CycleOnline.com.au tests the 2020 Suzuki KATANA.
Words: Steve Martin
Uncovered at the Intermot Show in Cologne, Germany, last year, the reintroduction of the legendary Suzuki KATANA for 2020 has been one of the biggest and highly-anticipated motorcycle releases for the Japanese manufacturer. CycleOnline.com.au recently had the opportunity to sample the all-new machine, which just hit Suzuki dealership floors around Australia.
Where we rode:
39 years after my initial sighting of the KATANA and a long hiatus, the 2020 version of Suzuki’s samurai sword has hit our shores. A select few journalists and I were lucky enough to be invited by Suzuki Motorcycles Australia up to the Gold Coast where we were able to test the bike for a beautiful ride to Tyalgum and back via as many twisty roads as possible. There was plenty of interest in the bike where ever we stopped, and that proved to me that the KATANA shape is still as iconic as it ever was. We spent some time in the traffic and manoeuvring the KATANA at slow speeds, so it was a good reflection of what a prospective owner could expect, living day to day with the bike and proving it’s not just a show pony.
Suzuki rightly stuck with the GSX-S1000 as the base bike, and that is a case of history repeating itself, as the original Katana was also based on the 1980 model GSX. The frame’s been modified in terms of mounting points for brackets, but geometry is similar to the 2019 GSX-S. The KATANA utilises the 2016 model GSX-R1000 swingarm and the same KYB suspension as the GSX-S, albeit with unique internal settings for the KATANA. The engine is also based on the long-stroke version of GSX-R engine that has essentially been gutted and rehashed to suit the purpose at hand which is an easy to ride grunty fun machine. Ergonomically the seat height is 825mm which is higher than the GSX-S and the bars are a smidge wider with a dash that somewhat gimmicks the original KATANA lines. Brakes are sensational and feature the same calipers as those fitted to the latest GSX-R1000R. Part of the attraction to the KATANA is its raw feel and that is captured on the electronic side. In a world where bikes have to have every gizmo the KATANA has just the basics. Three levels of traction control are all you get but you can adjust them on the fly as long as you chop the throttle. There’s also the option to turn it off if you want to go full commando, which can be fun. The only other electronic intervention is ABS and as there is no IMU fitted to the KATANA, it’s good but not lean angle dependant like some of the more expensive rivals in the naked bike sector.
If you read the specs, you could be excused for thinking the KATANA is a bit of a mix and match machine and in a way it is. The marrying of various models by Suzuki this time out though has turned the Katana into a truly terrific model. It fills a gap in the Suzuki model line up between the GSX-S and GSX-R ranges, but most importantly it’s pretty, has a strong heritage and performs like a modern bike should. From the moment I sat on the bike I loved the body position it gave an open controlled feeling. The wide bars made the bike confidence inspiring and the magic 100mm of trail meant the front always felt planted. The backroads we were riding on were quite bumpy, and I felt the Suzuki was set slightly stiff in the spring preload department. If we had time, I would have reduced the preload and I’m sure it would have improved the ride, but even as it was, it’s very good. I loved the engine – it really gave good push and I could become lazy with it. It was part of the bike you could trust whether taking off from the lights to gingerly opening the throttle on an angle in the wet. The engine was a good match for the chassis, and I liked the way the bike turned, it was quite precise and stable especially at higher speeds. I’m sure it turned well due to its underlying GSX-R heritage and there’s not much better knowledge to draw from than that. It was a little heavy flicking from side to side through the high-speed stuff, but give me that any day over instability. The brakes are a match to the best on the market. Good modulation and strong stopping power that matched the rest of the package. Through the traffic the bike responded well with an excellent range of vision. The balance point was good at low speed too which meant I wasn’t scared of toppling over. The side stand was also easy to reach and rounded off a well thought out package.
Starting off with a motor that was originally used so successfully to win many national championships around the world in GSX-R1000 guise, the KATANA engine has good pedigree. We know that the cases are good for more than 200-horsepower reliably in race trim, so the same cases pumping out nearly 150-horsepower in Katana trim ensures complete reliability. The Euro 4 compliant engine has a different crank and cams which nobble the power back, but give a lot more usable power through the bottom end and midrange. It certainly feels grunty on the road and it doesn’t matter which gear you choose the Kat, it just pulls away. Through the twist’s fourth gear seems to work as well as any and there’s always excess power to burn and I found myself just staying in the one gear due to the great response this engine has. It’s a shame really because it means the rider doesn’t get the chance to use that legendary gearbox that snicks into all gears so positively all that much. It really is a grunt master and can make an unexperienced rider feel more confident. The clutch pull feels slightly heavy probably due to using a cable instead of being hydraulic but on the plus side it is very positive smooth and direct to use.
To be honest, when I first saw pictures of the new KATANA it didn’t really grab my attention. It wasn’t till I saw the bike in the flesh that my heart strings twanged, and I realised I could love this bike. It’s got street cred, it’s got style, it’s got history and it’s relatively cheap at $18,990, making it one desirable motorcycle. There’s a bevy of Suzuki genuine hop-up parts to improve and individualise the bike into the KATANA that you want without voiding your warranty, so what more could you wish for?
Engine type: In-line four-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Bore/stroke: 73.4mm x 59mm
Seat height: 825mm
Fuel capacity:12 litres
Price: $18,990 ride away
More information: www.suzukimotorcycles.com.au