2020 Suzuki Katana First Ride Review

When Suzuki’s original Katana was unveiled 39 years ago at Germany’s Cologne motorcycle show it wowed the industry. Boasting a European-inspired design that was forward-thinking for this period, it backed up its sleek lines with a powerful 1,100cc TSCC-powered powertrain that set the performance tempo for open-class naked bikes. Fast-forward to today, and the Japanese company looks to make magic again with its 2020 Katana.

If you’ve studied our 2020 Katana First Look article, it could be easy for critics to knock Suzuki for employing power and chassis underpinnings that are beyond a decade old. However, after a fun, albeit brief, ride through the hills of Kyoto, Japan, I can say the Katana has merit with its style, attention to detail, and lofty level of refinement.

Suzuki’s motorcycle division is forged by tradition, as evident by the subtle red katana sword emblems on either side of the body panels, So Italian designer Rodolfo Frascoli didn’t want to stray too far from German designer Hans Muth’s original shape.

“I instinctively traced the lines of the upper part of the tank and side saber cut,” Frascoli reveals. “The most difficult part was certainly the central part because it was necessary to respect the compromise between the columns of the filter case to have a more streamlined design.”

After modeling the motorcycle by both computer and hand, Suzuki’s Kazutaka Ogawa was responsible from moving the design past clay and into production.

“The design of the 1980 Katana was very simple: flat surfaces, straight lines, and edges,” Ogawa tells us. “In the new one there are more three-dimensional angles and facets.

“We intervened on the front section and on the fairing; we also had to make changes to the rear section,” he continues. “The changes are so minimal that it is also difficult to see them.”

At a standstill, we are attracted to the iconic nose that still commands attention after all these years. Inside is a stacked rectangular LED headlight, and a pair of offset position lights to help you stand out on the road. The upper fairing and 3.2-gallon fuel tank appear to be carved from a solid piece of metal—just like a katana sword, weapon of choice for ancient samurai fighters. In typical Suzuki form, overall fit and finish is at a high level, however there’s no hiding the older and more porous castings of the engine case and swingarm.

The tail is long and lean, plus it has a plush and supportive rider seat. The passenger seat appears equally as accommodating. Oddly enough, the shape of the LED taillight is a tad bulky, resembling something that we’d see if Suzuki built a new B-King.

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Although it looks sizable in the flesh, especially with the more reflective Metallic Mystic Silver paint (Glass Sparkle Black is the alternative color option), sitting behind the handlebar reveals a slim, well-proportioned riding position. Although the seat is a tad high (32.5 inches), the rear lip of the fuel tank and tapered alloy frame spars make for a straight shot to the ground for the rider’s legs. Compared to the GSX-S brother, the Katana uses a wider handlebar (1.38 inches) with a centered bend that’s neither too sporty, nor too relaxed. The foot controls are equally relaxed and complement the Katana’s sporty but not overly so stance.

Twist the key and tap the starter button, and the engine zings to life with its classic GSX-R growl. Suzuki’s Low RPM assist feature automatically feeds fuel into the engine as the clutch is released to help the rider get rolling forward. It functions so smoothly, you don’t even know it’s working.

Power comes on smoothly as the right grip is cracked, thanks in part to a redesigned throttle tube. It gives a more progressive initial pull against the cables that actuate the primary double-barrel throttle bodies (bottom ones)—a signature trait of pre-ride-by-wire GSX-Rs. The top butterflies are manipulated by a servo motor, based on intake air speed.

There’s no adjustable engine power, nor throttle maps, but that’s all right as throttle response is accurate, without being too snappy. It’s a polished design for a non-ride-by-wire setup and performs better than we remember on the original GSX-S1000S, which the Katana shares underpinnings with.

Three-way-adjustable traction control (plus off) is standard, however the system doesn’t benefit from an IMU, like most contemporary wheelspin-limiting setups. Instead it relies on more limited data channels, including wheel speed, crankshaft, gear, and throttle position sensors. If the ECU deems a value is exceeded in one of the three settings (one is the lowest intervision, three is the highest), the electronics retard ignition timing, reducing engine power. Each setting is easily manipulated via handlebar switch gear.

Crisp LCD instrumentation keeps tabs on machine vitals, and we appreciate the hook-shaped tachometer which is a subtle nod to the original Katana. Other neat details include the badging atop the handlebar clamp and the katana badging on either side of the upper fairing. However considering its premium positioning, it would have been nice if engineers would have added a color touchscreen-compatible instrument face.

Although Suzuki claims this inline-four is good for 150 hp, the last time we dynoed this engine specification, it generated 137 hp at 10,700 rpm and in excess of 60 pound-feet of torque from 3,500 to redline. So it’s certainly no slouch, even if we were limited to third gear at the private two-lane highway where we rode. There’s a hint of engine vibration, but it isn’t enough to creep through the controls.

A pleasing intake roar emits from deep inside the Katana when you twist the right grip—teasing you to twist the throttle deeper. Yet the note emitted from the belly-mounted exhaust is muted; not necessarily a bad thing for those who wish to avoid unwanted attention.

Rowing through the six-speed gearbox demonstrates precise shifts matched, by a properly weighted cable clutch. The clutch mechanism also includes slipper functionality ensuring smooth high-rpm downshifts. One gripe: It would have been nice if Suzuki would have added an electronic quickshifter, with auto-blip downshift functionality, for a more sporty and seamless-feeling gear exchanges.

With a 474-pound ready-to-ride curb weight, this Suzuki is no lightweight. Yet wielding it across pavement demonstrates its agility. Not only does it offer neutral steering manners, it carries its weight low and feels balanced through turns. It’s a very easy bike to control and place where you want on the road.

Calibration of the KYB suspension is superior than we remember aboard the GSX-S further enhancing chassis poise. The suspension offers both spring preload and damping adjustment so you can tune the suspension to your liking. However, the OE setup performed flawlessly. But to be fair the Japanese pavement we rode on wasn’t as beat up as we’re accustomed to in SoCal.

The Katana rolls on a pair of six-spoke cast aluminum rims shod in Dunlop’s new Japanese-made Sportmax Roadsport 2 rubber. The tires are engineered with a new silica mixture and are designed to perform in a wider range of temperatures. Even on a chilly and slightly damp road surface with higher tire pressure than we’d have run on a smoothly paved short course (Suzuki ran 36 psi front, 42 psi rear setting), the tires performed flawlessly, further complementing the Katana’s well-sorted chassis.

Triple-disc hydraulic brakes are well calibrated and didn’t offer the spongy feel we’re accustomed to feeling with the GSX-R lineup. But to be fair, our lead-follow road pace was so mellow that virtually any type of anchors would have performed well. Always-on Bosch-powered ABS is another standard feature. It’s certainly a worthwhile feature but we wish Suzuki gave the rider the option to manually disable the system, like most European bike manufacturers offer.

The 2020 Katana is a testament to tradition and Suzuki’s never-ending goal of assembling the perfectly balanced streetbike. Despite its lacking some of the more modern and high-end componentry of its rivals, there’s do denying the polished overall riding experience and careful attention to detail. Although MSRP has yet to be announced if Suzuki can cap the price at $12,500, it will pair its high-level of refinement with value in the class, too. Expect to see the 2020 Katana in US dealerships this fall.

Technical Specifications

ENGINE: 999cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 16-valve
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER: 150 hp @ 10,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE: 79.7 lb.-ft. @ 9,500 rpm
FRAME: Twin-spar aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION: 43mm inverted KYB fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION: KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, rebound damping; N/A travel
FRONT BRAKES: Dual opposed four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers, 310mm discs w/ ABS
REAR BRAKE: Single-piston caliper, 250mm disc w/ ABS
RAKE/TRAIL: 25.0°/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE: 57.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 32.5 in.

Source: MotorCyclistOnline.com

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