The Honda H'Ness CB 350 (yes, it's called the Highness!) is Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India's latest weapon to take the battle to Royal Enfield's doorstep in the entry-level modern classic segment. It's a segment dominated by Royal Enfield; more specifically, by the Royal Enfield Classic 350, which accounts for 90 per cent of Royal Enfield's overall sales. Honda's been eyeing the 350 cc modern classic segment for sometime, and felt it's time to shake things up, and so the all-new Honda H'Ness CB 350 made its debut a few months ago. After waiting months for His Highness to show up for a test ride, we've finally been granted an audience.
Also Read: Honda H'Ness CB 350 Priced At ₹ 1.85 Lakh
The H'Ness, (weird name for a motorcycle, if you ask me), but a name which HMSI feels will be potent enough to take on the 'royals' in the segment - pun intended. But it's not likely to be a walkover; Royal Enfield's brand strength is legendary, and riding a Royal Enfield is as much a statement, as is a lifestyle filled with emotion and passion. So, is the Honda CB 350 good enough to lay claim to Royal Enfield's reign in the 350 cc motorcycle segment? We spent some time with the Honda H'Ness CB 350 to try and seek some answers.
Also Read: All You Need To Know About The Honda CB 350
The Honda CB 350 looks period correct. With design inspiration taken from Honda's storied CB series range of roadsters, the new H'Ness CB 350 oozes old world charm. The long and wide fuel tank with the retro-styled Honda badge is a definite nod to Honda roadsters from the '70s and '80s. The round headlight has that classic charm, but it's LED, as is the retro-styled taillight. The turn indicators have an outer ring which are illuminated all the time, with the round-shaped blinkers. Overall fit and finish is quite nice, with very good paint quality.
The alloy wheels are shod with tubeless tyres from MRF and come in 19-inch front and 18-inch rear combination. The design of the alloys complements the neo-retro silhouette and even the fenders are finished in chrome to underscore the retro appeal. The slightly upswept exhaust is also finished in chrome, and as soon as you fire up the single-cylinder engine, it starts up with a nice sounding thump; clearly, it has been tuned to resemble the trademark thump of a Royal Enfield, but the CB 350 in fact, sounds sharper and louder than the Royal Enfield Classic 350.
Performance & Dynamics
The engine's state of tune, and the specifications show that Honda has clearly developed the CB 350 to take the fight to established rivals in this segment. The 349 cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled engine produces 20.8 bhp at 5,500 rpm, but the 30 Nm of torque is best in class, and peaks at a low 3,000 rpm. That translates to an urgent pull as you work the gears in city speeds, and 100 kmph is achieved in no time. Top speed is well over 125 kmph, and 90 -100 kmph is a relaxed place to be in. In fact, out on the highway, you can cruise sedately at 90-95 kmph all day, with some extra oomph for overtakes.
Also Read: Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Review
But despite the low-end torque, the gears need to be worked, along with engine revs and downshifts are required, which makes the Honda feel quite different from the character of the Royal Enfield engines we're used to. But overall refinement levels from the counterbalanced engine are certainly very nice, and the slip and assist clutch offers a light feel on the lever. Gear shifts are slick, so working the 5-speed gearbox is never a problem, but the design of the gear lever does get in the way, and could have been better, ergonomically. The engine however, doesn't mind being revved, so despite the narrow power band, and tall gearing, the CB 350 doesn't disappoint.
With a kerb weight of 181 kg, the Honda H'Ness CB 350 feels light on the move, and it remains quite planted and stable. The half duplex cradle frame offers adequate stability and even when cornering, it feels quite planted, and confident. Overall ride quality is quite nice and comfortable, and hustling the CB 350 over potholes, speedbreakers and broken tarmac, gave us no reason to complain. Even around long sweeping corners, the bike remains stable, and it's relatively lightweight to make it feel agile, for an entry-level modern classic.
Tech & Ergonomics
The speedometer is a single-pod analogue unit, but also features a small digital screen with a long list of features. It will show you a clock, fuel gauge, gear position indication, distance to empty, average fuel consumption, battery voltage meter and twin trip meters. The tell-tale lights feature a side-stand indicator which also acts as an engine inhibitor, so if you have the side stand down, and engage a gear, the engine automatically cuts off. The instrument console also has a phone charging point in the form of a USB C port. The left switchcube on the top-spec DLX Pro variant also has buttons to scroll through the menus on the digital display, but annoyingly, the horn button position has been swapped for the turn indicators (a known Honda feature nowadays), which will take some time used to.
The top-spec DLX Pro variant comes in dual-tone colours and two loud horns, along with the Honda Smartphone Voice Control System (HSVC). It does require a separate helmet-mounted Bluetooth speaker system, which will cost anywhere between ₹ 5,000-8,000 at the Honda Big Wing dealership, but there are less expensive options also available in the grey market. The voice control system allows the rider to use a dedicated Honda RoadSync app through which features like alerts on incoming calls, music playback and audio instructions for navigation.
There's also Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), Honda-speak for traction control system, which is a segment-first, but not really needed with a bike with this kind of performance. On wet roads and low traction conditions though, it may prove to be handy. Brakes are quite good, and offer decent bite to shave off speeds in a hurry. There's also dual-channel ABS which makes urgent braking a safe and measured experience, without any unnecessary drama.
Also Read: Honda H'Ness CB 350 Prices With Rivals
Prices & Variants
The Honda H'Ness CB 350 is available in two variants. The base DLX variant is priced at ₹ 1.85 lakh (Ex-showroom), while the top-spec DLX Pro variant is priced at ₹ 1.90 (Ex-showroom). The DLX Pro variant gets dual-tone colours, dual horns with chrome finish, and the Honda Smartphone Voice Activated System, with Bluetooth connectivity, although the helmet mounted speaker system needs to be purchased separately. For the slightly higher price, it's the DLX Pro which makes more sense. And at those prices, the Honda H'Ness CB 350 will compete with the Royal Enfield Classic 350, Royal Enfield Meteor 350, Jawa and even the Benelli Imperiale 400.
The Honda H'Ness CB 350 is one of the most expensive bikes in its segment, barring the Benelli Imperiale 400. But even then, it gets segment-first features like the voice-activated, hands-free, Bluetooth connectivity, as well as standard traction control, and LED lighting. The CB 350 certainly offers a level of quality and refinement that is noticeable and truly commendable. The engine is smooth, the throaty exhaust note nice, and the dynamics well-sorted. Everything about the bike speaks volumes about a certain level of finesse that is difficult to ignore. It's definitely a well-rounded product and has the possibility of creating a new benchmark in the segment.
The only limitation is that the H'Ness CB 350 is only being sold through the Honda Big Wing network, which has limited numbers pan-India, but Honda intends to increase the network by up to 50 dealerships across India by March 2021.But Honda will still have its task cut out, and even though the battlelines have been drawn, dethroning Royal Enfield won't be easy. The only way to find out is to compare the CB 350 head-to-head with Royal Enfield's latest, the Meteor 350. But that's another story, and a face-off we promise to let His Highness indulge in, and for us to judge, before the year is over.
(Photography: Prashant Chaudhary)