First Ride Review
Scooters are often thought of as less-than real motorcycles, but in fact they are superior in many ways and deserve a wave from the rest of us. Cost of ownership (fuel, insurance, maintenance) is low, the underseat storage and step-through seating are convenient and the typical twist-and-go, continuously variable transmission (CVT) in a scooter make it easy to ride in stop-and-go urban traffic. And larger “maxi” scooters like Suzuki’s Burgman 650 Executive twin offer nearly as much performance as the typical middleweight motorcycle, and equal or even superior highway capability, wind protection and comfort.
As much as we like the big Burgman 650, the current Executive model is so large and luxurious that for some it’s a bit too much scooter, like getting a foot-long at the sub shop when you really only needed the six-inch. To that end Suzuki offers two models that step-down in size, weight and cost in proportion to their smaller engines, the Burgman 400 and Burgman 200. For 2018 the Burgman 400 is all new, and to my mind is now the Goldilocks “just right” model in the lineup. It lost 15 pounds, makes impressive power from its refreshed liquid-cooled, 399cc DOHC single with four valves and has stable handling at freeway speeds thanks to a stiffer new frame and larger 15-inch front wheel. Wind protection, comfort and styling are all upgraded as well. At a $2,950 savings over the 650 it’s still plenty luxurious for a scooter, too, with a thicker, slimmer seat, refined fit and finish and nice touches like an adjustable rider lumbar support, all-LED lighting and a power outlet in one of the two front storage compartments.
I haven’t ridden a Burgman 400 in many years, but was nevertheless surprised by how much power and smoothness the single offers, zooming it up to freeway speeds quickly and easily with a handful of throttle and picking off stoplight after stoplight at the San Diego, California, introduction with a bark from the airbox, which has been enlarged and redesigned to give the scoot some aural authority. The Burgman 400 went away for the entire 2017 model year for its revamp, and returns for 2018 Euro 4 compliant and a claimed 12-percent more fuel efficient. Torque is up down low and the CVT and clutch have been beefed-up for quicker takeoffs from a stop, too.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Burgman 400 is the stability it offers for its size. Freeways are vital arteries in Southern California where the traffic can be fast and aggressive. Most commutes are going to include at least a little of it, so in the name of research I hit Interstate 5 for about 15 miles. Although the Burgman’s overall size is slimmer and more compact, that larger 15-inch front wheel and stiffer underbone tubular frame have definitely elevated the 400 to freeway worthy—I held a steady 75 mph in the light afternoon traffic and never felt a twitch or shimmy from the midweight Burgman. In corners and intersections the scoot handles smoothly and easily, too, exhibiting none of the tendency to fall in or oversteer often found on scooters with smaller wheels.
Suzuki says the Burgman 400 is also the only scooter with a linked single shock in back (could be, but there’s a lot of scooters out there!), which offers 7-way preload adjustability like a motorcycle and does a somewhat stiff but capable job of suspending the scoot along with the 41mm fork. Strong triple-disc brakes with ABS—which has a 1.6-pound lighter control unit now—haul the bike to a quick stop. Just remember that in the unlinked system the left lever is the rear brake and the right lever the front brake as normal.
Of course the whole point of scooter design is to make their operation simple and conceal all of the mechanicals, leaving an approachable and friendly interface that is confidence-inspiring, comfortable and convenient. While the Burgman 400 doesn’t offer quite as much legroom as the 650 for my 5 feet, 10 inches, with the seat lumbar support all the way back there’s just enough room to stretch my legs out to the forward footwell position for cruising and plenty of space for my feet flat on the boards as well. The new bodywork incorporates cutouts in the rear of the floorboards to make it easy to get your feet down at stops, too, and while the 29.7-inch seat height is slightly higher this year, it’s still low enough that I could easily plant both feet on the ground.
Suzuki says the shorter new windscreen is actually more aerodynamic than the former swoopy design, and on that cool day in San Diego I found that the fairing and screen route the wind around the rider’s legs and torso quite well, with the wind coming over the top of the screen just hitting my helmet. It seems like quite an effective compromise for cold days and warm, and if you need more coverage Suzuki offers a taller screen as well as a number of other accessories.
Passengers have it really good on the Burgman 400, with a large contoured seat, foldout footpegs and long, smooth grabrails that are easy to reach. The seat opens from the ignition switch and reveals a 42-liter storage compartment that will hold a couple bags of groceries or roughly one full-face helmet and one three-quarter lid (and you can’t believe the convenience these compartments offer until you try a maxi scooter). Two front compartments also provide several liters’ worth of storage, and there’s a DC power outlet in one, but neither one locks. Security is enhanced with a key-operated security shutter over the ignition switch and a gate in the lower portion of the bodywork that allows a chain lock to be passed through and around a frame member.
I particularly liked the instrument panel, which has a central LCD display flanked by an analog speedometer and tachometer that are easy to read. The display includes an odometer, twin tripmeters, a clock, ambient temperature, average fuel consumption, fuel level and coolant temperature readings, plus an Eco Drive indicator that lights up when you’re riding “green.” I wasn’t able to get a formal fuel efficiency reading (we’ll update this story after we get a test bike in a couple weeks), but the average fuel consumption indicator said 54 mpg over the course of the morning, and that just happens to be the average mpg Suzuki claims for the Burgman 400, giving it a theoretical range of just under 200 miles from its 3.6-gallon tank.
I can easily imagine owning a Burgman 400 in addition to a motorcycle, particularly if I lived somewhere where owning a car was impractical for some reason. The underseat storage is as convenient as the trunk of a car, and the midsize maxi scoot offers good protection from the elements, plenty of performance and lots of style. Although the larger 650 is a better touring machine, we’ve heard from lots of riders who have toured the country on scooters as small as 250cc, which makes the Burgman 400 downright huge and luxurious. It’s all a matter of perspective I guess….