TVS has been the underdog in the commuter class of motorcycles for far too long. With the Phoenix, the company is aiming to make its presence felt in the miscellany of the 125cc segment albeit trying to do quite lot. Ravi Ved and Varad More get aboard to see if all this makes sense to the buyer out there
With rapid development in technology coupled with an increased awareness and enhanced buying power of the consumer, we are seeing the transitional shift in the lower end of the Indian motorcycle space, especially, the switch from the bare bone 100cc commuters to the more powerful and stylish 125cc motorcycles, making this a significant segment commercially for all two-wheeler manufacturers operating in the country. Having said this, the battle lines have been formally written with the likes of Hero MotoCorp, its erstwhile partner Honda via HMSI and Bajaj Auto being in the thick of things in this vital segment.
Others like Yamaha and Suzuki have flattered only to not keep the pace of development and intensity of promotion going relegating them to followers behind the above mentioned trio. But then what about the missing brand which was so very much in the thick of all commuter-oriented thought – TVS? So many times it came close but never really dominated the senses as it was capable of and here again for the umpteenth time it has thrown its hat into the proverbial ring where it intends its Phoenix to rise as the fabled bird and soar to success.
Will it or can it are questions to which the answers would be forthcoming some time later in 2013 but right now one has to understand the time lost to market for the firm which had so many early successes in the field starting with the 100cc AX100 then with the Samurai, the Victor and to a certain extent with the Fiero. I am not saying that its other offerings were not good but in this class of bike where you need to be consistently better than good and deliver strongly given the fact that money is made on volumes and not just on per unit sold (unless of course if you are Bajaj Auto and the back end is there to deliver any which way), TVS has loads of work to do to get within striking distance of its combined competition.
It managed to get going in the 125cc segment with the Victor 125 GLX but this didn’t help volumes. However its next model to grab sales here was the Flame in 2008 but the burnout caused by the techno-legal issue with Bajaj Auto doused its chances. Well, to give the Hosur bike maker its due, it is back to try and give its 125cc ambitions another go with the Phoenix and without any preconceived notions or any focus on its predecessors, we get to grips with what is, at first sight, a pretty strikingly turned out motorcycle.
Styling is quite a crucial factor for motorcycles in the 125cc segment being mid-way between the commuter class and the relatively sporty 150cc segment. And in the premium 125cc niche segment, product placement is a vital aspect. Tagged as a premium class entrant, the styling of the Phoenix is conservative yet attractive. The smart design features a typically TVS wide front fairing that contains the headlight, with the all-day LED powered pilot lamps adding some glamour. The spread out side panels and the wide slash-cut tail light looks similar to the one adorning the Star City and the TVS family resemblance is evident.
However the manner in which the nose fairing, the tank, the side panels and the tail have been crafted and integrated is pleasing with a good blend of surfacing along with snazzy graphics to make the whole ensemble a striking one. The funky new graphics on the tank, digital console, petal disc brake up front and hazard lights imbue the Phoenix with a fresh, youthful aura. However, despite a rather extended features list, the Phoenix does not come across as being more premium or different from the Star City, something which rival manufacturers have succeeded in differentiation with ease in their own portfolios...
The wide tank (good to take in 12 litres of petrol) that boasts the bike’s displacement fairly loudly is well crafted and easy to grip with the inside of the thighs. The orange backlit digital console houses a bar graph speedometer which is snazzy to look at but is quite difficult to read and decipher in real world conditions, especially when on the move. Apart from the usual telltale lights, there are low battery and service due indicator lamps along with a digital fuel meter. However this premium offering from TVS misses out on a tachometer, which is a norm for premium 125cc motorcycles in India.
The tall and wide handlebars enable the rider an upright seating position ideal for city commuting.The chrome-laden bars sport newly designed switchgear with large chunky buttons and switches that make for good ergonomics. The bike is also fitted with a first-in-class hazard warning switch, sadly where the engine kill switch should be. The black six-spoke alloys with a 240mm dia petal disc up front, the black-finish engine and the exhaust are well built and turned out. All in all the Phoenix design sports a load of TVS signature flair, but while some of the stuff works best when seen from afar, overall it is a bit of this and a bit of that machine.
Hit the start button and the Phoenix’s peppy EcoThrust motor emits a promising growl. The short stroke 125cc powerplant with a 57mm x 48.8mm configuration breathing via Ucal-Mikuni CV instrument produces 11PS of power at 8,000rpm and 10.8Nm of torque at 6,000rpm, taking it to 60km/h from standstill in just 6.41 seconds, which is pretty much on par with its segment rivals. Mated to a four-speed gearbox, the engine feels refined at city speeds and there are no vibrations reaching the footpegs or the handlebars.
This is certainly a good point on the bike and mighty helpful to those who need a basic commuter machine every day of the year. The transmission that follows an all-up shift pattern common to most commuter segment motorcycles is smooth as silk. A light clutch means stress free travel even in traffic clogged conditions in town. A flat torque curve means there is enough low and mid-range grunt thanks to which the bike easily picks up from speeds as low as 15km/h in the fourth gear without any knocking whatsoever, so you can cruise in the top cog without bothering too much with the gear lever.
The Phoenix impressed in the in-gear acceleration tests, completing the 30km/h to 70km/h run in just 6.37 seconds slotted in fourth gear. But the downside, is that being short geared, its top speed is restricted to just 92.1km/h, which it struggles to reach. Overall the bike fares well in its intended in-town commuting task, being comfortable enough and just about coming close on the fun-to-ride element that is critical in this breed of motorcycle. However, when you really need to shake things up, the overall gearing is also the one which contributes to go against the one holy grail of the commuter class – the fuel efficiency.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Swing a leg astride the Phoenix and the comfort aspect is immediately evident. The soft seat is easy on the backside even over long hauls. The flat saddle is well crafted and upholstered and this makes it comfortable even for a pillion with chunky, easy to hold grab rails. Ride quality is typical TVS forte and the Phoenix is no exception in delivering this. Offering a plush ride without compromising on the handling, the Phoenix walks the thin line remarkably well. And a lot of this supple feel is courtesy the well-damped telescopic forks up front and the 5-step adjustable twin spring set-up at the rear. The latter configuration, first seen on the Bajaj Platina, consists of two springs of varying ratings placed one over the other for progressive damping.
In simple terms, the slightly stiffer spring at the bottom absorbs all the undulations of the road while the softer one above it ensures that most if not all of the inclement shocks are transmitted to any part of the rider’s anatomy.The handling of the Phoenix is up there among the best, thanks to a good overall layout with a short wheelbase and a quick turning ability which is also a TVS hallmark. Right from the days of the Samurai and Shogun duo, all TVS motorcycles have that quick to turn on a dime ability and it is no different with the Phoenix.
Overall the riding geometry is fairly pleasing for most commuters and with the thoughtful ergonomic features like the well shaped tank to aid control and grip, the tall and wide handlebars and the forward-placed footpegs, the upright stance helps the bike to be both nimble and easy to control in tight city riding conditions. The enthusiastic sort can corner in a sporting manner to a certain degree on the bike given the fact that the performance is well within the overall capability of its chassis and suspension. However, there is a limit to how far one can stick it out but for regular commutes in an easy paced manner the Phoenix works well.
However, the front end does go light with a pillion astride and as far as sporting pretensions go, it is best to do the spirited stuff solo on this machine. Brakes are impressive, especially the one we tried with the front disc and rear drum set-up. Braking performance was respectable, not just in hauling down from 60km/h to rest in 17.63 metres but also for the feel under braking. However, we wish the tyres were up to scratch, because the ability of the bike to deliver feedback and even more feel from its front end could result in a more confidence inspiring ride. Also as the 125cc class has been evolving constantly, we definitely would have liked TVS to be just as progressive as the others and fit tubeless tyres on the Phoenix. The call to rise has to be on all fronts!
This is the holy grail of the commuter category in the Indian motorcycle world and is the one aspect where the Phoenix loses out to the competition. With TVS endowing the Phoenix with strong low end power and in-town driveability by employing a short geared four-speed transmission, the equation has adversely affected the fuel economy, the bike returning an unimpressive overall figure of 54.7kmpl, despite being the lightest in its class at 116kg. For the record, the Phoenix returned 50kmpl in our in-town test while on the highway runs she clocked 68.8kmpl.
The 12-litre fuel tank gives it a healthy 660km plus operating range but its overall fuel efficiency could have been better. Having a modicum of performance is so very vital otherwise in certain situations in the daily commute the rider tends to flog the bike repeatedly in the higher recesses of its rev range and this impacts the fuel efficiency massively. The short gearing and the lack of a vital fifth cog to spread the torque more effectively in all operating conditions would have helped it in this very vital parameter which so often spells success or otherwise in this class.
TVS claims that its Phoenix delivers 67kmpl in standard test conditions but in the real world against its rivals it doesn’t manage to show up better than them, some of which have a slightly lower fuel efficiency under standard test conditions! The lack of the fifth cog is the most serious impediment for this means it not only runs out of poke but also impacts fuel efficiency.
Given its looks, performance, handling and a few exclusive features, the Phoenix is undoubtedly a good motorcycle but when you are trying to make that climb back up the field you need more than to be just good. In this highly competitive 125cc segment, product placement and deliverables are of equal importance. TVS has launched it as a premium 125cc motorcycle to compete against the Bajaj Discover 125ST, Hero Ignitor and the Honda Stunner, mainly because of features like a petal disc, digital console, twin-spring suspension, hazard lights and the like, but if it falters in vital areas that its rivals excel in, then the going gets tougher.
Maybe the premium features need to be bolstered by a five-speed transmission at the very earliest and we think that this will enable the EcoThrust motor to live up to its name, which right now is lacking both the economy and the thrust, so to speak. With sticker prices ranging from Rs 50,890 to Rs 52,905, the Phoenix is placed between the two categories, which make its prospects an even more complicated matter. TVS has sought to find a middle way but it hasn’t quite worked out.
For buyers of this class of motorcycle, efficiency and driveability are of the utmost importance. The Phoenix has the makings of a decent motorcycle, but there is nothing to set it apart from the competition and here is where the engineering and the thought process need to be right up there to deliver a unique selling proposition. Address this and then the Phoenix may rise, we think.
Editor's Note: Adil Jal Darukhanawala
Will the Phoenix help TVS rise above all?
Some time last month a TVS dealer from Mumbai and a long standing personal friend of mine rang up and asked me to rate the TVS Phoenix, the new 125cc executive commuter motorcycle from the Hosur-based bike maker. He asked me as to how many points I would give it out of ten compared to the competition. I told him I’d have to get to grips with bike and competition and then get back to him. Having done just that over a seven-day period, this is my assessment of the newest offering from TVS and it rates an eight out of ten.
The Phoenix was born from the ashes of the Flame which got the firm so tied up in technological and legal tangles with Bajaj Auto. The new Phoenix has a simple but robust air-cooled motor displacing 124.5cc and it now makes do with very simple bits and pieces well crafted for combustion, power, torque and driveability and price. One can make out how and why the bike has been configured given its small carburettor, its overall gearing (one cog less than the similarly priced competition) and the way it tries to appeal cosmetically to punters in this very important segment in Indian motorcycling.
The idea of a li’l bit of this and a li’l bit of that doesn’t necessarily make for a wholesome package but so many bike makers have gone down that route with this thought firmly writ large in their sub-conscious and yet brave enough to ram it through knowing well that the chances of success are pretty slim. Mind you, the bike does look very good in class and against the likes of the Honda Shine and the Hero Glamour it tries to make a fight of it. The trouble is that with a four-speed ’box and a high output engine, the acceleration is top notch, both from rest to whatever and also in-gear roll-ons are class leading but in so doing the bike misses out on top gear flexibility and speed and this hurts in overall performance as well as in the fuel efficiency game. Related: TVS Phoenix 125 Launched