Bandit 650: Suzuki's new all-rounder will please veterans and novices

Suzuki's middleweight is a smooth, all-round performer that won't buckle the budget, says Tim Luckhurst


Specifications

Engine: 656cc liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, four stroke
Maximum power: 62.5 kW @ 10,500 rpm
Maximum torque: 60.5 Nm @ 9,000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, chain final drive.
Brakes: front twin 310mm floating discs, rear single 240mm disc.
Seat height: 770mm - 790mm
Dry weight: 215 kg
Price: £4,449 ("S" version is £4,749)

Bandit: the name resonates with connotations of wildness and bad manners. Newcomers to the Suzuki range often anticipate an untamed beast, fizzing with aggression and champing to stand up on one wheel and taunt lurking traffic cops. Think again. This middleweight is about as sensible as economy motorcycling gets. It will commute, tour and entertain all year round for just less than £4,500.

If that sounds like advertising, please do not be fooled. In the bargain budget bin compromise is king, and this obedient renegade is no exception. The pleasing bit is by how little the need to cut cost has been allowed to limit performance, comfort and quality.

Suzuki's reputation for track heroics is hard earned. Its sports bikes are searingly quick and nimbler than squirrels. But qualities that put racers on podiums do not always translate. I am a big fan of Suzuki's race-derived GSX-R models, but until recently I was less certain about its road bikes. The Bandit 650 is an excellent antidote to my residual scepticism.

Competition is tough in this closest thing that real motorcycling has to a mass-market niche. The best comes from Suzuki's Japanese rivals, Honda and Yamaha. I am not damning with faint praise when I say that I would recommend comparing the little Bandit with bikes from either stable.

There is a modern fashion for making motorcycles as tiny as technology permits. The old Bandit bucked that trend and its replacement maintains a wise tradition. This 650 feels as large as some one-litre bikes and more comfortable. The height-adjustable seat is intended for all-day riding. The handlebars, clutch and front-brake lever are also adaptable to rider preference.

Versatility is the objective and the new, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine fits the bill. The previous Bandit, launched in 2005, retained characteristics from the original 600cc version launched in the early 1990s. It felt tired and rattly under extreme pressure and reminded me that it was more a modernisation than a complete renewal of its predecessor.

The 2007 engine is a proper redesign. It had to be to meet Euro 3 emissions requirements, but the effort has paid dividends in performance terms, too. Increased compression, shorter pistons and longer con-rods deliver impressive roll-on performance in high gears. There is more torque, enhanced power and greater smoothness throughout the rev range.

I comfortably achieved 120 mph on open motorway, and the Bandit could have gone faster. At that pace the engine is working hard, but it can cruise at 90mph and vibration is minimal, even at the highest speeds. It is also noticeably quieter than its predecessor.

The bike is a compromise, but its flexibility really hits home when you push it hard through bends. The suspension is for sensible riding, not racing, but it handles intense pressure with reassuring grace. The fully floating front brake discs are equally competent. The old Bandit grimaced when thrashed. This barely groans.

Riding briskly along winding Cornish lanes, I felt tempted to take this Suzuki on holiday. It is powerful enough to handle two-up riding. Fifteen thousand mile intervals between major services mean wandering far from base is feasible.

ABS is available on the Bandit 650S, but not on the standard model. It is such a useful feature in everyday road riding that Suzuki should extend it across the range. The same applies to the neat half-fairing on the Bandit S. Without it, weather protection does not exist.

There is other evidence of the money-saving required to keep the price down. The instrument panel is basic. The analogue tachometer and digital speedometer work well, but a gear position indicator would be useful - given the Bandit's obvious appeal to novice riders.

When John Major was Prime Minister, the original Bandit 600 helped to define the middleweight all-rounder. But the model aged badly and Honda's CBF Hornet and Yamaha's Fazer began to outsell it. Suzuki's 2005 decision to increase capacity from 600cc to 650cc was not enough to stem the tide. This new Bandit is plenty good enough to revive competition.

For newcomers to motorcycling, it can teach you a lot and carry you a long way. It is balanced, comfortable and refined. When buying motorcycles, " cheap and cheerful" is usually an oxymoron. Not this time.

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