Japanese company Suzuki has been in the motorcycle manufacturing business long enough to know how to please its customers without spending gratuitously. It also realizes that the latest trends are often short lived, and knows when to pick out advancements and use them instead of jumping onto every new feature that comes along. In this way, it continues to consistently offer great-quality bikes with a small price tag. In keeping with these trends, Suzuki produced the DR-Z 400S line, which delivers an enjoyable, high-quality drive without many of the luxuries that drivers find frivolous or superfluous.
A stretch from the overly plush DR and DR-Z seats, the DR-Z 400S bike engineers opted to go to the other end of the spectrum, and the result is a very uncomfortable ride that is hard in the saddle. For a street rider, this is unacceptable, but for the off-road driver, it’s a dream come true. Dirt riders find that aggressive riding on tough trails is much easier with a sturdy seat, especially since the tank junction is very flat. Additionally, a gel seat is available as an after-market accessory for those who will be using the bike on the road more than off of it. The tall, solid saddle also forces the rider to stand up more, ultimately encouraging more riders to find terrains that work in conjunction with this stance. Using the DR-Z 400S off-road also gives the driver a chance to experience the bike as it stretches its legs, offering a tremendously enjoyable ride due to a high-quality suspension and smooth gear shifting.
The first noticeable downside to the DR-Z 400S bikes is their small gas tank: with space for only 2.6 gallons of petrol, mileage at best can be 50 mpg, compared to the EPA-rated 65 mpg. At a dry weight of 398 pounds, it’s a monster to drive, but the extra weight lends the bike some refinement, making the driver feel as though he or she is truly on a well-made vehicle. It also handles rather easily and predictably, as long as it is not being stressed at high speeds. The steel chassis employs an aluminum sub-frame supported by an adjustable suspension. The upside down fork in the front permits increments in the drive for rebounding and compression, while the monoshocks in the rear reign in preload and high/low-speed compression.
When it came to driving the DR-Z 400S, drivers found that it was a thrilling ride when used on trails riddled with dips, such as a winding wooded trail with many inclines and downhill areas. Clutch-happy drivers will find that the Suzuki DR-Z 400S is a flexible bike that can withstand use from those who throttle heavily and frequently, although fuel economy is usually an issue and therefore less revving equates to more drive time and less time at the pump. Gearing is short, which can facilitate the comfort factor for neophyte drivers. A high-tech DOHC fuel control system with liquid cooling for the motor and a dry sump lubrication system allow for some understanding when drivers abuse the bike in these messier terrains, and they add to the durability and longevity of the bike. The downside to these improvements is that they are expensive if they have to be replaced or repaired, and thus require proper maintenance regularly. The motor itself is high maintenance, taking time to warm up before a rough drive. Starting, though, is very simple: it utilizes a key and thumb starter, and the electric system is flawlessly responsive.
Because of the chain linkage in the transmission, there was some chain rattling, and the chain is said to stretch over time due to the materials used in manufacturing. The intensity of the noise increases unpleasantly with the amount of slack that builds up as drivers increase their speeds and that can become a hindrance to the driver. There is an auto-adjust that kicks in to diminish this noise, but it steps in too late after the initial sounds begin to become annoying and loud. Aside from that, though, the engine is excellent. The DR-Z 400S provides strength enough to be effective without being obnoxious, like some enduro bikes can be when driven on the street. With 31 horsepower and 23 lb-ft of torque, along with a 90 mm bore and 62.6 mm stroke, the four-stroke engine passes all on- and off-road tests with flying colors. As much as the engine proffers power, the brakes are always ready and able to manage the power in return. Considering that the brakes consist of a 250 mm disc in the front with a dual-piston caliper pinching the disc, paired exquisitely with a single caliper gripping a 220 mm disc in the rear, the brakes pack as much of a punch as the motor delivers.
Suzuki has done well in tailoring the DR-Z 400S for its intended uses. Signals and lights confer to the driver a sufficient level of visibility without obstructing it in darker areas at night. All controls are ergonomic and intuitively laid out, and the format makes drivers comfortable with the notion of driving this vehicle even on the first ride. The dual mirrors can be used or folded away, and the instrument panel is replete with information without being cluttered. The instrument panel itself is clear and readable in all light settings, and includes a speedometer, odometer, analog clock, timer, stopwatch, and twin-trip meters. It also showcases lightweight engine guards flanking both sides and a rear disc protector underneath with a quick-access airbox.
With a bike as flexible and unique as this, one would expect top prices, but Suzuki managed to cull down the price by picking and choosing which features to include for its intended consumer. Although it is not the most powerful bike in the market, its limitations are outnumbered by its willing drive and exceedingly well-engineered frame and powertrain.