Get this out of your head that these are boring, uncle-ish scooters,” fired Aninda when the Thrill of Riding aficionado, Abhishek Wairagade told me to pit these 125cc scoots against each other. Oh, don’t judge him already! If these scooters had even an ounce of ‘power’, they wouldn’t have been boring for him. But when you think about it, the likes of Aprilia SRs and TVS Ntorqs have spoilt us. These are quick scooters unlike the practical and sombre options that we have always had. But in terms of sales numbers, the so called ‘performance’ scooters sell 15 per cent of the regular 125cc commuters. The ‘practical’ ones, for that matter, make a lot more sense, not only because they’re priced competitively but also because they bring their own set of knives and forks to the table. Space, comfort, underseat stowage and after sales service is what really matters to the average scooter buyer, which is why the Activa is the best-selling two-wheeler in the country, even today. Well, the Activa 125 hasn’t been a huge success unlike it’s 110cc sibling and the Access 125 has been giving it a tough fight, consistently. Hero might be late to the party, but the slow and steady growth of the Destini 125 has already seen it catching up with the Access, thanks to Hero’s appeal in tier II cities. But does the Hero deserve your stash of hard-earned money?
Suvrat was impressed with the Destini at the launch. I mean, why not? It’s practical and functional and comes with the backing of Hero’s rock-solid sales network and long term reliability. Also, for these commuters, it’s a matter of function over form so styling don’t really matter. At least to most people. And the Destini, with its Activa-ish looks, works in this regard, which isn’t really a problem at all. The seat is spacious enough for two full-sized adults and comes with sufficient padding to take care of daily commutes. It also offers certain unique features like an external fuel filler cap and Hero’s auto start-stop i3S system. The cluster is basic and shows the odo reading, trip meter and fuel levels. The exhaust, and the rear panels are a straight lift off the Duet’s inventory. The console too is similar to the Duet. What’s new is the 124.6cc engine which churns out 8.7bhp and 10.2Nm of torque. However, the Destini is the heaviest of the trio here at 111kg and it shows. It's lethargic when compared to the other two. The progress is steady till 60kmph with the motor barely making itself heard but after that it all goes haywire. The vibes start kicking in from the seat, the handlebar and even the footboard! But the motor is seamless and is happy cruising at about 60kmph and can even go all the way to 99kmph on the speedo, but does that really matter for a commuter? The fit and finish levels aren't great. The quality of plastics is average and there are a fair bit of panel gaps. The cluster was shaking on our scooter despite having clocked only 500 odd kilometres.
As for the ride and handling the setup is a good compromise. The Destini is not really agile but the suspension doesn’t crash no matter how hard you go into the largest of potholes. Now, Hero isn’t offering discs even as an option and the drums really don’t offer enough stopping power for the scooter that’s heavier than most. The game, it seems, has moved on. Sigh.
The Activa brand has tremendous value in the country. Abhishek’s father let us borrow his beloved Activa for the shoot as Honda didn’t have a spare scooter in the media fleet. It’s not the first Activa in Abhishek’s household, but the fifth! Yes, such has been the success story of the Activa. The Activa 110 is still the best-selling two-wheeler in the country, gone are the days of the Splendor's domination. And the Activa 125 does not really feel too different to the best-seller. The 124.9cc is as smooth as James Bond is with the ladies. The engine churns a healthy 8.5bhp and 10.54Nm of torque. From the get go, the Activa feels familiar and easy. The refinement levels are unmatched and the build quality is outstanding. A lot of buyers opt for ‘full metal body’ over everything else and the Activa stays true to the label. The suspension setup is the softest of the lot and appeals to an audience that is looking for comfort over spirited riding. And that’s exactly what most consumers really want. It affects the handling and the Activa 125 isn’t the most comfortable when it comes to quick direction changes, especially when sifting through traffic. However, the latest generation comes with an adjustable three-step rear suspension that can be tuned for pre-load as well. The combi brakes work really well but the soft setup leads the front end to dive under hard braking.
The Activa that we are riding was bought before the latest update so doesn't have the grey-hued alloys, LED DRLs and the seat opening latch. The underseat stowage is sufficient for knick-knacks and of course, your groceries but isn't tall enough to fit in a full-face helmet. You get a USB port as standard though. Everything on the Honda feels premium and built to last. And that is precisely why the Activa is priced at a premium over the others. The question is: are you are willing to pay extra for a stress free ownership experience? Or are you looking for the Thrill of Riding as well?
The Thrill of Riding is what the Access delivers in dollops! Don’t go by its retro-ish square headlamp and that dull rear-end. The 124cc engine is not as powerful as the Activa’s but the max power is delivered at a full 1,000rpm higher in the range. And of course, the lightweight construction lends it the best power-to-weight ratio. The result? A sprightly scooter that loves to be revved. The icing on the top has to be the ride and handling though. Thanks to the weight advantage and Suzuki’s great distribution of the weight, the Access loves twisties. It’s not only quicker through traffic but is a lot of fun for the rider, while at it. Its long wheelbase also offers more confidence to the rider to keep it stable through corners. Even the brakes offer enough bite, even in the drum variant that we were testing! Who says practical scooters can’t be fun? However, the Access is also the most practical of them all. Being longer than the others, it gets the most space on the footboard as well as a large underseat stowage. A full-faced size M helmet fits easily and there is a front pocket too for quick access to your phone and everything else. The seat is the longest of them all and the tall handlebar equates to stress free U-turns. Especially for people blessed with long legs. On the styling front too, the new model is a big step up from the previous generation. It gets a Vespa-like chromed square headlamp. The overall styling felt a bit dated compared to the other two, thanks to its lack of DRLs but that really wouldn’t make it less practical, we’d say.
There are some issues though. The optional DC charging socket means you have to keep a separate connector if you want to charge your phone unlike the Activa and Destini 125's USB sockets. The aftersales service and support is not so well-oiled or wide spread as Hero’s or Honda’s. But the Access costs less money than even the Destini (if you compare the drum variant) and along with the performance and handling, seals the deal for us.
The Destini is a promising scooter backed up with Hero’s strong dealership and service network. The motor is sweet and the ride quality is great, especially for Indian conditions. However, it lacks finesse and feels built to a price, especially when you consider that the Access costs less and offers a lot more. Which brings us to the Activa 125. The Activa is bound to sell in huge numbers thanks to the brand image. The refinement levels are top class, the build quality is premium and the ride is velvety smooth. The asking price is a lot higher than the other two though and can’t really be justified except if you value peace of mind. As for the Access 125 it holds its ground and stays on top of the game, with the verdict being unchanged from our previous scooter comparo (FBI #14). It may not look flashy and still doesn’t offer a USB port as standard but the space and comfort along with the brilliant performance is really unbeatable. The handling is by far the best in this class. Top that with lightweight construction and you’re sure to get great fuel efficiency too. The Access is our winner and proves to the world that practical scooters can offer the Thrill of Riding when asked for.