Text – Mohit Soni; Pictures – Om Vaikul
Shootout – Suzuki Swish vs Honda Activa 125 vs Piaggio Vespa
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 57,270/- (Suzuki Swish), Rs. 62,276 – 67,540/- (Honda Activa 125), Rs. 72-82,000/- (Piaggio Vespa)
These three offerings will be responsible for boosting the 125cc scooter segment in India.
There is no denying the fact that the 125cc segment is growing hard and fast. Suzuki made a grand entry with the Access and later it was followed by the lighter and sleek looking Swish. Displacement hungry customers took the scooter and were happy with the performance and similar km/l numbers as the 110cc segment scooters which kept them happy. In came the Piaggio Vespa with the most powerful 125cc engine, having a 3-valve layout which blew away the competition in terms of performance. Honda finally joins the bandwagon after researching the market and saying that the masses are finally ready for 125cc scooters with the Activa 125. A popular sub-brand for Honda which has broken all kind of records when it comes to two-wheeler sales in the country, will the Activa 125 dethrone the existing scooters? Or will it go ahead and increase the volumes for this Honda scooter brand even further? We find out after pitting them together and riding them back to back to let you know exactly what is cooking here.
Motor Quest: Suzuki started the 125cc segment with the Access way back in the year 2007. The Swish came in 2012 and so did the Vespa 125. The Honda Activa 125 is the latest entrant into this category.
Styling – The Piaggio Vespa is miles ahead of the two opponents when it comes to marks obtained in the styling department. Chic, cute, eye catchy, sporty (in the S avatar), call it whatever you like, but it just remains on the top of the mind because of the retro styling which has a hint of modern touch. The Vespa carries the 21st century look of what a consumer wants today in a scooter. Now, when it comes to comparing the Swish and Activa, the Swish wins because of its sleeker, lower stance with uniformity in its design. Right from the flowing indicators and stop lamp to the substantial looking side profile, it is far ahead of the Activa 125, which is nothing but a copy of the Hero Maestro in several areas. The Maestro does look bold, but the Activa with those flat side panels and workaholic grab rail and cheesy front-end just does not cut the mustard for us.
The Suzuki Swish also has its downsides with those extremely bland steel wheels and the exhaust which does not look appropriate with this design. The Honda Activa 125 has a set of good looking wheels and a commanding rear profile. Overall, we already know the Vespa wins the styling round but when you compare the two Japanese, the Swish wins hands down over the Activa. Honda does get it wrong with the styling once in a blue moon and this time, they have.
Instrument Cluster and Switch Gear – Now the tides have turned, the sun has gone down and the moon rises. The person who falls behind suddenly comes to the shore. The Activa 125 has the best instrument cluster of the lot with an amber colour backlit, well chosen fonts, digital meter for odometer, trip meter and fuel gauge. You get a needle salute in the Activa, just like on performance motorcycles. Honda spent a lot of time doing the instrument cluster and it has paid off extremely well. The one on the Vespa S also looks good, but it just has a die-cast panel above the normal cluster found on the Vespa LX and VX to distinguish it. The Vespa also has a digital display which shows a clock and other titbits such as a headlight-on indicator and solitary side indicators. Now when we come to the Swish, it feels like there was no thought given to it and the cluster gets 0/10 for looking bland. Blue background, with a funny needle and a hideous choice of fonts with no solitary indicators makes it earn the “ugly” tag.
Practicality – All these scooters have long, wide, comfortable seats. Cushioning on the Activa 125 is on the softer side though. The Activa has the smallest under-storage space with 18 litres while the Vespa has 21 litres and the Swish has 20 litres. Mirrors are well positioned on all three scooters. What the Vespa has different than the others is a raised handlebar, which gives it good manoeuvrability in the city, especially when taking u-turns. The Vespa also has DC lighting as standard which the other two or any other scooter in India does not offer. The Activa also has a slightly raised handlebar but the Swish has the same setup like any other scooter and all these scooters are easy and light to ride in the city.
Performance – These three scooters have air-cooled, 125cc engines and this is where the similarities end. The Vespa has a 3-valve motor while the Activa and Swish have 2-valve engines. The Vespa is the most powerful on paper with 10.06 BHP of power and 10.6 Nm of torque at a relatively higher RPM than its Japanese counterparts. The Honda produces 8.6 BHP at 6500 RPM and 10.12 Nm of torque at 5500 RPM while the Swish produces identical horsepower of 8.58 BHP at 7000 RPM and 9.8 Nm of torque at 5500 RPM. In terms of engine feel, the Swish is flawless and does not make you feel anything is moving inside. It creates torque and power very calmly but the way it picks up speed is insane and it was Suzuki who gave us the idea of quick/fun to ride scooters.
The Activa 125 on the other hand is a bigger hoot in terms of engine character now. The way it revs and the kick in the pants feel was not expected but it has come for good. The Vespa on the other hand makes noises like the olden days. Slightly clattery but not annoying at all. Females who ride this scooter say that “this scooter sounds cute too”. Power to weight ratio king is the Vespa by a considerable margin but the Japanese aren’t far behind and have a trick up their sleeves. As you can see, the Vespa is the most powerful of the lot but it is not the quickest of the lot by registering a VBOX time of 8.6 seconds for the 0-60 km/hr run while the Activa does it in 8.01 seconds and the Swish does it in 8.5 seconds. How is all this possible you ask? Engine tune makes a lot of difference. The Vespa does not have the stupendous low-end punch of the Activa or Swish.
The Swish was the king until now, but the Activa 125 with an additional .1 BHP of power and .4 Nm of torque (all that power and torque coming in at slightly lesser RPM), manages to be slightly ahead. Top speed was also recorded on these scooters with the help of our VBOX testing gear. The Swish and Vespa do 92 km/hr while the Activa did 87 km/hr. Why this blasphemy you may ask? The Vespa and the Activa 125 are brand new engines and will take time to open up which will happen post service. Once it is done, we expect the Vespa to be miles ahead when it comes to the top speed because of the focus on top-end power and the Swish and the Activa being almost neck and neck. We expect the acceleration timings on the Vespa and Activa to improve post first service too but by a meek margin. The Swish and Vespa are our long term scooters and have been providing a fuel efficiency of 45-47 km/l while the Activa 125 also manages very similar mileage numbers. The Vespa has the biggest fuel tank of any scooter in India (8.5-litres), which gives it a higher range as the other two scooters have smaller tanks (6-litres).
Riding Dynamics – Allow us to keep it very simple here. The Vespa and Activa have a great set of tyres but the one on the Swish can be better. The Activa and Swish use the engine as a stress member. Coming to the Vespa, the Italian scooter has the best chassis of the lot but the soft suspension lets it down completely. Anything above low speeds, cornering on the Vespa becomes a challenge and a threat to throw you off begins. High-speed stability is good till 70 km/hr but post that it bounces insanely which is due to the overly soft suspension at the front and even the rear starts to bounce when speeds get even higher. Changing lanes at high speed is suicidal. The Suzuki Swish is not only a hoot to ride because of the engine, but it had telescopic forks and good set of rubber since day one. The front is quite stiff and rear spring rate is noticeably soft. The Swish takes corners and sweepers with confidence but at the limit, the rear steps out and confidence is also thrown out of the window. 12-inch wheels with this same spring setup could have helped a lot, but ideal damping and spring rates are always awesome which brings us to the Activa 125.
The Honda Activa 125 finally has telescopic suspension at the front and the rear continues to be the same monoshock layout. 12-inch wheel at the front and 10-inch at the rear is the same setup as the Aviator. However, they have still managed to make it handle better than the Aviator and the Swish too. Noticeably well done suspension on both ends and despite the lack of 12-inch wheel at the rear, the Activa handles better than the Swish. Although the difference between the two can be judged at a race-track but what we can say through our standard road testing procedure is that the Swish is marginally behind. The brakes on the Activa are better than the others in terms of feedback and creating a subtle balance while braking is very confidence inspiring. While the Swish and Vespa also have excellent braking power, the soft suspension on the Piaggio makes the front-end dive. However, in the midst of everything, we still crown the Honda Activa to be the best because of better brakes and overall dynamics. The Activa scores marginally better than the Swish and way better than the Vespa. Ride quality is very good on the Vespa, the Swish comes second while the Activa 125 comes last due to very stiff suspension setup.
Verdict – It’s quite clear that the Honda Activa 125 is the most appealing scooter with more features and CBS being standard. This time the Honda product does not fall short of goodies. The Activa 125 is well engineered, but the Suzuki Swish is not far away at all and the Vespa being European, has given its very best in terms of technology. The Vespa comes last in this shootout, but it is not only because of the high price. The Activa 125 has managed to come close with its pricing which shows that the Vespa can be a bargain with that higher power output, safe handling and aesthetics to die for. The Vespa’s problem is the lack of dealership and service outlets. If you get the base LX, nobody is going to taunt you over your decision.
The Suzuki Swish comes second because of high order of practicality, contemporary well done styling, serious value for serious people who don’t care about goodies but need a well sorted out vehicle. Suzuki also has a problem with dealership and service centres but seems to be catching up, although at a slow pace. At a price that is significantly lower than the top end variants of the competition, the Swish seems even more value considering it does not do anything wrong like the other two. However, we always want more for our buck.
The Honda Activa 125 gets everything, right from shutter lock, a superb instrument console, bigger brakes (with a front disc), CBS, class leading performance and dynamics. The Standard variant which is priced Rs. 5,000/- more than Swish and the Deluxe variant which is priced Rs. 4,000/- less than the Vespa is justified with features of necessity being standard on both variants. This is the reason why the Activa 125 is going to be the highest seller in the segment. Honda’s brand and wide customer reach are enough to seal the deal. With the Honda brand being blindly trusted throughout the world for its quality, the Activa 125 wins this battle, but with some bruises of course.
The Activa 125 wins because it is the latest entrant to the segment, thereby being the best equipped and the freshest scooter too. Honda has done its homework well and the Activa 125 comes with all the bells and whistles while also offering terrific performance, dynamics and brakes.
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