2012 Honda Gold Wing Review - First Ride

Honda's new flagship gets a modest makeover

Honda’s Gold Wing has for years stood at the pinnacle of the luxury-touring market, providing the best balance of comfort and performance in its class. But that supremacy is now under threat from BMW’s new K1600 GTL that received a very favorable review from Editor Duke a few weeks ago.
In the face of increased competition, Honda chose to arm the 2012 Gold Wing with only moderate improvements. This nonchalance begs the question: When will Honda retaliate with a full-model revamp?  Until that event, whenever it may come, “it’s the little things that count” adage will have to suffice for Gold Wing devotees.

With Honda providing both 2012 and 2010 Gold Wing models for back-to-back comparison purposes, the minor upgrades gracing the 2012 GL were readily apparent. Trivial as the upgrades may be, they do exist, and the effort at least justifies the $300 increase in MSRP between 2010 and 2012 base models ($22,899 vs. $23,199, respectively).

2012 Honda Gold Wing

The purpose for this back-to-back comparo – made evident on the tight, switchback roads of California’s Coastal Range we were traversing – was to highlight the improved handling of the 2012 Gold Wing. Where the old Wing wore Dunlop tires, the new Wing is shod with Bridgestone rubber. But, as Honda was quick to point out, the Bridgestones were developed to work in harmony with the 2012’s revised suspension, so they won’t necessarily give new life to the old Wing.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

Besides new top and bottom internal bushings in the fork, Honda was only able to say that there are revised front and rear suspension settings in the 2012 Wing. Front-wheel travel is stated at 4.8 inches, which is a reduction from the 5.5 claimed for the previous Wings. But Honda tells us that travel is actually unchanged, figuring the old spec was a typo and confirming the new 4.8-inch figure.

Whatever the case, there is a marginally improved aspect to the 2012 Gold Wing’s handling manners. I say marginally because the 2010’s handling is already impeccable for such weighty machine, but the new model is a little more eager to drop into a corner. And where the 2010 model requires slightly more input to hold its line navigating a long corner, the 2012 holds its lean angle and maintains the rider’s chosen arc. Cornering clearance seemed equal to the ’10 Wing, and both were equally resistant to bottoming out. 

The most noticeable seat-of-the-pants improvement to the 2012 Wing, quite literally, is its seat. Hopping off the old model and onto the new model, it was clear that the new urethane seat material and seat cover are truly an improvement. Not quite Tempur-Pedic mattress material, but the GL’s new seat provided support equivalent to that level of comfort. And any passenger will be greeted by one of the best pillion seats in the business, a much more comforting place to sit than the BMW GTL’s seat – if you don’t want whining from the back seat, you’ll hear less of it with the Wing.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

Because navigating a 900-pound motorcycle through territory where sportbikes normally roam demanded my full attention, I wasn’t able to fiddle with the Gold Wing’s upgraded electronics. Yes, I did manage to find an appropriate station on the Wing’s XM satellite radio (some heavy metal to accentuate the heavy peg grinding), but Honda did upgrade other aspects of its audio and navigation systems.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

New for the Wing’s audio system is MP3/iPod connectivity. Yes, the device connection resides in the top box, but its location is unimportant because Honda incorporated control of the iPod into its handlebar controls and dashboard view screen. You can access playlists, artists, albums, etc., just as if you had the device in your hand. There’s also a new surround-sound aspect to the speaker layout providing an enhanced listening experience. I could hear the rear speakers more clearly, even at freeway speeds.

Before leaving on our day ride, we were given a tech briefing on Honda’s new satellite-linked navigation system. According to Honda, the updated system provides more up-to-date information because of a quicker connection between bike and satellite. The viewing screen is also now brighter for better viewing.

A very usable new feature when traveling to unknown regions is the GPS’s lane-assist function that tells the rider in advance if the desired off-ramp is on the left or right of the freeway. There’s also a new 3-D terrain view. Next to the iPod connection in the top box is a new, removable flash card that allows Gold Wing owners to remove their route, download it to a personal computer then upload it and share it with fellow Gold Wingers.

Curiously, the new Gold Wing’s wheels come encased in a sheen of clear coating. Honda says it’s for easier cleaning and to keep the wheels in better shape for a longer period of time. For anyone who remembers the yellowy, peeling, clear-coated wheels from the 1980s, this may seem like a mistake. But Honda assured me that while the clear coat is the same recipe, the process of application has changed, and it was the process 30 years ago that caused motorcycle owners to spend hours with a fistful of steel wool stripping the baneful sealant from the wheels of their ride.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

The redesigned fairing of the 2012 Gold Wing, with its color-contrasting side panels, is distinctive, setting the largely unchanged new Wing apart from its predecessors. The new look freshens the Gold Wing’s profile and, according to Honda, the fairing is slightly wider, providing improved wind protection.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

While a better wind pocket was hard to confirm during the blustery afternoon spent aboard the two Wings, the restyled rear of the bike, with its relocated taillight, was visually pleasing and its functionality evident. By centralizing the taillight between the saddlebags and lengthening the saddlebags themselves, the new Gold Wing gains an additional seven liters of storage. Parked next to one another, the 2012 saddlebags appear smaller, but ‘tis only an optical illusion.

Another visual cue on the new GL is the engine cover directly above the brake/shift levers. It was chrome on the old model, but it’s now black to, according to Honda, “modernize” the look. But instead of being chrome or color-matched with an upgrade to one of the three trim levels above the base model, this unfinished, plastic, black panel comes on all 2012 Gold Wings. It looks cheaper in person than it does in pictures and is unbecoming for such a high-end motorcycle.

So the updated 2012 Gold Wing is a better a motorcycle, receiving upgrades in areas that truly benefit its rider. However, at $23,199 to $28,499, the Gold Wing is pricier than the new BMW K1600 GTL which retails for $23,200 to $25,845.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

The new Beemer is faster, lighter, has Bluetooth connectivity and an electrically adjustable windscreen. But the Wing has more luxurious passenger accommodations and perhaps has a slight edge in slow-speed handling.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

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