Who will buy the new VFR800?

Bruce Steever
Publish Date: 
Jun 12, 2014
By Bruce Steever

TEMECULA, Calif. – We recently had the opportunity to join Honda’s media launch for the new 2014 VFR800 Interceptor. 

As a model with a long history and a fervent group of fans, a new VFR had to answer several key requests from enthusiasts. While there’s no doubt that the new machine is significantly improved, answering many of those demands, the machine stays true to the classic VFR750/800 formula, offering an ultra-refined, even understated, balance of performance and comfort.

Does the classic VFR750/800 formula, and the Interceptor itself, still have a place in the modern motorcycle market?

This left us with a larger, potentially more important question: Does this formula, and the Interceptor itself, still have a place in the modern motorcycle market?

Since 1998, when the first “RC46” model VFR800 was launched, the unique V-four-powered machine has been a favorite of riders around the world, winning numerous bike of the year awards, thanks to its blend of sporting performance, lineage, practicality and comfort. Honda used the high-tech machine as a premium platform to launch new technologies, with features including fuel injection, linked brakes, a single-sided swingarm, side-mounted radiators and a “tuned-flex” chassis design, not to mention a soul-stirring 90-degree V-four engine.

At the time, its 782cc V-four offered competitive power in a class filled with options, including the Aprilia Futura, Ducati’s ST2/3/4 series, the Triumph Sprint ST and others, each offering sportbike looks and performance with additional comfort and distance-friendly ergonomics. While the bikes were different, these sporty all-purpose streetbikes all aimed at the same primary customer: older sportbike riders looking for additional civility without giving up their sportbike roots. These riders wanted real performance, but were tired of hunching over supersport bikes to find it. The VFR remained an attractive buy thanks to its unique engine and Honda’s famous refinement and reliability.

But then something funny happened. One by one, competitors started to abandon the “sporty” sport-touring class, leaving Honda holding the segment by default. Each of the competing brands looked to the new hot segment in motorcycling, the adventure-touring class, to attract the same high-end buyer that typically leaned toward the VFR and its ilk. Ducati, Triumph and, most recently, Aprilia, have all unveiled street-focused “adventure” bikes that are modern interpretations of the same mission: provide high-tech sporting abilities with comfortable ergonomics and tour-ready features.

At the same time, Honda’s 2002 refresh of the VFR800 left many riders cold, thanks to gains in both weight and complexity without distinct performance advantages in exchange. After 2009, Honda decided to drop the machine from the U.S lineup completely.

Now we have an all-new VFR800 Interceptor for 2014. While still based around the 105 (claimed) horsepower 782cc Vtec engine from 2002, the motor now offers the refinement and driveability the original motor lacked, and the rest of the chassis has been updated to suit.

Weight is down some 20 lbs. Suspension now offers both better damping control and improved adjustability. The braking system is significantly improved with new calipers, faster ABS and the removal of the old mechanical link between front and rear brake systems. Styling has been freshened up, with sharp lines and functional, classy touches such as the new blacked-out LCD instruments and all-LED lighting, including quad LED headlamps.

A range of Honda accessories will be available to further prepare the new “RC79” model VFR for the long haul, too. But the machine is still based on the existing platform, and the same formula: sporting practicality with a dose of technology and absolute refinement in use.

Is that enough?

Don’t bother trying to sell your typical CBR or GSX-R owner on the idea, but your customer that commutes on his sportbike is a potential VFR sale.

The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ($12,000) and BMW’s F800GT ($13,200) compete in the same space as the new VFR800 ($12,500 - $13,500), offering fully-faired sportbikes with more upright and practical ergonomics. The Honda also finds itself competing with a range of cutting edge European adventure-touring machines like the Ducati Multistrada ($17,000 - $22,300), KTM 1190 Adventure ($17,000) and Aprilia Caponord ($15,500). These European bikes offer some of the most advanced technology available on two wheels and the cachet of being more exotic brands, an often alluring mix for well-heeled, experienced riders. Meanwhile, the Kawasaki offers 20 percent more engine and similar ergonomics for significant savings, even if it lacks the lusty sound of the Honda’s V-four powerplant. And if one considers other adventure bikes such as the updated Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom ($12,700 - $14,000), a sporty, comfortable 100 hp machine with plenty of touring accessories, it quickly becomes apparent that the VFR800 has its work cut out for it.

But the situation is far from hopeless for the new Honda in the face of these competitors. For the VFR800 to be a sales success, it needs to connect with customers on a different level than traditional sportbikes, and dealers will need to make the most of the VFR’s unique attributes to do so.

The first buyers...and the next buyers (continued on next page)