Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Review
When we got a call from Suzuki New Zealand with the invitation to come down to the mighty Manawatu and spend a sunny day running about the countryside aboard the new Suzuki V-Strom 650, the boss was off faster than you can say “all-you-can-eat seafood buffet”...
Suzuki's recent domination of the bike sales figures in New Zealand looks set to continue into 2012, with the release of the updated and improved version of this asphalt-oriented, middleweight V-twin adventure-tourer. Providing the backdrop for the local press launch of the V-Strom 650 ABS, the Wanganui/Manawatu region is filled with rolling hills and deep ravines, providing a wide variety of interesting roads - from state highways to tight alpine-like passes, and even a short stretch of gravel roads - on which to sample this new Suzuki, especially thanks to a well-thought-out route from Suzuki's Simon Meade.
We were joined on our ride by the dealer principal of Freedom Suzuki in Palmy North, Barry Higginson, who was riding an older 2007 model V-Strom, making for a great comparison between the old and new.
Before mounting up and heading out of town, we took a quick look at the mods made to the new beast. At a claimed 835mm, the thickly padded saddle is more than 15mm taller than the previous model (Suzuki offers 20mm lower and higher accessory seats too). But thanks to some reshaping of the front of the seat, I had no trouble getting both boots firmly planted on the ground at stops, even with my stumpy gams. The seating position provides a relaxed bend at the knees, while the interface with 20-litre fuel tank is much better than on the previous model - it is a very comfortable bike, even after a long day of riding.
Wind buffeting has been a common complaint among V-Strom owners, so, for 2012, the redesigned windscreen has three settings, adjusted by removing four Allen-head bolts. I tried the standard middle, 24mm taller and 8mm rearward positions. In the latter setting, the screen drops 18mm and pushes 18mm further forward. These screen positions provide good vision and minimal buffeting, even at a sustained 160kph while wearing a Shoei Hornet DS helmet, with large, motocross-style bill. Taller riders will likely prefer the highest setting, and optional 30mm longer mirror stalks can also be purchased.
Another key improvement is the new instrument cluster and dash. An easy-to-read analogue tachometer is accompanied by an LCD screen that shows: road speed; trip length; overall miles travelled; fuel level; gear position; fuel consumed (along with average fuel economy); ambient temperature; and a 'road freeze' warning light completes the package.
The updated engine is based on the Gladius, not the SV650. Bore and stroke remain the same (81.0mm x 62.6mm) as on the previous bike, but the pistons, rings and intake-cam profiles are all new. Cylinder walls benefit from Suzuki composite electrochemical material (SCEM) plating and single (rather than dual) valve springs, while each is fitted with a pair of Iridium sparkplugs. Aided by a new 32-bit ECU,m fuelling is handled by twin Suzuki dual throttle valve (SDTV) 39mm throttle bodies - Suzuki claims 10 percent better fuel economy. Meanwhile, liquid-cooled oil filter housing helps the engine to run cooler.
Having the older version at the test run to compare power delivery was excellent. I have to say I was impressed by the flexibility of the updated engine: power is decent off the bottom, but really peps up through the mid-range; revving the engine deep into upper digits provides a good drive, but isn't always necessary; strong torque through the middle of the power curve pushes the bike along nicely; and the six-speed trans shifts smoothly thanks to well-chosen gearing.
Even when I was winding my way through the back roads of the Ruahine Ranges, with plenty of tight hairpin corners strewn around the place, second and sometimes even third gear provided more than adequate exit drives without the need to drop down to first. Fuelling was quite good in every situation I encountered, even when a taller ratio had been selected and the engine was spinning far down in its rpm range. Overall, this engine suits the V-Strom well, offering good performance and plenty of V-twin character too.
On our journey around the region we had the chance to sample a selection of rarely-used gravel roads on which to test out the V-Strom's off-road-ability. Now, I'm the first to admit I'm no off-road expert: it's not that I don't like the feel of my bike sliding around underneath me, I just haven't had enough experience on the slippery stuff. So my apologies to my riding companions who had to wait for me at the end of each stage of secondary roads!
However, the bike (even in my inexperienced hands) handled the jandal with ease. The wide handlebar and upright seating position gave me confidence to pitch the bike into corners, knowing that I still had a fighting chance, even if the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear Bridgestone's lost traction. Turn-in is low-effort, yet stability is quite good. Suzuki claims the 2012 V-Strom weighs 6kg less than the current model, which benefits handling as well.
However, I have to say that any hard-out, rough, 4WD track types out there would find the V-Strom struggling in such terrain. The header pipe for the front cylinder, as well as the oil cooler and filter, are completely unprotected from rocks and other obstacles. The cast aluminum wheels are also not suited for off-roading, and the new Bosch ABS system can't be switched off, so if you're planning on using your new V-Strom for more than just the odd gravel-based ride, you may want to invest in a bash plate and some more serious adventure rims and rubber.
Suspension-wise, adjustments to the conventional fork's spring preload are limited, and the same can be said of the preload and rebound damping on the shock. Shortly after hitting the curves, I pulled off the road and maxed out the preload on the shock using the big, easy-to-reach knob, and was satisfied with the bike's performance. Same goes for the stocker that I rode later in the day.
In summary, if you're looking for a street-oriented ' adventure-tourer, then the V-Strom 650 ABS should be on your short list. Coming well-equipped in either Metallic Fox Orange, Glass Sparkle Black or Pearl Mirage White, this middleweight V-twin is a solid, all-around performer, and can be pressed into dirt duty, if absolutely necessary. At an RRP of $14,795 ride-away, it's one of the better-priced options in the mid-range marketplace.
Comfy seating position
Nice, slimmer design
Would struggle on anything harder than the odd gravel road
Buddha's five-star rating
Grunt factor ****
Pillion comfort ***1/2
Time to upgrade your old V-Strom? Looking at getting something in the mid-range that can handle the odd bit of gravel bashing? Check out your local Suzuki dealer today and take a new V-Strom 650 ABS out for a test ride!
Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
Engine Liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin
Bore x stroke: 81 x 62.6mm
Compression ratio: 11.2:1
Fuel system: Suzuki EFi
Transmission type: 6-speed
Final drive: Chain
Frame type: Twin spar aluminium alloy
Front suspension: 43mm forks, rebound/compression damping, 150mm travel
Rear suspension: Link type, coil spring, oil damped
Front brake: Twin 310mm discs with ABS
Brake rear: Single 260mm disc
Wet weight: 214kg
Seat height: 835mm
Fuel capacity: 20L
Max power: 50.5kW (67.7hp) at 8800rpm
Max torque: 60Nm (44.2ft/lb) at 6400rpm
Price: $14,795 ride-away*
* Ride-away price includes WOF, 6 months registration and a full tank of fuel.
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