2017 Suzuki SV650 First Ride Review

The Venerable SV is Back, But is it Good Enough to Compete With the FZ-07?

The 2006 Suzuki SV650, the 2012 SFV650 Gladius, and the 2017 SV650.
The 2006 Suzuki SV650, the 2012 SFV650 Gladius, and the 2017 SV650.Animated GIF by Kathleen Conner

Suzuki says: “The SV650 magic is back!” Motorcyclist Magazine says: “Thank goodness!”

The Suzuki SV650 was a Motorcyclist staff favorite. More than half of us have owned SVs, and we've all recommended the bike to others. Repeatedly. So when the SV650 was replaced by the more expensive, heavier, and above all garish Gladius (later renamed the SFV650) in 2009, we were dismayed. With one misguided styling exercise Suzuki took the SV from being the tasty and wholesome snack that everyone loved, to being an over-seasoned dish that few could stomach.

2017 Suzuki SV650 review
Is the magic back?©Motorcyclist

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief then, because Suzuki has brushed the excess salt off the SV and now has a much more palatable bike. The ugly is gone, replaced by a redesigned tank, tail, seat, headlight, dash, and other parts that more closely resemble the simple and timeless look of earlier models. The new bike is also lighter, more powerful, and less expensive than the SFV650 it replaces.

The SV650 is back, and it makes us as happy as seeing an old friend.

2017 Suzuki SV650 gauges
We actually preferred the analog tachometer on earlier models, but the SV’s new GSX-S1000-style dash is pretty tidy and very informative. That’s a bar-graph tachometer across the top of the display (the rev limiter kicks in at about 10,500 rpm), a gas gauge across the bottom, and engine temp and gear-position indicator on the right. It’s too bad about the cheap-looking plastic that frames the dash and the headlight.©Motorcyclist

All that new bodywork is bolted to a bike that is more or less the same machine we’ve always loved, which means a narrow and nimble chassis and a gruff and lively engine. The SV’s ergonomics are just about as middle-of-the-road as they come, so the riding position feels relaxed and neutral. The backswept handlebar puts the grips right where you want them and there’s ample legroom. It’s really a comfortable package, whether you’re cutting through traffic in the city, cruising down the freeway, or cutting up a curvy back road. The low 30.9-inch seat height should prove appealing for shorter riders, though the scooped shape doesn’t let you move around much. Suzuki says a taller, flatter seat will be available as an accessory.

Suzuki added the Easy Start feature from the GSX-S1000 to the SV, so you push the starter button once and the ECM cranks the engine until it fires. Another new feature is the Low RPM Assist function, which feeds in a tiny bit of throttle as the rider lets the clutch. It's basically an evolution of Suzuki's Idle Speed Control, modified and marketed as a rider aid, and after experimenting with it we think it'll probably help timid newbies from stalling the bike as they learn to manage the clutch and throttle.

2017 Suzuki SV650 engine
Engine updates include new low-friction coatings on the piston skirts and other reciprocating and rotating parts, reducing drag and increasing power. New L-shaped piston rings (as on the GSX-Rs) create a better cylinder seal, so while the lower 11.2:1 compression ratio creates less combustion pressure, more of that pressure is put to work. Improved mechanical efficiency plus new fuel injectors, a bigger airbox, and new exhaust are all said to contribute to a 4-hp increase in peak power. The SV will likely make a solid 70 hp at the rear wheel.©Motorcyclist

The engine is as charismatic and punchy as we remember, but with a more nasally intake noise than before. Maybe the new Euro 4-compliant exhaust is just quieter? Suzuki tweaked the SV’s venerable V-twin a bit for 2017, increasing output by a claimed 4 hp. Throttle response is perfect and thrust is strong off the bottom and abundant everywhere in the rev range, but the rhythmic V-twin power pulses begin to blend together at higher revs and the engine feels busy and buzzy above 7,000 rpm. No worries, because 5,000 rpm puts an indicated 70 mph on the new all-digital dash in top gear.

On twisty mountain roads, this new SV is just as fun and willing a dance partner as the original. The bike has the kind of light and direct steering that lets you flick the bike from side to side while remaining centered in the seat. There’s no body language required, and the bike really feels like it’s working with the rider. The engine has the same sort of encouraging personality—just leave it in one gear and revel in the smooth torque, as thick and tasty as a slab of Canadian bacon.

Shifting is slick and smooth and the clutch has progressive engagement, but compared to the super light pull on "slip-grip" clutches the SV's clutch-lever pull is a little heavy for the intended demo. Suspension is basic—they’re the same parts the SV has had since 1999, but with updated spring rates and damping—but works well. The fork reveals its limitations by feeling harsh over hard-edged bumps, but otherwise the suspension is pretty compliant and supportive.

2017 Suzuki SV650
Suzuki says the SV’s chassis features 80 new parts and the engine uses some 60 new components. While the Gladius (later called the SFV650) had a nebulous and swoopy look, the new SV is cleaner and leaner, though we wish Suzuki would have used more painted panels (especially around the headlight) instead of texture plastic. The tank is 65mm narrower while maintaining the same 3.8-gallon (3.6 gallons in California) capacity. The rider seat is 30mm narrower, and the passenger section is a bit longer. The SV is a slim package, and the 30.9-inch seat height is the lowest in the middleweight naked-bike class. Colors are Pearl Glacier White and Pearl Mira Red.©Motorcyclist

The only real drawback to the bike is the front brake. The Tokico two-piston calipers are 1999-spec and feel that way. There's not much bite, power, or feel, so entering a corner faster than expected can be more exciting than it should be. An ABS model will be available later this summer for an added $500. Many SV owners solved the bike's suspension and brake inadequacies by slapping a GSX-R front end on. (Like we did with this SV650 Streetbike Surgery.) Too bad Suzuki hasn't warmed to that idea yet, because while the SV650 is an undeniably competent bike it needs an edge to take on the Yamaha FZ-07, which is clearly the SV's direct rival.

Compared to the slim and feisty Yamaha FZ-07, the $6,999 SV650 is $9 more expensive, about 30 pounds heavier, and feels about 15 percent larger. Both engines have the same claimed horsepower, but the FZ-07's parallel twin is rowdier and overall the Yamaha feels more rambunctious. The Yamaha is also ultra-compact (read: small) so taller riders may be attracted to the slightly larger SV, which offers more or less the same combination of fun and functionality for a nearly identical price. We don't expect the SV650 to outclass the FZ-07, but we won't know for sure until we ride them back to back.

In the meantime, we're excited to have the SV650 back. It's got the same character and confidence-inspiring performance that we remember, but now with updated styling, a few more ponies, and some novel rider aids. When we last tested the SFV650 in late 2014 (see that MC Comparo here), Senior Editor Zack Courts suggested that "If Suzuki's design staff could trim the fat off the SFV and spruce it up with an aesthetic that's not trying so hard to be cool—while keeping the SFV's fun-loving personality—they would have a winner."

That’s just what Suzuki did, and that’s exactly what we have.

WATCH: 2017 Suzuki SV650 Walkaround

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Slight updates to the engine and total makeover help refine the SV650 and return it to its former glory as a fun, versatile, do-it-all streetbike.
RIVALS
[Aprilia Shiver 750][], [Ducati Monster 821][], [BMW F800R][], [Honda CBR650F][], [Kawasaki Ninja 650][], [Yamaha FZ-07][]
TECH
PRICE $6,999
ENGINE 645cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 75 hp @ 8500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 47.2 lb.-ft. @ 8100 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 41mm fork; 4.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shock adjustable for spring preload; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico two-piston calipers, 290mm discs
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 240mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/4.2 in.
WHEELBASE 56.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.6 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 430 lb. wet
AVAILABLE June 2016
CONTACT [suzukicycles.com][]
VERDICT
The same SV650 we’ve always loved, and now we don’t mind looking at it!