Reviewed: 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650

Phil West
By Phil West
PhilWestNew Former Editor of Bike, ex-Road Test Editor of MCN, ridden more bikes than he can remember. Likes: GTS, Paso, Mantra. Dislikes: own rust bucket LC and 900 T-Bird daily driver.
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Suzuki’s V-Strom may be slightly humble and lack glamour compared to the mega-buck Multistradas and GSs of this world – but it’s an important bike. And not just to its Japanese manufacturer, either – it’s important full stop. Since first being launched way back in 2002, the adventure-styled V-twin, first as a 1000, then followed up by a 650, has proved one of the most versatile and affordable all-rounders of all, so much so that collectively they’ve now sold nearly ¼ million worldwide.

And it’s the smaller 650 version, as first introduced in 2004, that’s proved the most successful and popular of all. Based on the aluminium chassis and perky, flexible yet un-intimidating 645cc engine of the SV650 roadster it proved an instant best seller appealing as both an affordable, versatile all-rounder and as a value-packed and reasonably entertaining ‘first big bike’. So much so, in fact, that an ever-increasing number of rivals have rocked up over the years since seeking a slice of those sales. These range from BMW’s F700GS to Honda’s old Transalp to, more recently, machines such as Yamaha’s Tracer 700 and the latest Kawasaki Versys 650.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650
During most of that time the likeable, honest Suzuki has managed to keep its nose in front. A major update in 2012, which saw it gain the cleaner, pokier Gladius version of the V-twin engine along with an uprated chassis and a smoother, face-lifted look, certainly helped – but that was five years ago. More recently, despite still being able and temptingly priced, Suzuki’s has not just started to look its age, it’s begun to lag behind in terms of spec and ability, too.

Which is why (along with the little added incentive provided by the requirement for the bike to be re-engineered to comply with the new Euro4 emissions regulations which come into force this year), Suzuki has given the V-Strom 650 (along with its 1000cc bigger brother, of which more later) another, hefty makeover for 2017. And on the basis of our first ride along the almost interminably sinuous switchbacks in the foothills of Tarragona south west of Barcelona in Spain, they look like they’ve done enough to re-install the V-Strom at the top of its class.

First, however, there are two key things you should probably know: one, this is NOT an all-new bike – it’s a significantly updated one. Suzuki themselves claim they wanted ‘evolution not revolution’ and, seeing how good the old V-Strom was under its aging clothes they’ve probably got a point. That said, the fair proportion of parts ARE new, ranging from the clocks to the bodywork, parts of the frame and most of the engine internals.

And second, there is now not one V-Strom 650, but TWO: the base model V-Strom 650 which will cost £7399 when it goes on sale shortly in the UK, plus a slightly higher spec version called the V-Strom 650 XT which benefits from more off-road style alloy wire wheels along with hand guards and a belly fairing-cum-bash plate which adds £500 to the price and is the example we tested here.

So, what is new then, exactly? Suzuki say their aim was to retain the existing, popular qualities of the V-Strom and to emphasise them further. Or, in the words of project leader and chief engineer Nobohiro Yasui, to “make it more V-Strom”.

Fundamental to this is, of course, that enduringly popular 645cc V-twin engine. Obviously, it had to be re-engineered to a degree, mostly through re-mapping its fuel injection system, to meet the new Euro4 requirements but thankfully Suzuki’s engineers didn’t stop there. In total, over 60 components of the engine are new, ranging from new ‘L-shaped’ rings and new pistons featuring a reduced friction tin coating; to a new exhaust cam designed to enhance power; revised positioning of the twin plugs per cylinder to improve combustion and fuel efficiency to an all-new, 10-hole fuel injection system. The result, they say (apart from reduced emissions and improved fuel consumption), is s slight boost to both peak power and torque, specifically a gain of 2bhp to a peak of 71bhp at 8000rpm plus peak torque of 62Nm (46lbft) at 6500rpm, a rise, again, of 2NM.

But it doesn’t stop there. Admitting the V-Strom’s fairly basic spec had fallen behind the times, particularly in terms of electronic rider aids (the old bike had none), Suzuki has decently upped the ante this time around. The new V-Strom 650 not only now gets switchable traction control by using the system Suzuki pioneered on the outgoing V-Strom 1000, it now also has an Easy Start system (where only one push of the starter is required) plus its Low RPM Assist system which basically raises the idle speed when the clutch is engaged to help prevent low speed stalling. OK, there are still no rider modes and it’s not exactly cutting edge, but it’s an improvement.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650

The chassis, too, gets some consideration. Although the basic aluminium twin spar frame, non-adjustable conventional telescopics and fairly basic twin-pot twin disc brakes are all unchanged, the rear subframe is new. This has been done for two reasons: first to accommodate a new, slimmer ‘comfort’ seat which is claimed to help (along with the slimmer tank) rider ergonomics; and second to allow the much narrower fitment of accessory panniers. On the old V-Strom 650, as some will probably recall, the fitment of Suzuki’s panniers resulted in a vehicle that was pretty much as wide as a GoldWing – not good.

Another change to the chassis, meanwhile, are all-new wheels and tyres. The stock V-Strom gets new, lighter 10-spoke alloys while the XT version gets either gold anodized (on the yellow colour option) or black alloy wires. While the OE tyres are Bridgestone’s brand new Battlax A40s which, they claim, ‘bring Battlax performance levels to the adventure segment’. And good they are, too.

Finally, the most obvious changes of all are the V-Strom 650’s all-new styling and bodywork. Designed to resemble its 1000cc bigger brother (and it does just that – at first we struggled to tell them apart) with hints of the ‘80s DR BIG, those curves, I have to say, are far more appealing in the flesh than first appeared in publicity photos. They accommodate: a 3-way adjustable screen (although you need 10minutes and an Allen key); a decent 20-litre tank; a stylish new ‘comfort’ seat which is at once thicker, slimmer and better looking than the old; a neatly slimmed-down rear end which incorporates the aforementioned pannier mounts plus two decent pillion grab handles and a useful luggage rack; the taillight is now a stylish 

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650

LED, indictors are white lensed items, while the fairing inner holds a new, stylish console with analogue tach and LCD multi-display plus a new, useful 12V power socket. Colours, meanwhile, are white, black or this rather eye-grabbing new yellow which, apparently, is inspired by Suzuki’s motocrosser livery and which is set to become a ‘standard’ with the semi-offroad V-Strom from now. Got all that? Good – and it is all a good and a noticeable step up (if not leap beyond) from what the V-Strom 650 had before.

But of course, it’s how the new VStrom 650 RIDES that matters most and here, as proven by our glorious 150-mile test in Spain, that Suzuki’s newcomer shines brightest of all.

I had the opportunity to ride the outgoing model recently and, despite its aging looks and fairly basic spec, was surprised and impressed then how good, versatile and just damn usable and enjoyable Suzuki’s middleweight adventure offering remains.

In short: the newcomer hasn’t lost any of the old bike’s appeal but has added to it and built on it in virtually every area.

Even from the initial off I was completely at home and familiar on the new V-Strom. For a middleweight it’s pleasingly both well-proportioned for a six-footer like me but at the same time light, slim, easy to manage, everything is very natural and instinctive to use; there’s no complicated electronics or consoles to master and you can just get on and get riding. That was always one of the first things that pleased with the V-Strom. With this latest, slightly slimmer, slightly more stylish and slightly better equipped version, it’s now better than ever.

 

VIDEO: BikeSocial's 2-minute review on the new 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650

Then there’s the power delivery and controls. I didn’t really notice the Easy Start (you’re not supposed to) and, for the sake of my pride I’d like to think I didn’t need the Low RPM Assist – but it’s reassuring to know they’re there and, no, I didn’t stall once. Then, once away, the willing, eager and useful Suzuki V-twin endears as it has always done – but now a little more so. As before, low-midrange travelling, in town or among the commuter throng, is simply effortless and, compared to most middleweights and especially ones with more cylinders, a flexible, grunty but impressively smooth joy and one helped no end by a light clutch and typically Suzuki glitch-free gearchange.

That’s all fine and dandy. But wind it on and the V-Strom 650 comes into its own with an eagerness to rev and a spirited, utterly linear and predictable delivery that means you can stick the tacho needle pretty much anywhere between 4500 and 8000rpm without ever needing to trouble its 10,000rpm redline.

Operating hand in hand with that is the chassis. OK, little has changed and none of it was cutting edge in the first place, but on the basis of our vigorous, bend-swinging ride, there’s no doubt the V-Strom 650 handles and behaves far better than its budget components would suggest. Braking is progressive and completely adequate; steering precise and stability is without complaint. And when you tip it on its ear – and I did, lots – it’s easy to feel the limits, correct the steering, adjust your position and power out without any qualms at all. Budget suspension and brakes have rarely been so good. Oh, and, yes, I did see the traction control light flicker on a couple of times, briefly, but I’d never have been able to tell from the seat of my pants so, in my book, that’s job done.

While as for more mundane travelling – and, to be honest, we didn’t get much chance to do that – stability was fine, the comfort seat excellent while the fairing on the whole was OK but I could have done with adjusting it up (I didn’t get the chance to stop and do just that) for prolonged high speeds. No concern, though.

Finally, at the end of all that (just over 200kms, or 125miles) the 20 litre tank was showing still over half full. Maybe Suzuki’s claims of ‘best in class fuel consumption’ are right after all.

 

 

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Verdict

Before our ride one of Suzuki’s test riders had, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, implored me to test his new baby thoroughly and honestly but hopefully not come to the conclusion that the new V-Strom 650 was ‘just OK’. He needn’t have worried.

I’m more than happy to say his new baby is much MORE than just OK – but then, the V-Strom 650 always has been. It’s always had a great engine, decent chassis, peerless versatility and been fabulous value as well. The trouble was, in recent years, Suzuki’s rivals had caught up, in some ways overtaken it and left the V-Strom 650 looking old.

Thankfully, with this new version, all the old attributes remain and have, if only a little, been enhanced, while it also looks far fresher and is better equipped and finished, too. It’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong: it still looks a touch cheap in some places, namely spindly handlebars, the budget brakes and non-adjustable suspension. It could also, too, have done with a few more goodies such as, maybe, rider modes, but maybe those things would have endangered its budget appeal too much.

And yes, arguably, this new V-Strom 650 isn’t a great advance, either. It’s caught up with the competition rather than leapt ahead of them. But that’s nit-picking. The new V-Strom 650 is back on trend. It’s still great, still great value but now is good looking and modern enough, too. I’d be more than happy with one. And that all makes it much better than ‘just OK’. It makes it properly good.

Engine type

liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, V-twin, 4-valves

Displacement

645cc

Bore x stroke

81.0 mm x 62.6 mm

Compression ratio

11.2: 1

Maximum power

71bhp @ 8000rpm

Maximum torque

46ft-lb @ 6500rpm

Lubrication system

Wet sump

Clutch type

Wet, Multiple Disc

Fuel system

Fuel Injection

Ignition system

TCI

Starter system

Electric

Transmission system

Constant Mesh, 6-speed

Final transmission

Chain

 

Frame

Aluminium twin spar

Front suspension system

Telescopic forks, Ø 38 mm non adjustable

Caster angle

26º

Trail

110 mm

Rear suspension system

Swingarm, (link suspension), preload adjustable, single shock

Front brake

Hydraulic dual disc

Rear brake

Hydraulic single disc

Front tyre

110/80 x 19

Rear tyre

150/70 x 17

 

Overall length

2,275 mm

Overall width

910 mm

Overall height

1,405 mm

Seat height

830 mm

Wheel base

1,560 mm

Minimum ground clearance

170 mm

Kerb weight

216 kg

Fuel tank capacity

20 litres

Oil tank capacity

3.0 litres

Price

£7,899 (V-Strom = £7,399)


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