2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 review: still the coolest A2 bike?

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 - front

The Svartpilen 401 has been updated several times over the years - we rode the latest version to see if it's an A2 bike worth having

If you’re riding on an A2 license, you still have stacks of choice when buying a new bike, even if you don’t want to get something restricted. Only recently, a new contender entered the fray in the form of the Aprilia RS457, and while it’s probably the most fancy from a tech standpoint, it’s definitely not the coolest A2 bike. That honour surely goes to the Husqvarna Svartpilen 401.

It’s been kicking around for a while now, but the Svartpilen (which means ‘black arrow’) was tweaked last year It’s the updated bike we’ve been riding over the course of nearly two weeks, to see if the 401 is still an A2 bike worth having, despite it getting on a bit and having much fresher competition. 

2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 technical details 

The Svartpilen 401 was part of the first slew of all-new Husqvarna models under the brand’s KTM/Pierrier ownership, taking full advantage of the parts bin to borrow both the steel trellis frame and engine from the KTM Duke 390

That engine is a single-cylinder, four-valve unit displacing 373cc, which achieved Euro 5 compliancy in 2020. It develops 44bhp at 9,000rpm, 3bhp off the A2 license limit, with 27lb ft of torque arriving at 7,000rpm. Feeding the single is a 9.5-litre fuel tank.

The suspension comes in the form of preload and compression adjustable (from 2021 onwards) upside-down forks with 43mm stanchions from KTM-owned WP, and a pre-load adjustable monoshock from the same brand at the back. There’s a 320mm single front disc and a 230mm rear disc squeezed by callipers from Indian company ByBre, and Bosch ABS at both ends of the bike. A ‘Supermoto’ mode disengages ABS at the rear. 

All of this is dressed up in gorgeous neo-retro bodywork. While unchanged from the previous version, you do get new graphics, making the Svartpilen 401’s styling smarter than ever. 

Completing the look is a set of 17-inch wire wheels, wrapped in 110mm tyres at the front and 150mm at the rear. On the Svartpilen those boots are blocky Pirelli Scorpions.

The instrument panel is a simple one, with a small, round LCD display in the middle. You do, at least, get a shift light above, which flashes ever more frantically as the redline is approached. 

Although earlier Svartpilen 401s were assembled in Austria, they’ve long been built in the same Indian factory as the Duke 390 by Bajaj Auto, which owns a 49 per cent stake in KTM. 

2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 pricing and availability 

The 2023 version of the Husqvarna Svartpilen is available to buy now for £5,999. Husqvarna currently offers the bike on a PCP (personal contract plan) with a £1,319.25 deposit and 36 monthly payments of £69. The APR of 4.9 per cent is cancelled out by a £500 discount from the manufacturer. This brings the total amount payable (including the optional final payment of £2,167.50) to £5,970.75, a little less than the full cash price, so you might as well spread the cost.

2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen review

The first thing that strikes you when first seeing a Svartpilen 401 in the metal is how small it looks. It isn’t, however, cramped for a taller rider like myself. Just don’t think about how big you’ll look astride the dinky little thing to observers. 

It’s also a light bike, weighing in at around 150kg, which is apparent the moment you first lean it over. The 401 responds quickly to inputs, whether that’s darting in and out of traffic or tackling a corner. More road-biased tyres like those on the Vitpilen (see section below) would make it sharper still, but it doesn’t feel hamstrung by the blockier rubber used here. They’ll ensure the Svartpilen will be able to tackle light green laning (we’d assume - our test was exclusively on road), but not anything particularly gnarly. 

That little 373cc thumper is the star of the show, screaming its heart out as you approach 10,000rpm. If anything, it sounds better than the old Euro 5 version, whose exhaust was a little ‘farty’. And as the 401 isn’t especially powerful, you can pin it wide open and bang through a few gears on the standard-fit quickshifter, safe in the knowledge you won’t be travelling at license-losing speeds at the other end.

But that’s not to say the Svarty feels slow - keep the revs high, and it seems plenty quick. And although the torque arrives fairly high in the rev range, there’s enough of it lower down to make riding around town a doddle. You do at least need to make sure you’re in fourth or ideally third gear around town, though, or else the single will start to struggle. 

Going back to that quickshifter, it’s a bit clunky in its operation but operated faultlessly throughout our near-two weeks with the bike.

The suspension verges on the softer side of the spectrum, but offers up plenty of control, settling well when the bike’s taken over lumps and bumps in the road surface. The front end does dive a little under braking, but not excessively and you could always have a play with adjusters to try and dial some of that out.

That softer ride and a reasonably comfortable seat means you can do longer distances on the 401, despite the fact it’s aimed at being a more urban-friendly runabout. Just bear in mind that with the small fuel tank, you won’t get much more than 100 miles before hitting the reserve. You do also get some vibes through the bars to contend with, but not enough to be annoying, and in any case, it comes with the territory when riding a single-cylinder bike. 

The Husky feels like a quality product, with neat details that make a big deal of the Husqvarna branding. The company crest appears on the lovely fuel filler flap assembly and is stamped on the crankcase cover. What dates the bike, though, is the LCD display. A lot of the information it shows is displayed small, and thus it isn’t the easiest thing to read while switching between functions needs a hefty stab with your finger. On a £6,000 bike these days, you might be expecting something a bit snazzier. 

2023 Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 review

When walking into the dealership, you’ll be presented with two very similar-looking bikes: the Svartpilen 401, and the Vitpilen 401. We’re yet to ride a Vitpilen with all the same updates as the Svarty seen here, but we know from riding an earlier version a few years ago that there’s very little to separate the two. 

The Vitpilen or ‘white arrow’ switches to clip-on handlebars, shifting your body weight a bit, and more road-biased tyres Metzeler M5. This makes the Vitpilen feel sharper, but really, there’s very little in it. What is noticeable is the difference in comfort - the clip-ons make the Vitpilen a lot less comfortable. Unless you’re sold on the cafe racer style, you’re better off sticking with the Svartpilen. It's also worth noting that the Vitpilen can only be purchased from existing stock - Husqvarna is no longer making the bike. 

2023 Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 vs KTM Duke 390 vs rivals

Perhaps the most obvious rival for the Svartpilen 401 lies close to home - the KTM Duke 390. For 2024, it’s getting a new frame, engine and much more besides, and even before those updates had a proper TFT display. We suspect that new frame and engine will end up in a new Svartpilen 401 somewhere down the line, but nothing’s confirmed.

Another urban-focused, A2-friendlyoption is the Yamaha MT-03, which is priced similarly, and has more contemporary looks if that’s your bag. It’s also getting on a bit, but does have a much bigger fuel tank than the Husqvarna, and has switched to a two-cylinder engine, which some riders may prefer. Two much newer prospects are the Triumph Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X, which will be on UK roads next year. 

If you’re after something a little more versatile, you can have the parallel-twin and still A2-compliant Honda CB500F for about the same money as all of these bikes, but it doesn’t have anything like the same street cred.

And when it comes to that, the Svartpilen 401 is king. But happily, there’s heaps of substance going on too.