First ride: Honda NM4 Vultus review

A cruiser for the gaming generation

First ride: Honda NM4 Vultus review
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IMAGINE a cruiser made for a generation brought up on smart phones, Call of Duty and Tinder. Honda engineers imagined it, made it, and put on sale in limited numbers.

It’s called the NM4 Vultus and it is one of the most unexpected new bike launches of the year.

It shares its engine with Honda’s NC range, that make-anything platform that already gives us a naked bike, scooter and adventure model.  The tubular steel diamond frame has been modified to give the Vultus a coach-like wheelbase of 1,645mm and a less steep, more cruiser-like steering head angle.

Ergonomically it takes all the good traits of a traditional cruiser without the bad bits. Your feet are forward on wide boards and the seat height is an exceptionally low 650mm. But you don’t have to reach far for the bars, which are on stalk-like clamps that stretch toward you from the distant top yoke.

The pillion seat folds up to become a backrest which can be angled in four different positions. At its most vertical, it’s as supportive as the back of chair.  

The most striking feature of the bike, that bat-wing-esque nose, makes an effective upper fairing on the motorway. It was wide enough to keep my hands warm on a 100-mile rainy October morning. The shallow-angled screen doesn’t give full-length protection but effectively shelters your body. Tall riders may crave the optional higher screen.

It’s one of the most comfortable and welcoming bikes I have ever ridden, the closest I have felt to motorcycling without getting out of bed.  

The 745cc parallel-twin, unchanged from the NC range, is a curious motorcycle engine: half a Honda Jazz motor making almost as many pounds-feet as horsepower.

It has all the character you’d expect of half a car engine. Power builds with escalator-like linearity to its peak of 54hp at 6,250rpm, which is just about bang-on the red line. Torque rises to over 40lbft by 3,000rpm and peaks with 50lbft at 4,750rpm.

Because the power delivery is so featureless, it’s easy to bump into the red line. A good thing then that the Vultus changes gear for you using Honda’s DCT, or Dual Clutch Transmission system.

Unlike the CVT transmissions typical of scooters, DCT uses six conventional gears in an automatic box, resulting in a more direct throttle response.

It’s a £600 option on two of the machines in the NC range – the naked NC750S and adventure-style NC750X – and standard equipment on the NC750 Integra scooter and now the Vultus.

It makes sense out of the bland power curve. Open the throttle and the response is always a healthy surge of drive. Hold it open and the Vultus gets an enthusiastic if predictable shift on as it quickly reaches the higher end of the range, but you don't have to worry about hitting a rev limiter.

‘Sport’ mode tends to keep you in a lower gear for longer, making the most of that top-end. The other mode, ‘Drive’, will change up sooner to conserve fuel but can still provide ready acceleration on command thanks for that generous bottom-end.

Alternatively you can put it in semi-automatic mode and make clutchless changes with the button shifters on the left bar.

I find DCT is best enjoyed in one of the automatic modes but using the button shifters to occasionally change gear for yourself.  We’re now onto the second generation of DCT, and it’s a well refined, intuitive system when used this way.

As well as the longer wheelbase, the Vultus has a bigger front wheel than the NCs, at 18-inches, and a fatter, 200-section rear tyre. That makes it feel really stable in corners and under braking. The suspension provides a comfortable ride but is sufficiently well damped to cope with faster cornering. 

As fast as those footboards will permit, anyway. The Vultus’ ground clearance isn’t as limited as a traditional cruiser’s – you don’t have to think about it before every corner – but the boards still go down fairly quickly.

That said, they’re hinged, with hero-blobs underneath, so you could have some fun scraping them without worrying about damaging anything.

The single-disc front brake could possibly benefit from more power but it does the job, with ABS as standard.

The NC750S and X have a helmet-sized luggage compartment where the tank would normally be. You lose that on the Vultus and instead get two compartments in the fairing. One is big enough for a set of waterproofs, the other is smaller and lockable, with a power socket inside.

You also get a smaller fuel tank than the rest of the NCs, at 11.6 litres instead of 14.1. Fuel economy is good - I got 64.8mpg - and with a tank that size it has to be. Only 104 miles after filling up, the lowest bar on the gauge was flashing. 

As an everyday bike, it’s just not as practical, especially in town, where the wheelbase and width hinder filtering and weaving through traffic. 

The mirrors serve little purpose other than making the Vultus really wide. The view they provide is mostly of your hand and arm.

And then there’s the cost. The Vultus is £9,666, £1,900 more than the Integra and £3,200 more than the DCT-equipped NC750S.

I don’t think these machines are really in competition though. The Vultus isn’t a commuter, workhorse or practical all-rounder. It’s an image.

The clocks light up in a choice of 25 different colours and can change from blue to red when you switch from Drive to Sport mode. What’s practical about that? Nothing. Like the Vultus itself, it’s a styling exercise.

I don’t remember ever riding a bike which attracted so much attention. I stopped to read a text message and two blokes took a photo of it. A van driver leaned out of a window and asked me what it was. A cyclist said it looked ‘marvelous’.

After answering them, I found myself hurriedly adding that it wasn’t mine, as if a little embarrassed by its overstatement.

It’s nice to see outlandish new models because it's a sign of recovery and optimism in the motorcycle industry but, let’s be honest, the Vultus looks like it should be ridden by a Vulcan. It reminds me of an episode of TV's Galactica 1980, in which they rode flying motorcycles on the LA Freeway. 

Little wonder Honda unveiled it to the public at a comic fair. It’s from a sci-fi film. And I’m not.

But Honda is by all accounts having no trouble shifting the limited allocation for the UK this year, so perhaps 24 people in the country are from a sci-fi film, or think they are.

If you’re one of them, and you can still find a Vultus in a dealer showroom, I have no doubt you will love it. 

Model tested: Honda NM4 Vultus

Price: £9,666 on the road

Power: 54hp @ 6,250rpm

Torque: 50lbft @ 4,750rpm

Average fuel economy (measured on test): 64.8mpg

Kerb weight: 245kg

Tank capacity: 11.6 litres

Seat height: 650mm

Available: Now, if you’re lucky enough to find one

Read our Honda Integra first-ride review

Read our Honda NC750X first-ride review


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