this well enough. They nestle their riders into fairly conventional upright riding postures on equally comfortable seats. Keep in mind that the tall order of fuel efficiency demanded restricts them to narrow tyre sizes that limit rolling resistance. This compromises their handling capabilities. The Bajaj is boldest for using a slightly wider rear tyre at 3.00 X 18 as opposed to the 2.75 X 18in use on the other two.
While TVS and Hero Honda use a twin down tube frame to cradle their mills, the Bajaj is a single down-tube affair using the engine as a stressed member. Suspension is similar on all machines - telescopic up front and five-way adjustable at the rear. Ride quality on all three is again at an even keel, the Centra just managing to put itself a notch in front of the other two.
The Centra has zero-tolerance rear-shockers that ensure both rear-damping rates are exactly the same. It enjoys the advantage of using a box metal swing arm over the other two bikes' more conventional units. The Centra is the most planted and stable bike of the three. It has found the perfect balance between staying nimble in the city and still offering decent levels of stability and low chassis flex when ridden hard. One could be forgiven for forgetting this is a l00 cc economy segment motorcycle, for it exhibits handling mannerism superior to the other two. This can be attributed to the vast racing experience TVS has gathered over the years.
The Splendor+ is an agile city bike it displays incredibly light and neutral turn in capability but increase the speed and this bike disappoints. High-speed stability is poor and any form of hard cornering will give riders the shivers, the frame exhibiting more than a healthy flex.
Coming to the Boxer CT one finds adequate ammunition available for urban warfare, yet when exploiting inviting corners, the front end feels loose and fails to inspire confidence. We are positive Bajaj will address this at the earliest and move to firmer ground judging from the excellent handling exhibited by the more recent bikes from their stables.
The Centra brakes are the most effective. Emergency stops from 60kph-0 took just 2.39sec over 19.31m. The Splendor+ came in next at 21.43m, closely followed at 22.17m by the Boxer CT. Feel through the front brake lever of the Boxer was the best, followed by the Centra. The Splendor+ does offer a disc option though the bike we tested ran a drum.
We understand fuel consumption as the focus area when comparing these bikes. To get as clear a picture as possible, we ran them in identical real world conditions, on a fuel-test designed to arrive at numbers which you can expect in daily use.
It is possible to get better figures from these bikes under favorable conditions, but it would be tough to get any lower mileage from these frugal and evenly poised aspirants.
The Centra delivered class leading mileage figures of 59.2kpl in the city and 63.3kpl out on the highway. The intelligent engine with its ingenious electronic wizardry and smart friction saving has lived up to TVS's claims, proving itself way ahead of its peers.
The Splendor+ and Boxer CT delivered numbers, which were almost at par. The Boxer edged ahead in the city with 53kpl to 52kpl on the Splendor+ and both bikes locked horns on the highway delivering an identical mileage of 59.1kpl.
So there you have it. The writing is on the wall. Though the Centra is yet to prove its mettle in practice on tough Indian roads, we pick it as the winner.
Any which way you look at it, the Centra is the bike to beat and don't forget, it's priced well too. The VT-i engine translates into unmatched efficiency and this motorcycle unequivocally out-handles the competition with race-bred dynamics. The one area that could do with improvement is its styling.
The Splendor+ now has itself a very worthy rival-on paper at least. In reality, this fast rolling ball may take far longer to lose its huge momentum. Brand loyalty, a strong rural presence, rock solid reliability and being the older player definitely has its advantages.
The Boxer finds itself out of its depth in this trio. The glaring differences in mileage alone leaves it staggering. We are told Bajaj is releasing an upgraded Boxer soon. Things should get interesting once this version hits the market. As things stand today - it's checkmate for the Splendor and advantage Centra!