2013 Suzuki SFV650

First Ride Review

When it was introduced for 2009, the Suzuki Gladius was a sharp little handler powered by a 645cc, 90-degree V-twin engine. It was named for a sword said to have been used by the gladiators of ancient Rome, which was shorter and lighter than the one used by soldiers in battle. And in motorcycle terms, we found the Gladius to be a simpler, lighter, mid-sized Suzuki with one heckuva fun factor.

But that was then, this is now. After vanishing from the lineup for a couple years, Suzuki has brought the SFV650 back for 2013 without the additional Gladius designation, citing market research as the reason. Also, to quote Henry Ford, it will now be available in any color you want so long as it’s black—or rather a “new Metallic Mat Black/Glass Sparkle Black color combination.”

Suzuki refers to the SFV650 as a standard, but it has a definite sporty bent with its liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin motor hung in a tube-steel trellis frame, and it retains chain final drive. Let’s say it has a certain Italianate flair. The engine features four-valve heads with dual plugs, which are fed by 39mm throttle-body injectors. With bore and stroke figures of 81.0mm x 62.6mm, it’s a revver and displaces 645cc.

The engine redlines at 10,500 rpm, but provides plenty of midrange power. Despite its 11.5:1 compression ratio, 87-octane fuel is recommended. When we put the Gladius on the dyno for our 2009 test, it cranked out 69.0 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, and 45.0 lb-ft of torque at 7,800. Its torque figures started in the high 30s at 3,500 rpm, and stayed above 40 lb-ft from 5,900-8,900 rpm. The 2013 model weighs just 443 pounds wet and, with a GVWR of 925 pounds, can carry 482 pounds.

On the road, the new SFV650 felt familiar because it has changed only in terms of name, color and price. With rake and trail figures of 25 degrees/4.17 inches, and a wheelbase of 56.9 inches, the SFV feels agile and eager. Steering is easy and quick, yet stable. With the rider sitting relatively upright, there’s plenty of leverage from that wide handlebar to get the SFV carving quickly and precisely. Its 6-speed transmission shifts with extreme ease and precision, and just a moderate pull is required from the cable-actuated clutch. The engine is remarkably smooth and quiet, and even near redline I experienced very little vibration. Power is more than adequate, with a steady pull from 3,500 rpm to redline. The bike carries 3.9 gallons and returned a very respectable 56 mpg average.

Seat height is 30.9 inches, and the flat seat is narrow at the front with very little padding and a definite edge. Suzuki offers an optional high seat for $169.95 that is two inches taller, and more padding would be a plus.

The SFV650 gets its stopping power from paired 290mm rotors and 2-piston calipers up front, and a single-piston caliper hugging the rear 240mm disc. Braking is strong, especially on the front, limited only by the fork’s soft springing and damping.

Both the fork and the link-type shock could use a little help. Any harsh bump, pavement edge or pothole during aggressive riding smacks the rider hard and sends the suspension oscillating, heaving and kicking back at both ends. Only spring preload adjustments are offered. The Gladius was priced at $6,899 for 2009, but for 2013 the new, improved price is $7,999. Why would Suzuki increase the price by $1,100 on this sweet little package, yet fail to upgrade either the seat or suspension?

Other than the overly firm seat and low-buck suspension, I was very impressed with the Gladius and its successor, the SFV. It’s a very easy bike to ride and to shift, it’s easy on gas and not buzzy despite the high revs it turns. Give it a better seat and suspension, Suzuki, and it would be hard to fault.