The commuter market is in the process of evolution, and the recent launches of ‘premium commuters’ is testimony for that fact. The Indian commuter buyers seem to want as much out of a 110-125cc motorcycle as they can, it seems.
Consider this scenario – college guy wants to buy a bike on a tight budget. He doesn’t need a 150-200cc bike either. That leaves 125cc and below (if you don’t consider Bajaj – they seem to have an entry for every 5cc after 100). These bikes typically give good mileage, can deliver good low to mid range power for slow traffic, handle decently and are comfortable enough for potholed roads. But should it look and feel boring just because it has a 110cc or a 125cc motor? I don’t think so. The college guy is right to ask, “What else?”
And companies like TVS, Mahindra & Mahindra and Bajaj are answering the “what else” with digital speedometers, flashy decals, LED pilot lamps, alloy wheels and a few more of their ‘unique’ features.
One of the most recent motorcycles to be marketed as a premium commuter is Mahindra and Mahindra’s Pantero, which also has an almost simultaneously launched more feature laden sibling – Centuro (which we’ll get to in a bit). Now this isn’t Mahindra’s first launch in this segment. The Stallio was launched in 2010 and following alleged gearbox problems, Mahindra had to stop production.
So to see if moving from an equine to a feline name for the bike works, we tried out the Pantero on the outskirts of Pune, to see if it really is a new bike altogether.
Styling and build
Well, it isn’t quite different. Not at least where the body is concerned. Most of the design elements, like the front cowl, the muscular lines along the body, have been carried forward from the Stallio. But on top of the basics, Mahindra Two Wheelers have laid down some good decals on the tank and rest of the body. The sticker work is just right, neither too flashy nor too frugal – enough to make the Pantero look ‘young’.
The rest of the body has been almost entirely doused in matte black, from the 5-spoke alloy wheel, the protective rail, the engine, the muffler and the black plastic body panels. The heat guard on the silencer and the foot pedals are in chrome. The Pantero has a locker box on the right hand side of the bike, under the tank, unlike most other new entrants which have been going with an under-seat space for papers and a small first-aid kit.
One thing that I like is the matte plastic tank protection laid down by default. Quite often, bags, belts and other paraphernalia scratch the part of the tank that meets the seat. I have seen a lot of riders use after-market tank protecting stickers, which ruins the paint job after some time. And talking about the paint job, I was quite impressed by the Pantero’s.
First among the premium features on this bike is the digital speedometer, which is right out of the Rodeo RZ. The Pantero also comes with an analog speedometer option, which doesn’t look too bad either. The digital one sports a tachometer too, along with the usual speedo and odo.
The headlamp is accompanied by white LED pilot lamps, another feature that is becoming common as a ‘premium’ feature. The tail lamp is an LED console, which in my opinion is a very good thing to have for people who ride in dusty and foggy conditions, as LED lamps tend to have slightly higher visibility. Other electrical parts, like the switches, look good and quality hasn’t been compromised.
The Pantero comes with a double cradle tubular steel frame, and weighs 120 kgs at the kerb with 90 per cent of the fuel tank filled.
Engine and performance
Now while the good folks at Mahindra say that the engine is entirely new, the numbers beg to differ. It’s a 106.7cc motor, with the same dimensions for the bore and stroke as the Stallio (52.4x49.5mm bore x stroke). However, the R&D guys told us that though it looks same, everything from the piston to the 4-speed gearbox mated to the engine has been redesigned.
I had the chance to ride the Stallio way back in 2011, albeit briefly, and all I could notice at that point of time was that the gearbox and clutch seemed to have been made from the ‘recovered remnants of the Titanic’ and the engine was far from refined. Two years is a long time, but the difference in performance was evident when I rode the Pantero. The throttle response was crisp, and the engine has definitely done away with most of the vibration that it sent up post-5000 rpm in the Stallio.
The MCi-5 (microchip-ignited 5-curve) engine delivers a peak power of 8.5PS @ 7500rpm, while peak torque of 8.5Nm chokes off at 5500rpm. These numbers are standard for the products in this segment and price range - Honda’s CB Twister, Bajaj’s Discover 100T and Hero Motocorp’s Passion X Pro show better numbers in terms of peak power, though.
Low to mid range power delivery is quite good though, which is essential for a commuter. I didn’t get long straights to max out the Pantero, as I was riding on winding hill roads, but from whatever spurts of speeds I could manage, my guess is it should have a top speed of 90-95kmph. On the ghats, the Pantero had enough power to pull up the hills without losing power or straining too much, with both rider and pillion seated. The gearbox, I’m happy to say, now feels much better and shifts very smoothly. Also, throughout the run, the engine did feel a lot more refined.
Riding comfort is the Pantero’s…er, comfort zone. The suspensions aren’t really radical – coil-springed telescopes at the front and 5-step adjustable coils at the back. But with that setup, the shocks soak up bumps and potholes quite efficiently. The upright seating position, comfortable seat (long enough for two heavyset adults, as I discovered) and the amply wide handlebars make up for a very comfortable commute. Although we mainly rode in the hills, I reckon this seating position will also be good enough for the city commute.
If there’s one thing that justifies the bike’s name, it’s the ride stability. Cornering comes easily with this commuter, on flat tarmac, hilly terrain and even the teeny-weeny bit of off-roading that we did with the bike.
There is, however, one thing that the Pantero could improve on, and that is braking. The 130mm drums on both front and rear work fine, but I would say they need to be a little more efficient. I’m not saying it’s quite bad now – they are good enough for city traffic, but I felt the need for a little more braking while going downhill.
Addressing the most important question first – is it the Stallio with more decals? No. It’s not. The engine’s refined and no problems were to be found with the gearbox. Next question – is it better than the other ‘young’ bikes in the market? Well, it’s apples and oranges here. The CB Twister comes with a very refined, peppy engine, and aggressive styling, but that’s about it. The Passion X Pro gives out a front disc and half-digital console, but lacks in ride quality.
But with the plush ride quality, and a few fancy features thrown in, the Pantero does seem to make some sense as a buy. Moreover, Mahindra claims that the Pantero delivers 79.4 kilometres to the litre under standard test conditions, and that is a good thing if it delivers nearly the same in city riding conditions.
The Pantero will be available in 4 variants, Self Start/Alloy Wheels/ Digital Console, Self Start/Alloy Wheels/Analogue Console, Kick Start/Alloy Wheels/Analogue Console and Kick Start/ Spoke/Analogue Console. There would be three colours available, black, silver and red, each with a varied choice of decal colours to go with. At the time of going into print, Mahindra hadn’t yet given the pricing, except for the comment that it will be competitively priced.
The Centuro is another 110cc bike from Mahindra with the same engine as Pantero, except that it has a different styling pattern and additional features central locking and anti-theft system with engine immobiliser and a 96-bit encrypted flip-key/remote, Find-Me Lamps that help locate the motorcycle in crowded parking lots, and guide lamps that turn off a few seconds after you shut off the engine. It also features a digital console with service indicator and distance-to-empty fuel calculator, along with the usual speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and clock. This motorcycle will also be launched shortly.