First ride: 2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner review

More powerful, more comfortable and better looking - Honda has built the Crossrunner we always wanted

I ALWAYS find it a bit difficult to get excited over the launch of a sports tourer. Higher bars here and a detuned engine there, it tends to be more or less the same recipe every time. It’s all gotten a bit predictable.

To me, a detuned engine speaks volumes - you’re getting less of something else. A watered down version, neutered in the name of practicality and usability. It makes me feel like I’ve been shortchanged, even if the end result is a good bike.

I’m not saying practicality and comfort are bad things, not even close, but the sports tourer class needs to shake its reputation of being an old bike in new threads.

It needs to have its own spark, its own purpose, and ultimately remain exciting. In fact, it needs to be more like Honda’s 2015 VFR800X Crossrunner.

Launched in 2011 to relatively little fanfare, the first generation of the adventure-styled sports tourer suffered from confused styling and an awkward riding position. A Honda Motor Europe spokesperson even admitted that the bike was rushed, saying it’s better to have a ‘less-than-perfect’ motorcycle competing in its class, than not having one at all.

It’s taken Honda a few years but they’ve finally given the Crossrunner some attention and the extensive nip and tuck it deserved, to make it what it should have been in the first place.

The new model shares a number of parts with the latest VFR800F, including the frame, subframe and engine. Torque and power curves are identical on both bikes meaning you get 106hp and from the 782cc V4.

Fuel consumption has been improved by a claimed 10% and a new aluminium subframe has stripped the Crossrunner of 1.2kg.

But those minor tweaks fall into relative insignificance when you consider the mass overhaul carried out on the latest model. Park it next to the old bike and you’d do well to guess one had anything to do with the other.

The bloated lardy look of old is gone, replaced with sleek new bodywork, thick pearlescent paint and a smart LED headlight cluster. It looks purposeful. It looks premium.  

The old digital dash has been replaced with an updated unit that reads white on black and is easily legible even on cloudless sunny days. As well as the basics, it displays gear position, a fuel gauge and settings for the new traction control system, but more of that later.

Pulling away from the first junction I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of exhaust noise. It’s nothing an aftermarket pipe couldn’t fix, but given the bellowing symphony a V4 engine is capable of, I thought it seemed a shame not to tap into its potential. 

That is, until I took the Crossrunner past 6,500rpm. That magic place where the bike’s VTEC system kicks in. 

Induction noise takes over and emits the throatiest rasp you've ever laid your ears upon. It howls through the airbox straight up to the bike’s redline just below 12,000rpm - it’s audial pandemonium in the best sense of the word.

And it’s not all show and no go. Compared to the outgoing model, there’s more power, and more torque on offer in the midrange. The tweaked V4 offers a perfect medley of smooth power and perfect fuelling in a user-friendly package. Get the Crossrunner into a corner, slot second gear, then twist the throttle to the stopper. The grip is there and the transition to VTEC is now so seamless there’s no splutter or lurch to upset weight distribution.

And if you do get too exuberant with the throttle, Honda’s Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) traction control is there for added peace of mind. The system works by retarding ignition and trimming fuel from some of the injectors, instead of cutting ignition altogether. The result is a more integrated feel and less chance of your bike violently snapping back into line when the ECU decides your throttle is an on/off switch. 

The HSTC unit has three settings: level two, level one, and off. Level two is the most intrusive, then level one, and so on. Perhaps the best thing about the system is how easy is it to change settings on the fly. Turn the bike on and HSTC is preset at level two, one press of a glove-friendly button on the switchgear and you’re at level one. Hold it down for a second and the system is turned off. You can easily switch settings whilst riding to make the most of the road that you’re on.

Wheelies? The Crossrunner will do them. That’s all you need to know.

Given the adventure-styling I was surprised to find out that the screen is non-adjustable. I didn’t have any issues with wind buffeting but it couldn’t have been that hard to fit it to a couple of sliders to suit different riders.

On the subject of adjustability, seat height can be set at 815mm or 835mm. However, shorter riders should still be wary as the seat is relatively wide and at 242kg fully fuelled, the Crossrunner can quickly become a handful if you lose your balance at the traffic lights.

At speed, the VFR800X belies its weight and, I suspect, would not be much slower on twisty roads than the VFR800F, its sportier brother. Some of the test bikes, including my own, needed a few tweaks to get the best from the suspension. Exacerbated by rolling hills and large undulations, the Crossrunner would soak up the bumps but then continue to bounce several times before settling itself. A bit of rebound damping here, and some added preload there and the X felt a lot sharper through bumps and corners.

The riding position is upright, comfortable, and with 4cm of extra width either side of the bar compared to last year’s model, the laws of physics play into your hands with more leverage to hustle the bike around bends.

And hustle the bike you can. Wrapped around the gorgeous satin black wheels is a 120/70/R17 tyre at the front and 180/55/R17 at the rear. Honda have chosen to go with Pirelli Scorpions, the same tyre used on Ducati’s Multistrada - a bike that’s never been accused of lacking grip.

With all that power and grip comes speed, which inevitably needs scrubbing off at some point too. I’m admittedly a brake snob, but I was slightly disappointed with the anchors on the Crossrunner. They remind me of driving an old sports car - stopping power is there but the lack of brake servo means you have to work hard to find it. A strong two-finger squeeze is usually just enough for the four-piston front caliper to trigger the ABS brakes which come as standard, along with heated grips and self-cancelling indicators which have a tendency not to, well, self-cancel.

Heavy braking and acceleration were the general themes of the day so, naturally, fuel efficiency took somewhat of a hit. After exactly 120 miles of spirited riding, the fuel gauge showed the X was on its last of six bars. That’s not particularly far for a 20.8L fuel tank, but Honda claim the Crossrunner is capable of just over 44mpg, assuming you don’t ride like a twerp. That’s a theoretical tank range of 240 miles. Not too shabby.

Optional extras like an LED fog light kit, pannier set and quickshifter - which works flawlessly - are available separately or can be bought at a discounted price in one of three bundle packs aimed at Sport, Touring and Adventure riders. Honda said UK bikes would cost around £10,299 and come pre-fitted with a top box, centre stand, TomTom SatNav and an Akraprovic slip-on exhaust which tidies up the rear end, making it easier to ogle at that neat single-sided swingarm.

The new Crossrunner exudes quality from the engine all the way down to the fit and finish of the bodywork. It offers an engaging riding experience and is more than a giant leap away from the old model. It’s the most surprisingly good bike I’ve ridden this year.

Watch our video review of the new Crossrunner

Model tested: 2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

Price: around £10,299

Power: 106hp

Torque: 55lbft 

Wet weight: 242kg

Tank capacity: 20.8 litres

Seat height: 815-835mm

Available: early 2015