V-Strom 650’s 2017 face-lift finally gave it the adventure-bike looks it was crying out for, and continues on through 2023.

V-Strom 650’s 2017 face-lift finally gave it the adventure-bike looks it was crying out for, and continues on through 2023. (Suzuki/)

Ups

  • V-twin engine still a gem after all these years
  • Outstanding comfort, balanced handling
  • Impressive range and economy

Downs

  • Electronics relatively rudimentary by 2020s standards
  • Suspension and brakes aren’t cutting-edge
  • Not as capable off-road as its styling suggests

Verdict

Suzuki might catch some criticism for lagging behind its rivals in terms of regular new model launches, but the V-Strom 650 is a good example of the benefits of gentle evolution over clean-sheet redesigns. While its chassis can trace its heritage back to the first-generation version’s introduction in 2004, and the engine’s roots are from its 1990s debut in the SV650, a steady program of improvements mean the V-Strom 650 still hits modern emissions targets and makes a compelling case for itself as a road-biased, low-cost adventure-tourer. With an all-new parallel-twin-powered replacement currently under development, the smaller V-Strom’s days might be numbered, but it’s still a bike that never fails to please.

V-Strom 650 is a good example of the benefits of gentle evolution over clean-sheet redesigns.

V-Strom 650 is a good example of the benefits of gentle evolution over clean-sheet redesigns. (Suzuki/)

Overview

Following the launch of the bigger V-Strom 1000 in 2002, the 650cc version was an obvious addition to the range when it reached showrooms in 2004. Initially it suffered the same problems as the larger machine: Its styling was frumpy, and despite its high-rise riding position, the aluminum frame and cast wheels meant it was always on the “touring” side of adventure-touring. There was no real off-road element to either its appearance or its abilities, and that worked against the V-Strom as riders rushed for bikes that made them look like they were planning on an overland trek to Mali even when they were really only heading to the mall.

Once you’d come to terms with the styling, that original V-Strom 650 was an impressive middleweight, turning in more performance and better handling than might be expected from its appearance and selling well as a result. A styling refresh in 2011 helped, increasing the fuel tank capacity and range and increasing the ground clearance. But it took until 2015, when Suzuki launched the first-generation V-Strom 650XT, for the bike to really start to grasp the “adventure” side of its nature with the addition of wire wheels and a “beak” on the nose.

For 2023, V-Strom 650 is available in white paint with gold-anodized wheels.

For 2023, V-Strom 650 is available in white paint with gold-anodized wheels. (Suzuki/)

That beak had already become the signifier of the entire adventure bike class, but Suzuki’s original DR Big was where it all started. With a complete refresh in 2017 the V-Strom fully embraced that heritage, gaining the styling that’s still unchanged on the 2023 model half a decade later. While the bigger V-Strom 1050 has since become even more closely aligned to the DR Big, with a rectangular headlamp and blocklike bodywork that pays direct homage to Suzuki’s formative 1980s adventure bike, the V-Strom 650 has kept the sleeker look of the 2014-2019 V-Strom 1000. It’s unlikely to get a visual update to match the bigger model, as a new 700cc parallel-twin Suzuki adventure bike is waiting in the wings to replace the V-Strom 650, probably as soon as 2024, with more serious off-road abilities to compete with the Yamaha Ténéré 700.

Updates for 2023

Colors aside, the 2023 versions of the V-Strom 650 are unchanged from previous years. The base model’s sole color option switched from white to blue, while the XT’s went from blue/silver with blue-anodized wheels to white with gold-anodized wheels. Meanwhile, the XT Adventure continues on with a combination of black paint, blue graphics, and blue-anodized rims.

Pricing and Variants

The V-Strom 650 is available in three variations: standard ($8,904), XT ($9,399), and XT Adventure ($10,499).

Differences between models are small but important. Standard V-Strom 650s roll on 10-spoke cast wheels, while the XT gets spoked-style tubeless wheels, hand guards, and a lower engine cowl. V-Strom 650XT Adventure adds 37-liter panniers to the XT’s equipment, as well as engine guard bars, a handlebar cross brace, and an accessory bar.

Standard V-Strom 650s roll on 10-spoke cast wheels, while the XT (shown here)  gets spoked-style tubeless wheels, hand guards, and a lower engine cowl.

Standard V-Strom 650s roll on 10-spoke cast wheels, while the XT (shown here) gets spoked-style tubeless wheels, hand guards, and a lower engine cowl. (Suzuki/)

Competition

Kawasaki’s Versys 650 has always been the most obvious rival to the V-Strom 650, sharing the same sort of road-biased approach with cast alloy wheels and a touring-style fairing. With the advent of the Versys 650XT and the refresh in 2017, the V-Strom took on a slightly more rugged look, but buyers looking for a twin-cylinder adventure bike with real off-road chops are likely to turn instead to Yamaha’s much newer Ténéré 700.

From Europe, BMW’s F 700 GS is a direct competitor to the V-Strom 650, and again a far more recent model, while Triumph’s Tiger Sport 660 also makes a very convincing alternative if you’re sticking to the asphalt. The Tiger 850 Sport is a slightly faster, pricier option with similar mild dirt road abilities.

Suzuki’s V-twin dates back to the SV650’s 1998 debut but has been regularly updated since then.

Suzuki’s V-twin dates back to the SV650’s 1998 debut but has been regularly updated since then. (Suzuki/)

Powertrain: Engine, Transmission, and Performance

The 645cc DOHC V-twin engine in the V-Strom 650 might appear long in the tooth, but subtle upgrades over the years have kept its power strong while reining in emissions to meet constantly changing limits. It’s certified at 70 hp and managed a genuine 65.2 hp the last time we had one on the dyno.

The 2017 update that remains in production today eliminated the power deficit to the SV650 and added traction control. On testing that bike, Cycle World’s Barry Hathaway said: “Smooth, docile, and well-mannered, engine performance will only disappoint if you decide to street race a GSX-R600.”

Power gets down via a six-speed box and chain final drive and is tamed by that traction control system, but you won’t find the quickshifter technology that’s becoming increasingly common across the motorcycle spectrum in the 2020s.

2023 V-Strom 650XT Adventure is the top version, but still cheaper than many rivals.

2023 V-Strom 650XT Adventure is the top version, but still cheaper than many rivals. (Suzuki/)

Handling

Like the engine, the frame dates back to the original V-Strom 650. While it doesn’t have the sort of off-road design that its rivals are increasingly adopting, that plays into the Suzuki’s hands on the roads where these bikes will spend 99 percent of their time.

The rigid aluminum twin-spar chassis and simple-but-effective suspension means the 650′s road manners are impeccable. The V-Strom makes you want to ride to the horizon and beyond, with the proviso that the V-Strom’s off-asphalt abilities don’t match up to its appearance. Hathaway wrote: “The adventure of leaving the pavement is more the ‘trying not to crash’ kind than the Paris-Dakar ideal.”

Brakes

One look at the V-Strom 650′s two-piston sliding caliper front brakes is an instant reminder of its age. In a world where even scooters are fitted with four-pot, radial-mount stoppers, these look like an anachronism, though the reality is that they’ll pull the V-Strom up more than sharply enough. There’s ABS, of course, but it’s neither the sort of cutting-edge, cornering ABS system that’s becoming common on modern bikes even at the middleweight level, nor can it be switched off for off-road use—another indicator that the V-Strom isn’t as serious about dirt roads as some of its rivals.

V-Strom 650XT Adventure adds 37-liter panniers to the XT’s equipment, as well as engine guard bars, a handlebar cross brace, and an accessory bar.

V-Strom 650XT Adventure adds 37-liter panniers to the XT’s equipment, as well as engine guard bars, a handlebar cross brace, and an accessory bar. (Suzuki/)

Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG

Owners reports show that the V-Strom 650 will usually manage between 50 and 60 mpg depending on use, and with a 5.3-gallon tank that should mean a relatively easy 260 miles between fill-ups with the potential to stretch that to around 300 miles if you’re careful.

Ergonomics: Comfort and Utility

Comfort is an area where the V-Strom 650 shines, so put aside any concerns that a mere 650 isn’t big enough to cope with big miles.

Testing the 2017 model, again essentially the same bike as the 2023 version, Cycle World’s Barry Hathaway said: “At 6-foot-2, I felt as though the bike was sized just for me, and that I could ride for days on end without discomfort. Virtually no vibration makes its way to the pegs or bars, regardless of engine speed. Pleasant vibes are present, but are so refined they are scarcely felt, and through the seat only. Steering is (you guessed it) neutral and precise. Can a motorcycle be too refined and comfortable, or too average? If so, this could be that bike. But it’s sure to be the ideal motorcycle for some, and the perennial selection of the V-Strom 650 by numerous Iron Butt enthusiasts is proof.”

Multiple modes, available from the left hand bar, are one of the V-Strom’s concessions to modern technology.

Multiple modes, available from the left hand bar, are one of the V-Strom’s concessions to modern technology. (Suzuki/)

Electronics

While the V-Strom 650 isn’t overburdened with gizmos, and lacks the sort of full-color TFT instruments, LED lights, and smartphone connectivity that are fast becoming the norm, it’s not backward in terms of equipment. There’s ABS and traction control, albeit without the IMU-assisted cornering functions of some rivals, and ride-by-wire throttles have brought thoughtful additions including a “low RPM assist” feature that helps prevent stalling.

Warranty and Maintenance Coverage

A 12-month warranty is standard, extendable via Suzuki Extended Protection (SEP).

Quality

Owners generally report strong build quality, but keep an eye out for corrosion on fasteners and fixings, particularly if you ride on wet or salted roads.

2023 Suzuki V-Strom 650/XT/XT Adventure Specifications

MSRP: $9,104/$9,599/$10,799
Engine: 645cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 90° V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain
Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI w/ 34mm throttle bodies
Clutch: Wet, multiplate
Engine Management/Ignition: Fuel injection w/ SDTV
Frame: Twin-spar aluminum
Front Suspension: 43mm telescopic fork, nonadjustable
Rear Suspension: Monoshock, preload adjustable
Front Brake: 2-piston Tokico calipers, dual 310mm discs w/ ABS
Rear Brake: 1-piston Nissin floating caliper, 260mm disc w/ ABS
Wheels, Front/Rear: Cast aluminum; 19 in. / 17 in. (tubeless wire wheels on XT and XT Adventure)
Tires, Front/Rear: 110/80-19 / 150/70-17
Rake/Trail: 26°/ 4.3 in
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Ground Clearance: 6.7 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal.
Wet Weight: 470 lb. / 476 lb. (XT) / 528 lb. (XT Adventure)
Contact: suzukicycles.com
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