Yamaha R3 and MT-03 first ride review | Is this what the segment was waiting for?
The Yamaha R3 that was on sale till 2019 was a really sweet machine. The parallel-twin mill with its creamy power delivery superior refinement and comfortable yet sporty riding stance made for a really balanced package one that you could commute with, tour with and even enjoy on a racetrack. But the dawn of new emission norms and the lack of updates to the bike meant that Yamaha couldn’t sell the bike in India anymore, leaving a void in the 300-400cc segment in the company’s portfolio. Now, all these years later, the R3 is finally back in its latest avatar and along with that, people who wish to answer a blue phone call can also opt for the naked MT-03. The R3 remains essentially the same barring a new design for the front fairing, USD forks and an engine that now meets BS6 norms. Is this duo everything we hoped it would be, we went to India's MotoGP track in search for the answer.
Yamaha R3 and MT-03 design
Here is where you’ll see the most in terms of differences in the naked MT-03 and the supersport R3. The R3 deploys styling that is reminiscent of the R3 that we had on sale in India a few years back. The overall silhouette stays the same. What has changed is the front end with a new fairing that houses a new LED headlamp setup. The eagle-eyed among you would have also noticed the new 37mm USD forks that replace the right-side-up telescopic forks that did duties in the bike we had earlier. The instrument cluster is also now a fully digital unit unlike the semi-digital unit from earlier. Unlike other bikes in the segment, this is a negatively lit LCD screen and not a more modern colour-TFT unit. The rest of the design is nearly identical to its predecessor and that for most would be a good thing. The overall design of the bike is one that is made up of smooth lines and subtle curves and in no manner offensive.
The MT-03 on the other hand is a bit more radical in terms of styling. The front end is made up of a small, sharp single projector LED light with DRLs that resemble the brows of a frowning transformer. Behind that is a relatively wide flat handlebar unlike the clip-ons you’ll find on the R3. Behind the ’bars is the same instrument cluster. The fuel tank has a slightly different profile, behind which is the same middle and rear portions as the R3.
Yamaha R3 and MT-03 engine and performance
Powering the R3 and the MT-03 is the same 321cc liquid-cooled, four-valve, parallel-twin engine we have loved. The only difference when compared to the bikes we had is the fact that the engine is now compliant to BS6 norms. Coming to the performance, the engine makes 41.5bhp at 10,750rpm and 29Nm at 9000. The engine is in an identical state of tune in both machines. The parallel-twin mill makes peak power high up in the rev range but it has a wide power band meaning that there is grunt almost throughout. The bikes aren’t going to dart off the line like a rocket but git it past 3000rpm and you have more than enough to play with, with another surge of power that kicks in around 9000rpm. This makes the bikes a lot more tractable than you might think. Even in a track like BIC, you can bungle up your shifts and comfortably get away with it. Heck, you can even be two gears higher than you should be and still have enough grunt to come out the other side with the rubber end down. The highlight of the engine though is just how refined it is. Even when you’re bouncing off the limiter, there are barely any vibes to speak of, and that makes the riding experience that much more comfortable. In terms of outright numbers, the R3 with my well-fed frame aboard managed to clock 165kmph on the speedo on the back straight of BIC and the MT-03 with the lack of fairing managed to touch 160kmph. Both bikes get to these speeds with relative comfort and not much effort. That being said, despite there being good performance, these Japs feel very clinical in the way they deliver their power and lack the character that something like a KTM 390 Duke has.
Yamaha R3 and MT-03 ride and handling
The Yamaha R3 and MT-03 are underpinned by the same chassis setup — a diamond frame that is suspended on a 37mm USD fork setup and a preload adjustable monoshock. Both bikes ride on 17-inch wheels with the front wearing a 110/70 tyre and the rear wearing a 140/70 tyre both radial. In terms of handling, the R3 with its canted forward stance is the better handler of the two with a more communicative front end and it feels more planted through the corners. The rake and trail angles are the same but the flat and wider handlebars on the MT-03 helps in flicking the bike into the corner faster but it doesn’t feel as stable as the R3. The Dunlop Sportmax tyres also don’t inspire a lot of confidence and both bikes will benefit greatly with a set of better tyres. At 780mm the saddle is approachable for riders of all shapes and sizes but taller riders will find both bikes a little cramped, especially waist down. The suspension, while a big step up from the previous generation, still feels on the softer side for hardcore track usage. How this setup performs on the roads remains to be seen, but I would assume that it would be on the plush side. If sport riding is your primary use case, then the R3 is the more logical buy and if you’re going to be commuting more often than anything else, the MT-03 is the one for you.
Braking setup like everything else is also an identical setup with a 298mm single disc at the front that is chomped on by a twin-piston calliper. The rear gets a 220mm disc with a single piston calliper. Braking performance is ample with a progressive build-up in barking pressure as you squeeze on the lever. On the few occasions that I got on the brakes really hard, the ABS didn’t intrude. How this works on bad roads is something I can verify only after a road test.
Yamaha R3 and MT-03 features
In terms of features, Yamaha is offering a no-nonsense riding experience. So no fancy electronics, no slip and assist clutch, no quick shifter or even a colour TFT screen for that matter. What you get is an LCD screen that displays all crucial information and LED lighting. This won’t be a problem for the purists. But in this day and age where the list of features influences the likeability of a motorcycle, these Yamaha’s are fighting a losing battle.
Yamaha R3 and MT-03 price and verdict
The Yamaha R3 and the MT-03 make for exceptional bikes that offer a breadth of ability and should be accessible for beginners and experienced riders alike. They lack the outright character and frills that you get with something like a KTM 390 Duke but make up for it in terms of being a hardy, reliable, no-nonsense machine. But here’s where things become difficult. The R3 and the MT-03 will come to India as CBUs that means an astronomical ex-showroom price tag of Rs 4.65 lakh for the supersport and Rs 4.6 lakh for the naked. This makes the R3 half a lakh more expensive than the newly-launched Aprilia RS 457 which makes more power and has a lot more in terms of features and electronics. The R3 is also well over Rs 1.4 lakh more expensive than the similarly powered single-cylinder KTM RC 390. The same story holds true with the MT-03 as well with it being Rs 1.5 lakh more expensive than the much more modern and powerful gen-3 KTM 390 Duke. With bikes like these on offer, it becomes really hard to recommend the Yamaha R3 and the MT-03, no matter how reliable or well performing they may be.