Words: Afzal Rawuther
Images: Gaurav S Thombre
Activa. The name has become somewhat of a legend. It is India’s, no, wait, the world’s largest-selling scooter. Just when the Indian scooterist thought that the death knell had been sounded on his convenient commute with the announcement of the demise of the Bajaj Chetak, in came the Honda Activa. With its twist-and-go convenience and peppy (for its time) and efficient 110cc motor, the Honda took the market by storm. To gauge its impact all you need to understand is that over a decade after its launch, the Activa grew the scooter market by so much that scooters outsell motorcycles. Even today, the Activa now sells more units than any other two-wheeler.
So when Honda launched an Activa 125 with an eye on those who wanted a bit more oomph with that all important convenience, it thought it would be able to repeat the success story already scripted by the Activa. The Honda 125 however did not become the benchmark it had hoped to be. Instead, it was the Suzuki Access 125 with its more stylish design and peppier motor that took that crown. In terms of sheer youthfulness and style there was the pricey Vespa too that had an illustrious Italian legacy. The game wasn’t easy. But Honda is not one to cut and run. And sure enough, HMSI has hit back at the 125cc scooter market with the new Grazia. So does the newest Honda have it in it to take on the Access 125? Or does the Vespa with its killer looks have enough to be crowned the winner in this four-scooter shoot-out?
The Grazia comes with the most kit among the four and Honda has thrown everything at it to try and carve a niche for itself. The console is all-digital and gets a tachometer for you to look at during the course of your ride. The headlights are LED units and are easily the best in class. There are three lights at the top of the console that tell you how efficiently you are riding. Three green lights mean that you are riding in the most efficient manner possible. Although pretty useless and slightly distracting to a rider, it tells us how much Honda has invested in the Grazia. There is a small glovebox below the handle on the left and can be used to charge a phone. The opening for it feels very flimsy though. The mechanicals are more or less shared with the Activa 125. But the design is striking and easily sets itself apart in a crowd. Much like a Dio on steroids, which isn’t a bad thing really. The youth might just fall for the Grazia’s aggressive styling.
The ride is plush and pliant, like all Honda scooters. However, the suspension has been noticeably stiffened and body movements are a lot more under control as compared to the Activa. The bike changes directions with relative ease and deals with potholes and undulations in a more planted way but with the typical Honda softness. The engine protests loudly when you try to push the Grazia beyond 80kmph. And you can feel it really trying hard to get to high speeds. But it does get there when you really need to. The brakes don’t offer the same feedback as what you get on the Access but are pretty good when it comes to the bite. And Honda’s CBS will ensure that brakeforce is distributed over both wheels since it applies the front brake automatically when the rider uses just the rear.
The Vespa is for most people a lifestyle product more than just a convenience machine. The Vespa is the best looking out of the four here. Its sleek and sexy Italian design has won hearts everywhere and will continue to do so. The hefty price premium that it carries over the other scooters brings with it superior build quality and better looking switchgear too. And of course Italian legacy. In this group, it is the most compact and is also light and nimble and can be easily darted in and out of traffic. Direction changes are a breeze and the Vespa pulls cleanly to the high eighties easily. The engine has a hoarse sound to it though and higher speeds make it feel stressed. Vibrations exist too. The Vespa engine certainly isn’t as smooth as the others here.
The brakes too let the Vespa down with hardly any bite and no progressive feel from the lever. However, the unit that we had was the one with drum brakes and we are told that the Vespa Red’s disc brake does much better. The Vespa also feels oddly sprung and bouncy over rough roads. The Vespa happens to be one of the rare scooters in India with a monocoque in place of the more commonplace underbone chassis. The monocoque should give it better body control but somehow the Vespa fails to showcase that chassis as a strength in its dynamics. The Vespa as tested has been discontinued by Piaggio shortly after going to press and the only 125cc Vespa available now is the Vespa Red. The fact that the Vespa Red is pricier than the one we tested, makes it difficult to justify. Italian legacy and sexy styling notwithstanding.
Honda Activa 125
The Activa 125 carries forward Honda’s tried and tested approach. It feels like, and really is, a bigger Activa. It carries forward all the Activa attributes into a package that has a little bit more power. The design is reminiscent of the Activa 4G and there are not many marked differences from the smaller scooter apart from the size, obviously. The features on offer are also vastly similar to the Activa. The Activa 125 is as refined as any Activa and is extremely easy to ride with a very light handlebar. The Activa 125 is the most softly set-up of the four and absorbs undulations with ease.
The scooter doesn’t like high speeds as much and the engine will protest loudly when you try and take it to higher speeds. This Honda is easy to manoeuvre but is not too comfortable with fast direction changes. The brakes offer decent bite and are aided by CBS, and as is the case with the Grazia, the presence of the CBS means feedback is somewhat compromised. It has better underseat storage than the others in this comparison and can fit a full-sized helmet. Also, well cheaper than the rest of the scooters in this comparo, the Activa 125 is still a good proposition for a prospective buyer.
Suzuki Access 125
The reigning king of the 125cc scooter segment has quite a few things going for it. For starters it tries to combine a classic retro design with some new-age flair and it succeeds, well mostly. We don’t think it really hits the ball out of the park with the design here but it is a nice design that most people would be okay to live with. We are not particularly fans of the rear end though. Despite the fact that it looks rather bulky, the Access is light and doesn’t mind quick changes in direction, which it does with ease. It is rather convenient, with 21 litres of underseat storage. However, it can’t accommodate a full face helmet. It comes with an open storage in the front that can hold some knick knacks. The engine is a particular highlight and is the one we love the most here.
The engine doesn’t feel stressed even at high speeds and is a joy to ride with a punchy mid-end and similarly responsive top-end. The brakes are also the best in the competition with great bite and feedback. The ride is pliant over speedbreakers and potholes, however the underlying softness makes it bob around at higher speeds. Or maybe we lot have just been spoilt by the SR 150. So much so, that we can’t appreciate a good scooter when we find one. The Access feels well put together and the higher handlebar ensure that taller riders’ knees won’t foul with the handlebar when negotiating tight turns. The Access gets an analogue speedo with a small digital readout for things like fuel level and tripmeter.
Eventually, it all boils down to two scooters – the Suzuki Access 125 and the Honda Grazia. The Honda rides well. It handles well and is practical. It fuses all the good things that the Activa and the Activa 125 are known for and then packs in a whole bunch of features. It also boasts of Honda’s bulletproof reliability and has a massive service network to back it up. The question to answer here, however, is how well the Grazia measures up against the Suzuki Access 125. And we have to be honest, the Access continues to be the benchmark.
The Suzuki handles better, rides better and feels zippier. It has nearly as many features as the Grazia and has great brakes too. The only thing that separates the Access from the Grazia is the presence of Honda’s combi-brakes on the latter. So if you’re on the lookout for a 125cc scooter that will give you some thrills without making you sacrifice convenience, then the Suzuki remains the benchmark in this segment.