First Ride: 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 - Supersport Stalker

More Midrange Power And S-Dms Adjustability Whip The GSX-R600 Into Shape.

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brian J. Nelson

There are certain conditions that must be met before you can summon the courage to enter Misano's Turn 11 properly-that is to say, flat-out in fifth gear. First, have a firm grip on the handlebars. Second, make sure you're aboard a proper sportbike, one that's responsive enough to snap into a knee-down bend at nearly 150 mph but not enough to wander off-line at any point. You want to nail this exit. Oh yeah, and it's also nice to be able to see where you're going.

We managed the first point, and Suzuki's latest GSX-R600 pinned the second set of conditions regarding the bike. The winter weather in central Italy, however-with temperatures in the 40s and dense fog that limited visibility to maybe 150 feet (or an inch, when you accidentally exhaled on your faceshield)-was complicating the third point, and making every lap during the official 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 world press launch an exciting one. Welcome to the Misty Misano Hop.

Hey, at least it wasn't snowing, like the last time we rode GSX-R600s at Misano in the winter of '04. Suzuki must get a great off-season price on track rental here. Though questionable riding conditions might frustrate journalists looking to turn fast laps (or just stay upright and unbroken), they do tell us a lot about the character and ability of a given bike. Challenging (and constantly changing) conditions demand flexible, forgiving performance, and this latest-generation GSX-R600 is both.

It's a testament to how well the last-generation GSX-R600 worked that there were very few mechanical changes required for '08 to keep it in the hunt in the hyper-competitive 600cc marketplace. It already offered great handling with a reassuringly neutral character, capable suspension and excellent ergonomics. The most obvious area for improvement was the engine. Honda's CBR600RR made every other 600 seem underpowered, so Suzuki concentrated its efforts on pumping up low- and midrange power without sacrificing anything up top.

A milder intake cam, smaller-diameter throttle bodies and a smaller-diameter exhaust header all strengthen low- and midrange power. Peak output remains unchanged from '08 thanks to a slight compression increase (from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1) that is enough to restore the top-end power losses resulting from the midrange-boosting changes. Suzuki didn't divulge any hard numbers, but company dyno charts show a slight horsepower increase for the '08 engine around 7000 rpm and tapering off as the two curves merge again near 14,000 rpm, short of the 16,000-rpm redline.

The new engine feels strong off corners, accelerating with an authority that feels similar to what we remember from Honda's RR. Questionable grip on both test days (street tires, cold temps and 99.9 percent humidity, say no more) made us reluctant to rev too aggressively in the corners. Instead, we often ran a gear higher than usual to more easily manage the action at the rear contact patch. Thanks to the '08's added midrange oomph, this is a perfectly valid strategy-the new bike pulls strongly from as low as 5500 rpm, so being a bit lazy with the shift lever isn't the certain lap-time death that it can be on some other 600cc sportbikes.

It also helps that this latest Gixxer Six is a willing revver, thanks to newly enlarged inter-cylinder ventilation ports that help the motor spool up even faster, along with finer-atomizing, eight-hole injectors that contribute essentially flawless throttle response. No matter where on the tach you're starting from, peak power is never too far away.

In addition to improving outright engine performance, another engineering aim for '08 was to increase engine power "adjustability." Now, for the first time, the GSX-R600 also gets Suzuki's S-DMS drive-mode-selector apparatus that allows the rider to toggle among three distinct power output profiles (A, B and C mode) on demand using "up" and "down" buttons located on the right-hand switchgear.

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