With the release of five new motorcycle and scooter models recently, and the promise of a sixth, Malaysian motorcycle manufacturer Modenas has seen something of a resurgence this year. This was something we welcomed, after having the firm lay fallow for many years, with the last major model launch being in 2011, some six years ago.

So, with a collaboration with manufactuing giant Bajaj Auto of India, Modenas is now back in the market with several motorcycles that originated from the Bajaj works. The first three launched in Malaysia were the Pulsar RS200 sports bike, the NS200 naked sports and the V15 cruiser.

However, not wanting to stand still and waste momentum, the first quarter of 2018 will see the launch of another new model, and certainly a new area of operations for Modenas. This is the Modenas Dominar 400, a single-cylinder naked sports machine that draws DNA from the KTM 390 Duke.

Now, some might say this is merely a re-badging exercise, and what would be the point? Well, it has to be pointed out that developing any motorcycle, or car, is an exercise in millions, if not billions, of ringgit, and the fastest, most cost effective solution to bringing a new vehicle to market is to leverage on previous research and development.

In order to prove this, Modenas arranged for a media visit to the Bajaj plant in Chakan, India, and paultan.org was given the chance to take the new Dominar 400 out on the test track. Additionally, Modenas allowed us an extended session at the Unimap track in Gurun, Kedah, where we took the opportunity to put the Dominar through the paces.

When your previous model range was mainly underbone bikes and scooters, moving into the “real” motorcycle arena can be an exercise fraught with worry. Modenas’ previous experience with a proper motorcycle was the Jaguh, back then, a 175 cc single in cruiser style.

With the release of the Pulsar machines, and the V15, this is perhaps an indication that Modenas is seeing a resurgence, and a willingness to take on challenges that were previously outside its market. News of the Dominar 400, while not exactly taking us by surprise, did make us curious as to what the package might offer.

In the single-cylinder middleweight motorcycle market, there are basically two main challengers in the naked sports segment – the BMW G 310 R, and the KTM 390 Duke. So, what is Modenas doing with a bike like this?

Well, with Bajaj owning some 48% of KTM, it is no surprise that a single-cylinder machine would be coming out of the Chakan plant, sooner or later. And, for Malaysian riders, this will be what we get, in the new year.

But, what is the Dominar 400 like to ride? Would it be anything like the 390 Duke? As we were to find out, the Dominar 400 is a very different machine from the Duke, despite both sharing the same engine configuration and capacity.

On the first approach, the Dominar 400 looks a lot bigger than it actually is, and we were informed by Bajaj personnel that this is done to suit the tastes of the Indian, who prefer that “proper” motorcycles look big and bulky. While we do prefer motorcycles that are physically small but with powerful engines and superb handling components, we took the Dominar 400 for what it is, a street bike designed to be an all-rounder.

Getting on revealed no real surprises, seat height wise, which we guessed was set at about 790 mm or so, since we were not given any real specifications. It should be noted at this stage we rode two different Dominar 400s: one in India and the other in Malaysia, and there was a marked difference in seat heights by a few millimetres, so the actual figure will have to wait till we get a review machine after the official local launch.

Starting up the Dominar 400 brings up the normal thumper sound, which puts one in mind of a mill pump. In the case of the Dominar, it’s a muted sound, and one overshadowed by the vibration coming through the handlebars.

Setting off, we clicked the gear lever into first, and be prepared to move your foot some distance because the lever throw is somewhat long. As we accelerated through the gears, we noted that the shifter action, while smooth, was also somewhat noisy, and the gearbox does not like being rushed.

This is not a sports bike, and nor should you treat it as such. Designed pretty much for Indian roads, the acceleration is very sprightly, and quick twists of the throttle in the first three gears showed that the Dominar 400 was eager to respond.

Fuelling at part throttle openings was good, with only very minor hints of splutter and stumble. This is helped by the rear sprocket, which is about the size of a dinner plate.

Now, this will make sense for conditions in India, where traffic is heavy and roads congested. Speaking to one of the Bajaj deputy general managers, he pointed out that in India, it is very rare for a motorcycle to ever get to top speed.

Out of sheer curiosity, and because we were on a closed track, we did whack the throttle open to the stop on the back straight in Chakan. The number we got, you might be interested to know, was 153 km/h, and we told the gentlemen from Bajaj that this was completely inadequate for a 400, and for the Malaysian market.

Hopefully, someone in Modenas and/or Bajaj was listening, and some adjustments will be made to the gearing before the Dominar enters the Malaysian market in earnest. Riding through the curves and banking on the Bajaj track, we found the handling to be quite nice, with a balanced feel.

The Dominar is not a light bike by any measure, weighing in at 182 kg, but the extra weight does serve to damp out a lot of road vibration, while keeping the bike stable at high speed when we took the carousel banking on the track, which was, for the Dominar, good for about 136 km/h.

Why we did not go faster came down to the OEM MRF tyres, which are made in India. While being perfectly adequate for road-going rubber, and will probably give a long service life, we noted a certain lack of feedback when the rubber was brought to the edge.

This situation was replicated at the Unimap test track, and messing around with tyre pressures did little to change the situation. We were halfway tempted to do some burnouts and stoppies to get some real heat into the tyres, but Modenas motorsports head reminded us that the Dominar we were riding was the only one in the country, and was needed for homologation purposes.

While not being officially confirmed, we can tell you that Modenas is listening carefully and welcomes feedback. In this case, a long discussion held after the track session might result in the quality of rubber fitted to the Dominar being looked into for the Malaysian market.

On other fronts, the Dominar performed acceptably well, for a street bike. With some 35 PS at 8,000 rpm and 35 Nm at 6,500 rpm on tap, the 373.3 cc triple-spark plug power plant delivered what was asked for, and the delivery was fairly linear throughout the rev range.

Snapping through the six-speed gearbox, we did wish for a quickshifter, as the engine built up speed very quickly indeed. This is not surprising, considering the 390 Duke is, in itself, very much a hooligan’s machine, and delights in throwing up the front wheel on a regular basis.

However, there was very little of that with the Dominar 400. With the 182 kg, and a somewhat long-ish wheelbase, the Dominar is not quite suited for full-on racetrack heroics, and is best suited for leisurely turn-ins and corner exits.

Not to say we did not try though, and along with an industry colleague, we did show the Dominar what for at the test track. This was aided by the two-channel ABS fitted as standard.

Brake feel, though, felt a little muted on the single front and rear Bybre discs, and we wondered if a change of pad material might yield better results. This was neither here nor there, as we do not expect many street riders to use the Dominar as hard as we did, but for best results, both the front and back brakes will have to be used.

Inside the cockpit there is single LCD display that shows everything the rider needs to know, while the idiot lights are placed in a separate housing located on the fuel tank. Seating was comfortably firm, but we did note the seating was a little on the small side for our rider’s rather ample rear end, due to the step in the seat.

On the whole, we found the Dominar 400 to a fairly capable motorcycle for general purpose riding, provided you stay within the bike’s performance envelope. We were not given any official pricing for the Dominar, but with the 2017 KTM Duke 390 – 44 hp, three-mode ABS, multi-colour TFT LCD, Euro 4 – going for RM28,800, we would hazard a guess at the Malaysian retail price being around the RM20,000 point, or perhaps less.

What do you think of this – would you consider buying a middleweight Modenas motorcycle? Do let us know below.