The old SV always looked a bit soft with the lights just a shade too GSX600F (the standard unit of motorcycle ugliness against which all others are measured), giving the whole bike the appearance of being a bit bug-eyed. The seat unit, and especially the pillion seat, were very rounded too and the half-fairing came so low it covered half of the frame – one of the coolest features about the bike. So for 2003 the SV has gone all angular, and looks much better for it. Visually it’s identical to its new big brother, the SV1000S, with the same front fairing, tail unit and tank design. It also shares the sharp twin vertical strip LED rear lights, funky clocks and improved frame design, proudly displayed on the ‘S’ thanks to that shortened front fairing.And the new frame isn’t just a visual improvement over the old tubular style either. A new high-vacuum-mould process makes the frame lighter and stronger with fewer ugly welds. The benefits of all this techno-wizardry to the rider are minimal. Apart from the improved looks, the handling feels identical to last year’s model and on the road you would be hard pushed to split the two.But then this is no bad thing because the old SV650 was always a sweet little handler and one of those bikes that brought a smile to your face whenever you rode it. A big part of its sales success, apart from its low price, was the confidence it gave newer riders, and all that’s still there on the new bike. The bike feels very small and compact without being uncomfortable. Suzuki’s use of a V-twin motor in the SV means it’s narrower than an in-line four rival like Yamaha’s Fazer 600 or Honda’s Hornet 600, which makes the SV feel smaller as well as making it easier for shorter riders to reach the floor. This may sound patronising, but to new riders having the floor within easy reach is very reassuring, not to mention useful, and this is one of the SV’s major selling points.On the move the chassis retains the superb balance of the previous model. Given a set of twisty corners and an SV650, I challenge any riders not to come out the other side splitting their faces with uncontrolled smiles. Even experienced sportsbikers can have enjoy it – as our very own Gusbuster demonstrates by commuting on his girlfriend’s SV and then raving about the handling.The motor is also a beauty. A 650cc V-twin may seem a strange capacity and configuration but it works so well. For 2003 Suzuki has resisted the urge to play with it but instead has replaced the carbs with fuel-injection to meet new emissions laws. This hasn’t dramatically altered the characteristics of the engine but has made it slightly stronger in the mid-range and thanks to Suzuki’s Dual Throttle Valve system, as found on the GSX-R range, lowdown manners are bang on too.There are no powerbands or kicks to be had across the SV’s rev-range, just solid, punchy feisty drive that, given a decent run-up, will see you peaking over the far side of 120mph if you feel like it and is flexible enough for you to either rev the nuts off it or ride the low down torque the V-twin produces when you’re feeling lazier. To build the SV to its budget £5,149 price Suzuki has cut a few corners and the brakes seem to be one of them. While the twin piston sliding calipers on the front are up to the job they really could do with being a bit stronger. They just don’t give you the confidence a decent set of four-piston opposed calipers do and I am sure Suzuki isn’t saving that much by fitting the twin-piston units instead. I would look at fitting a set of higher friction aftermarket pads to give them a bit more bite and probably a set of braided-steel lines.The suspension is also built on a budget and doesn’t come with much adjustment, although preload can be twiddled front and rear for basic fettling. On stock settings the rear felt fine although the front is a bit soft. When you start playing silly buggers on the SV, a slight stiffening of the front helps the bike feel a bit more together and less bouncy.For the practically-minded the SV comes with a pillion grab rail as standard, bungee hooks, a fuel warning light (no gauge), hazard lights and mirrors that actually show the road behind. There is also a decent amount of storage space under the seat, although we are talking U-lock and a set of waterproofs at a squeeze, not a picnic hamper. If touring really is your thing then Suzuki will be launching a whole range of extras for the SV including a luggage system, hugger, lower fairing and a taller screen.Suzuki has managed to take an already excellent bike and improve it – which doesn’t always happen. The new model is better than the old one, but it’s more of an evolutionary improvement than a radical upgrade. If you already own an SV then it’s probably only worth upgrading if you really like the new style. And then you might want to consider the bigger SV1000S which is more of the same but with a 1000cc V-twin motor. However, if you’re looking for a bike that does everything including producing involuntary smiles , then check the SV650 out.
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