First Ride: 2002 Honda VFR Interceptor

More than just a face-lift for the perennial favorite.


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Torrance, California, January 4, 2002 -- To say that somebody or something is a legend in their own time has nowadays become almost a joke. It's a phrase thrown about like so many bad jokes between men at seedy after-hours beer joints. Therefore, we'll not use such verbiage in the context of this story, though you may consider it implied. Heavily.

When Honda introduced its Interceptor in 1983 it was in the thick of the sport bike wars. In the ensuing 19 years, through a number of incarnations, it has won numerous World Superbike and AMA Superbike titles, notched up a mile-long list of race wins and become a perennial favorite of moto-journalists across the globe.

The Year 2002 Interceptor cuts a much sharper profile than its predecessor. Thankfully, changes are not just cosmetic.

Though it still possesses a number of features that may lead one to utterance of sporting glory, the Intercepter has gone a tad soft in recent years, leaving most of its racing roots firmly in its past. For the majority of riders, however, this is a good thing.

After all, when's the last time you had to hold off Fred Merkel on the way to your Sunday Morning breakfast nook? Seems today's Interceptor owner is more interested in having the perfect do-it-all bike beneath them than an uncompromising road burner.

For this all-purpose role, the Interceptor has known few peers, though competition is definitely getting rather stiff of late. To stave off the coming advances from European manufacturers, Honda engineers have seen fit to adorn the Year 2002 interceptor with a healthy dose of techno-gadgetry as well as some simple things we've been requesting for years.

Honda's latest iteration of their annoying Linked Braking System isn't nearly as intrusive as year's past. ABS is an option our test unit was not adorned with.

"Under all the slick red plastic, however, lies a bit of techno-trickery we'd only expect from Honda."

To the eye, the most obvious difference between this bike and last year's model is the body work. The new stuff is edgier and has more of an Akira does WSB look to it. Some may dismiss the styling effort as little more than a knock-off of Aprilia's Futura, but few can deny the striking silhouette cut by this new Honda.

The addition of optional hard luggage and the under-seat exhaust do little to dissuade comparisons with the Aprilia, though these same features go a long way towards distancing the new Interceptor from the bikes that came before it.

Under all the slick red plastic, however, lies a bit of techno-trickery we'd only expect from Honda. The 781 cc DOHC motor now sports a VTEC valve train that's similar in principle to the system found on cars such as their own Acura Integra. What it does, basically, is allow the motor to run on two valves below 7,000 RPM and on four valves above 7,000 RPM. The theory is that this provides the best of both worlds: Low RPM economy and mid-range power as well as high-RPM peak power.

To go with its sportier image, Honda gave the suspension a make-over that resulted in a machine that feels more planted than ever.

The VTEC system also does away with the gear-driven cams of the old bike. And even though this change eliminates the mechanical whine we've all grown so accustomed to, the swap to a silent-type cam-chain drive reduces engine weight by a solid 6.2 pounds.Working in conjunction with the VTEC motor's valve actuation system is a similar system that resides in the intake tract. There is a solenoid-activated dual-air-intake-duct that keeps one duct closed during low-speed operation and then opens at higher RPMs.

The new Interceptor is a 50-state model that exceeds the California Air Resource Board's Year 2008 guidelines, thanks to the VTEC system. We thought increased power was part of the reason, but even in Honda's own press material for the bike, not once is power mentioned as a benefit or even a byproduct of this VTEC technology. In reality - maybe were being a bit pessimistic here - all these systems seem to do is cut emissions and increase mileage at low RPM.

The Interceptor's gauge cluster is about as informative and tidy as they come. Center-mounted tach hints at the machine's sporting nature.

On the dyno, it made one less horsepower at peak and one foot-pound of torque more than last year's model. But we all know that the road and the dyno are two completely different places. So what is it like to actually ride?

On the road, the new Interceptor gets better mileage than last year's bike and it makes beautiful sounds as the tachometer sweeps past the 7,000 RPM mark when the VTEC system invites the final two valves to the party. But really, for those of you - like us - who were hoping for more power, there's really none to be had.

Still, on the freeway, the heart of the VFR is still very much alive. At 4,300 RPM in top gear, you're moving along at 65 MPH with barely a trace of the motor's vibes coming through the bars. At 75 MPH the motor is turning over at 5,000 RPM and actually feels smoother than it did at lower speeds.

"We often found ourselves coming out of corners at 6,000 RPM and then up-shifting at 8,000 RPM as many times as we could before we had to shut it down to make the next bend."

Though this new Interceptor weighs in a claimed 24 pounds heavier than last year's model, the new machine doesn't allow the rider to notice the extra heft.

Honda says that, at the same road speeds, the new motor turns over at 50 fewer RPM than the old mill. It's this, combined with the VTEC system, that provides such good mileage, returning upwards of 42 MPG through one particular 240 mile stint of highway and canyon riding that saw 4.6 gallons pass through the motor.

When the motor sweeps past that magic 7,000 RPM mark, its very difficult to discern if there's a real surge in power at that point or just a tonal change that fools the brain into thinking, "oh yeah, I'm going faster now." Whether or not a surge in power is present, the motor is certainly fun to whup up on from time to time. We often found ourselves coming out of corners at 6,000 RPM and then up-shifting at 8,000 RPM as many times as we could before we had to shut it down to make the next bend.

Wind protection, anybody? The new Interceptor has it, along with the same comfortable ergonomics as last year.

Of course, you can run the bike right up to its rev limiter, as it seems to like it up there, but most of the time short-shifting will get you into the next bend nearly as quick. Besides, the motor is fun to play with like that.

As smooth as the Interceptor's motor is, the transmission is just as smooth and the fuel-injection is flawless. At no time does the bike surge or lurch or hesitate at any throttle opening in any gear, no matter how ham-handed the rider.

The new motor isn't the only part of this bike that received attention. The chassis has definitely improved, and everything from the 20 millimeter increase in wheelbase to the two millimeter larger forks combine to make this a more capable Interceptor. In the twisties, the '02 Interceptor's chassis feels a bit tighter and more composed than previous editions.

Compared to last year's suspenders, the new model's front forks feature an increase in compression damping though they retain the same rebound damping. The rear shock, meanwhile, received a slightly stiffer spring as well as an increase in compression damping while the rebound damping rates were slightly softened.

Mid corner bumps will get the suspension moving through its stroke - as should happen - but at no time does the bike feel wallowy. And though it's not sport bike stiff, there's a definite sporting quality to the suspension's set-up so that even when the bike is moving around beneath you, it maintains its composure and provides the rider with a good amount of information. So much so that it's easy to goad yourself into traversing your favorite roads at elevated speeds, dragging the peg-feelers around nearly every bend, all the while leaving your sphincter relatively relaxed.

Through the years, one of the most endearing qualities of the Interceptor has been its sleeper factor, and it remains even today. While shooting photos we had our Year 2001 Yamaha YZF-R1 along for the ride. And though the R1 will leave the Honda for dead at the track, the Interceptor was able to keep pace with the Yamaha on the street.

Dyno!

Even at this accelerated pace, the Honda pilot was having a more enjoyable time. And therein lies the magic of the Interceptor that few bikes, if any, have been able to reproduce.

Between the Interceptor's looks, its V4 growl, the VTEC waaaah at 7,000 RPM, it's sure-footed handling, excellent wind protection and excellent ergonomics, it's a hard bike not to like, even if it's not the bike we were hoping for.



Specifications
Model: 2002 VFR800FI Suggested Retail Price: $9,999, $10,999 Engine Type: 781cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-4 Bore and Stroke: 72.0mm x 48.0mm Compression Ratio: 11.6:1 Valve Train: VTEC DOHC; four valves per cylinder Carburetion: PGM-FI with automatic enricher circuit Ignition: Computer-controlled digital with three-dimensional mapping and electronic advance Transmission: Close-ratio six-speed Final Drive: #530 O-ring-sealed chain Front Suspension: 43mm HMAS[tm] cartridge fork with spring-preload adjustability; 4.7-inch travel Rear Suspension: Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single HMAS gas-charged shock with seven-position spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustability; 4.7-inch travel Front Brakes: Dual full-floating 296mm discs with LBS[tm] three-piston calipers Rear Brake: Single 256mm disc with LBS three-piston caliper (ABS option available) Front Tire: 120/70ZR-17 radial Rear Tire: 180/55ZR-17 radial Wheelbase: 57.4 inches Rake (Caster Angle): 25.5 degrees Trail: 95.0mm (3.74 inches) Seat Height: 31.7 inches Dry Weight: 472.0 pounds (Optional ABS 483.0 pounds) Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gallons, including 0.8-gallon reserve Color: Red

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