Bajaj’s Pulsar shook the Indian market when it made its debut in 2001. The only other modern and sporty motorcycle in a market that filled with bikes focussed on fuel efficiency was Hero Honda’s CBZ. But, it was the arrival of the Pulsars with their extra dose of adrenaline, that gave the performance starved Indian bikers a potent tool. Over the years the Pulsar family grew and went on to become the highest selling affordable performance motorcycle in India.
The range has evolved into a performance bike for the masses, so when the time came to leapfrog to a higher displacement class, Bajaj took a bold decision and parted with the Pulsar moniker. Enter, Dominar, the newest family of motorcycles from Bajaj. And, one that Bajaj claim will reenergise the motorcycling market in India much the same way the Pulsars did 16 years ago. The first motorcycle from the Dominar family is the Dominar 400, and we hopped on to see for ourselves, what could make this motorcycle a game changer.
The Most Powerful Bajaj Yet:
The most talked about aspect of the Dominar 400 has to be its 373cc motor, which makes it the most powerful bike yet from the Chakan based manufacturer. The mill is based on the KTM 390 Duke’s powerplant but Bajaj engineers have added their patented Bajaj triple spark technology - DTS-i. Also in the interest of cutting costs and given the more relaxed nature of the Dominar, the engine uses a SOHC unit as opposed to a DOHC system as seen on the KTM. That is, it uses a single camshaft, instead of two, to operate the four valves. The Dominar 400’s engine has been extensively revised and you can see that in the numbers. The single-cylinder motor delivers 35PS at 8,000rpm and 35Nm at 6,500rpm of peak torque (43PS and 35Nm on the KTM 390 Duke).
Open the throttle and the Dominar 400 responds swiftly as the bike picks momentum at a healthy pace but isn’t jaw-dropping as that of the 390 Duke. When we tested it against the clock we managed to record a 0-100kmph time of 8.4 seconds. The most impressive part of the engine has to be its mid-range performance which makes overtaking on the highway effortless. Now the Dominar 400 was being touted as a power-cruiser and it does justice to the tag because of the way it performs. You can cruise at 120kmph in 6th gear at 6,000rpm and even at that speed there is enough grunt on tap for overtaking.
The 6-speed gearbox also does its job without any complaints but the gear shifts could have been a bit more positive. Also, once past 4,000rpm, a buzz can be felt through the handlebars, footpegs and tank. NVH levels of the engine also could have been better and a sweeter sounding exhaust note would have been very welcome. Also, the clutch feels a bit heavy while riding in crawling traffic. The Dominar 400 is the least expensive motorcycle on sale in India that offers a slipper clutch and the system works without any hitch. Whether a slipper clutch is needed, given the performance and nature of the motorcycle is debatable. While we couldn’t test the fuel efficiency numbers we expect it to deliver above 30kmpl which should result in a range of around 400km on a full tank.
Time To Twisty:
Now, the riding posture is where you realise that the Dominar 400 isn’t as laid back as you would have expected even from a power cruiser. The mildly rear-set footpegs and the wide handlebars mean that you are sat in a semi-sporty seating position seen on naked bikes. The rider is slightly leaned forward, but even after munching many miles on the highway we can say comfort levels were good. Show the Dominar 400 some twisties and it takes them with enthusiasm.
The bike holds it lines through flowing corners with authority with the MRF rubber providing ample grip and only on the sharp corners does it finds itself a bit nervous. As at tighter corners, the long wheelbase and the high kerb weight make their presence felt and one has to use more steering effort for the bike to change direction.
Despite the 182kg weight and long wheelbase, the Dominar 400 doesn’t feel lazy at low speeds either. It weaves its way through traffic quite fluently. The disc brakes provide generous retardation especially the 320mm dia disc (largest in its segment) at front, but it lacks progression and emits lot of noise when applied. The dual-channel ABS performs its duty in a diligent manner and isn’t too intrusive. The Dominar is sprung on the stiffer side and you can feel the effects of it at high speeds as some jolts are sent up through the saddle. The 43mm dia telescopic forks deal with these conditions better. But the monoshock unit is adjustable and a softer setting should help improve things in this department.
However, low-speed ride was pliant enough for the city commute. We also took the Dominar 400 on some trails and it handled them decently despite the stiff suspension setup. The saddle proved to be wide and has ample space for the rider and pillion. Now while the saddle height is reasonably low, due to the wide saddle shorter riders will find that getting both their feet on the ground isn’t as easy as expected.
With its large dimensions and low-slung stance, the Bajaj Dominar 400 commands attention. It has a mass-forward design language while the beefy fuel tank, chiseled mudguard, and the machined alloy wheels are the design highlights. The petite full-LED trapezoidal headlight and small windscreen fit snuggly between the chunky forks. The Ducati Diavel influence is clearly visible in its lines and the sharp styling will appeal to youngsters. The galvanized finish on the perimeter frame and the swingarm is a neat addition and the only design grouse we feel are the LED tail lamps that don’t flow well with the overalls styling.
Fit and finish levels are much better than any other offering from Bajaj and a good example of that is the intricate welding on the pressed steel swingarm, however, I feel there are just too many bolts on the motor and its mounts. The chrome finish on the bolts make them more evident and the Duke 390’s powerplant has a grey finish as opposed to the black shade on the Bajaj engine.
The standout feature of the Dominar 400 is the all-LED headlight, making it the only locally manufactured bike to offer it as of now. The LED unit provides brilliant luminance while the light spread is also impressive and without a shadow of a doubt the Dominar 400 has the best stock headlight in its segment.
The Dominar 400 sports a neatly laid out all-digital instrument cluster that is easy to read even under direct sunlight. It features speedometer, tachometer, two trip meters, odometer, clock, service indicator and fuel gauge. Gear position indicator is missed and the shift light should have been provided on top of the console as it isn’t in the field of vision of the rider. The tell-tale lights, side stand indicator, and ABS indicator have been mounted on the fuel tank. Switch-gear and handgrips are of good quality with the former being backlit. The one thing missing though is hooks for bungee cords.
Like all Bajaj offerings, the Dominar 400 has been aggressively priced at Rs 1.36 lakh for the standard variant and the ABS version carries a sticker price of Rs 1.5 lakh and the later will be our pick among the two (both prices ex-showroom Delhi). It looks like a muscular motorcycle and has performance that lives up to the suggestions thrown by its lines. And, it has an exhaustive list of features. But the vibey motor and harsh ride quality are aspects that detract from an otherwise well-packaged motorcycle.
The Dominar 400 is a new breed of affordable performance bikes for the masses but it doesn’t deliver the same kind of impact as the Pulsar range did many moons back. Having said that, if you’re in the hunt for an affordable, fast and comfortable highway cruiser that performs well in the city too then the Dominar 400 definitely deserves a close look before finalising your choice.
Also watch the Bajaj Dominar Video Review here.
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