Honda CB600 Hornet (1998 - 2005) review

We put the new and improved Hornet 600 through its paces. But will it still offer up the vibey ride and shonky tank range of its top-selling predecessor?

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Thu, 1 Jan 1998 - 12:01

Details
Manufacturer:
Honda
Category:
Naked
Price:
£ 5249
Overall
3
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Since its launch in 1998 the CB600F Hornet has been a massive success story for Honda. In Europe it topped the two-wheeler sales charts in 2001 and finishing runner-up to the SH150 in 2002 and 2003. During this time minor changes and updates have been made but in 2004 the competition upped their game and the Hornet slipped a few places further down the charts. So for 2005 Honda knew it would have to make some changes if it wanted to joust for that illustrious top spot once more.

The Hornet has always been a well-sorted bike. Ultra-reliable, stylish, comfortable and easy to ride both around town and at a reasonable pace. On the downside it has also been criticised for being a bit on the twitchy side when you ask a bit more of it, with a vibey motor and a poor tank range. But had Honda listened to the buying public and sorted the new bike? The briefing in the hotel in Seville was well, 'brief' to say the least; which was understandable considering there were in fact very few changes from the previous model. The most obvious update was of course to the front suspension. Showa 41mm USD front forks, taken straight from the '05 CBR600RR, have replaced the previous conventional set-up, but without any adjustment. On the styling front Honda has added a colour-matched mini cowl and a re-designed front mudguard for a sharper, more aggressive look. The old-style analogue speedometer has been replaced by a tidy hi-tech LCD affair that recalls not only speed but also incorporates two trip meters, a fuel gauge, clock and a stopwatch - not a lap timer, but a stopwatch for timing journeys rather than hot laps around Donington Park. Conventional orange indicator lenses have been ditched in favour of clear ones and the seat has also under- gone a re-design in the shape of a new dual-textured anti-slip seat material being used on the pillion section for some added grip, just in case you were in the habit of losing the wife off the back from time to time. Apart from that and the new paint schemes, everything else on the new Hornet remains the same as on its predecessor.

The test route chosen around the southern Spanish city of Seville took in a variety of road types from horizon-bashing super long straights to fast sweeping bends and tight mountain turns - all under cloudless blue skies, perfect for giving the Hornet a thorough going over.

The new clock layout comes alive when the ignition is turned on. The rev counter needle bangs round to the red line and settles back on zero while the LCD display shows the rider exactly what it is capable of. Already the new Hornet felt better, more hi-tech. Once fired into life the Hornet has that very familiar CBR sound to it, a reliable sound that has been around for years and is so distinctly 'Honda'. Because of its size and its ease of use the Hornet has always appealed to a wide range of customers from novices to ladies, and to those who have had enough of 180mph missiles. In fact, just about anyone who enjoys riding a two-wheeler. It's not a bike you have to put a lot of effort in to get where you want to go, so the first couple of miles or so I ambled out of town and headed towards the hills to see how well the new model would cope once the pace was upped. Although Honda claim to have not changed the carb set-up on the new model, it felt so much smoother than the '04 Hornet we tested a few months before. No unwanted vibrations at any speed, no hesitation and even in top gear at 15mph the new bike pulls beautifully without any judder. As I neared the hills the long straights gave way to high-speed sweeping bends. Again I remembered our test at Millbrook just a few months before and recalled the '04 Hornet just getting a little twitchy and easily upset if the road surface changed or you ran over a cats-eye, but not the later version. Despite purposely aiming for one or two potholes I couldn't fluster the new Hornet in any way, rolling on and off the throttle through mile after mile of fast turns was a veritable walk in the park. And it was just as happy when I reached the slower, tighter turns up through the hills. So far everything we, and many others, had knocked the old Hornet for had been addressed and improved upon. The front suspension gave much better feeling and feedback, and in no time the footrests were scraping as I found myself hanging off the bike in full 'trackday' mode trying to set a new lap record around the Spanish hills. But just as I was really getting into it, one problem that had bugged me on previous Hornets tugged annoyingly at my hem once again. In all the excitement I hadn't been paying too much attention to the new clock layout and missed the fact that I was almost out of fuel. Fortunately our planned lunch stop was not too far away and I managed to chug my way back for a re-fill. In this day and age a bike that isn't capable of covering much more than 100 miles is, in my mind, a bit poor. I know I had been giving the new Hornet a bit of a hard time but it is all the more annoying when you remove the seat and see all the open, wasted space beneath that could so easily accommodate a litre or more fuel.

Apart from the poor tank range it is very difficult to criticise the new Hornet in any way. Okay, so Honda has only made a few minor changes to the new model but the changes it has made have worked and it will come as no surprise to see it hitting the top of the European sales charts in the not too distant future.

VERDICT

Smoother, more refined version of an already accomplished middleweight. Only poor tank range lets it down

Since its launch in 1998 the CB600F Hornet has been a massive success story for Honda. In Europe it topped the two-wheeler sales charts in 2001 and finishing runner-up to the SH150 in 2002 and 2003. During this time minor changes and updates have been made but in 2004 the competition upped their game and the Hornet slipped a few places further down the charts. So for 2005 Honda knew it would have to make some changes if it wanted to joust for that illustrious top spot once more.

The Hornet has always been a well-sorted bike. Ultra-reliable, stylish, comfortable and easy to ride both around town and at a reasonable pace. On the downside it has also been criticised for being a bit on the twitchy side when you ask a bit more of it, with a vibey motor and a poor tank range. But had Honda listened to the buying public and sorted the new bike? The briefing in the hotel in Seville was well, 'brief' to say the least; which was understandable considering there were in fact very few changes from the previous model. The most obvious update was of course to the front suspension. Showa 41mm USD front forks, taken straight from the '05 CBR600RR, have replaced the previous conventional set-up, but without any adjustment. On the styling front Honda has added a colour-matched mini cowl and a re-designed front mudguard for a sharper, more aggressive look. The old-style analogue speedometer has been replaced by a tidy hi-tech LCD affair that recalls not only speed but also incorporates two trip meters, a fuel gauge, clock and a stopwatch - not a lap timer, but a stopwatch for timing journeys rather than hot laps around Donington Park. Conventional orange indicator lenses have been ditched in favour of clear ones and the seat has also under- gone a re-design in the shape of a new dual-textured anti-slip seat material being used on the pillion section for some added grip, just in case you were in the habit of losing the wife off the back from time to time. Apart from that and the new paint schemes, everything else on the new Hornet remains the same as on its predecessor.

The test route chosen around the southern Spanish city of Seville took in a variety of road types from horizon-bashing super long straights to fast sweeping bends and tight mountain turns - all under cloudless blue skies, perfect for giving the Hornet a thorough going over.

The new clock layout comes alive when the ignition is turned on. The rev counter needle bangs round to the red line and settles back on zero while the LCD display shows the rider exactly what it is capable of. Already the new Hornet felt better, more hi-tech. Once fired into life the Hornet has that very familiar CBR sound to it, a reliable sound that has been around for years and is so distinctly 'Honda'. Because of its size and its ease of use the Hornet has always appealed to a wide range of customers from novices to ladies, and to those who have had enough of 180mph missiles. In fact, just about anyone who enjoys riding a two-wheeler. It's not a bike you have to put a lot of effort in to get where you want to go, so the first couple of miles or so I ambled out of town and headed towards the hills to see how well the new model would cope once the pace was upped. Although Honda claim to have not changed the carb set-up on the new model, it felt so much smoother than the '04 Hornet we tested a few months before. No unwanted vibrations at any speed, no hesitation and even in top gear at 15mph the new bike pulls beautifully without any judder. As I neared the hills the long straights gave way to high-speed sweeping bends. Again I remembered our test at Millbrook just a few months before and recalled the '04 Hornet just getting a little twitchy and easily upset if the road surface changed or you ran over a cats-eye, but not the later version. Despite purposely aiming for one or two potholes I couldn't fluster the new Hornet in any way, rolling on and off the throttle through mile after mile of fast turns was a veritable walk in the park. And it was just as happy when I reached the slower, tighter turns up through the hills. So far everything we, and many others, had knocked the old Hornet for had been addressed and improved upon. The front suspension gave much better feeling and feedback, and in no time the footrests were scraping as I found myself hanging off the bike in full 'trackday' mode trying to set a new lap record around the Spanish hills. But just as I was really getting into it, one problem that had bugged me on previous Hornets tugged annoyingly at my hem once again. In all the excitement I hadn't been paying too much attention to the new clock layout and missed the fact that I was almost out of fuel. Fortunately our planned lunch stop was not too far away and I managed to chug my way back for a re-fill. In this day and age a bike that isn't capable of covering much more than 100 miles is, in my mind, a bit poor. I know I had been giving the new Hornet a bit of a hard time but it is all the more annoying when you remove the seat and see all the open, wasted space beneath that could so easily accommodate a litre or more fuel.

Apart from the poor tank range it is very difficult to criticise the new Hornet in any way. Okay, so Honda has only made a few minor changes to the new model but the changes it has made have worked and it will come as no surprise to see it hitting the top of the European sales charts in the not too distant future.

VERDICT

Smoother, more refined version of an already accomplished middleweight. Only poor tank range lets it down

Since its launch in 1998 the CB600F Hornet has been a massive success story for Honda. In Europe it topped the two-wheeler sales charts in 2001 and finishing runner-up to the SH150 in 2002 and 2003. During this time minor changes and updates have been made but in 2004 the competition upped their game and the Hornet slipped a few places further down the charts. So for 2005 Honda knew it
would have to make some changes if it wanted to joust for that illustrious top
spot once more.

The Hornet has always been a well-sorted bike. Ultra-reliable, stylish, comfortable and easy to ride both around town and at a reasonable pace. On the downside it has also been criticised for being a bit on the twitchy side when you ask a bit more of it, with a vibey motor and a poor tank range. But had Honda listened to the buying public and sorted the new bike?
The briefing in the hotel in Seville was well, 'brief' to say the least; which was understandable considering there were in fact very few changes from the previous model. The most obvious update was of course to the front suspension. Showa 41mm USD front forks, taken straight from the '05 CBR600RR, have replaced the previous conventional set-up, but without any adjustment. On the styling front Honda has added a colour-matched mini cowl and a re-designed front mudguard for a sharper, more aggressive look. The old-style analogue speedometer has been replaced by a tidy hi-tech LCD affair that recalls not only speed but also incorporates two trip meters, a fuel gauge, clock and a stopwatch - not a lap timer, but a stopwatch for timing journeys rather than hot laps around Donington Park. Conventional orange indicator lenses have been ditched in favour of clear ones and the seat has also under- gone a re-design in the shape of a new dual-textured anti-slip seat material being used on the pillion section for some added grip, just in case you were in the habit of losing the wife off the back from time to time. Apart from that and the new paint schemes, everything else on the new Hornet remains the same as on its predecessor.

The test route chosen around the southern Spanish city of Seville took in a variety of road types from horizon-bashing super long straights to fast sweeping bends and tight mountain turns - all under cloudless blue skies, perfect for giving the Hornet a thorough going over.

The new clock layout comes alive when the ignition is turned on. The rev counter needle bangs round to the red line and settles back on zero while the LCD display shows the rider exactly what it is capable of. Already the new Hornet felt better, more hi-tech. Once fired into life the Hornet has that very familiar CBR sound to it, a reliable sound that has been around for years and is so distinctly 'Honda'. Because of its size and its ease of use the Hornet has always appealed to a wide range of customers from novices to ladies, and to those who have had enough of 180mph missiles. In fact, just about anyone who enjoys riding a two-wheeler. It's not a bike you have to put a lot of effort in to get where you want to go, so the first couple of miles or so I ambled out of town and headed towards the hills to see how well the new model would cope once the pace was upped. Although Honda claim to have not changed the carb set-up on the new model, it felt so much smoother than the '04 Hornet we tested a few months before. No unwanted vibrations at any speed, no hesitation and even in top gear at 15mph the new bike pulls beautifully without any judder. As I neared the hills the long straights gave way to high-speed sweeping bends. Again I remembered our test at Millbrook just a few months before and recalled the '04 Hornet just getting a little twitchy and easily upset if the road surface changed or you ran over a cats-eye, but not the later version. Despite purposely aiming for one or two potholes I couldn't fluster the new Hornet in any way, rolling on and off the throttle through mile after mile of fast turns was a veritable walk in the park. And it was just as happy when I reached the slower, tighter turns up through the hills. So far everything we, and many others, had knocked the old Hornet for had been addressed and improved upon. The front suspension gave much better feeling and feedback, and in no time the footrests were scraping as I found myself hanging off the bike in full 'trackday' mode trying
to set a new lap record around the Spanish hills. But just as I was really getting into it, one problem that had bugged me on previous Hornets tugged annoyingly at my hem once again. In all the excitement I hadn't been paying too much attention to the new clock layout and missed the fact that I was almost out of fuel. Fortunately our planned lunch stop was not too far away and I managed to chug my way back for a re-fill. In this day and age a bike that isn't capable of covering much more than 100 miles is, in my mind, a bit poor. I know I had been giving the new Hornet a bit of a hard time but it is all the more annoying when you remove the seat and see all the open, wasted space beneath that could so easily accommodate a litre or more fuel.

Apart from the poor tank range it is very difficult to criticise the new Hornet in any way. Okay, so Honda has only made a few minor changes to the new model but the changes it has made have worked and it will come as no surprise to see it hitting
the top of the European sales charts in
the not too distant future.

VERDICT

Smoother, more refined version of an already accomplished middleweight. Only poor tank range lets it down

Score Breakdown
Overall
3
Engine
4
Brakes
3
Handling
4
Comfort
3
Build Quality
4

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