PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT PALMER & ANDREA WILSON
The Suzuki SFV650, formerly known as the Gladius, is a delight on the road – fun and zippy.
In case you haven’t noticed, Suzuki’s fun-loving Gladius is back in the company’s lineup. You might’ve missed that fact for good reason, because it’s no longer called Gladius - it’s now simply called SFV650.
The Gladius, a Latin word for a small sword used by Roman foot soldiers, made its debut in 2009 right when the recession was clicking up into sixth gear and by 2012 it had inconspicuously disappeared from Suzuki’s arsenal. Luckily, it has resurfaced again but without much fanfare or the Gladius moniker.
The Gladius, or SFV650, re-emerged in 2013 (as well as in 2014) much like it was in 2011 but with a new coloring. You might remember the original Gladius with its distinctive blue and white color scheme. Now it is, in stark contrast, mostly black and, in our opinion, it doesn't quite stand out as much. The 2013 version is all black while the 2014 SFV650 received some coloring touches, getting a more overall gray/black tone and a distinctive red frame that now highlights its unique steel trellis design. (The SFV650 we tested was a 2013 model, which is nearly identical to the 2014 model sans the red paint and a more compact and lighter fuel pump. According to Suzuki’s specs, the 2014 model is about a pound or so lighter than the 2013 version.)
We recently got the chance to spend some quality time with the SFV650 and again became quite attached to the spunky little machine before we had to return it to its rightful owner. In fact, they – our friends at Suzuki - had to pry our fingers off it after receiving more than one, okay, maybe five or six, ignored emails demanding its return. Some motorcycles are just worth fighting to keep.
Fun. That’s the single best word to describe the SFV650. Two words would be – fun and economical. Priced at $7999 for the 2013 and $8149 for the 2014, the SFV650 isn’t that far out of reach for most people who are in the market for a full-size, hard-working yet fun and, not to mention, exotic-looking motorcycle for the street, and the SFV is rather inexpensive to operate, its two medium-sized cylinders sucking just enough fuel to get you upwards of 55 miles per gallon, depending how much fun you and your right wrist are having. You can cover a lot of ground with its 3.9-gallon tank. Plus, it has no problems being fed cheaper 87-octane fuel, despite its somewhat high 11.5:1 compression ratio. There’s no sticker on the tank saying you must get the good (expensive) stuff. That’s a big deal.
With the SFV650 you get an exotic-looking bike without the exotic price tag.
The SFV’s DOHC 90-degree V-twin motor, with dual spark plugs and four valves per cylinder, delivers excellent power for just 645cc, via its 3.19-inch bore and 2.46-inch stroke configuration, offering up a good mix of high-revving excitement, midrange pull and low-to-mid torque to keep things interesting at all times. If you feel like just plonking around from stop sign to stop sign or from turn to turn, no problem, just short-shift it through its six gears, or if you’re feeling a bit naughty, open‘er up and let the R’s stretch out a bit. The SFV responds well to both moods.
Throttle response is also excellent. The SFV’s 39mm Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve fuel-injection system with 10-hole injectors deliver a smooth and steady stream of fuel to both cylinders at all throttle openings and rpm’s. We felt no glitches, burps or bogs.
The bike has plenty of power for commuting on the freeways. In fact, the SFV is quite comfortable droning along at 65-80 mph. There is no sign of laboring from the motor at these speeds, nor do you feel much in the way of excessive buzzing, even approaching its 10,500 redline. And it accelerates nicely while already at speed.
For a somewhat small displacement, the SFV is remarkably smooth and downright comfortable. The only thing that isn’t comfortable is the seat. The slight forward slant, narrow-at-the-tank profile and thin padding leave a lot to be desired. You’ll be feeling it before the one-hour mark. But it mainly needs just better padding. Suzuki does offer as an accessory a taller seat for the SFV for $169.95, as well as a gel seat for $298.95.
Ergos, however, are right on the mark. It’s not a very large motorcycle but one of our taller test riders, who hovers just over six feet, felt right at home on the bike. It has a fairly straight up and down and relaxed seating position that helps make up for the yucky seat. Another plus is the bike’s rather low 30.9-inch seat height. Combine that with its fairly narrow profile, getting both feet firmly planted on the ground isn’t an issue and shouldn’t be for most people. First-time or entry-level riders won’t feel too intimidated by the SFV’s small-ish stature or its user-friendly motor.
Control levers are easy on your hands and fingers. Despite being cable actuated and not hydraulically actuated, clutch pull is rather light, smooth and positive, and gear changes are simple, easily accomplished by nothing more than a slight tap on the lever with your left foot, down or up, through all six gears.
The SFV feels very light and responsive at the helm. Suzuki claims that it weighs just over 440 pounds wet. It handles well and is quick to react when it comes to rider input. Despite its compact size and somewhat short 56.9-inch wheelbase, and with its 25-degree and 4.09-inch rake and trail, the SFV feels solid and stable at speed, yet is ready to react instantaneously to your commands. The bike is very responsive. The tubular handlebars have just the right amount of leverage for effortless corner entries. Just flick it in and enjoy. The Suzuki is just as competent on the twisties as it is on the open highways, in fact, maybe even more so.
Braking power is good at both ends but not spectacular. The feel of our test bike’s dual-disc front brake was a little soft, but overall the front and rear brakes are good and plenty sufficient. The SFV is not fitted with an anti-lock braking system, which, if it had, would have certainly added to the cost and weight of the bike. To be honest, we did not miss ABS one bit on this particular bike.
The SFV’s suspension didn’t do anything to wow us. The fork is overly soft and doesn’t soak up the harsh jolts and square-edge bumps all that great. Overall ride is just okay at best – in general, a little harsh and springy - and there isn’t much you can do about it. Neither the rear shock nor the front fork offer any kind of damping adjustability, just some spring preload. The lack of suspension performance isn’t a game changer by any means, but is something worth noting.
The SFV comes with a simple yet effective compact instrument pod. It’s part analog and part digital and looks modern just like the droopy headlamp that hangs in front of it. Not only does the headlamp look modern, it also throws plenty of good useable light ahead of you.
You’ll seek out the back roads on your ride into work on the SFV650.
Overall, we’re glad to see “the sword” back in Suzuki’s arsenal. The Italianesque-looking machine is a head turner, offers sporty performance and, best of all, is just plain enjoyable to ride. You’re just not going to find too many other bikes that offer as much in the way of performance, fun and versatility for the price – as well as operating price – than the Suzuki SFV650.
2013-’14 Suzuki SFV650
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree, V-twin
BORE x STROKE: 3.19 in. x 2.46 in.
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.5:1
IGNITION: Electronic ignition (transistorized)
FUEL SYSTEM: Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) fuel-Injection system, 39mm 10-hole atomization injectors, with Idle Speed Control (ISC)
LUBRICATION: Wet sump
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed, constant mesh
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
FRAME: Trellis steel
RAKE/TRAIL: 25-degree/4.09 in.
FRONT SUSPENSION: 41mm telescopic, coil spring, oil-damped, spring preload adj.
REAR SUSPENSION: Link-type, coil spring, oil damped, spring prelad 7-step adj.
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL: 4.9 in.
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL: 130mm
FRONT BRAKE: 2-piston calipers, 290mm floating disc, twin
REAR BRAKE: 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc
FRONT TIRE: Dunlop Qualifiers Sport Radials 120/70ZR17M/C (58W), tubeless
REAR TIRE: Dunlop Qualifiers Sport Radials 160/60ZR17M/C (69W), tubeless
FUEL CAPACITY: 3.8 gal.
WHEELBASE: 56.9 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE: 5.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 30.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT: 445 lbs.
COLOR: Metallic Thunder Gray/Glass Sparkle Black (2014), Metallic Mat Black/Glass Sparkle Black
WARRANTY: 12 month unlimited mileage limited warranty
MSRP: $7999 (2013), $8149 (2014)