Bajaj Dominar Review Test Ride – Pulsar CS 400 in production form

2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 is officially here. Here is our first test ride report.

A glance at the spec sheet and the motorcycle in flesh- there’s little doubt that the Bajaj Dominar 400 has been the best offering from the Pune based manufacturer. Mimicking a few design cues from the Ducati Diavel and augmenting the package with features for its price point- it was a motorcycle hard to ignore. However, the positives in the package didn’t translate into healthy sales figures and though the “Haathi mat paalo” campaign generated enough noise and controversy- it did everything apart from propelling sales for Bajaj’s biggest CC offering.

Also the buzz created by owners as regards the NVH levels post 5000 rpm turned out to be deterrent to the already modest sales against the high expectations from the Dominar. Any manufacturer would have gone through the obvious progression of redressing the snags and rolling out an improved version- but Bajaj took a slightly altered route. Not only did they work on fixing the bugs on the motorcycle, but churned out an enhanced version that looks more lure-some than its predecessor. The bike now looks very similar to the Pulsar CS400 Concept, which was showcased at the 2014 Auto Expo.

An extensive dialog session with the Bajaj team brought improvements to the fore and the thought process behind it. While the efforts were worth appreciating- the truth was in the pudding and we were itching for our share. With just over 3 hours of riding time made available- we tried to scale as much distance as possible that included a good mix of straights, bends and bad roads to conclude if the 2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 has let go the niggles and be considered as a worthy touring machine.

The Bajaj Dominar has been a well styled and proportionate motorcycle to look at, and thankfully Bajaj haven’t tinkered around much to alter form. Enhancements have been added at right places and in adequate fractions extending a more premium appeal and the list looks pretty comprehensive.

– The single pod 373cc triple spark motor gets a new DOHC setup taking the grunt tally to 40 ps @ 8650 rpm from the earlier 35 resulting in the power to weight ratio which now stands at 217 ps/ton against 192 ps/ton. Torque figures remain the same with 35 nm @ 7000 rpm.
– The new Endurance 43mm upside down forks offer a more beefy look to the motorcycle from all angles. More on the performance part later.
– The twin barrel exhaust in addition to contributing to the increased engine grunt lends a likeable throaty note to the 2019 Bajaj Dominar.
– The new “Auroral Green” shade that might seem like a put-off in pictures- but with a deep glossy finish looks premium and splendid in flesh.
– The primary display is a dot matrix window flashing information on speed, cascading style engine rpm, side-stand indication, average fuel consumption on both trip meters, dynamic fuel economy and distance to service.

– The secondary display has now been replaced with an LCD unit displaying gear position, time and trip info. The placement of the unit is debatable though.
– The headlamp looks visually compact with black accents squeezing it all around. Output remains unchanged.
– The mirrors are supported with cast aluminum stalks that add to the premium quotient.
– The side stand is now forged steel with a broad bottom support.
– The LED tail lamp internals are provided with light guides to add a fresh look while retaining the design.
– A new tank pad that’s inspired by a space-craft.
– The pillion seat is hot stamped with a “D” logo.
– Bungee hooking straps have been provided under the seat for a firmer hold for luggage while touring.

The Dominar as aforesaid has always been a well styled motorcycle- not eccentric as its Austrian cousins but not too dreary either. The styling seemed purposeful and the overall stance of the motorcycle entailed for mile munching endeavors and thankfully Bajaj hasn’t fiddled much with the existing design. Black accents around the clustered LED headlamp, the beefy front suspension and a stubby twin barrel exhaust impart a more mean and masculine appeal to the 2019 Dominar 400.

The 373cc KTM derived motor at 35ps was already more than a handful for its area of operations and with the incremented gush now standing at 40ps only augments its ballistic ability. The compression ratio is up than earlier and it shows while cranking up- you need to keep the thumb starter pressed a wee bit longer and occasionally takes two cranks to fire up. The revs settle down to a throaty idle note and as in the case of the KTM 390s and inherent to big bore singles- there are vibes low down, but confined between idling to 3000 rpm range. Get the engine spinning a thousand revs more and the vibes disappear into thin air.

The motor smoothens out from 4000 rpm onwards and with the surge of power rousing up from 5000 rpm though in a linear fashion- the refinement only gets better. Getting close to the 140 kph mark- the engine holds fort and never seems to lose composure. Slowing down before a speed breaker in third gear and accelerating without further downshifts is an easy affair. However the Dominar doesn’t like to be ridden below 60 kph in 6th gear- descending any further induces knocking. The slipper clutch doesn’t feel as smooth as compared to the ones on a few Japanese motorcycles, but yes it does the job. The gearbox is another smooth operator and mated to a light clutch- it’s nothing but a delight to cruise on the new Dominar even north of three digit speeds. With 80 kph @ 4000 rpm, 100 @ 5500 rpm and 120 @ 6500 rpm- the engine feels relaxed even while the revs continue to climb. And though we didn’t strangle it to its redline, we still bet that this is a 120 kph all day cruiser, add another 10 kph and it would still roll with the same composure- you’d just need a taller screen though. Engine heat too isn’t a bother and crawling through traffic shouldn’t be a leg barbequing session. The techies at Bajaj HQ certainly deserve an applause for having eliminated the biggest deterrent off their flagship offering.

Another trait we can write lengths about the new 2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 has to be the handling. As briefed to us during the pre-ride session, the Dominar is indeed and surprisingly an agile motorcycle for its wheelbase. While on one hand it feels impeccably stable on high speed straight runs- show it a corner and the Dominar seems to have shrunk in length. From the very first corner- we never once felt that we’re riding a machine that’s near cruiser proportions. The front end communicates beautifully to your hands providing bounteous feedback with near telepathic reactions to your directional inputs. It’s amazing how the Endurance USD suspension at the front has managed to notch up the handling of the Dominar 400 to streetbike territory. Also the ease which it flicks side to side makes it a decent traffic cutter and owner’s won’t feel they are lugging around a cumbersome motorcycle if put to commuting duties.

While the engine and the handling part had us impressed, the braking was a bit disappointing. For the performance the new Dominar 400 offers and with a sizeable rotor upfront, we were hoping for a sharper braking unit. The front has a spongy faded feel and though not alarming- it does call for added effort at the lever for the desired braking effect. The rear however has enough bite to complement the front with the ABS keeps a vigilant watch and kicks in at the slightest lockup- which isn’t a regular event as the MRF Revz C1s offer enough bite and hold into the tarmac.

Coming to ride comfort– the Dominar 400 has the ergonomics spot on. The wide handlebars lend easy reach and the seating posture is as comfortable one would demand on a touring motorcycle. The rider seat is generous on real estate and offers ample room to move around during long jaunts. However the slope at the end could have been flatter for better accommodation on extended runs where you’d push back to ease off your riding position. But we won’t be grumbling much as seat modifications are an easy job to carry out. The front forks aren’t soft but won’t be termed as stiff either. The suspension travel doesn’t seem to be much- but the damping is well controlled and the jolts are well placated. The riding position doesn’t put much strain on your wrists- hence hopping over small to medium undulations aren’t taxing on your body. The rear suspension has been softened up without being too saggy. Similar to the front- while it may not offer much travel, but it soaks up the bumps well enough for a comfortable ride. Anything more on the softer side would have taken away the stellar handling attributes of the new Dominar 400- so Bajaj seems to have struck the balance right between comfort and performance. But for the sake of nitpicking- we’d whine on the new displays. Transition in speed indications on the primary display look slow and occasionally irritating as well. Also the placement of the secondary display on the tank is impossible to glance without moving your head and attention from the road ahead. Though the gear position isn’t something tourers would gaze at- but swapping the mileage indicator on the primary display with the clock on the secondary would be a welcome move. Switchgears reek of quality construction and are easy to operate.

Summing it up- we’d say we came out impressed with the 2019 Bajaj Dominar 400. Doubts regarding refinement and handling were put to rest and these two facets are the biggest highlights of the new Dominar. We believe it renders a suitable upgrade option for riders graduating from as low as the 150cc segment. It’s got the show and the go as well- and though it has a couple of shortcomings, but they’re manageable and in no way should be looked upon as deal breakers. With improved cruising ability- the 2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 is a notable touring machine that would also double up as an everyday errand runner without protest. Prices have yet to be announced and while considering the series of improvements and upgrades- we’re assured that Bajaj would keep the VFM factor unharmed making the new Dominar 400 an even bigger proposition than before.