Comparison test: Suzuki Gixxer 250 vs Bajaj Dominar 400
There's a lavish spread in the 2 lakh rupee motorcycle space in the country currently, including nakeds, faired sportsbikes, cruisers, retro machines and even adventure tourers! It's the nakeds that are the most popular though given their practicality, and the updated 2019 Bajaj Dominar 400 has turned out to be a very impressive package in the space. It now boasts better refinement and dynamics along with higher performance levels. While Bajaj pegs it as a sports tourer, the Dominar is also a good everyday machine, especially for those upgrading from smaller bikes like 150s.
And Suzuki has just entered the very niche the Dominar sits in, with its Gixxer 250.
The smaller Gixxer has always been very likeable for its comfort, performance and sporty handling and Suzuki is hoping to recreate its magic with the 250. That said, the Gixxer 250 sat very close to the Dominar 400's price point, making it an interesting alternative, until Bajaj Auto hiked the Dominar's prices for the second time. Of course, the Gixxer 250 is less powerful but has impressed us on every other front and has what it takes to match the Dominar. Given its current prices, the Dominar 400 commands a significant premium over the Gixxer 250. So does the Dominar warrant the extra cash, or is the Gixxer 250 the more sensible buy?
Styling and build
It's just a few weeks since I tested the updated version of the smaller Gixxer and this time when I took the 250 home, my father couldn't really tell the difference. That's how similar it looks to the Gixxer 155! Of course, the paint scheme is different, but that's something the average Joe wouldn't quite notice. That said, styling is impressive as the bike looks sharp and is compact but well-proportioned. The lines certainly look appealing and overall the Gixxer 250 is a nice looking motorcycle, though I would have liked snazzier colour options as they will enhance its visual appearance a lot more.
The headlamp design is a little quirky when off, but when on, the headlight does look good. What's more, having ridden the Gixxer 250 extensively in pouring rain in the dark, I can confirm that the all-LED unit offers excellent illumination. The instrument cluster is again identical to the smaller Gixxer but with inverted colours and could have been different to offer a more premium feel. The split seat and machined alloy wheels add character to the motorcycle from the sides, while the tail piece looks very distinctive, despite using a simple design. More importantly, the Gixxer 250's build quality and surface finishes are excellent and in fact, despite a couple of days of thrashing it around on broken roads, the Suzuki had no rattling or loose body panels.
In comparison, the Dominar 400 is a bigger motorcycle and has a more commanding presence. It looks muscular and its larger dimensions not only make it look larger than the Gixxer 250 but also give it a proper big bike feel. More importantly, the bike's bright green colour made it stand out, despite the day of the shoot being dull and the skies overcast. The Dominar also gets machine-finished alloy wheels along with a silver finish for its fatter, upside-down forks which together lend it a more premium feel than the Suzuki. The Dominar's build quality is half a notch below the Gixxer 250 though, especially the quality of plastics in several places, like the switchgear. In terms of sheer presence the Dominar betters the Gixxer 250 hands down though, be it the impressive headlamp design, fatter forks or larger body panels, making it the more appealing motorcycle here.
Both motorcycles offer a comfortable seating triangle but with slight differences. The Dominar's seating leans towards better highway comfort, while the Gixxer 250 has a more urban-centric seating but both feel sporty to sit on, thanks to their short handlebars and slightly rearset foot pegs. Overall, both motorcycles work well in either environment, but the Gixxer 250 feels slightly easier to ride in the city, thanks to the more compact dimensions. That said, the Dominar being the bigger motorcycle is the more accommodating of the two for those with a large frame. The Dominar's rear view mirrors are also positioned better, as the Gixxer 250's mirror stalks are a wee bit shorter than they should have been, beside the fact that the design of the mirrors is such that the edges rob you of a good view.
Engines and performance
The Dominar 400 has a significant advantage in this department thanks to the higher engine displacement. Its 373.2cc, liquid-cooled single pot motor puts out 40PS and 35Nm, which is almost 50 per cent more than the 26.5PS and 22.6Nm that the Gixxer 250's oil-cooled 249cc engine puts out. Importantly, the Dominar engine was derived from the KTM 390 Duke engine which is known to heat up at slow speeds but the changes made to the motor by Bajaj has solved that issue. The Dominar also produces peak power and torque at lower revs than the Gixxer 250, but it's the Suzuki that offers more linear performance than the Bajaj, which has a peakier power delivery.
Bajaj has ironed out the Dominar's engine vibration significantly as part of the update the bike received earlier this year and it feels smooth, except for a bit of buzz at the top. The Gixxer 250 engine feels smooth throughout but that said, refinement levels are a smidgen lower than what we have known the Japanese bike maker to offer. The Dominar 400's 6-speed gearbox calls for lesser effort than the Gixxer's though the Suzuki offers more precise gear changes. More importantly, the Dominar 400 may have a big advantage in terms of outputs but it also weighs 26kg more than the Gixxer 250.
The heft does not come in the way of significantly quicker acceleration times though, the Dominar was two seconds quicker to hit 100kmph from standstill and took 7.23 seconds in our tests as compared to the Gixxer's 9.21 seconds. The Suzuki manages to close in on the Dominar when it comes to in-gear acceleration, but the latter's higher outputs help it accelerate better consistently. The Dominar boasts better top-end performance and also has a higher top speed for the same reason. It gets to a speedometer indicated 150kmph rather easily, whereas the Gixxer 250 starts running out of breath around the 130kmph mark.
Both motorcycles allow cruising speeds of about 90-100kmph easily, though the Dominar engine revs lower at around 4,500rpm and feels more relaxed. The Suzuki turns its lower outputs and lesser outputs into an advantage when it comes to fuel efficiency though, especially in urban conditions. The Gixxer 250 returned 36.55kmpl in the city and a slightly lower 34.19kmpl on the highway. In comparison, the Dominar managed 26.59kmpl in city and 31.11kmpl on the highway, decent numbers given the bike's performance but of course significantly lower than the Gixxer.
Ride and handling
This is where both motorcycles are really close to each other. The Gixxer of course follows its family tradition of sporty handling and feels very agile and nimble in traffic and also feels impressive around corners. It does not feel as planted as the Dominar 400 at high speeds though, especially on undulated roads and has a flighty feel that can get unnerving at times. In comparison, the Dominar's perimeter frame allows it to feel as composed around fast bends if not more while also offering a very stable feel at high speeds.
Riding both motorcycles back to back in the hills can be a lot of fun consequently, and both feel apt for weekend rides in that sense, though the Dominar obviously feels better courtesy its higher specced suspension, especially the 43mm upside-down forks. The forks use the same internals as the KTM 390 Duke's and make for quick directional changes despite the bike's heavier weight along with better feel and feedback. In fact, it's the suspension set-ups on both motorcycles that make all the difference to their handling, as both are shod with the same MRF Revz tyres. The Dominar thus has the advantage here, which coupled with its higher performance levels allows it to feel a lot quicker and more confident through a series of corners.
The Gixxer 250 has the better ride quality though, as its suspension soaks up ruts and potholes better. The Dominar's suspension set-up is firmer which translates to a firmer side on bad roads though things never get too worrisome. Of course, this isn't surprising considering the fact that the Dominar has been engineered for more spirited riding and in fact, its ride quality feels better as speeds go up, albeit by a small margin. The Dominar's seat also feels cushier and allows you to stay in the saddle longer, in keeping with its touring virtues.
The Dominar 400 gets a radially mounted front brake caliper that offers more confidence even under hard braking, though I would have liked a little more bite. In comparison the Gixxer is quicker to throw the anchors, courtesy the sharper bite from its brakes as also its lighter weight, though feedback is not very consistent.
So the question remains does the Dominar justify its premium, retailing at Rs 2.24 lakh rupees on-road Mumbai as compared to the Gixxer 250's price tag of Rs 1.87 lakh? On its own, the Gixxer 250 is very impressively packaged as it is quick, well-built and handles well. It also manages everything the Dominar does almost equally well and makes a strong case for itself, though it falls short just by a few inches when it comes to matching up to the Dominar.
Its similarity to the smaller Gixxer 155 could also be a bit of a hindrance for someone upgrading from, say, a 150cc bike. For about Rs 37,000 more the Dominar is a significantly better package. It offers a big bike feel and more, street cred along with lots more performance, better handling and more touring ability while feeling competent in urban conditions. Its recent price hike may have widened the gap between the two motorcycles but despite that, the Dominar 400 is the winner of this comparison test and warrants the premium it commands over the Gixxer 250.
Photography - Rajeev Gaikwad
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