My first glider was the Horizon 160. Prior to the Horizon I flew Falcon 170s and 195s.
Aside from the Falcons, I have a couple flights on a WW U2 so these are the only comparisons I can make. I have about 20 to 25 hours on the Horizon.
My first high altitude solos were on Falcons. When my Horizon arrived, I took it to the training hills to make sure I could launch and land a double surface wing. It launched just as easy as a falcon, but the flight was slightly faster and smoother. The landing was more difficult due to the extra speed. I ended up pulling a quad due to poor flare technique. You can get away with some REALLY bad landing habits on a falcon but once you step up to a double surface wing, the same can't be said. Landing on your feet and running it out isn't good enough; you have to flare properly.
Northwing doesn't publish polars on their gliders at this time, and I never took the time to do a real instrument test, but I would guess from my own experience that the best glide was between 23 and 25mph. I have heard the WW Sport 2 has a best glide at 28mph and this would match my experience. The sport 2 seems to have a similar glide, but at a slightly higher speed. Under 28 mph, the Horizon and Sport2 are neck and neck from my experience.
The Horizon is a snap to setup. It has a reasonable number of battens and few steps in the process. The only challenging part of the setup is installing the curved tips. It was difficult at first but by the third time I set it up, I had the technique down and it is now very easy. It does add a minute to the setup process, but I can set it up as fast as, or faster than my buddies can setup their wings. The curved tips are also nice because they shorten the packed length.
The VG system on the Horizon works. The same can't be said for all other gliders in its class. 1/4 VG doesn't do too much but when you hit 1/2 VG and above, the wing starts flying like its on rails; it tracks straight and the glide improves enough to measure without a vario. The down side to this is that it gets more difficult to turn but all gliders experience the same issue with VG. My usual strategy was to fly with 0 to 1/4 VG most of the time; once I hit roughly `1k over launch, if the air wasn't too rough, I would switch to full VG. Any time I'd go on glide, I would fly with full VG. With full VG, the glide improves a lot, but the best glide speed doesn't seem to increase much.
The VG string on the Horizon is somewhat difficult to pull. I have tested the VG on Northwing, Wills Wing, and Airborne gliders and the Northwing is the most difficult. It isn't so bad that you wouldn't want to use it, but it does take some effort.
I can't say enough about the quality of the materials in the Northwing. Many parts on the northwing are made from machined aluminum; examples include the down-tube to base bar brackets, the haul-back bracket etc. Extra fabric is applied at the leading edge tube ends that rub against the ground when tensioning the glider. The only complaint I have is that the rubber coated fabric that wraps around the haul back bracket came off in my keel pocket and refused to stay attached no matter what I did so it caused the bracket to rub against the sail when I would tension it. This resulted in some stitching coming loose at the back of the sail but it is very minor and could have been prevented by me pulling back more parallel to the keel.
Coordinated turns are as easy as leaning and then letting the bar come out to where the glider wants it to be. Turns in the Horizon are actually easier to enter than in a Falcon. The Horizon can be snapped around and turned on a wing tip with very little effort, even at slow speeds. I could not get the Horizon to stall by simply pushing out. Instead it enters a mush. This makes it very safe for new pilots. With me in it (165lb hook in), the glider could be flown at 16mph with good control. With VG on and pulled in for speed, I was able to fly 35mph but this is as fast as I ever took it. I have been told it will fly faster but there is a lot of noise and bar pressure at this speed.
It is difficult to measure the all around performance of a glider in terms of "real world" performance... how does it thermal, how does it glide, etc, so the best way I know how is to compare my flights with flights of my friends. Many of my friends fly the WW Sport2. In my opinion and several others, the Horizon performs right there with a Sport-2, but is more forgiving. The S2's best glide speed is probably 3 to 4mph faster than the Horizon's but the sink rate on the horizon is as good as the S2. One of my friends weighs exactly the same as me, has a Sport2 155, and has been flying over 20 years. He is clearly a better pilot than me, but on the no brainer days when the thermals are wide, smooth, and easy to core, I am right there with him. We would trade off; sometimes he'd be above me, other times I'd be above him. When he would go on glide, he would end up at the lift ahead of me, and with slightly more altitude, but the difference wasn't much and he does fly with a racing harness. I would need more XC opportunities with my friend in order to more accurately compare the glide differences because so many other factors come into play, but from what I have experienced, I believe the Sport 2 and Horizon are very, very close in terms of glide performance. For sport flying, I think the difference is moot.
I even had the opportunity to compete with the Horizon in the Tennessee Tree Toppers Team Challenge. The Horizon got me to goal every day it was soarable (and quickly too). The only complaint I have about the Horizon in XC flying is that it does have a fair amount of bar pressure when pulled in for speed. This can make your arms a bit tired in aggressive, long duration XC flying, but makes no difference for sport flying. I believe the sport 2 has less pitch pressure which is a good thing for XC, but not good for a beginner pilot.
In summary, I think the Horizon is probably the best choice for a new H2 pilot who's instructor feels they can handle a double surface wing. Unless you want to be a hardcore comp or hardcore XC pilot, the Horizon could be the last wing you ever buy. Its easy handling, VG, good performance, high quality and no-surprises nature make it a joy to own and fly.
Click here to view a write-up on my opinion of single-surface vs double-surface wings for new pilots.