For over a decade, the Bajaj Pulsar has maintained an undisputed top spot in its segment. Buoyed by regular updates of the product – be it through new variants, design or technologies – Bajaj Auto saw brand Pulsar growing from strength to strength. While Pulsar’s raw and muscular design language drew consumers to its showrooms, it was its performance-for-money quotient that guaranteed success. It’s hard to think of any motorcycle in the last decade or so, which did better than the Pulsar in terms of power delivered for the money. Yet there were some glitches, which although improved, did manage to stay with the Pulsar family for its entire life span. These included a not-so-smooth gearbox, knee recess on the tank, which was of no use, and a few other minor niggles. These however, never took away anything from the Pulsar, when it came to end-consumer appeal.
However, a decade is a long time and the changes made to the series in the last five years or so weren’t really differentiating. Time called for an entirely new Pulsar, which would not only offer another groundbreaking design but advanced technology as well. A tough task it was for Bajaj Auto to redo or better its original effort. The answer came in the form of the Pulsar 200 NS, and we rode it extensively to find out if it lives up to the legacy left behind by its predecessor.
In the flesh, the 200 NS looks a lot better than on screen or news spreads. The first thing one would notice is that the trademark bulging Pulsar tank has now been replaced by a newly-designed unit. Storage capacity has shrunk to a maximum capacity of 12 l. Visually though, the plastic panels alongside lend it with a larger yet sharper look. The overall sharp styling has been combined well with the swells around the headlamp. The unique design of the headlamp lends an aggressive stance to the motorcycle, when viewed from the front. The side profile is complimented by sharp yet smooth lines. The neatly tucked in exhaust in the underbelly not only looks good but does great for weight distribution, as it allows for a more balanced bias between both sides.
Switch gear and foot pegs suggest good quality from an initial viewpoint but their long-time wear and tear needs to be seen. The instrument console is easy to read in varied lighting conditions and offers good amount of data to the rider. The only downer in terms of visual appeal was the rear mud-flap. Of course, it’s a thing one can’t do away with, but given the overall design theme it looks more like an aftermarket attachment, not very appealing visually.Overall styling of the 200 NS doesn’t really leave much to desire for. It undoubtedly puts the company’s design language on a pedestal over its predecessor’s. For an Indian company that has become synonymous with innovation, this is a significant leap in the right direction.
A huge positive factor for Bajaj Auto in the development of the 200 NS was the access to KTM’s technology from the Duke 200. The Pulsar’s liquid-cooled 199.5 cc engine is largely based on KTM’s short-stroke engine for the Duke 200 and develops a little over 23 hp. Bajaj Auto, however, has added some of its unique engineering touches, which are good examples of frugal and effective engineering. While both engines are largely similar at the bottom, they adopt different approaches for the upper architecture. This engine is also the first liquid-cooled engine to be developed by the Pune-based manufacturer.
The Pulsar mill, due to these changes, is quite different from the KTM unit in multiple ways. While the KTM unit uses a DOHC configuration, the 200 NS makes do with a SOHC set-up for its four valves. The engine pulls cleanly till 10,000 rpm and power delivery is smooth. Acceleration is quick and the engine sounds good once past about the 6,000 rpm mark. Revving to about 10,500 rpm in every gear will bring up the 120 km/hr mark quickly and progress beyond that will take some time. We managed to clock a speedo-indicated top speed of 131 km/hr. The company claims the figure to be 136 km/hr and given the machine’s performance we have no reason to doubt that claim. Also, the Pulsar engine is carburetted instead of fuel-injected. While this may be surprising for some given the present technology state, the justification lies in the retail price, discussed in the latter part of this review.
Another technology that sets it apart is the triple-spark combustion, one up from the dual-spark used till now. The usage of three spark-plugs theoretically leads to cleaner combustion in the chamber. This in turn allows the inclusion of a relatively smaller catalytic converter, leading to lower cost as well.Overall NVH levels are appreciable and significantly better than any of the earlier Pulsars. The engine pulls away cleanly from low rpm and is easy to operate in dense traffic. In fact, one can cleanly pull away from as low as 35 km/hr in the sixth gear without any engine jerks. The Pulsar for the first time features a six-speed gearbox. The gearbox features tall-ratios and hence in-gear acceleration suffers a bit. Still, this is the quickest accelerating Pulsar yet. The advantage of this gearing is a somewhat relaxed cruising nature of the engine and easier drivability in traffic. While the six-speed gearbox is significantly better than the earlier five-speed units, it still leaves some room for improvement. There will be moments when one might get that odd-false shift. Overall shifting is smooth and supports quick-shifting well. Owing to this tall-ratio gearbox and few other technologies the 200 NS is relatively fuel-efficient. Our test-cycle mostly included city-running and we got an average fuel-efficiency of 32 km/l. That is certainly a good number by segment standards and an easier riding style should push that figure north by another 4-5 km.
Handling & Ergonomics
The sharp looks of the Pulsar 200 NS rubs on to its on-road behaviour. The handling of the 200 NS comes as a welcome change for those in the market for a well-handling naked bike. The motorcycle is significantly agile than the previous Pulsar and is easy to flick. While the older Pulsars held their ground well, they weren’t too happy over quickly changing corners. The 200 NS though is better composed over a series of turns or sharp braking. A lightweight twin-spar pressed steel frame greatly enhances the agility of the 200 NS. A Nitrox mono shock absorber at the rear adds further to the bike’s handling and design attributes. The first thing one notices, when astride the motorcycle, is it’s significantly stiffer suspension set-up than the earlier Pulsars. The stiffness though isn’t much to result in an uncomfortable ride quality over uneven surfaces.
Another commendable improvement comes in the form of the Pulsar 200 NS’ braking stability. Braking from hard about 90 km/hr with a slight real-wheel lock, the 200 NS maintained a straight line and good composure. The good braking is a result of a 280 mm disc upfront and a 230 mm one at the rear, both being petal discs with floating callipers. Another welcome change aboard the 200 NS was the knee-recess. For the first time, Pulsar offered the rider with the luxury of recesses in the lower part of the fuel-tank that offer decent support while leaning into a corner. The motorcycle holds its line well in the corners and the absence of centre-stand results in eradication of the frequent road contact found with the earlier Pulsars. Removal of the centre-stand helps cost as well as improves handling a little bit by reducing the unsprung weight.
The only and possibly the largest compromise made in favour of low-cost is the tyre set-up. The tyres at times completely negate the outcome from a chassis able of delivering more than readily extractable. In the wet, the situation only worsens and one might be caught with a suddenly outward-flicking tail. The compensating factor once again is the brilliant chassis, which to an extent puts the flicking action in slow-motion, lending the rider with enough time to make corrections.
The Pulsar 200 NS is a giant leap for Bajaj Auto in technology terms. While it’s largely driven by KTM’s technology this time, one can’t take away any credit from Bajaj engineers for employing some mass-favouring effective solutions. The motorcycle has good road presence, and overall material quality too looks to be better than earlier but that would be best told by time.
The packaging of the 200 NS is its highlight. It’s got everything a consumer in its segment would be looking at. At an ex-showroom, New Delhi, price of Rs 85,000, the 200 NS is great value-for-money and it’s hard to think of anything else that can beat it in terms of power and performance at its price-tag. In doing so, the country’s third largest two-wheeler maker has managed to take the game of performance a notch up.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay