Church of MO: 2012 Suzuki DR-Z400S Review

Speaking of Japanese motorcycles with loooong Durability, how about the DR-Z400S? Suzuki sold the first in 2000 as a serious enduro machine that could also be driven around on the street. And they’ll sell you a complete 36mm Mikuni carburetor today for only $7,099 – that’s $1,750 more than 22 years ago. This reflects the price of real estate well. Wait, that’s not entirely accurate… Take it away, Tommy Roderick:

Balancing the demands of on-road and off-road riding is the cross of a dual-purpose motorcycle. Some DP bikes focus on one discipline or another, such as B. Husqvarna’s TE250, which is nothing more than a dirt bike with the minimum legalities required. However, Suzuki’s DR-Z400S combines the worlds of off-road and street riding with a balance unmatched by competing models.The DR-Z is the only DP motorcycle of Japanese origin with a displacement of 400cc. Honda and Kawasaki skirt the category with offerings in 230cc (Honda only), 250cc and 650cc displacements, while Yamaha offers one 200cc and two 250cc models. Euro manufacturers like Beta, Husqvarna and KTM produce comparable machines in 350cc, 310cc and 450cc and 350cc displacements respectively, but like the TE250 mentioned above, these bikes are thinly disguised off-roaders.
With no competition from the other Japanese OEMs, the 50/50 dirt-to-street Suzuki DR-Z400S rules the mid-displacement dual-sport category.

The 400cc DR-Z bridges the gap between the modestly performing 250cc models and the often overweight and road-heavy 650cc models. Compared to its DR-Z650SE stablemate, the 400’s 317-pound curb weight surpasses its relative by 49 pounds and produces surprisingly similar horsepower numbers. Our 400S made 31.2 horsepower, while the 650 we tested in our 2007 article Three for Five: Budget Bomber made 35.3 horsepower. The big DR’s extra displacement shines through in the torque figures, producing a significant 10.4 ft-lb more than the 400’s 23.5 ft-lb.

While the added torque of the 650 is certainly an advantage, when it comes to refining a bike over and around various off-road obstacles, we take the 400’s lighter weight rather than the 650’s performance advantage and heavier weight.

2012 Suzuki DRZ-400S off-road trailsNavigating narrow singletrack in loose conditions is much easier for the DR-Z400 than its larger displacement competitors.

When we tested Yamaha’s WR250R last year, the 298-pound (wet) machine made 27.7 horsepower and 17.0 ft-lb of torque. With the DR-Z weighing just 19 pounds more than the Yamaha but offering 3.46 more horsepower and 6.52 ft-lbs of torque, we’re drawn to the realistic possibility of shedding some of the 400’s weight and giving it that of 250 rather than trying to close the 50-pound gap between 400 and 650.

After a day trading the Suzuki for the Husky TE250 (see our upcoming shootout), we feel that by reducing the DR-Z’s weight, stiffening its suspension and installing some aggressive rubber on the Rims can be turned into a serious off-road weapon. While it’s impractical to shave the DR-Z down to the TE’s 255-pound wet weight, bringing it close to or under 300 pounds is within reason.

2012 Suzuki DRZ-400S front wheelA fully adjustable fork and powerful front brake can handle more off-road difficulty than the stock front tire. A more aggressive profile works wonders for rider confidence on technical terrain.

A fully adjustable 49mm front fork with 11.3 inches of travel combined with a rear shock that is adjustable for preload and compression damping with 11.8 inches of travel are impressive suspension components. The plush stock settings smooth out minor road imperfections but are easy to compensate for aggressive off-road riding. Stiffening both the front and rear components allows a rider to better explore the DR-Z’s capabilities.

Not the best we’ve tested, but stopping power from the DR-Z’s 250mm front disc brake with dual-piston calipers and rear 220mm disc brake with single-piston caliper is more than adequate. The front brake offers strong initial bite and is easy to modulate, which is crucial when riding off-road with the small, knobby front tire.

2012 Suzuki DRZ-400S instrument clusterIt’s clunky and unattractive, but the DR-Z’s instrument cluster has all the features needed for both on- and off-road driving.

In addition to its street-ready rubber, Suzuki has equipped the DR-Z with street-ready niceties like a digital instrument cluster with dual trip meters (with add/subtract functionality), clock, timer and stopwatch functions. There are also passenger footpegs, a helmet lock, and a thick, albeit narrow, seat that offers relatively more comfort than true dirt bikes.

While the liquid-cooled 398cc DOHC single produces viable amounts of low-end torque, Suzuki has outfitted the DR-Z with a five-speed transmission that limits rider choice in power delivery. While most DP 650cc bikes also use five gears, we would prefer that the 400 had a six speed gearbox like most small and medium displacement DP bikes.

Southern California’s freeways and their usual 80 mph flow of traffic (when traffic is flowing) is a bit much for the DR-Z. The motor spins fairly quickly to keep up that pace, making for a lively experience. At 65 mph and under, the single-cylinder engine roars along at a tolerable cadence. A sixth gear in the DR-Z’s transmission would go a long way in making the DR-Z a better highway machine.

2012 Suzuki DRZ-400S water crossingDirt, pavement or water, the DR-Z attacks them all with aplomb.

A glaring oversight by the DR-Z engineers is the simple omission of brush guards. Certainly not a deal breaker, but when Suzuki’s own DR650SE – a less messy model than the DR-Z400S – comes with these off-road-inspired items as standard equipment, one can only wonder why they didn’t install them on the 400. Another in- The dirt bike-like facet of the DR-Z is its metal tank. One wrong descent (which is an accepted aspect of aggressive off-road driving) and the DR-Z’s metal tank will forever carry a battered memory of the event.

The Suzuki DR-Z400 has no direct competition in terms of displacement and price, making its performance and $6,200 MSRP a combination that’s hard to dismiss. The DR-Z is as competent on the road as it is in the dirt. For the person looking for an enduro that can handle a single track or paved road, as well as daily commutes and even some short adventure rides, the DR-Z is a DP bike worth considering.

related reading
2012 KTM XC Enduro Line reviews
2011 Yamaha WR250R review
2010 Husaberg FE570 Review
2009 Kawasaki KLX250S Review
2008 Lightweight Dual Purpose Shootout
2005 Suzuki DRZ400SM
All things dual use
All off-road

Comments are closed.