Honda’s NC700 family has been an effective response to the economic crisis that began in 2008 and played such a heavy toll on the world motorcycle market. The NC (New Concept) set a new standard in flexibility, thanks to a specially conceived 700cc sohc parallel twin and a highly specialized frame/chassis that’s tailored around the engine, which has its cylinders laid forward 62 degrees. For the record, Honda’s integrated engine/chassis unit has given life to no fewer than 5 models: the naked NC700S, the NC700X, the touring CTX700, the naked CTX700N and the Integra scooter. Of note, the commonality of the major engine/chassis units has not prevented each model from offering a good level of specialization, while maintaining distinctive visual personalities. In Europe for 2014, the 3 models that were first released in 2011—the NC700S, NC700X and Integra—have received a significantly upgraded engine, plus updated software for the DCT transmission and a new rear swingarm. The Integra remains the most fascinating of the 3. It has all the comfort and weather protection of a scooter, but it has the performance and handling characteristics of a motorcycle, and even more so now that it has a larger and more potent 745cc engine. Honda has enlarged the displacement of the sohc parallel twin from the original 670cc to 745cc by increasing the bore from 73.0 to 77.0mm, while keeping the stroke unchanged at 80.0mm. Compression ratio is a solid 10.7:1, while the single throttle body remains at 36mm. The combustion chamber, with 4 valves per cylinder, is very compact, thanks in part to a concave piston top with very high thermodynamic efficiency. Claimed peak power has increased to 54 hp at 6,250 rpm (up from 51 hp at the same rpm) and peak torque has gained almost 5 full pound-feet, to 50.2 at 4,750 rpm. More displacement, more power, more torque—it all computes and is put to proper use by the adoption of taller final gearing. This, plus the addition of a second balance shaft, totally cancels the perceived vibrations that never bothered me in the previous edition.
The extra torque and power of the larger engine compensate for the taller gearing, and acceleration and throttle response remain brilliant, as before. Fuel economy is also improved, to 68.8 mpg in the European test. Honda’s dual-clutch transmission offers 3 operational modes: automatic D, automatic-sport S, and manual selection in either D or S mode via the up and down shift triggers. At an appropriate time, DCT seamlessly reverts back to automatic mode, depending on throttle angle, vehicle speed, and gear position. Thanks to new software, the latest DCT, in D mode, detects variations in rider input typical of certain riding conditions—say, crowded traffic or mountain backroads—and consequently adapts its gear change logic for more efficient and pleasant response. For the new Integra, upgrades to the software and operating logic ensure an even more intuitive system; downshifts in D and S mode happen earlier for a more responsive feel and extra engine braking, making cornering more neutral. Transmission kickdown is also smoother thanks to faster gear changes. The new swingarm is now made of aluminum, saving 4.5 pounds of unsprung mass for improved ride quality, especially on uneven surfaces. Great attention has been devoted to the improvement of riding comfort. In the previous Integra, my 5-foot-10 frame caused my knees to bump into the awkward profile of the lower fairing. Now, that “dogleg” section has been smoothed for an extra 3.2 inches of leg (knee) room and a significantly better fit. While the new engine is a pleasant improvement, the the extra room and better comfort are the real bonus with the new Integra. It’s clear to me that the Honda Integra has further increases its lead over the scooter competition, thanks to its improved performance and handling quality. After all, the Integra is a motorcycle dressed to offer the comfort and the ease of interface of a scooter. And given the lousy winter weather we’ve had of late in Europe, the heated grips were a very welcome option.