The great Indian commuter segment. It’s not an aspirational product category. It’s not even a segment that ushers in great new designs or technologies. But, it is very popular; the most popular, in fact.
Wait a minute. Did we say no new technologies? Well, we stand corrected, because if there’s anything new connected with fuel economy, it does make its appearance here first. And now, we have a couple more. Okay, these technologies aren’t new (actually one isn’t even a technology; it’s more an amalgamation of improved parts and processes), but it is new for the bike space, in India.
Meet the new Splendor iSmart and the Dream Neo. These are products from two exes – Hero and Honda – and both claim to have set a new benchmark in fuel efficiency terms thanks to iSmart and HET. You can read about the Splendor iSmart in more detail here, but in a nutshell, the Splendor now gets start/stop tech which cuts the engine when the bike stops for over five seconds and then fires it up when the rider is ready to move. This in turn is supposed to improve fuel economy.
HET or Honda Eco Technology on the other hand, isn’t really a technology. What Honda has done is to fine tune some of its parts and processes relating to the engine and the combustion process to yield better, more efficient running of the engine. This has also helped improve the fuel economy.
So, let’s get the fuel efficiency bit out of the way first. Honda claims 74kmpl for the Dream Neo, while Hero has stayed away from claiming any figures for the iSmart. In the real world, on our fuel economy test route with over a dozen signals and medium traffic density, the Splendor iSmart returned 71kmpl. The Dream Neo managed 69kmpl. The difference, as you can tell, isn’t well… telling enough.
Now that we know fuel efficiency isn’t really the deciding factor between these bikes, let’s see how they compare as products.
When it comes to seating ergonomics, we prefer the Dream Neo. You sit straight up with an upright handlebar, neutrally positioned footpegs and a flat but firm seat on the Honda. The Hero has similar seating, but it is roomier. However, it is the soft seat and the slightly less ideal seat-footpeg relation on the Splendor iSmart that sees it finish behind the Honda in terms of comfort. The Dream Neo’s fuel tank (though it doesn’t get knee recesses like the Splendor) is better placed and easier to grip.
Ride quality, another crucial parameter for judging comfort, is acceptable on both motorcycles. These feel slightly firm at slower speeds but at higher speeds or through deep-ish potholes, the front ends of both the Neo and the iSmart tend to bottom out. In the Splendor’s case, every time the front bottoms out, it leaves an ugly scar on its front mudguard as well. So, which is the better riding motorcycle, then? It’s a tie.
Not so when it comes to handling, though. The Honda Dream Neo feels tighter, nimbler and better sorted dynamically. It’s easier to negotiate traffic with; it drops into corners with more surety and agility; and it sends all the right signals to its rider about what it can and cannot do. We also like the grip offered by the 80/100 section tubeless MRF tyres front and back.
The Splendor iSmart uses the same MRF tyres on 18 inch wheels as well. And, like on the Honda, the grip levels are commendable. But, handling wise, the iSmart wallows more in comparison to the Dream Neo. It feels longer and less alert as well, even though it sits on a smaller wheelbase compared to the Honda. The feedback from the chassis, especially about what the rear-end is up to, isn’t as good as on the Honda either. It’s just not as much fun to ride on a twisty section or to filter through traffic with.
As far as braking is concerned, both bikes use 130mm drums at the front and while the Hero has a 110mm drum at the rear, the Neo sticks with the larger 130mm drum at the back wheel. The rear drum size does give the Neo an advantage but it is really the feel and the bite from the front brakes of the two bikes (basically, in the way these have been setup) that differentiates the two. The difference isn’t much, but the setup just works better on the Honda.
The Honda Dream Neo has the larger engine here. It displaces 109cc compared to the iSmart’s 97.2cc. The Splendor’s unit is based on the same old sloper engine that has been powering Heros (read Hero Honda) for years. But, it doesn’t feel old or out of place even today. It is reasonably smooth and has acceptable tractability.
But then, there’s no replacement for displacement, now is there? Not surprisingly, the Honda makes more power and torque. And on the road, it is the motorcycle with more grunt, be it outright acceleration or ride-ability through gears. The Dream Neo’s engine feels less stressed when revved to the max too. Both bikes use 4-speed gearboxes that shift quite well, so no real advantage there.
The Honda Dream Neo HET (to call it by its full name) in Drum-Self-Alloy guise costs Rs 48, 452 ex-showroom in Mumbai. The Hero Splendor iSmart, again in Drum-Self-Alloy form (there’s no other version, by the way) is priced at Rs 48,550. So, clearly price, like fuel economy, cannot be a deciding factor here.
The Honda is the better engineered motorcycle, no doubt. It is also more comfortable and more fun to ride. But then the Splendor iSmart offers more tangible advantages. There’s no denying that the iSmart is (for the lack of a better word) the smarter looking of the two with its fancy paint scheme and the alloy grab rail. It has more features like the side stand indication, and alloy, folding type rider footrests. The instrumentation on both bikes is analogue, but the one on the Splendor is a nicer design and it gets a trip meter too.
With these tangible benefits and a proven track record, the Splendor now in iSmart guise does make a stronger case for itself compared to the Honda Dream Neo.
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