Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
JUL 28th 2017
The Goodwood Test: Honda Fireblade SP
Superbikes don’t come with more exalted lineage than this long-awaited latest from Honda’s most famous family. The original CBR900RR FireBlade rewrote the super-sports rule book in 1992 with its focus on agility rather than pure speed. Since then a succession of updated Blades have added power and performance, remaining so popular that total sales have reached almost half a million – vast by superbike standards.
Every Fireblade fan (the middle “B” was dropped in 2004) has a favourite, but many would concede that the last Honda to better all its rivals was the snub-nosed model of 2008. Since then the Blade has remained relatively unchanged and resolutely traditional. Even the classy, lavishly equipped Fireblade SP of 2014 was a finely honed analogue express in a digital world of multiple riding modes and adjustable traction control.
This latest Fireblade’s name is the same, and its look is deliberately familiar, but it’s an all-new model with modern electronics. Both this upmarket SP and the base-model CBR1000RR Fireblade feature a much-modified, 999cc four-cylinder engine with reworked cylinder head and other internals. A redesigned airbox and new exhaust with titanium silencer lift peak output by 11bhp to 189bhp, close to the current crop of 200bhp-or-thereabouts rivals. Equally importantly, there’s a choice of riding modes, plus a Bosch inertial measurement unit (IMU) that allows traction control for the first time.
Chassis design is based on the principle of compact size and light weight that goes back to that first FireBlade of 25 years ago. The aluminium frame’s geometry is unchanged but slimmer spars shave 500g. Thinner bodywork trims a bit more; many bolts are fractionally shorter; the wiring loom is redesigned. The SP also saves weight with a titanium petrol tank and lithium battery but its main gain over the RR is with suspension and brakes: semi-active Öhlins units instead of conventional Showas; Brembo Monobloc calipers replacing Tokicos up front.
There’s a hint of that original ’92 FireBlade in the way the latest CBR performs: searingly fast in a straight line, sure, but at its best when light weight and agility are at a premium. The motor revs rapidly and smoothly, the digital rev-counter jabbing towards the 13,000rpm limit through the gears at the Honda hurtles towards its 175mph-plus top speed. The silencer shrieks a high-pitched, surprisingly loud accompaniment; the two-way quick-shifter adds to the speed and accuracy of gear-changes.
On a twisty road or racetrack it’s the SP’s compact chassis that makes the biggest impression. Handling is pin-sharp, the Fireblade’s light weight helping to make it outstandingly manoeuvrable. Suspension quality is sublime, whether the Öhlins units are in Manual mode – essentially conventional damping, with electronic adjustment – or in Auto, which automatically fine-tunes damping 100 times per second. The Brembo front brake is ferociously powerful, too, although the ABS occasionally activates under hard use and, unlike some systems, can’t be disabled.
Honda had a big job to do in bringing the Fireblade into the modern, digital world without alienating the traditionalists who have kept it so popular for so long. There’s plenty here for both sides to admire. The SP is a classy blend of familiar shapes, red-white-blue colour and high-quality finish, with the benefit of features including the new digital display. The interface is innovative and rider-friendly, with five riding modes each offering its own blend of throttle response, traction control and engine braking.
Compared to the outgoing model, this new Fireblade is faster, lighter, more manoeuvrable and infinitely more sophisticated. Like the original FireBlade, it impresses not just with power and speed, but with a balance and agility that make it fast and fun in a wide variety of situations. This new Blade is not the undoubted market leader like its famous forebear of a quarter of a century ago, but it’s a classy machine that brings Honda back to the super-sports sharp end at last.
Price of our bike: £19,125
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