The More Mature Interceptor
The Honda VFR800 Interceptor took on a makeover for 2014, but can it return to the form that made it one of Honda’s most beloved models?
You can’t keep a good V-4 down, as the 2014 Honda VFR800 Interceptor illustrates with its return to the lineup. The throaty bike took a short hiatus from the showroom floor and now returns with the same frame and engine while the tech and outside shell get a makeover. The target market for the VFR800 is the mature rider so Honda determined that conservative styling was the way to go. In past iterations, love it or hate it the VFR had some pretty interesting styling features: underseat exhaust, side mounted radiators, airflow ducts, speedlines, swept back headlights, but they’re practically all gone now.
The objective of this facelift, like many, was to pull everything tighter and smoother. To call the new look clean would be an understatement. Refined? Mature? Perhaps. Throw in the white pearl paint that graced our road test model and the bike takes on an aura of stealth that a mature rider aboard a fast bike might appreciate. Was he there? Wasn’t he? If graphics, two-tone paint and a helmet featuring intertwined dragons breathing fire aren’t your cup of tea the VFR800 is the Earl Grey to the CBR1000RR’s double espresso.
That’s not to say the repackaged Honda VFR800 Interceptor is a decafe’d racer. The bike still traces a line back to a legendary past (if the mid ’80s can be considered legendary). It’s all about the motor albeit one a little larger than the purists prefer at 782cc.
It is still there when the start button is punched and the throttle blipped. The rating is a neighbourhood spec 106 hp (though Honda doesn’t make a lot of fuss about the number). There’s enough on tap but horsepower is not a wow factor here, which leads to a few questions. When it debuted as a sport machine in the Interceptor line with the help of some race tech the VFR became a celebrated machine on the track. Somewhere along the way—pretty much with the introduction of the CBR600 and the CBR1000—the VFR had to find a new reason for being.
As the pure sport crowd moved to the new inline fours, the V4 was left to the VFR (or in the cruiser environment with the Magna and Sabre). The bike became the middle ground between sport and standard as riders grew to appreciate its softer edge and unique powerplant.
The Honda VFR800 Interceptor weighs in at 239 kg (526 lb.), which is a substantial 10 kg less than the previous version—what’s a facelift without dropping a few pounds? This is still significantly more than the CBRs of the world of course. The VTEC system that was the joy of the earlier 800 now comes on with just the slightest hint the engine is in the mid 6,000 rpm range, and the valve count doubles.
Earlier models introduced VTEC actuation with a surge of power. For some, it was unsettling to have the engine drop in and out of VTEC in tight road situations. But when the road opened up and you hit the throttle engaging VTEC it was a thrill akin to the spooling of a supercharger. Boom, here it is! Yes, the new model’s VTEC actuation is likely safer but then again so is the styling. The benefit of the VTEC to the individual rider is going to vary. Those who like riding higher in the rev range will notice the enhanced engine capabilities, but many will ride below 6,400. Below the VTEC limit the engine is still efficiently fast and smooth for most riding environments even if you aren’t saying “Wow!”
If you are going to whip the VFR800 above 6,500 rpm through rain, curves or dusty roads, Honda provides ABS and traction control, which is new for this model. The brakes are twin 310mm floating discs up front with radial mounted calipers and a 256mm disc in the rear.
Many VFR750 connoisseurs were unsettled by the Ducati-like underseat exhaust and by the increased cubes even though for a while bigger was always better. But was 50cc really THAT much bigger? Certainly, there was a great hue and cry about it.
The Honda VFR800 Interceptor had occupied its own niche for so long, riders within it had grown territorial and protective of the bike. What might have lead to this current refocusing of the VFR800 is the confusion that set in around 2010 with the introduction of the VFR1200. Big, fast, comfortable is the definition of sport tourer in the motorcycle dictionary but the VFR crowd didn’t embrace the big bike. Not even looking alike, the bikes seemed common in name only. Bigger, faster and more comfortable didn’t seem to be the answer and it is where the new VFR800 had trouble defining itself in today’s market. It is too sporty to be a long-range sport-touring machine for many and too relaxed to be considered an aggressive sportbike.
Sure, there are heated grips now but the ergonomics of the riding position is forward leaning and the tank/seat interface a little too intense on rough pavement. The seat can be adjusted in height by 20mm and Honda’s HMAS suspension can be adjusted front and rear in an attempt to increase comfort but it is unlikely to be really comfortable. If somewhere in the middle works for you the available hard bags and 21.5-litre tank will get you down the road in 300-km leaps.
VFR riders are an ardent group—some might go so far as to decrease the stroke of their bikes to regain the “real” 750 displacement. They might also have “real Jeeps have round headlight” bumper stickers.
The “newish” 800 seems to be a way for some of those older VFR750 and 800 model owners to come back into the fold on another Honda product. Those who love the bike would have it no other way, but they have defined the VFR as they want it to be. It has a niche but it isn’t so clearly defined as that of the VFR1200, which could be considered nothing else but a sport-touring machine.
The new VFR800 heads out the door at $14,499, a new VFR1200 without the DCT can be had for $16,499. This leads to an interesting debate. The VFR800 does follow in the 1200’s footsteps in a few ways. It is an extremely well presented bike in terms of finish and equipment. It has little touches like the LED headlights that distinguish it from other machines. The details from the instrument panel to the body panels all go together extremely well. Seamless is the word that comes to mind. But things that are seamless are sometimes tough to get a good grip on. That’s the VFR800.