2012 Honda Gold Wing® GL1800

Text: Christa Neuhauser • Photography: Kevin Wing

After a one-year hiatus, Honda’s flagship Gold Wing luxury touring model has been updated for 2012 with a number of changes, including styling, increased luggage capacity, better wind and weather protection, revised suspension settings, and newer electronics. Such extras as advanced GPS navigation, linked braking with ABS, and the only airbag available on the market make the Gold Wing one of the most refined touring machines in motorcycling history.

At Honda’s press launch we had the opportunity to ride new Gold Wings for about 750 miles in three days. Our route followed the lovely, sinuous and scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, starting in Lorton, VA, and ending in Knoxville, TN. We encountered all kinds of conditions, including near-freezing temperatures, heavy rain, fog and warm sunshine. We got to experience firsthand the new features and many creature comforts that the new Gold Wing offers.

Powertrain and Performance

Revisions for 2012 are mostly to styling and ergonomics, and the 1832cc, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder engine is unchanged. It’s still one of the most refined motorcycle engines on the market; smooth and powerful, with plenty of acceleration even when toting a passenger and luggage. The large 6.6-gallon fuel tank houses the PGM-FI fuel pump and provides excellent long-distance cruising range.

A five-speed manual gearbox continues to be the only choice for gear selection. The clutch and transmission work flawlessly, and reverse makes it easy to back out of a parking space uphill, even with a passenger and luggage. But we were expecting a little more: Six-speed transmissions have become standard throughout the industry, and Honda already offers automatic and semi-automatic transmissions on the DN-01 and VFR1200 models. It would be nice to see a six-speed manual and some kind of automatic transmission available on the Gold Wing.

Chassis and Handling

The aluminum frame and major chassis components are unchanged. Rear spring preload is electronically adjustable while at rest, and revised suspension settings front and rear yield added compliance for a better ride and more comfort. The big bike is easy to handle, and I did not feel the weight once underway. It’s comfortable on the highway, where it feels extremely stable and plush. The Wing feels at home in curves as well, but I noticed that the cornering ground clearance is limited, particularly when I was riding through Deal’s Gap.

Our group encountered a lot of rain, but the tires performed well even in downpours. The brakes are also excellent: strong, smooth and nearly effortless. The optional ABS is also very effective, particularly on slick roads.

Features and Ergonomics

Redesigned fairings add extra wind protection, especially to the lower body and legs. A simple ratcheting windscreen-adjustment system provides six settings over nearly 4 inches of travel. The windshield can go quite high for excellent coverage, but it would be nice to have it go lower for hot days as well. A closeable, lower vent keeps the windshield clear, even under rainy and foggy conditions. Also, when the slot is open, you don’t feel buffeting, which allows for good airflow in higher temperatures. 

Instrumentation is excellent, with a tach and speedo, gas and coolant temp gauges, plus a host of warning lights. A separate LCD monitor displays the odometer, A/B trip meter, ambient temperature, audio modes, CB, rear-suspension setting, trunk/saddlebag-open indicators, and clock. There are a lot of switches, too, but after a while you get used to them. They reminded me of the cockpit of an airplane.

Seating has been improved and is extremely comfortable so I didn’t get tired, even on a long day. Passengers will also find the seat comfy, but water puddled in it during heavy rain.

The five-position heated grips and heated seat/backrest combination with individual rider and passenger controls are wonderful for cold-weather riding. There’s also a foot-warming system that channels engine-heated air over the rider’s feet and is controlled by a fairing-mounted lever. My gloves were completely soaked by the rain but my hands never got cold, even at 40 degrees. The heated seat also kept me warm at low temperatures, and you can regulate the front and passenger seats separately.

An updated Garmin® GPS navigation system offers the ability to pre-plan rides and share favorite routes with friends. You can load information with a card or enter a destination directly. For safety you can only program the GPS when in neutral. Sometimes I had the impression that there was too much information on the screen, as I could only look down for a moment, especially on twisty roads. I also had a problem with sun glare.

Larger saddlebags add about seven liters of storage, and the trunk provides 60 liters; two full-face helmets fit easily. Overall the Wing has more than 150 liters of storage between trunk, saddlebags and fairing pockets. The cases and trunk can be conveniently locked with a remote-control fob.

The SRS CS Auto technology surround-sound audio system brings the latest in sound-system technology to the Gold Wing, and the 80-watt-per-channel power amplifier provides clear, crisp sound at highway speeds. The system offers direct MP3/i-Pod connectivity plus access to the device’s functions through handlebar controls. Long hauls are more enjoyable with AM, FM, SiriusXM™ satellite radio and iPod/MP3 inputs and great sound quality. The CB radio also turned out to be practical and convenient. You can communicate with other riders on Bluetooth® in your helmet or through the bike’s speakers. 

The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) monitors pressure in both tires while riding. A warning light displays below the tachometer when a significantly underinflated tire pressure is detected.

Final Thoughts

Honda’s Gold Wing continues to be a top choice for long-distance touring motorcycles. There are a slew of options that can take the base list price from $ 23,199 to $ 28,499, and you can even add accessories from there. It does everything it’s supposed to do very well, and quality, fit and finish are impeccable. Its biggest challenge is going to be BMW’s new K 1600 GTL, which is priced very competitively.