So much for getting into Honda's hospitality area at the Laguna Seca Champ Car race in September. That's what this kind of upset is all about. Here is the number-one-selling sportbike in America (and most parts of the world) trailing a remade Kawasaki by the absolute thinnest of margins. (You can only imagine the ugliness around here in deciding the second and third order. We're still mopping up.) True enough, the pecking order could fall either way depending on such mundanities as your taste in color or how well your local dealer treats you. We'll say it again: The Honda and Kawasaki finish so close they're almost sharing molecules.
And, besides, what's not to like about the Honda? The CBR's engine produces helpful dollops of midrange power and letter-perfect delivery with a satisfying surge up top to keep the rev-addicts sated. It is not the most powerful here-the Yamaha edges it by just 1.6 hp-but it doesn't feel the least bit slow. Next to the Kawasaki, whose engine feels equally lusty but much more rev-happy, the F4's power delivery seems a bit muted. Not that we're bitching too much about a 600 that directs nearly 100 horses to the rear wheel.
In all ways, the F4 reflects Honda's 13 years of development of the CBR line: Clutch takeup is smooth, the gearbox precise if not exactly silky, and the throttle response is so intuitive that the engine never gives you more or less than you ask for. All told, the CBR is the kind of bike you can hop on and go fast immediately, with complete confidence.
Part of this reassuring nature comes from the chassis. Honda hasn't changed anything for the F4's sophomore year and we're happy to hear that. Start with steering that's both light to the touch yet perfectly weighted. Pushing through tallish clip-ons, you notice that the F4 responds immediately to your inputs but never over-reacts. On our insanely tight test road, where most riders returned from a stint on the GSX-R with wetted brows, the same folks hopped off the CBR with not a hair out of place. That Honda has combined amazing agility in the F4's makeup with nerve-soothing stability truly is noteworthy; the CBR can stay attached to the GSX-R's tail on high-speed sweepers no problemo.
Such unflappability comes despite the CBR-F4's suspension working a lot harder than the Suzuki's or the Yamaha's. Heavier riders, in particular, will notice that the Honda is softly sprung and even bordering on being underdamped. Small pavement irregularities roll more or less unnoticed under the Honda's Michelin Hi-Sports but the larger heaves get the bike into more of a rodeo routine. Jump off the Suzuki or Yamaha and the Honda will feel like it's using much more of its suspension travel a lot more often. Even so, the bike doesn't so much as hint at moving off line. Befitting the bike's midpack finish, the F4's brakes take the middle ground-not as sharp as the Yamaha's but powerful enough to get the job done nicely without fade.
Where the Honda really plucks points is in the real-world derby. The seating position is bliss-just the right seat-bar-peg relationship to foster good highway posture, but also usable for back-road shenanigans. The engine buzzes slightly through the pegs and bars but not obtrusively. The seat is ideally shaped and firmly padded, and the fairing, though criticized as looking bland, offers surprisingly good wind and weather protection-and the interior is very well finished. Heck, you can even see something in the mirrors.
Maybe we're smitten with the F4 because, even as Honda has brought the bike closer to being the ideal 600 Supersport platform, it hasn't stripped the bike of the qualities that make it a superb daily driver. If ever there were a bike that perfectly balanced the directly contradictory needs of daily street and weekend back-road riding, the CBR600F4 is it.