First ride: Honda Forza 125 review

125 scooters don’t get any classier than this

THE term ‘maxiscooter’ once referred to leviathan-like, luxury-laden twist ‘n’ gos with 500cc-plus motors. They had 100mph performance, enough creature comforts to shame an East European family car and price tags that wouldn’t leave much change from £9K.

Machines like the pioneering Yamaha T-Max in 2000 redefined scooter performance, thanks to its (then) 40hp twin-cylinder motor and clever chassis. Offerings such as Suzuki’s 650 Burgman and Honda’s 600 Silverwing provided luggage space, comfort and gizmos more commonly associated with small cars. As exercises in excess, maxiscoots had it all.

Not anymore.

While range-toppers like the 650 Burgman have, admittedly, become bigger, flashier and even more expensive (the latest ‘Executive’ version is now £8,799), there’s also been a parallel trend for smaller capacity ‘maxiscooters’. Machines which deliver much of the comfort, equipment and luggage capacity of the originals, but with smaller engines of 250 and now 125cc. It makes more sense than you might think, too, by putting all that comfort and class within reach of A1-licence holders, ie those most likely to want this sort of vehicle.

So, Yamaha’s Tmax 500 was joined first by the Xmax 250 and, more recently, the popular Xmax 125. A 125 joined the 400 and 650 in Suzuki’s Burgman range and there’s a steady flow of similar newcomers from the likes of Piaggio, Peugeot and Kymco.

And now Honda itself has finally joined the eighth-litre superscooter class with this all-new Forza 125, which complements the existing 300cc version. The aim, Honda modestly claims, is to ‘be the very best a 125cc scooter can be’.

Even a cursory once-over shows this to be no idle boast. With no 125 badging to speak of, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Forza’s substantial, full-size proportions for those of a 250. The dual seat, with neat, contrasting stitching, is large and sumptuous. The bodywork (styled, incidentally, by the designer responsible for the wacky NM4 Vultus) succeeds at being both enveloping and sporty. Its front, in particular, has more than a shade of CBR600RR about it.

Everywhere you look there’s typical Honda quality and lavish equipment. Different materials and finishes – matt, satin, gloss – blend and compliment each other. All the lights – head, tail and indicators – are full LEDs.

Onlookers are left in little doubt the Forza is a quality piece of kit.

Inside (if scooters can have an ‘inside’), the impression continues. The dash comprises a full ‘car-style’ twin analogue dial layout, for speedo and tacho, though why you need a rev-counter on an automatic is beyond me.

There’s the usual (in this case beautifully damped) cubby hole in the fairing inner, complete with 12-volt power socket.

The mirrors are classily useful and also easily fold out of the way when wiggling through traffic.

But what already sets the new Forza apart from rivals, like Yamaha’s Xmax, is that it goes above and beyond the usual. So, for example, the new Honda features a switchable ‘idle stop’ function, whereby the engine turns off to save fuel after three seconds stopped in traffic. It then immediately restarts when you twist the throttle. If you prefer, you can easily deactivate it via a switch on the right-hand bar.

Honda’s newcomer also has what is almost certainly the most voluminous luggage space in the class under its beefy saddle. Two large full-faces are genuinely accommodated in the 48-litre cavity, or a lid and bag, or any similar combination of your choosing. While the Forza’s ‘piece de resistance’ is surely its one-hand height-adjustable windshield – a first in the class – whereby the screen slots in and out of the bodywork on a six-way ratchet system over a range of 120mm.

It may sound like the new Forza is adding up to one substantial, overly sophisticated machine, and a bit of a handful for newcomers, but from the saddle it’s anything but. Honda claims to have gone to great lengths to keep its newcomer light, lean and manageable, and it seems to have succeeded. Slide on board, rock it easily off its mainstand (there’s a side stand, too) and the Forza immediately comes over as an easily manageable, typical scooter. It’s lighter and less cumbersome than more usual maxi-scooters but at the same time decently proportioned and not as dinky as most 125s.

Honda claims it's a full 15kg lighter than its closest competitor, thanks to weight-saving measures such as an all-new part-alloy chassis. The starter motor and alternator are combined into one unit, which the firm says saves more weight.

The Forza’s just as natural and easy on the move. In town traffic its pick-up is pleasing and brisk enough to dart through the gridlock. The liquid-cooled four-stroke engine isn’t completely new; it’s an evolution of that already in Honda’s SH and PCX 125 scoots. But a full 60% of its components have been reworked in a bid, Honda says, to give the Forza class-leading sports performance while remaining inside the 15hp A1-licence condition. .

The result, from my seat-of-the-pants perspective, is pretty impressive in any case. Around town the Forza’s definitely perky and responsive enough. As the roads open up it will happily stay with traffic in the real world 50-70mph zone. It was only beyond that, on dual carriageways or motorways or brisk uphill gradients, that the 125cc unit gave its diminutive size away and began to feel at all labored or breathless.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still decent. Keep it wound open and the Forza will cruise at around 70 or so, enough to safely keep with M-way traffic. It will hit 80 tucked in with the aid of a downhill slope – and that’s better than some 250cc roadsters I could mention.

That performance will be enough for many and means the Forza also returns some pretty impressive economy figures. Honda claims 123mpg and even during our relatively thrash-happy test the Forza’s dash display claimed between 108-112. Either way, with a decent 11.5-litre tank, that’s enough for a useful range of between 250 and 300 miles or, as Honda put it, a week’s-worth of commuting.

And considering the Forza’s practicality, equipment and handling, that all makes it a happy place to be. With a 15/14-inch front/rear wheel combination, the new Honda gives a good blend of agility and stability. The 33mm forks and twin, five-way, pre-load-adjustable shocks give a plush ride that never feels wallowy.

The single disc front and rear, ABS-equipped brakes are smooth and strong enough and the machine’s overall balance and steering is just, well, right. It all works and does what you’d hope for from a scooter like this.

The Forza’s not perfect (nothing is, is it?). But it comes pretty close. The motor, though good, is still ultimately a 125 and on longer, faster trips there’s no getting away from that.

Although well-equipped and built, with some class-leading features, I’d have liked, say, span-adjustable levers. And I’m not entirely convinced adjusting the screen makes much difference, or that it’s as easy to do on the move as Honda makes out.

Finally, at around £4K, the Forza’s got the GT-style price to go with its GT-style spec and equipment.

However, the best never comes cheap. Honda set out to build a ‘premium 125 super scooter’ and the firm has done it. Scooters of 125cc don’t get much posher.

Model tested: Honda Forza 125

Engine: 124.9cc single

Price: £3,995 (TBC) plus on-the-road charges

Power: 14hp @ 8,750rpm

Torque: 8.9lbft @ 8,250rpm

Kerb weight: 161kg (162kg with ABS)

Tank capacity: 11.5 litres

Fuel economy (claimed): 123mpg

Seat height: 780mm

Colours: white/blue, brown, grey

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