First ride: Husqvarana 701 Enduro review

A 'new era' for Husqvarana or a KTM for £200 extra?

TAKE the badge off this Husqvarana 701 Enduro and what have you got? A KTM 690 Enduro R LC4.

I'm not speaking figuratively. You can literally take the seat off, with its Husqvarna badge, and find 'KTM LC4' written underneath on the air-box.

We've known since we saw a prototype in 2013, not long after KTM's acquisition of Husqvarna from BMW, that the new model was based on a KTM 690. There's also a new Husqvarna 701 Supermoto, based on the KTM 690 SMC R. The plan is to build a whole range of KTM-based Huskies in what the once Swedish marque is calling its 'new era'.

But it's not just a change of branding, Husqvarna maintains. Its machines will be more ‘user-friendly’ than their Austrian counterparts, ‘less extreme’ according to product manager Justin Maxwell. In the case of the 701 Enduro, ‘more for travel,’ he said. To that end, the tank, which is also the polyamide sub-frame, is one litre bigger than the KTM’s, meaning a 13-litre capacity.

In a presentation at the launch in Lagos, Portugal, our attention was brought to the new, ribbed seat, extending virtually from handlebar to tail light, and to the narrowness of the new bodywork, allowing the rider freedom to move around.

The words 'user-friendly' and 'travel' weren't ones I found myself saying as the launch test ride got underway. With a claimed seat height of 910mm, the same as the KTM's, this bike is tall. I'm 5'9" and my feet were dangling if I tried to get both down at once. Even my tiptoes didn't bridge the gap. So instead I had one foot flat on the ground and my bum half off the seat. Kicking the side-stand up from that position is impossibly awkward. You've got to do it before you get on. That's all fine I suppose. The clue's in the name: 'Enduro'.

I'm comfortable riding off-road but a long way from expert. Happy on trails but not likely to enter an extreme enduro race ever in my lifetime. For me, the height of the 701 threatened to be inconvenient off-road too. If I came to something particularly awkward, that I wanted to paddle over with my feet, I wouldn't be able too. Notice these thoughts still didn't include the words 'user-friendly' or 'travel'.

A road leading to a trail was flooded. A couple of Husqvarna's riders found a way of bypassing it, but it involved a near-vertical descent of about 50 metres down a slippery, muddy hillside onto the road on the other side of the water. One journalist attempted it and arrived at bottom on his arse. Another, one of the most experienced off-road, looked down from the top, made his excuses and turned back. I saw the descent and said: 'Are you f****** kidding me?' So another route was found.

But as we eventually arrived at some trails, climbing, dropping and twisting through wooded and grassy hills along the coast, the 701 Enduro quickly inspired me with confidence. There’s no need to worry about reaching the ground when you’ve got loads of low-down torque and a 21-inch front wheel that seems to float over anything in the way, the upside-down fork, with compression and rebound damping adjustment, soaking it up like it’s not there. Both the fork and shock are from WP and offer a claimed 275mm of wheel travel (compared to a claimed 250mm for the KTM).

Now the 701 Enduro did take on a dimension of user-friendliness. The gear selector is stubby and fat. It folds back, so it’s less likely to bend if it goes down, and that fat profile also makes it easy to feel and operate with the side of your foot, even through a tough off-road boot. That made it easy to shift up a gear while standing on the pegs. The six-speed box seemed to resist finding neutral when I stopped, though.

Although the 690cc twin-spark engine has strong, helpful torque from way down in the range, the throttle response is forgiving, not too aggressive. The throttle is ride-by-wire and there are three fuel maps to choose from – soft, standard and advanced – using a switch located under the seat. The test bikes were on the standard setting.

At one point we came to a trail that was thick with wet mud and I opted to dodge a section by riding on some grass around the edge. The grass turned out to be submerged, the blades poking out from a few inches of water. For a moment I thought I was going to have to put my feet down as the front slipped and twisted about in the mush, and that ominous sense of the reach to the ground returned. But the user-friendly (yes, now I was thinking it) throttle response gave me the confidence to gas it a tiny bit, which slightly unloaded the front and let it find a way through, my feet never leaving the pegs. Demonstrating, possibly, why a very high seat isn’t necessarily so bad.

Getting back on tarmac meant crossing v-shaped concrete roadside gutter, about two-feet across and a foot deep. Some riders popped a small wheelie as they crossed, so the front never went in the dip. Showing less skill, I just rode through it. The front dropped in and popped out with a grace that almost suggested I knew what I was doing.

The 701 Enduro could clearly cope with far more than I’m capable of putting it through but it’s also flattering to the average rider, letting Mr Ordinary feel like he might have some talent. In that sense, it’s a user-friendly street-enduro bike, with few true competitors except the KTM 690 Enduro R on which it’s based.

User-friendly as a means travel? Not particulary. At least not for me. Accessories include a tall screen, and Husqvarna says luggage options will be available soon, but neither will cure the 701 Enduro’s vibes at motorway speeds. Objects in the mirror may appear blurrier than they are. The steering is twitchy under hard acceleration and the seat is a bit unyielding. 

The knobbly Continental Twinduro tyres were good off road. The rear always seemed to find grip and the front, along with the single wavey disc and two-pot Brembo caliper, provided reassuring stopping force. But on the road they predictably felt squirmy and made me nervous in the rain. It took a few hours of sun and some miles of dry roads before I gained confidence in their grip.

Dashboard equipment is almost absent. The small rectangular digital display has no rev counter and no fuel gauge, although there is a low fuel warning light.

As on the KTM 690 Enduro R, ABS comes as standard and can be deactivated at the rear wheel by plugging in a dongle under the seat.

It’s hard to see how the differences between the two models amount to very much. The KTM’s seat is just as long and the bike itself just as slim. The ribs on the Husqvarna’s seat are admittedly new.

If the Husqvarna is any more adapted to travel, it’s probably by virtue of its one-litre extra fuel capacity. A bolt-on seven-litre accessory tank takes total capacity to 20 litres and range to a claimed 248 miles.

Peak power is the same, at 67hp, and the Husqvarna weighs ever-so-slightly more, at a claimed 145kg instead of 143, both without fuel.

Otherwise this bike is mostly a branding exercise. The argument for it over the KTM will be largely a matter of whether you think the Husqvarna badge and styling is worth £200. The 690 Enduro R is £7,799 while the Husky is £7,999.

The styling is pretty sharp and the brand less common-place and possibly cooler than KTM, so maybe it is worth it.

Service intervals are 6,000 miles and Husqvarna has 22 UK dealers.


Model tested: Husqvarana 701 Enduro

Price: £7,999

Engine: 690cc single-cylinder liquid-cooled SOHC

Power: 67hp @ 7,000rpm

Torque: 49lbft @6,500rpm

Weight without fuel: 145kg

Frame: steel trellis, made by WP

Tank capacity: 13 litres

Seat height: 910mm

Colours: White and blue

Availability: Orders being taken now for delivery from November 30

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