Motorsports Network Street Test
1998 VFR 800 Interceptor
Sounds like an impossible daydream. Take the legendary prowess and all around capabilities of the legendary VFR750 and make it faster, handle better and stop shorter. Since this is a dream, lets make the bike even more comfortable, add expensive fuel injection and linked braking - and let's do all this without changing the price. Yea, right.
Well, they did it! And not by making changes and updates to the current machine. No, Honda decided to build a new bike with a new chassis, engine and more. What's remarkable is that the new bike feels so much like the one it replaces. It's like pulling on an old glove, it's instantly comfortable.
Comfortable, yes, but with some new found tricks. The most noticeable change is the new 781cc fuel injected engine which revs about as quick as a two-stroke motorcrosser. When the revs rise, the intake generates a distinct snarl which sets the bike apart from its sometimes mundane sounding predecessor. The VFR 750 just politely goes about it's business while the 800's engine is instantaneous, has much more character and snaps to attention. At 5,000 rpm, the new VFR starts pulling and never quits. Zap the throttle at any rpm above 6,000 up to redline and the bike snaps forward, no weak spots, just constant hard pulling power.
Once at speed, you'll experience sharp crisp handling. The new VFR is much quicker responding to input than the 750, and when keeled over in a corner you'll experience the same exceptional neutral handling as with the 750. If you enter a corner too hot, it's no problem, just lean it further into the corner to scrub off excess speed. The new heavier sprung, moderately rougher riding, suspension package combined with the new chassis blends to create a package that works incredibly well together and is just plain hard to beat.
The excitement doesn't end there, as Honda's third generation linked braking system adds substantially to the equation. Distrusted at best, linked brakes are not the enthusiasts favorite choice, but in this case trying is believing. If you haven't ridden the bike, you can't knock the linked brakes. If you have ridden the bike, you won't believe how well and seamless this new system works. As an overall package the bakes on the new VFR are incredible. Straight line stops are quick and exceptionally controlled. Slip the bike through some downhill 'S' curves with the front and rear binders applied and you won't feel a thing but deceleration.
As one of the most comfortable sport bikes ever, Honda surely couldn't improve on the comfort of the legendary 750, could they? Well yes they can, and they did. The bars on the new bike feel slightly higher and require less of a reach to grasp. The leg bend is slightly less and the familiar shaped seat has a new cover material and stiffer padding, raising it's comfort level close to that of the incredible Yamaha FJ1200 seats of the past. In addition, the new wider fairing reduces the wind blast at higher speeds. The gauge layout and internal fairing finish is similar in style to the ST1100 and is just plain beautiful. Gauges include a handsome tach and speedo as well as a LED panel on the right side which includes two trip meters, engine coolant and out side air temperature readouts, and a bar graph fuel gauge.
The new 800 rolls on strong, but doesn't feel like a powerhouse at lower revs, so we put it to task against a well used 1996 VFR750. The results were surprising as the 800 feels so much more responsive then the 750. At 70mph in 5th and 6th gears the 750 slightly pulled the 800 at the beginning of the roll-on, then they ran even. In 3rd and 4th gears, they ran dead even. In second gear, at about 8,000 rpm, the new 800 leaps forward, walks away, and keeps going never looking back. We'll let you judge these results and how they apply to your type of riding.
Riding the two siblings together on backroads also provides some very definitive results. The new 800 has much stiffer, higher riding suspension, which compresses and rebounds through much less of it's travel. The result is a bike which feels more in control and is upset less by road irregularities.
If your used to one of these bikes, you'll be a little out of sorts the first time you toss the other bike into a sharp corner. The new VFR just falls into corners, turning much tighter than the 750. It leaves you feeling as if you can simply take the inside line anywhere against the 750 - and indeed you can. This left each test rider waiting for the 750 to get out of the way as the 800 was much more controlled and wanted to turn inside the 750. The new VFR is unquestionably a sharper more controlled package than it's predecessor yet provides more snap and added long range comfort.
Under hard braking entering corners the 750 dives a bit, unweighting the rear and upsetting the balance of the machine. The 800 in comparison squats down, front and rear, retaining complete composure. In straight line braking the 800, with Hondas 3rd generation linked brake system, feels as if it's in a class of it's own. The bike hunkers down and stops in an almost unflappable fashion. You'd really have to screw big time to upset this bike in panic braking situations. Want to brake hard in a corner, no problem. Want to yank on the binders while negotiating a sharp 's' at speed, no problem, the brakes simply worked great in all the situations we encountered. You can find stronger binders, but it would be hard to find any that are more controlled.
One problem we found with the bike is that the stock lever position is a bit high so you'll want to rotate them down a bit. If you do this, watch out because if you move the brake lever down as far as possible it will push against the brake light wire causing the the fuse to blow. This will take out your horn and brake light so be careful. If the lever is moved back up, just a little, the wire won't have pressure on it and the problem will be corrected.
It's hard not to like the new VFR800. In fact, it's difficult to find any fault with the seamless package. The only thing we could come up with was slightly notchy shifting. The bike shifts well, just not as smooth and precise as we've come to expect from Honda. This bike will undoubtedly retain it's long lived crown of being the best all-around sport bike made. With increased horsepower, added comfort, exceptional brakes and much sportier handling it will retain its crown even more deservedly than in the past.
If you want a bike that can do it all and that's easy to live with, the reigning champ has landed another knockout punch.
|Honda: 1998 VFR800 Interceptor|
|Average Range: 220 miles+||Acceleration||8|
|Drive: O-ring chain||Carburetion (EFI)||
|Fuel Capacity: 5.5 Gal.||Comfort (overall)||9|
|Fuel Mileage: 38 - 40 mpg||Comfort (touring)||9|
|Suspension Front: 41m cartridge for||Finish (quality)||9|
Back: Pro-Arm single-
sided swingarm / Pro-Link
|Tire Front: 120/70 ZR17 radial||Stability (handling)||9|
|Tire Back: 180/55ZR17 radial||Suspension (overall)||9|
|Weight: 458.6 lbs.||
|Retail (US): $9,499||
|Excellent comfort||Slightly notchy shifting, especially for a Honda.|
|Excellent mirrors||We don't have one of these in our shop!|
|Easily adjustable chain|
|Yes, the brakes|
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