Hero Xpulse 200 First Ride Review
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Is the new Hero XPulse 200 the perfect entry-level motorcycle for off-road enthusiasts? And can it do more?
The Xpulse 200 picks up exactly from where the Impulse left off. The latter kick-started a lot of off-road dreams when it was launched in 2011, but the underpowered Honda Unicorn-sourced engine kept the Impulse from being a runaway success. It was discontinued in 2017 and now, after enduring an agonising wait and a fair number of teasers, Hero has finally decided to let us have the XPulse 200, which promises to better the Impulse by being more exciting and more versatile too.
Feels built to last
Comfortable and fun commuter
Poor illumination from LED headlights
Engine isn’t smooth at high revs
Not enough punch for highways
Firm low-speed ride quality
Large 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel sizes are great for rough roads.
Turn-by-turn navigation on instrument cluster via Bluetooth link.
High value-for-money quotient.
As is expected of any off-road worthy motorcycle, the Xpulse features a raised front fender and a secondary semi-mudguard that’s mounted closer to the front wheel. Its adventure-ready credentials are reaffirmed by the large 21-inch (front) and 18-inch (rear) wire-spoke wheels running Ceat Gripp off-road biased tyres. It looks tough and ready to mud-plug, thanks to the long travel fork with rubber gaiters, an elaborate sump guard to protect the engine, serrated footpegs for the rider and a dirtbike-style exhaust that’s routed parallel to the cylinder head. The Xpulse may not seem radically different from the Impulse, but in reality, the two have nothing in common in terms of the bodywork.
Also read: Hero XPulse 200T First Ride Review
What’s undoubtedly new is the headlight - a small, round, full-LED unit which adds the ‘neo’ to this largely old-school design. Sadly, it doesn’t work very well, as we learnt over a short night stint.
In terms of quality, the XPulse felt built to last, however, the finish of the exhaust joints and the pillion footpeg subframe lacked premium flair.
Also read: Hero Xtreme 200S: First Ride Review
As a motorcycle designed primarily for off-road riding, the Xpulse ticks all the right boxes in making the rider feel comfortable in the saddle even for day to day use. The handlebar sits at a comfortable height and is easy to reach. The wide ‘bar makes it light to steer too, great for finding your way through tight traffic or narrow trails. And, yes, the handlebar is designed to work equally well even when you stand on the pegs and ride. Speaking of which, the serrated footpegs have removable rubber tops and are positioned slightly rearwards which helps you strike the right stance when riding off-road. The seat is roomy enough in terms of length even for taller riders and a pillion, although in typical dirtbike fashion, it isn’t wide. The seat is a bit firm, making it better suited for off-road riding and city commutes. For long, highway stints, a softer seat would be welcome.
You needn’t be worried about hopping onto the XPulse because, at 825mm, the seat height is easily accessible and is lower (by 10mm) than the Impulse and also the BMW G 310 GS. If you compare it to something more regular, the KTM 390 Duke has a seat height of 830mm, but the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s 800mm seat height is much lower. Lastly, the 13-litre fuel tank is a neatly sculpted unit and is easy to grip while standing up as well - important for what is primarily an off-road machine. One grouse, however, is that the headlight flasher is not an independent finger-actuated switch, but is integrated into the beam switch, like on some new Yamahas, which is a bit inconvenient. The mirrors on our test bike couldn’t be adjusted enough to offer the ideal rear view, but since we rode a pre-production version, it is safe to assume customers will get a revised set. On the whole though, the Xpulse’s ergonomics work really well for serious off-road riding and its slim, tall stance gives the rider a commanding view of the road ahead, which should come in handy for urban commuting too.
Technology & Features:
The XPulse has been kitted out decently - especially for a motorcycle of its price - with features such as LED lights all-round, a fully-digital instrument screen, Bluetooth connectivity, an underseat USB charger and, as required by norms, a single-channel ABS.
The LED lights do make the XPulse look contemporary, although the headlight feels weak in all but the darkest of environments. You will need a set of auxiliary lights if riding after sunset features regularly in your itinerary and it will help hugely if Hero does offer a set as an optional extra. The digital dash is packed with all the basic info in addition to a gear position indicator and readouts for average speed, a tripmeter, and the date and time. The party piece is, of course, is Bluetooth connectivity which lets you pair your phone to the dash via the Hero RideGuide app, enabling turn-by-turn navigation. The navigation info is easy to read on the dash although the system on our test motorcycle wasn’t niggle-free; Hero assures us the production bike won’t feature such glitches. Also, the USB charger is a good feature, but it would have been insightful of Hero to equip the XPulse with a 12V socket, since using the navigation function, in addition to leaving Bluetooth running, drains one’s phone’s battery rapidly.
A strong reason for the XPulse coming into being, or behind the Impulse being discontinued, was the heart of the matter - the engine. While the Impulse borrowed its motor from the Honda Unicorn, along with all its virtues, what it lost out on was outright exciting performance. The XPulse has no such engine donor, and instead, it shares its 199.6cc, 2-valve, SOHC, single-cylinder motor with the Xtreme 200R. Our test bike featured fuel-injection, but at the time of launch, Hero revealed a (cheaper) carburetted version as well. Now that you know the details, the first thing you need to accept about the XPulse is that it works best as an off-road bike that you can also use in the city and, perhaps, for short highway stints. Given the nature of the engine, you will have to exempt it of the responsibilities of long-distance touring, exuberant corner-carving and so on.
The initial response from standstill is energetic and the 5-speed gearbox works well. In the city, the XPulse is fairly tractable with zippy low-end performance, a definite departure from the milder Impulse. Post 60kmph, the performance dwindles gradually and going above 90kmph on the XPulse requires commitment and open roads. It hits the 100kmph mark at 7000rpm, which is quite high when you also consider that it redlines at 9000rpm. The speedo can eventually creep up to 120kmph, however regaining the pace after encountering a slow-moving truck in your path, for instance, will require patience and persistence. Refinement at low revs is good too, but beyond 6000rpm, there is a buzz in the handlebar, pegs and tank which never goes away.
Off the road, however, the XPulse is delightful with enough torque to make the most of tricky situations and it retains the learner-class friendliness the Impulse was so appreciated for. Overall, the XPulse isn’t an explosive performer in any sense, but it’s got enough to help introduce you to the magical world of dirt riding - without draining your wallet, that is.
Also helping it in this aspect are the decently configured underpinnings. The 37mm telescopic fork enables 190mm of front wheel travel while the 10-step preload-adjustable gas-charged monoshock allows for 170mm of wheel travel. Impressively, despite being 20kg heavier than the Impulse, the XPulse felt as agile, if not more! Ride quality is a bit firm at lower speeds, but over demanding off-road surfaces, the XPulse displays confidence and sturdiness that is again a notch better than the Impulse. The brakes too offer a good balance between the bite needed on the road and the progression required off the road, and it helps that the front wheel can be kept in check, thanks to the unintrusive single-channel ABS. The rear disc will be a boon for dirt riders as it will stand up to abuse much better than the drum brake seen on the Impulse.
The Hero XPulse 200 is available in two versions, one with a carb and the other with fuel-injection. Given that the carb version is priced lower (Rs 97,000 as opposed to Rs 1.05 lakh) and because it will be easier to tinker with for performance, we expect it to outsell the FI variant, especially since it loses out on nothing in terms of kit. The advantage of the fuel-injected version is, of course, that it will adapt to high altitude regions automatically, but the performance and refinement benefits may be quite slim, if at all, under normal circumstances. However, Hero will discontinue the carb version when BSVI comes into play, so it may become a bit of a collectors’ item.
All things considered, the XPulse 200 does achieve what it set out to do - provide the first step into the world of off-road motorcycling - very well. It’s only fair to expect versatility out of a motorcycle and, in that regard, the XPulse 200 does a decent job of urban commuting as an extension of its character. But if touring is high on your agenda, the XPulse is not for you - not unless you don’t mind slow-paced journeys. Think of its off-road focus as you would the track focus of a Yamaha R15 and the XPulse does seem to come across as a motorcycle with few compromises. But then, with that tempting price tag - the next such motorcycle is more expensive by almost a lakh -, it surely is very good news for those of you who were very disappointed with Hero for pulling the plug on the Impulse.