As we mentioned the Hornet is based on the Unicorn but Honda has reworked the carburettor (says Honda) to bump up the power and torque figures. It has also reworked the exhaust and thrown in a catalytic converter in there to make the Hornet BS IV compliant; emission levels that are only due in 2017. It has given the Hornet 160R a slightly revised swingarm, wider tyres and beefier front forks; these are now 37mm in diameter.
But, the big change can be experienced once you mount the bike. The rider footpegs are now a set of rearsets, the handlebar is lower and wider, and the seat is still low enough for the average Indian male to firmly plant his feet on the ground. This change alone makes the Hornet 160R likeable. The seating offers a lovely balance between comfort and control and even after long hours in the saddle, it won't leave one with an aching back or a sore bottom.
Once you get the Honda Hornet 160R all fired up though, it sounds revs and responds like the Unicorn 160. It is only towards the top end of the engine performance that the additional horsepower can be sensed. The mid range isn't good but get past 6,000rpm and the Hornet seems to come alive. Rev past 7,000rpm and the Hornet enters the 'fun' zone. It still doesn't sound great, but you'd rarely find it lacking in response or pull. It tops out at 9,500rpm.
The gear shift quality for the 5-speed box (again borrowed from the Unicorn 160) in typical Honda fashion, is crisp, precise and a joy to use. The clutch is light and progressive too making the Hornet a breeze to live with in the city. The only real negative to the Hornet's drivetrain is the engine noise. The engine's performance - its free-revving nature and barely any vibes to complain about be it on the handlebar, footpegs and tank even at high rpms - is pretty much sorted. But it's the knocking like noise from the engine - no matter what rpm - that makes the Hornet feel less refined than it actually is.
The Honda Hornet 160R is a hoot in the dynamic department; something we haven't said about a Honda mass market product in some time. It feels intuitive around corners. It tips into bends effortlessly, allows you to alternate your lines, and rarely gets unsettled by mid-corner bumps or change in surface. It has good brakes too. The petal-type front disc with a three pot caliper (the disc is larger in size than the Unicorn too), doesn't just look good, it offers the bite and feel worthy of a faster motorcycle. It's sharp but progressive and communicative. The Hornet also gets Combined Braking, so every time you end up using just the rear brake, a single piston acts on the front as well. It's mostly useful on slippery or broken surfaces. The only chink here is the tyres which tend to lose grip sooner than one expects.
But, it's the suspension setup that impressed me the most. It is a bit on the firm side; one can feel it every time the bike hits a bump, pothole or pebble. But, even through overloaded truck ravaged state highways, it felt like it could do no wrong. No wild rodeo ride, no back breaking thumps and no pogoing whatsoever. It rides flat through undulations as well, even at three digit speeds.