UK road test: Suzuki V-Strom 650XT review

‘More adventure as standard,’ says Suzuki. So what, exactly, does that mean?

WHAT’S wrong with Suzuki’s popular soft-roader, the V-Strom 650? Not soft-roader enough for some, apparently.

So for 2015, Suzuki has expanded the range with a new edition, the V-Strom 650XT.

It’s gained an alloy sump guard, crash-protection bars and plastic hand-guards. Most significantly, it’s got wire-spoked wheels, with the spokes threaded through a raised central flange in the rim to allow tubeless Bridgestone Trail Wing dual-sport tyres.

And it’s grown a beak.

The result is 'more adventure as standard,' according to Suzuki. Note the careful choice of words. Not more off-road potential as standard, more adventure as standard.

You may notice that the claim doesn't really mean much. So it's probably not surprising that the actual result feels quite a lot like the existing V-Strom 650.

The engine, based on the 645cc V-twin used for 16 years in the SV650, is mild-mannered. It’s detuned slightly from the SV’s 71hp and 47lbft to 68hp and 44lbft – but the difference is greater than those peak figures suggest. The SV is revvier, with a higher red line, at 11,000rpm; the V-Strom red-lines at 10,000. Power comes in gently in the lower range, building to a nice, likeable dollop of mid-range torque. It feels best around 6,000-7,000rpm. Higher-up, it keeps going but doesn’t feel like it has much more to give, so you might as well change up for another nice lump of unstressed mid-range.

The impression is consistent with the figures. Peak torque is at 6,400rpm and peak power at 8,800 - 1,200rpm before the red line.

The V-twin also doesn’t sound quite as good as it does in the SV. It seems to have been detuned of some bass as well as some power.  

The V-Strom is comfortable and spacious though. The seat is a single unit for rider and pillion, providing both with lots of room. It’s fairly tall - I’m 5’9 and was on the balls of my feet if I put both down at once – but that means lots of leg-room while riding.

The bars are quite high and a slight reach away. My arms felt almost straight and horizontal. I suspect the V-Strom's ergonomics are arranged with a slightly larger person than me in mind, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The screen is tall and offers the crudest kind of adjustability: you take it off and put it back on again, inserting the mounting bolts into different holes in the fairing, and rearranging rubber plugs to cover the empty ones. There' a choice of three levels. With practice you might do it in five minutes, using an Allen key. More likely you'll choose a level that suits you and never touch it again.

At the middle setting the top of the screen was probably about level with my chin and at the highest my nose. Either way it quietened the wind at motorway speeds, although some turbulence seemed to find its way around the fairing and tank to hit my chest.    

The suspension has the travel and suppleness to ride straight over speed humps without slowing. It’s not sporty but it’s respectably well-damped, absorbing bad surfaces without over-reacting to them.

The brakes are similar to the SV’s, with twin-pot Tokico calipers at the front biting slightly bigger discs, at 310mm compared to 290. At the rear is a single-pot Nissin caliper, again like the SV’s.

They feel like the SV’s too: powerful enough but without aggressive initial bite. In other words, a bit soft by latest standards, including those of direct V-Strom competitors like Kawasaki's Versys 650

I kept coming back to Versys 650 as I rode the V-Strom. At £6,749 plus on-the-road charges, the Kawasaki is £250 cheaper than the base-edition V-Strom, and sharper in probably every respect.

The Versys is just as comfortable and it’s got a proper adjustable screen, one that can be altered without tools. It’s better looking, with pointier styling for 2015. In contrast the blobby V-Strom is looking dated and the XT’s beak makes it look like exactly like a rubber duck.

The Versys makes more torque and slightly more power than the V-Strom, at 47lbft and 69hp. In practice the Kawasaki’s engine feels much stronger and more aggressive. Crack the throttle fully open at low speed in first gear and you'll find enough torque to flip it. Give the V-Strom the same treatment and it only accelerates.

Perhaps that's not to its detriment. Not everyone wants to wheelie.

I spent a week using the V-Strom as transport and liked it more by day seven than I had on day one. It can make good progress – 44lbft is 44lbt, even if it does arrive with deceptive gentleness. It’s tame, smooth, easily-manageable, the torque building steadily.

If you’ve had a hard day at work, the V-Strom is a welcoming prospect for your journey home. It filters through traffic quite well. It’s not as wide as it first seems, the mirrors sticking out no further than the bars. But it's a relaxing experience and I sometimes found I wasn't in a filtering mood. I thought: ‘It’s all right. I’ll get home a few minutes later. So what?’

If you have to get to the airport for a 7am flight, the V-Strom is the kind of bike you want to get you there. And maybe if you want a bike to do everything – commute, tour, do the shopping, mow the lawn and take the rubbish out – the V-Strom fits the bill.

It’s got a big rack (something the base-edition Versys 650 lacks), with a big pillion grab-rail. It’s got a big under-seat compartment with two hook-type helmet locks. It’s got the basic things that make motorcycling a little bit more convenient.

It’s got a big range. Fuel receipts showed I got an average of 53mpg, using the 650XT on a mix of town, motorway and A-roads. As I handed it back to Suzuki, the average-fuel-consumption meter on the dash said 50mpg. That’s well over 200 miles from the 20-litre tank.

It’s got ABS as standard and there’s a big range of accessories, including a top box (£375), panniers (£817) and a 12-volt power socket (£55). The one I rode had a centre-stand (£185) and heated grips (£225). The grips were okay but I’ve got a £40 set of R&Gs on my SV650 which get hotter.

Price is the biggest problem for the V-Strom (not to mention some of those accessories). Let’s say, for a moment, that some riders will prefer it to the Versys 650, precisely because it’s a bit more relaxed, with a softer torque delivery. It still doesn’t justify the higher price. It’s not more sophisticated. It’s not better.

The V-Strom 650XT is £7,599 plus OTR. You could probably do some gentle off-roading on it but, with its 19-inch front wheel, I doubt many people are going to buy one for that purpose. So I don’t exactly know why you would get one instead of the £6,999 basic V-Strom 650, never mind the £6,749 Versys.

Actually I do. I know the reason every time I see someone on a BMW R1200GS Adventure in London. The machine doesn't have to be off-road to possess the rugged, triple-extra-large presence that makes them desirable to so many riders.

If you want adventure-bike presence on a circa seven-grand budget, the V-Strom 650XT probably does deliver more of it than the base edition, and the Versys 650. Even if it also looks like a rubber duck.

Model tested: Suzuki V-Strom 650XT

Engine: 645cc V-twin

Price: £7,599 plus on-the-road charges

Power: 68hp @ 8,800rpm

Torque: 44lbft @ 6,400rpm

Kerb weight: 215kg

Tank capacity: 20 litres

Seat height: 835mm

Colours: metallic blue, candy red, metallic matt grey, pearl white

Available: now

Watch our video review of the 2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650XT.

Read our 2015 Kawasaki Versys 650 review

Read our Yamaha MT-09 Tracer review

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