We have always liked Suzuki’s SV650 and our first impressions from the press launch of the redesigned 2017 model didn’t change that feeling. We have now had a chance to evaluate the bike on familiar roads near our offices. Our test unit featured the Pearl Glacier White paint without ABS (MSRP of $7,499 for ABS; non-ABS models are $6,999).
We went through all of the technical specs in our First Ride report, but here are the highlights. The crown jewel of the SV650 platform has always been its 645cc DOHC, fuel-injected 90° v-twin. That is still the case. No direct competitor from Japan features a 90° v-twin. Both the Yamaha FZ-07 and the Kawasaki Z650 have parallel twin engines. The Kawasaki displaces 649cc and the Yamaha displaces 689cc.
A v-twin is significantly more expensive to manufacture, and also offers much improved vibration characteristics (without the parasitic drag of a balance shaft) with a 90° v angle. Only Ducati offers something similar in its new Monster 797, but it is much more expensive (MSRP beginning at $9,295). The non-ABS versions of the Japanese bikes are priced at $6,999 (the Suzuki and Kawasaki) and $7,199 (Yamaha).
All of these bikes are now very light. The Yamaha and the Kawasaki are very close to identical weights after the new Z650 went on a radical diet. Yamaha claims the FZ-07 is lighter than the Kawasaki by 9 pounds, but both manufacturers weigh their bikes with a full tank of fuel, and the Kawasaki has a larger fuel tank. The Suzuki SV650, on the other hand, is claimed to have a curb weight approximately 25 pounds heavier than the competitive Yamaha and Kawasaki — not something most riders could notice.
Why all of this “context” in our review of the SV650? Because the basic formula of the SV650 is closing in on two decades old (we first reviewed an SV650 back in 2000). With the changes Suzuki made this year, is the SV650 still competitive? This isn’t a product comparison article, but we have ridden all of the competitors and have a general notion of how the SV650 stacks up.
The SV650 has always featured budget suspension and brakes, and the new model is no different. Non-adjustable suspension (with the exception of spring preload on the shock) and disc brakes operated by basic, two-piston front calipers. Suzuki has refined the operation of the suspension and brakes over the years, however. Switching from an aluminum beam frame to a steel trellis frame for 2017, has not made the SV650 any heavier. The new fuel tank shape holds 3.8 gallons (3.6 in California).
The engine itself receives more than 60 new parts this year, increasing power and efficiency, according to Suzuki. Also incorporated is a feature called “Low RPM Assist” that increases engine rpm as you leave a stop to reduce instances of stalling. The low (30.9″) seat and light weight, together with upright ergonomics make the SV650 comfortable and unintimidating.
As we reported from the press launch, the SV650 is fast with a very strong pull at higher rpms. The engine is flexible, although it might make a bit less power down low than the parallel-twin competitors from Yamaha and Kawasaki. The v-twin engine also keeps vibrations low and offers a pleasing exhaust note.
Fairly strong engine braking takes some getting used to when hustling the bike through a series of corners, and I found my right foot (size 11 boot) forced from its ideal position when on the balls of my feet and shifting my weight for a right-hander. This wasn’t a problem at a more relaxed pace, however.
Once in tune with the engine braking, the SV650 is a relaxing, cooperative partner on twisty roads. You can roll on and off the throttle, and even stay in the same gear, without using the brakes and still make swift progress on some roads. The brakes seem more effective than prior versions of the SV650, both in terms of power and feel, but they do not measure up to modern, radial-mount, four-piston calipers on more expensive models.
We can’t remember when we last criticized a Suzuki transmission (maybe never?) and the six-speed unit in the SV650 is unsurprisingly excellent. If this transmission was designed close to 20 years ago, it nevertheless stands out for its function in comparison to most modern motorcycles, i.e., shifts are easy and sure. Clutch pull effort and engagement are also beyond criticism.
The basic suspension units also work better than we recall. On some earlier SV650s, small bump absorption was harsh (staccato bumps would send a series of jolts through the bars), but Suzuki seems to have improved the damping characteristics on the fork, in particular. The shock acts through a rising rate linkage, and also offers reasonable compliance and damping at this price point.
The ergonomics are excellent, with decent leg room despite the low seat height and an extremely narrow feel between the rider’s legs (courtesy of the v-twin layout and new gas tank design). We still think the seat is too hard, however, for longer rides. It also slopes forward too much, sliding the rider into the kicked-up seat/tank junction. We like the new instrument cluster. With adjustable brightness, it is very legible and offers a long list of information to the rider (including gear position and fuel economy).
The SV650 is now the only bike in the class to offer more traditional styling, including a simple, single round headlight favored by many riders. Together with the trellis frame and a more traditional looking muffler, the SV650 gives off a bit of an old school vibe. We like the styling.
In fact, we really like the 2017 Suzuki SV650. Fast, nimble, good looking and economical (you can exceed 50 mpg during most rides), it still offers the only 90° v-twin in this price segment of nakeds, together with the character and refinement inherent in that design. Does it measure up to newer competitors from Yamaha and Kawasaki? We can’t provide a definitive answer without a shoot-out (we hope to conduct one), but we are confident the Suzuki can still hold its own in this category and wouldn’t disappoint buyers looking for more traditional styling and the character of a v-twin.
The non-ABS model is available at an U.S. MSRP of $6,999 in either Pearl Mira Red or Pearl Glacier White, while the ABS model is $7,499 (only available in Pearl Mira Red). Take a look at Suzuki’s web site for additional details and specifications.
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