BACK WITH THE X (ADV)
Honda’s hybrid-adventurer has been a sales success across Europe. We tested the 2018 model to see what makes it so popular.
On its launch a year ago the X-ADV seemed – to many motorcyclists, at least – like another entry on a list of bizarre Honda models that few people understood or would buy. A scooter with off-road styling? A feet-forward, small-wheeled adventure bike?
Surely it was just another crazy
Honda creation that made little sense and would follow the DN-01 and Vultus by selling in tiny numbers before being quietly dropped and forgotten about.
But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, the X-ADV’s blend of chunky looks and maxi-scooter performance and practicality struck a chord with plenty of people. This was motorcycling’s first Sport Utility Vehicle – stylish, rugged, versatile and desirable. It ended up as Europe’s seventh best selling model last year, doubtless to the delight of Honda Europe’s Italian-based R&D team, who had come up with the concept and persuaded their Japanese bosses to put it into production.
That success still seems slightly strange, but also makes some sort of sense as I aim this year’s mildly updated X-ADV along a winding road in southern Spain. I’ve just finished a short dirt-road diversion, where the Honda’s flexible, 745cc parallel-twin engine and long-travel suspension made it easily controllable when standing on the pegs, despite its weight, big-scooter-like geometry and ever so slightly eccentric combination of cycle parts.
Now I’m back on tarmac and sitting on the seat, my bag stashed under the seat, my feet on the footboards, and the X-ADV’s fairing, adjustable screen and hand-guards combining to keep me reasonably comfortable on a cold day. With the DCT transmission set to Sport mode the torquey, 54bhp engine is making the Honda both quick and easy to ride, and it’s handling sufficiently good to be fun.
Given the X-ADV’s impact, it’s no surprise that Honda has done very little to update it just a year on from its launch. The mods are really just electrical tweaks: the rev limit is raised by 900rpm, to 7500rpm. That doesn’t affect the character of the SOHC powerplant, shared with the NC750 models and Integra (which got the same rev increase this year).
The long-stroke unit is designed mainly for economy and low-rev performance, producing maximum power at 6250rpm and its torque peak of 51lb-ft at just 4750rpm.
The X-ADV comes only with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission, unlike the Africa Twin and NC models with their conventional six-speed option. Like the Africa Twin, for off-road use it now gains a ‘G’ button on its dashboard, which when pressed gives a more direct drive to the rear wheel, to allow better control. The X-ADV also gains a traction control system that can be adjusted through two positions, or turned off, with the press of a button.
There’s no change to its chassis, with its lengthy tubular steel frame, similar to that of the Integra scooter, and unique combination of chassis parts. While the suspension matches the NC750X adventure bike with its travel – 153.5mm from the upsidedown forks, and 150mm at the rear – and the wheels have wire spokes and fairly chunky Bridgestone Trail Wing tyres, their diameters are 17in front, 15in rear. And while the Integra’s front brake comprises a single front disc and twin-piston caliper, the X-ADV gets twin discs and four-pot radials.
It also gets a pretty high specification, with keyless ignition, LED lighting, hand-guards (borrowed from the Africa Twin), centre-stand and a screen that is manually adjustable through five positions and 136mm. The seat hinges to reveal a courtesy light, USB socket and room for a full-face helmet.
TALL AND RAPID
At 820mm the seat is 30mm higher than the Integra’s, and its height and width combine with the long footboards to make the X-ADV slightly tricky to climb aboard, and to balance unless you’ve got long legs. But once you’re under way it’s simplicity itself, with the ultratorquey parallel twin motor and DCT gearbox combining to give scooterstyle convenience with respectably motorbike-like performance.
Despite weighing a hefty 238kg with fuel (same as the Integra) the X-ADV accelerates respectably briskly, especially if you’re in automatic mode and using the sportiest of the three Sport settings, rather than one of the other two or even the softer still Drive mode, which changes up even earlier. In its latest incarnation the DCT system works well, and also gives the option of manual change using the thumband forefinger-operated paddles on the left bar.
The X-ADV certainly feels as quick as the Integra, NC750 or most other maxi-scooters, and it cruises along very smoothly and efficiently, delivering 60mpg-plus economy while giving the option of accelerating towards a top speed of just over 100mph. There’s useful protection for chest, hands and legs, and comfort is reasonable although the feet-forwards riding position puts all your weight through the seat, which wouldn’t be ideal on a long trip.
The Honda’s oddball chassis works pretty well, too. The fairly conservative geometry and long wheelbase help keep things stable, the 17in front wheel allows reasonably neutral steering despite the long wheelbase, and the suspension is of sufficient quality to give a well-controlled ride despite the generous travel. That twin radialcaliper front stopper is powerful, and gets some easily used help from a rear disc that is operated by the left handlebar lever in scooter style.
Our launch route also included a short diversion down a dirt track, where the X-ADV confirmed that it could cope with some gentle adventure riding. Or at least, it could while I was standing up on the serrated footrests, which are accessories made by Italian specialist Rizoma (and sold through Honda dealers, for £225). These put your weight much lower and further back than the standard footboards, which felt much too high and far forward for standing up on.
The suspension had enough travel to soak up some bumps, though I’d have been glad of the aluminium
bash-plate on anything rougher, and wary of damaging Honda’s shapely and expensive plastic. As so often, the limiting factor on a muddy track was not the bike but its road-biased Trail Wing tyres, though I’m not sure how keen I’d have been to fit knobblier rubber and search out some more demanding trails.
Instead of that, we headed back via road to the upmarket launch base hotel, where the X-ADV had the opportunity to play perhaps its most valuable card, at least as far as many potential owners are concerned – by looking sufficiently cute-yet-tough to fit in perfectly alongside the fourwheeled SUVs in the car park.
Given that most X-ADV owners, like most adventure bike riders, won’t ever ride the Honda off-road, its success must to some extent be a triumph of style over substance.
After all, the Integra offers identical performance, economy and weight, similar handling and comfort (albeit with less suspension travel and braking ability), an extra litre of fuel capacity (though less storage) and a substantially lower price. The NC750s are much cheaper still.
But while the Integra looks like just another big scooter, the X-ADV is a funky, fun-looking, unique and adventurous machine. At £9959 it’s expensive, and it has some very obvious drawbacks. But it captures the imagination before you climb on board, makes you smile while you’re riding it, and confirms that this time Honda’s product planners got a new concept absolutely right.
ABOVE: The X-ADV is rugged enough to handle dirt roads with relative ease.
WORDS: Roland Brown PHOTOGRAPHY: Zep Gori, Ciro Meggiolaro, Francesc Montero & Felix Romero
SEAT The 820mm seat may give small riders a few problems but it’s wide, and below there’s a light, USB socket and room for a full-face helmet. ENGINE Honda’s softly-tuned, 745cc SOHC parallel twin engine is borrowed from the NC750 models and Integra,...
BASH PLATE Although it’s not suitable for serious off-road work, the Honda has a small aluminium bash-plate to give the low-slung engine some protection.