First ride: 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT review

First ride: 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT review

Suzuki's solid, reliable, good-value middleweight remains just so

THE SUZUKI V-Strom 650 is a bike that has always been just-so.

It’s a bike with a strong existing image of being sensible, functional and great value; a bike that does what it is meant to and not a huge deal more. In short, it's always been lacked that something that made me excited to ride one.

When testing bikes, context is everything. Putting a bike in its optimum environment can transform your opinion of it. For example, if you take a litre sports bike trail riding, it’ll suck. But you wouldn’t do it because it is an inherently dumb idea. 

There is a point to my rambling: the Suzuki V-Strom 650 is a great bike. Let me tell you why.

All my previous V-Strom experiences have been in a non-suitable riding arena: a V-Strom on a dried riverbed, a V-Strom up a dirt track in the depths of a forest, or a V-Strom on an icy winter's day without heated grips. 

The point of this extended introduction is that on the V-Strom 650 launch, Suzuki put the bike in an environment where it shone far brighter than I knew it could, as it ate up endless epic ribbons of grippy tarmac.

But did the change of scenery make me think the bike was different? Has the 2017 V-Strom 650 become a radically different machine?

No. The difference now is that it’s apparent to me just why those hordes of V-Strom fans have so much affection for this little 650 adventure-styled sports tourer.

The V-Strom has always been solid, reliable and good value. It does what it does well, and no more. If you’re a V-Strom fan, then you can rejoice because almost none of that has changed alongside the 2017 bike's plentiful updates including Euro4 compliance and a hefty styling refresh.

The penguin-style beak has gone and the little 650 now looks almost identical to its big brother, the V-Strom 1000. There are new colour schemes and the same two model lines - a stock cast wheel version and the aluminium spoked-wheel XT version. Performance is identical, but the XT has a more adventurous aesthetic.

Euro 4 also means a host of new goodies have been added to the 650. The engine has received a chunky update - 60 new parts to be precise. That means a touch more power and torque across the curve, despite the more restrictive exhaust. Traction control has also been added to the package. It’s the same system you'll find on the bigger V-Strom, using the same dash and switchgear to control everything.

The new aesthetics bring a manually adjustable screen and a new narrower but still-comfortable seat design. The seat height is medium at 840mm, with low and high options available that sit at 810mm and 870mm respectively.

Suzuki has also shed a single kilogram from the weight and added the Easy Start system you’ll find on the SV650. Prod and release the starter button once and the motor turns until the engine starts. The days of holding the start button until your bike fires are numbered. The last real new addition to the V-Strom is ‘Low RPM Assist’ - when releasing the clutch the ECU picks up the revs slightly to make it less likely to stall – a system that's also found on the SV650.

This review started with a bold statement. I called a V-Strom great. It’s a bike that is renowned not for being exciting, but for getting the job done without fuss, for a relatively low price, and that hasn’t really changed.


THE HANDLING is incredibly neutral and nimble without being quick. Everything feels very safe. The 650 V-Strom doesn’t exactly drop into corners, yet getting it turning doesn’t require much effort. It leans into a corner in a very linear, smooth and predictable way and quickly helps you feel confident. It doesn’t move around, walk on the front, sit up or drop in. It tracks beautiful smooth arcs from corner to corner, changes direction quickly enough and feels stable enough all the time. It feels very V-Strom.

The suspension is a big part of the stable, predictable handling. The suspension on this bike was one of the biggest surprises. It’s not going to win races but it’s surprisingly well-controlled; budget bikes are very often the opposite. Take the BMW F700GS, a pretty close rival - where one feels like the Germans forgot to put oil in the suspenders, the V-Strom is planted. It doesn’t dive too much, doesn’t squat much at the rear. It’s good around town and on a twisty mountain road, is better than it has any right to be. It’s good enough that it didn’t need adjusting and that’s a bold statement. A little pre-load adjustment was in order to keep the load balance between the front and rear ends but if you aren’t pushing 100kgs, you likely won’t need that.

With 73hp on tap from the 645cc V-twin engine, the V-Strom 650 has decent power. It’s never going to drag you flapping into an adrenaline induced coma but it’s blessed with a smooth, strong torque curve. It’s buttery smooth from low RPM and pulls cleanly right to the top end. The EFI is very well set-up and Suzuki needs commending on that. Rolling on and off the throttle is perfect, with the only jolt coming through slack in the cable. Until they upgrade to a fly-by-wire system it can’t get much better.

The V-Strom makes the most forward progress when revving quickly and the gearbox is still a requirement. You’ll find yourself moving up and down the 'box a fair bit on a twisty road but you can, if it suits you, choose a number of gears for any given situation.

Open roads aren’t an issue either. Cruising at legally acceptable motorway speeds is perfectly comfortable, as is the riding position. The cockpit is on the cramped side, especially for a human over 6ft tall. The updated seat design is just as comfortable as ever, only now it’s less wide between the thighs.

The only performance aspect of the bike I’ve got to moan about are the front brakes, which are clearly budget units. A lack of power isn’t the issue, it’s more a lack of feel. The wooden feel is not something I’m a big fan of, but on a  budget bike like the V-Strom it’s not a deal breaker and becasue the power is there, you can still slow down quickly.

All that adds up to a bike that isn’t remarkable, but is a good budget sports-tourer. Putting it in the correct box is so very important to understanding why I think the V-Strom is a great bike. It’s a sport-tourer, a bike you’ll ride to work and then use to hit the twisties on a Sunday. It’s the same bike that’ll get you a few days down the road in comfort with little fuss. It’ll do all that and it does absolutely nothing to hamper your enjoyment.

The press introduction was on quite simply some of the best tarmac you could ever ride and the V-Strom let me enjoy every single inch of it. You can ride right to the limit of the environment and yourself, and the 650 doesn’t detract from the experience. It’s a bike you can dominate and enjoy. It might not put a grin on your face with ridiculous power or outrageous handling, but it won’t disappoint you either.

Tested: Suzuki V-Strom 650

Price: £7,899

Engine: 645cc liquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke V-twin

Power: 70hp at 8,800rpm

Torque: 45.7lb/ft at 6,500rpm

Suspension: Front – Traditional non-adjustable fork / Rear – Monoshock, preload adjustable

Brakes: Front – Twin two-piston Tokicos / Rear – Single-piston caliper

Fuel capacity: 20 litres

Weight: 216kg

Seat height: 830mm

Words: Llewellyn Pavey

Photos: Suzuki