Back in 2003, the Indian two wheeler industry considered 150cc motorcycles as too punchy for the roads. The likes of Hero Honda CBZ & Bajaj Pulsar were icons in the power department during those days. Then, to rattle the entire performance segment under Rs. 1 lakh, Hero Honda came up with the Karizma. ‘Jet Set Go’ the company said, and the bike was an instant hit amongst performance hungry Indian motorists. There was nothing of this sort available in India in those days. A semi-faired motorcycle, 223cc petrol engine, disc brake at the front, 3-pot instrument cluster; the motorcycle industry was taken by a storm. And this wasn’t limited only to the launch period and a couple of years; the Karizma went on to remain on sale for almost over a decade with almost negligible mechanical changes and just a few decals here and there. In 2007, the Karizma got a minor update in the form of a plastic engine belly cover and was called the Karizma R. In 2009, to fend off increasing competition, Hero launched the Karizma ZMR which gathered mixed reviews for the changes in design. The 2009 ZMR also took the pricing above Rs. 1 lakh (on-road) and was equipped with fuel injection. Still, the older Karizma R was retained in the showrooms, which actually outperformed the newer ZMR.
Hero & Honda parted ways, cut to 2014, Hero had previously announced a new alliance partner, only for technological expertise – EBR (Erik Buell Racing). Hero MotoCorp came to the 2014 Indian Auto Expo with multiple products ready to hit the streets. Amongst some impressive products such as the HX250R, were the new & redesigned Karizma R & ZMR. Ideally, Hero should have given these models a miss and brought the HX250R as the successor to carry forward the Karizma legacy. Once revealed to the markets, the new Karizma twins were extensively ridiculed for the quirky design. What was once an icon, was now an ugly duckling amongst increasing competition. The 2014 models retained most of the mechanicals and were given a new skin, which did not go well with the customers. In November 2014, Hero even had to stop the production of the Karizma sighting very poor demand. So what is going on with this once-upon-a-time icon? Can it live for a couple of years more in the industry? Or die a painful and shameful death? We took the new Karizma ZMR for a spin to find out…
Sharp and clean lines which was the case with the Karizma once upon a time had changed to a rather bulbous looking profile with this update. Well looks are subjective they say, but there will be very few, if any, who would say that the new Karizma is a good looking motorcycle. But just to give it some credit, the designers at Hero did manage to get the new model look completely different from the predecessor, good or bad aside.
Looking at the bike from the front, let us be fair, the bike isn’t too bad to look at. Yes, the design is a drastic change from the previous models, but then, it is refreshing in a way. We got our hands on the ZMR model which was fully faired. The Karizma R gets almost everything identical to the ZMR except for the engine cover / fairing & fuel injection. The front fairing is very curvaceous and sports a vertically stacked twin-pot setup. On low beam, the upper lens stays on, while on high beam the lower lens illuminates. The bike also gets LED DRLs on either side of the headlamps which are placed as eyebrows over the turn indicators. Above the headlamp is a black lens, bubble shaped wind deflector which works just perfect when riding in the crouched position. Front number plate is mounted between the wind deflector and the headlamps. Rear view mirrors are bolted on the front fairing and are body coloured. Below, the telescopic front fork is painted in dark grey and the front mudguard is body coloured. 5-spoke black alloy wheels house the 276mm front disc brake.
The side profile of the bike has completely changed with this update. The full fairing on the ZMR covers up the engine section almost completely. It has a slit in between and also reveals the engine partially at the bottom for better heat dissipation & mechanical repairs. The side fairing sports the ZMR decal and below has a black textured finish which shouts out loud that the bike gets fuel injection & oil cooling. The oil cooling unit is stacked vertically and can be seen easily from the fairing slit on the LHS. The tank of the new Karizma gets a Z decal, with clear tank protection over it. This is a very thoughtful addition and none of the manufacturers offer this in India as a stock accessory. Seats are of the split & step-up category with ample room even visibly for both the rider & pillion. The side panel starts from under the fuel tank and runs all the way up to the tail tip of the motorcycle.
At the back, the ZMR sports a plain Jane exhaust pipe painted in black with a silver heat shield. Pillion rider gets grab rails painted in silver too. The tail lamp is not mounted under the pillion seat, but is placed on the number plate mount which hangs out at the back. Tail lamp is a LED setup and there are 2 reflectors for lateral visibility next to the number plate. Although the tail lamp looks decent, the section below the pillion seat looks quite weird. A rather pointy & skinny tail will not suit everyone’s taste for sure. Rear wheels house the 240mm disc brake. Suspension duty at the back is performed by a conventional 5-step adjustable GRS system with red coloured springs. On the left, the ZMR gets a saree guard with an additional foot rest. The chain is almost fully covered except for the sprocket section, for easy lubrication.
Wrapping up the styling department, there is no doubt that the new Karizma isn’t the most beautiful looking bike on the streets. But if you’re looking for function over form, you might still give it a try. We repeat, it isn’t too bad, it’s just that the market was still happy with the old Karizma design and this change was a little hard to digest.
Instrumentation & ergonomics:
Instrument cluster of the Karizma ZMR can be rounded off as a rather cheesy unit. With the side stand on, the bike will give you a textual warning. With the stand up, you get a long welcome note when you turn the ignition on. Instrument cluster gets a 3-pot layout, all digital. In the centre, you have a circular revv counter with a digital display. Above the revv counter is the fuel indicator and above that, a couple of tell tale lights. To the left is a display for the speed and time while to the right, you get the trip meters, odometer & instantaneous fuel consumption indicator. Backlit in light blue, the instrument cluster isn’t too bright and won’t hurt your eyes while riding at night.
Hop on the new Karizma and you will notice that the new bike is somewhere lost between sporty & touring friendly in the ergonomics department. The handlebar is placed too low, to provide a sporty stance, but the bike seat is placed such that you aren’t sitting in a front biased position, but still rather upright. The lower handlebar makes the riding position a bit weird and not at all sporty. Taller riders will find it even more awkward on the new Karizma. Too add to this, the fuel tank is rather flat and when you look down from the riding position, things are a mixed bag between not-so-sporty & not-so-tourer-friendly. mildly rear-set footrests also do very little to enhance the ergonomics department. Seats however are extremely comfortable. Medium compund, they will suit long rides and your bottom won’t be sore soon. Getting on and off for the pillion is also easy with the option of using the saree guard foot rest to get on. Pillion seat is also long and very roomy. However, this length leaves you confused. If you wish to hold the grab rails, you seat far away from the rider. And if you sit close to the rider, the grab rails are left behind.
Switchgear plastics are average quality and not too many would complaint in this segment. Hero should have given the ZMR an engine kill-switch, which is the segment standard as of now. Rear view mirror stalks run wide, and hence, do not show too much of your elbow while on the go.
Engine, performance & handling:
Powering the new Hero MotoCorp Karizma ZMR is the same 223cc, single-cylinder, 4-stroke, oil-cooled, fuel injected petrol motor producing 20 BHP of power @ 8,000 RPM & 19.7 Nm of torque @ 6,500 RPM. These power & torque figures are more than the predecessor. The Karizma ZMR retains the 5-speed gearbox with absolutely no changes made to the gear ratios.
Fire up the ZMR and you instantly notice that the refinement levels are not up to today’s standards. The bike is rather buzzy and vibrations are felt on on the handlebar as well as on the footpegs. While these vibrations stay under control while riding under the 5,000 RPM mark, anything around 6,000 RPM and above creates quite a racket, even audibly. NVH levels are really poor.
Slot the bike in 1st and the bike is a bit more eager to move forward than before. The Karizma continues with making the most of the low and mid range and can chuck around city traffic easily. We managed to move away from speed breakers on the second gear most of the time, without any engine knocking. Torque availability lower down the revv range is decent and the bike does not demand too many gearshifts. However, on higher RPMs, it is the vibrations which ruin the party. Gearshift quality is decent, but finding neutral is a task. You can ride around the city with clutchless gearshifts as well, however, we do not recommend this. One can ride around up to speeds of 55 kmph in the 5th gear and the bike remains calm and composed in this situation.
Then, wring the throttle in 5th, from as low as 50-55 kmph and the tall 5th gear will accelerate the bike up to a true top speed of 129 kmph. In-gear acceleration is decent too, but you do hear some clattering noise while doing so. The bike rides at 100 kmph on a lazy 6,000 RPM with 2,500 RPM more left to exploit. Riding on high speeds is made easy with the bubble-like wind deflector which although looks quirky, works perfect to avoid wind blast. When riding in the crouched position, you will notice that there is bare minimum amount of wind blast felt on your helmet. The bike however is happy when you ride it in the range of 75-90 kmph, beyond which the vibrations are a bit let down. Long touring will definitely be hampered due to this.
The old school single-downtube diamond chassis is now out of the league when it comes to riding dynamics. Yes, the bike stays planted and all that, but when you ride bikes from other manufacturers in the segment at the moment, the game has changed by a huge margin. Suspension setup is soft and soaks bumps nicely in the city. But on the highway, things get a little boat-like. Lateral movement is very prominent and encountering a bump on high speeds can surprise you. Long wheelbase isn’t flick-friendly either and cornering on the ZMR is tricky. Steering and directing the bike out of traffic is easy. The handlebar feels light and the bike is tall but not too wide to keep you stuck at one place.
The MRF Zapper tyres provide decent grip. Compared to the latest generation Revz and the likes however, the grip performance is a notch below. Braking performance is very good and the brake bite is confidence inspiring too. A tyre swap to a grippy rubber coupled with this braking system can let you have some fun.
Overall, we must mention that the Karizma has aged well. For a bike still holding ground for more than a decade and a half is quite commendable. Yes, it is not up to the mark anymore, but it isn’t a complete ‘NO’ either. This update with a bump in power and torque figures however is a bit too little, too late. Ideally, we would have loved it if Hero gave this update a miss and brought the new HX250R badged as the Karizma. This would surely have given the upcoming Pulsar SS200 a run for its money. In todays date, if you ask us, should you buy a Karizma ZMR, we would not exactly recommend it. There are plenty of options out there, with much better refinement levels. But if you don’t care too much about looks, belong to the sedate riding style, and need a good after sales & service support, the Karizma ZMR might just make the cut for you.