Bike-scooters/ Road-test/ Is the MT-03 (M)undane or (T)errific? | Yamaha MT-03 Road Test

Is the MT-03 (M)undane or (T)errific? | Yamaha MT-03 Road Test

Before you neglect the MT-03 completely, let me rest my case.


Lovely Engine, Riding Dynamics, Pure Ride Experience


Price, Looks and feels basic


You’re allowed to look down on me for admitting that before riding the MT-03, I had never experienced Yamaha’s famed 321cc parallel-twin screamer. Having missed out on the opportunity to ride both the R3 and MT-03 during its explosive and scenic first ride in Thailand and at our very own BIC, my right hand was tingling to rev the ceilings out of this screecher. Now that we can officially scoff at their Indian pricing, honestly, I couldn’t care less. I had a week with the MT-03 and I wasn’t even required to break my bank and a few bones to live that experience. Why would I care about the pricing? I got its sticker price printed, rolled some tobacco in it and smoked it off. That certainly helped.

And kids, that was just a metaphor, please take good care of your lungs.

Solid, not special

The MT-03 is a sleeper motorcycle because of the way it looks. It doesn’t look and feel substantial but here’s the thing: from some angles, it does. Take the rear three-quarters for instance, which, according to me, is one of the sexiest angles to ogle at the MT. Its headlamp cluster is largely similar to the MT-15 and hence, the sleeper tag. For a layman, it might come across as a slightly modified MT-15. Until, the layman hears the twin-cylinder burble but we will come to that later. The entire MT range is now designed in such a way that they look like an extra-terrestrial family forgot its way and crash landed on earth. The MT-03 is no different. Although I wish it looked a bit different head on as compared to the MT-15, the MT-03 still manages to look bulkier than the MT-15. It all comes down to the broad tank shrouds which also house neat air intakes. I also like the little spoilers that flank the headlamp unit.

In a typical Yamaha fashion, there’s no room for complaint when it comes to the build quality. This is the bright side of Japan and the MT-03 embraces it with open arms with its solid feel. It might feel like it will stand the test of time but it doesn’t feel special. That’s where its problem lies. Until and unless you don’t fire up the engine and wring its neck, the MT-03 feels basic in terms of looks and feels. The switchgear quality is decent but again, it doesn’t feel like Yamaha engineers had attention to detail in mind. This is where Japanese products differ from their European counterparts. Moreover, the placement of the horn switch takes some time getting used to but it still isn’t as nightmarish as the one found on the MT-15. Does the MT-03 feels special from the rider’s cockpit view? Certainly not. Blame the barebones LCD instrument cluster for it, which is devoid of any fancy gizmos. The MT-03 feels solid and simple, not cheap and complex. Personally, I can get used to it, especially after embracing the dark side of Japan with the MT-03.

Master of Torque?

Not really Master of Torque, that’s what the MT moniker stands for. It might hold true for its bigger, wilder siblings like the MT-07 and MT-09 but with mere 29NM on tap, the MT-03 certainly isn’t Master of Torque. Especially when the said torque is delivered at a peaky 9,000rpm! Am I discrediting the engine? Hang me to death if I ever will because readers, this is one of the best engines I’ve ever experienced. So much so that the entire ride experience revolves around wringing the MT-03, making it scream and slay and then repeat the whole ordeal again in the next gear. Oh I could do it the entire day, everyday, for the rest of my life!

It doesn’t necessarily translate to the fact that the MT-03 struggles at lower revs because it behaves like a little puppy doing slow speeds. A gentle one at that. It just trundles along without showing any signs of protest. The refinement also adding to the experience but, once the needle crosses 6000rpm mark, the MT-03 wakes up from a deep slumber. It growls a little at first, letting you know that it is now time to let people know that it isn’t a modified MT-15. After 9000rpm, things become serious, loud and… a lot of fun because the MT-03 pulls hard! Its true character lies in the upper echelon of the rev range as it barks loudly, sprints and lunges ahead with so much vigour and then hits its 12,000rpm redline. The MT turns back and asks: ready for the carnage again? And then we go into another gear… then another.

Although I believe for a naked streetfighter, the MT-03 could have used a punchier mid range. It doesn’t fall flat but it only excites after crossing 7,000rpm mark. I wouldn’t mind sacrificing a bit of the top end rush for some more mid range grunt because the MT is going to spend most of its life in the city. Traffic signal sprints were although fun, required me to be a lot more generous with the revs. That being said, the ride experience is intoxicating to say the least. The MT feels mechanical but in a good way, devoid of any fancy things. It is all about the ride and it shows because other important bits like gear shifts and exhaust note are something which make the overall ride experience a lot better! The MT-03 misses out on assist and slipper clutch though, absence of which, is felt during commutes because the clutch does feel heavy. But connected, oh so connected! And then there’s the bark of the exhaust. At lower revs, it burbles. Give it some beans and it accompanies the engine induction noise with some pops and crackles. With all the time that I had with the MT, I made sure to keep it singing because it turned out to be such a rewarding experience to all the senses!

Master of Turns

Out on the straights, that lovely engine bowled me over but then the euphoria kicked in once I showed the MT some bends. Despite having basic cycle parts and underpinnings, the Japanese engineers do know how to instill some magic. Up front, the updated MT received a set of Kayaba sourced USD forks and at the back, regular monoshock does the job. No adjustable suspension, no fancy frame but boy, can the MT lean! It has a reactive front end, reacting to every little input you give to the handlebar. It imparts so much confidence that you can hang off more and more, registering greater lean angles as you carve your way through the canyons. While the handling is impressive, the ride quality leaves no room for complaint either. What also assists the MT in its handling prowess is how perfectly the rider can lock his knees on the fuel tank. Since it’s wide and has nice scoops, it is fairly easy to hang off the motorcycle. The dimensions are slightly compact though and people with more physical real estate might find the MT a little cramped.

It ticks all the right boxes when it comes to ergonomics because being a naked streetfighter, the MT gets a wide handlebar and slightly rearset footpegs. No surprises here as it should be. It becomes very evident how much Yamaha has focused on the overall ride experience and how the MT communicates with the rider. It is phenomenal. What needs some work is the braking department because the front brake although progressive, lacks that initial bite which eggs the rider to push more and more.

Who should buy it then?

No fancy electronics. No ride modes. No quickshifter. No TFT instrument cluster. Lack of premium cycle parts. On paper at least, MT-03’s case looks like a lost one. Its future starts looking even more bleak once you factor in its sticker price. Take this for instance, the Aprilia RS 457 is almost INR 40,000 cheaper than the MT-03. The KTM 390 Duke? More than a Lakh cheaper! Before you neglect the MT-03 completely, let me rest my case.

Like I said, I, personally, didn’t care about the price tag. Nor do I give two flying saucers about what it lacks. The Yamaha MT-03 is all about the ride experience and when you factor that in, it is a serious motorcycle. It might not look and feel that arresting but the way that engine behaves and the chassis reacts to inputs, the MT-03 will surely cast a magic spell. It is a shame that given its price tag, we might not see many MT-03s going about on our streets. A good motorcycle let down by its sticker price. Not the first time we have seen that happening. (Hello, R3!)

TopGear Magazine July 2024