Scooters have co-existed with motorcycles and mopeds for as long as we can remember. The difference now compared to the eighties and nineties doesn’t end in the way scooters now have four-stroke engines and automatic gearboxes.

The evolution of scooters has gone a step further during the last decade and after the Honda Activa first arrived. Like every other successful two-wheeler, the Activa has aged. Competitors started coming up with more options for the commuters, different engines, more colours and lighter bodies. Most importantly, people started realising that the sturdy metal jackets that the Activa wore on its front, side and back panels like the scooters of 20 years ago, were more expensive to maintain than a plastic-bodied scooter’s. It is much easier and less expensive to change a scooter’s broken or scratched plastic panels than roll the dents out and repaint a metal panel on the Activa.

Moreover, the need for new modern designs and features has been rising amongst buyers, and now we have at least one entry from every major motorcycle brand that has wheels on Indian roads, except of course the original king of the scooter market. So many, that it is quite difficult to pick from.

The most recent addition to this cliqué is the Yamaha Ray. So we, at Smartbuy, decided to pick out three competing automatic geared scooters which we think (and for reasons that are substantiated by numbers in the market too) are good picks from the lot, and drove them around town. Here is our take on which scooter will suit your needs.

Honda Dio

Honda has double or multiple offerings in most of the two-wheeler segments that there are. It helps leverage a low-cost uniform platform and is probably a flanking strategy to cover the needs of different buyer profiles. It adopts a similar strategy for scooters too. The Activa, Aviator and the revamped Dio all share the same 109cc motor, without any tweaks in power output. We, for one, were glad that the new Dio now has the same motor as the Activa, for though the old Dio was peppy enough, it lacked power in some circumstances. And no, it’s not just the difference of 7 cubic centimetres, but also a level of engine refinement that makes the more youthful scooter by Honda a little more powerful (1bhp, to be precise).

While the old Dio was plastered with body decals, the new one has front and side panels accented by strong curves and lines, with 3D badges. The new front apron has been bulked up, and a wide headlamp with clear lens indicators forms almost one half of the front apron. Adding to the bold new look is a new tail lamp cluster, body colour grab rail and black rims on the wheels. From whichever angle you look at this scooter, you would know that it is made for the younger rider, or at least someone who is young at heart.

The 2012 facelift also saw the Dio gaining a little ground clearance, and a wider and longer seat than the previous generation. The instrument cluster has also been revamped, and the roundels look very neat in the new layout.

On the road, we found the Dio to be the fastest off the block, with swift and smooth acceleration, and this was impressive because it had a slight displacement disadvantage as compared to the Ray and the Swish. Coupled with this power, is the moto-scooter’s good handling. It’s not like the old Dio was very unruly on the road, but this one is quite responsive. Sometimes the handlebar did feel a little lighter than necessary, but it turned out to be excess air pressure in the front wheel.

Like the Activa, the Dio has also been outfitted with what Honda calls as Combi-brakes, wherein both front and rear brakes are applied together when the rider uses only the rear brake. This can be a good safety feature, as sometimes locking up only the rear tyre can lead to skids, in both dry and wet riding conditions. But safety features apart, the brakes felt a little too hard while pressing the lever.

What turned out to be a slight disappointment in the Dio was the ride quality. The Dio still uses the spring loaded hydraulic type suspension on both front and rear as on the previous generation, which aren’t as efficient as the telescopic front and rear swing-arm shock absorbers we found on the Ray and Swish. But a very comfortable seat, ample legroom on the footboard and a comfortable straight back riding posture made up for the occasional bumps that the Dio’s suspension couldn’t soak up.

There is enough space for the pillion rider too, and although the seating is quite comfortable, the tiny footpegs at the back are just extensions of the side panels, and aren’t enough for a sure foothold. The 18-litre storage area under the seat can hold a half-face helmet, toolkit and papers, which might be enough space for many people.

The Dio does not come with features like an under-seat light, an external fuel-lid or a cell phone charging socket; even the side stand is not a part of standard equipment. But what it can offer is swift acceleration and manoeuvrability, and head-turning styling. It also comes with ‘Tuff-up’ tubeless radials, which reduce the chances of landing a puncture, and the tyres deflate slowly even if they do get punctured. You can get around 42-43 kilometres to the litre from the Dio, depending on how you ride, and is available in five different colour options at an ex-showroom (Delhi) price of Rs 43,925.

Yamaha Ray

Yamaha Ray isn’t the first scooter to be marketed as a product made especially for women. In fact, with the female-oriented marketing for many scooters like the TVS Scooty Pep, I personally knew many people who had come to a point where they called all of these two-wheelers as “ladies’ scooters”.

But now, a majority of the scooters are being promoted as unisex. And that made me wonder why Yamaha is being gender specific. Because when I saw the first product shots, I thought the design would sit just fine with both men and women. After all, some of the design elements like the front headlamp and apron looked a bit like the Honda Dio’s, which is doing fine with both boys and girls.

And then, I sat on the actual product and realised that some of the gender-biased marketing made sense. The Ray isn’t what you would call a big scooter, like the TVS Wego, Honda Dio or the Suzuki Swish. In fact, it looks only slightly larger than the Scooty Pep. Though, it is a much better finished product than any in the segment.

We at Smartbuy couldn’t help but notice that a scooter with plastic all over has been so well designed, with each element making sense. The front panel has the big, clear headlamp and turn-indicators encased in it, and an aerodynamic body colour handle faring and front fender are part of the fascia. The big, clear instrument cluster is well finished and quite attractive.

Right behind it is the footboard area, which is quite slim for any scooter. Now this might be a good thing, for quickly putting the foot down in slow moving traffic, without having to put the feet too much outside the body width. But this can also turn out to be a little inconvenient for tall riders, or riders with big feet, for the small space can be a wee bit cramped.

Luckily, Yamaha has provided recesses in the front panel and extended the faring a little inwards to shield your feet from mud to any harm. Also, two cubby holes and a strong hook under the handle bar turned out to be quite useful to keep titbits or a small water bottle.

The seat is quite low slung, with a seat height of 760mm – even riders of a smaller build can keep their feet flat on the ground at a stop. But the low slung seat, coupled with a slimmer body width, means there is not so much space under the seat as we would expect. The under seat storage box can fit 15.5 litres of whatever you wish to fill it with, but as the body is narrow, a full face helmet cannot fit in, and a biggish half face helmet would squeeze in only after a lot of effort.

But overall, the seating is quite comfortable for both rider and pillion, and retractable foot pegs offer ample space for the pillion rider’s feet. A big, sturdy grab rail is also available for the pillion if the rider decides to open up the throttle.

The Ray is powered by a 113cc motor, that churns out 7.1PS (7bhp) @ 7,500rpm, and a peak torque of 8.1Nm @ 5,000rpm. On paper, these numbers look powerful enough for a scooter of Ray’s proportions. Moreover, it comes from the Yamaha stable, and has high acceleration in its DNA. But when we rode the Ray, this turned out to be a slightly dormant gene.

On the straights, the Ray lost to the Dio in a drag race. Being a Yamaha, I expected it to pull faster, but it didn’t. Also, I could somehow feel that the Ray struggled to pull a little bit after 55kmph with a pillion rider. This was not the case with the Dio and the Swish, with the same set of rider and pillion.

The ride quality, however, was best among the three we tested. A good telescopic suspension on the front and a unit-swing at the rear soaked up bumps pretty well. The Ray turned out to be quite efficient in weaving in and out of traffic. It still isn’t as manoeuvrable as the Dio as the latter has a shorter wheel base (1238mm, the Ray’s wheelbase measures 1270mm). But the weight is well distributed without any obvious bias, which made cornering a breeze.

Braking is achieved by 130mm drums on both front and rear, which are probably the best among all three. Also, the brake levers aren’t too hard, like I found to be the case with the Honda Dio.

The Ray, although positioned as a “ladies’ scooter”, can turn out to be a good unisex bike as well. Yes, it is offered in effeminate colours like ‘Plush Pink’, ‘Shining Blue’, ‘Purple Pastel’ and ‘Burgundy Bliss’, but it comes in Black and Grey as well. Yamaha claims that the Ray can do 53 kilometres to the litre, but we expect it to do around 42 – 44 kmpl. The Yamaha Ray is priced at Rs 46,500 (ex-showroom Delhi).

Suzuki Swish

The Suzuki Swish has been with us before. At that time we found that the Swish had all the necessary ingredients to appease the younger palate, which its older sibling Access 125 didn’t quite succeed at. But this time, when the Swish pulled up in our parking lot along with the Ray and Dio, it turned out to be the more conventional one amongst the three.

Now I say conventional here, not old. The Dio might be the scooter for the canvas shoes, denims and knee-and-elbow-padded populace, and the Ray might be the choice of transport for heels and painted nails, but the Swish fits in just fine for the polo shirt, jeans and suede shoes. It doesn’t come in racy colours nor is it plastered with decals, but the two-tone body colour and a balanced amount of stickering on the side make it a good choice for 24-29 year olds.

The design is not very new – we have seen the same design traits in Honda Activa and Suzuki Access. The headlamp is mounted on the handlebar faring, with a slightly accented front panel and a body coloured fender. The side panels contain decals and the Swish badge, and look quite decent. The tail lamp juts out a little bit from underneath the grab rail, but the red portions are big and bright – perfect for riding through foggy, rainy or dusty roads.

The footboard is quite wide and comfortable, for both short and tall riders. In fact, the foot position and the riding posture are more comfortable on the Swish than the Ray and Dio. The wide seat is good for long rides around the city, for both rider and pillion. And under the seat is 20 litres of storage area, good enough for a half-face helmet and a few other things.

Clearly, Swish has that displacement advantage when compared to the other two scooters. The 124cc engine generates a good 8.7 PS @ 7,500rpm, which is more than the Dio’s 7.7PS and Ray’s 7.1. The maximum torque achieved is 9.8Nm @ 5,000rpm. And these numbers show up on the road as well. It’s quite easy to pull the Swish up to the 70kmph mark, even with a regular-to-heavy-built adult as a pillion. The exhaust produces a slightly raw, guttural tone, as compared to the seemingly noiseless Ray and the Dio’s smooth exhaust.

The Swish also handles its power quite well on the road. Although it’s not as efficient as the Ray and Dio in terms of weaving through heavy traffic and up to the first line of bikes at a signal, it stays rock solid around curves and very sure footed over somewhat loose gravel as well.

But this sure-footedness is sadly countered by less than average braking. The Swish has 120mm drum brakes for a 125cc scooter that produces 8.7PS of power. The brakes seem decent while decelerating uniformly (holding both front and rear brakes down) from around 50kmph. But emergency braking on the Swish can be very unstable, as the tail steps out once the rear wheel locks up. This is under dry riding conditions. Wet conditions might make it worse. Both Ray and Dio have 130mm drums, and the Dio has Combi-braking, which applies both front and rear brakes even if only the rear brake is held down.

The Swish uses telescopic suspension at the front and a swing-arm, oil-damped, coil spring shock absorber at the rear. While this combination works well on regular city roads with the occasional speed breakers, they become less effective where the tarmac is uneven or rough. The tail is definitely a little problematic with the Swish, for it swayed a little too much when I drove over a breaker without braking at around 45kmph.

All in all, though, the Swish is a decent package with ample power, storage space and good looks. The braking isn’t definitely the best in class, but the power is. In our earlier tests, we had managed to squeeze out around 40 kilometres to the litre from this scooter. The Swish is available in five colours, at an ex-showroom (Delhi) price of Rs 47, 871.

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 18, 2012)
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