2019 Bajaj Dominar 400: First Ride Review
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Are the updates to the Dominar enough for it to make more of an impact in people’s minds than it did before?
There’s no doubt that the Bajaj Pulsar is one of the dominant forces amongst small capacity performance bikes, and has been so for years. So it’s rather surprising that Bajaj’s flagship motorcycle, the Dominar hasn’t been able to take off in the same way. Launched in 2017, the Dominar offered muscular looks and healthy performance at probably the best value-for-money price point in its segment. But between misplaced positioning and tough competition, it just didn’t make a big enough impact on its target audience. However, Bajaj believes that the way to address this going forward is to kit the Dominar out even more and throw in a healthy increase in performance as well. So has this helped the upgraded 2019 Dominar make a stronger case for itself?
At first glance, the new 2019 Dominar barely looks any different from its predecessor, barring its new bright green colour scheme of course. There are contrasting black panels and while their shapes are all the same, Bajaj has played around with some new textures. Visually, the other big change comes in the form of upside down (USD) forks at the front along with a larger, twin-barrel exhaust. But we’ll come to the mechanicals in just a bit. These aside, the Dominar also gets new, wider mirrors with cast aluminium stalks. However, we found that while these mirrors looked good and offered more viewing area, they were a bit difficult to adjust, especially in the upward direction. The overall headlight and tail light designs have been carried over, but now the headlight gets slightly different masking making it look a bit narrower and the tail light reflectors look more modern now. Bajaj has also dropped the golden colour wheels they had introduced on the Dominar recently for the original two-tone diamond cut design. And it might seem like an insignificant detail, but the side stand is now made of forged steel (for added strength) and looks much nicer now.
A big change comes in the form of the revised instrument cluster. The basic layout of the main unit remains the same, with a large digital tachometer and speedometer. But in place of the odometer and trip meters, the 2019 bike now gets average and instantaneous fuel consumption readouts along with a side stand warning. The telltale lights which were on the tank have now been moved to the main unit, and in their place is a small, secondary digital display that houses the odo and trip meters, along with a gear position indicator and clock. While this is certainly a welcome addition, looking at this secondary display while riding means tilting your head down quite a bit and taking your eyes off the road. Rounding off the visual changes is a “D” logo embossed in the pillion seat and a new, funky tank pad.
In terms of ergonomics, there is absolutely no difference in the new motorcycle. The riding position is upright with tall and wide handlebars that aren’t hard to reach at all. And while the footpegs are rearset, they’re not uncomfortably so. Couple this with a fairly accessible seat height of 800mm, and riders of pretty much any height should have no problems on the Dominar. The rider’s seat is quite spacious and comfortable too. Bajaj bills the Dominar as a “Sports Tourer”, and we believe that long hours in the saddle shouldn’t be too difficult.
The same cannot be said about the pillion seat though, at least to the same extent. While it’s not entirely uncomfortable, it’s certainly not as spacious, though thankfully it’s adequately padded. The rear footpegs are positioned slightly on the higher side though, so taller pillions might end up sitting a little knees-up. And these rear pegs don’t have rubber shoes on top, so the pillion will also feel a lot more vibrations at their feet than the rider.
Technology & Features:
Primarily, the Dominar’s tech is aimed more towards improving the motorcycle’s dynamics. The new, Endurance-sourced USD forks feature the same open cartridge design as seen on the 2017 KTM 390 Duke. These are highly capable units which endow the Dominar with great handling characteristics, but you can read about just how well they perform in the next section.
The brakes have seen an upgrade too. While the disc sizes remain the same (320mm at the front and 230mm at the rear), the front caliper is now radially mounted - just like the KTMs. This has definitely upped the Dominar’s stopping power, especially when braking hard. But just like the original (2013) KTM 390’s brake, this one too feels quite spongy at the lever. Dual-channel ABS of course is standard, but there’s no option to turn it off. The slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox still comes with a slipper clutch that makes for a light clutch lever action and allows hard downshifting without locking up the rear wheel.
All the lighting on the Dominar remains LED, including the headlight, which is possibly the brightest in its class. Though we wish that the bike would not use its high beam as the Daytime Running Light (DRL), as it’s bright enough to dazzle oncoming traffic even in the middle of the day. Finally, while this might not qualify as a tech update, the new Dominar gets four bungee loops, which can be tucked away under the rear seat. These will be really useful for those wanting to strap down some luggage to the rear seat when riding long distances. Bajaj has also said that there will be a plethora of accessories for the new Dominar, when the bike goes on sale soon. These are being designed by Autologue Designs from Pune, but will be available at dealer level and not as company fitted accessories.
One of the biggest changes for 2019 is to the Dominar’s engine. This KTM-derived 373cc single-cylinder, liquid cooled motor hasn’t seen any change in cubic capacity, but it now gets Dual OverHead Camshafts (DOHC). The engine’s compression ratio has also been bumped up from 11.3:1 to 12.1:1. Along with an ECU retune and the new exhaust, the Dominar now makes a whole 5PS more power than before. So peak power output now stands at 40PS @ 8650rpm, while peak torque remains the same at 35Nm @ 7000rpm. Through all this, Bajaj has managed to limit the weight gain to just 2kg (kerb weight is now 184kg), so the bike’s performance has seen a nice bump up. Bajaj claims that 2019 Dominar can get from zero to 100kmph in 7.1 seconds now, which is 0.7 seconds quicker than before. And the claimed top speed has now gone up to 156kmph. Not to forget, the new exhaust sounds rather good, with plenty of bass and grunt, whether at idle or at full throttle.
But outright performance was never really a complaint on the previous Dominar. One slight concern was the engine refinement, which has now been thoroughly addressed as well. The motor now feels much smoother throughout the rev range, and while mild vibrations can be felt at the handlebars and footpegs from about 4000rpm, they don’t really get bothersome till about 8500rpm. Considering that in sixth gear, the new Dominar manages 100kmph at 5500rpm and 120kmph at 6500rpm, you can be comfortably cruising at triple-digit speeds on the highway all day long in a lot more relaxed manner than before - just what’s needed from a touring motorcycle. And when cruising on the highway, the engine now has much more punch to overtake traffic, without the need to downshift to extract power. To top things off, with a (fairly realistic) claimed fuel efficiency of 27kmpl and a 13-litre fuel tank, you’re looking at easily over 300km on each tank full.
While there have been no changes to the chassis (the bike is still built around a perimeter frame), the inclusion of the new upside down forks has made a big difference in the handling. The Dominar now feels more nimble than before and turns faster, whether your slicing your way through traffic, or going around fast sweeping bends. And the more sophisticated front suspension ensures that the front tyre maintains good contact with the road when turning quickly, increasing the amount of confidence you feel in the motorcycle’s handling.
But not only has the handling improved, so has the ride quality. The new front suspension is highly adept at soaking up bumps and even the rear monoshock has been softened for it to do the same. The rear suspension setup was the Achilles heel of the previous Dominar, as it felt extremely stiff over bad roads. With a revised spring rate, it now copes with bumps much better. However, on really sharp bumps, it can still send a few shocks to your back.
The Dominar always came in a single variant, and this hasn’t changed for the 2019 edition. The bike will be offered in two colour options at the time of launch - this bright green that you see in the pictures, as well as black, with more colour options to follow later.
With these new updates, Bajaj has brought the Dominar very close to the original CS400 concept that wowed audiences at the 2014 Auto Expo. We honestly believe that this should have been how the Dominar was offered from the start - basically with all the proper equipment and performance to make it a power cruiser. In its current avatar, it makes for a great urban motorcycle, oozing plenty of style and character, as well as packing in the performance and comfort to make occasional touring a breeze.
Now, at this point, Bajaj hasn’t announced prices of the new Dominar, but we expect an increase of about Rs 20,000, which would bring the ex-showroom price to about Rs 1.85 lakh. Considering all that it now offers, we think that this increase can be fairly easily justified. And seeing that its competition, such as the BMW G 310 R, TVS Apache RR310 and KTM 390 Duke come for well above two lakh rupees, the Dominar still offers great value.