Suzuki Assemblers Malaysia has a lot of catching up to do. Barely two years ago they were a non-entity on the local big bike scene but since then have been doing a great job of playing catch-up. At last count, they’ve introduced eight big capacity bikes here with more to come before the year is over. The entry-level machine is this bike, the Suzuki SFV 650, or better known as the Gladius.
Before we get to the bike, let me just say I think the name is a bit too effeminate for a bike. Gladius is apparently Latin for short sword wielded by Roman foot soldiers but I don’t see blood, orgies and togas when I hear the name. Instead, I think of Gladys, the tea-lady in Mind Your Language. Sorry.
Don’t let the name turn you off though because this is a rather capable bike. Firstly, it isn’t an all-new machine because it came out in 2008 right before the world economy imploded. This caused sales to crater and it even disappeared from a few countries for a couple of years before reappearing with minor updates in 2013. So yes, if you’re counting, this is pretty much a seven-year-old machine.
Suzuki though is a master at stretching out model life cycles. Witness the GSX-R 1000 K9, which has been around since 2009 but recently just won the 2015 Le Mans 24hr Endurance bike race. Sure, the Gladius isn’t in the same segment but like its brother there’s some good stuff here.
The motor for instance doesn’t follow class wisdom because while Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha have opted for parallel-twins and an in-line four, the Hamamatsu concern chose a small V-Twin. Displacing 645cc it produces a healthy 71hp at 8400rpm and 64Nm at 6400rpm, which isn’t too far away from the bike of the moment, the Yamaha MT-07.
The chassis hardware bits are more conventional. The frame is a steel-tube trellis while suspension consist of 41mm forks at the front and a single rear shock at the back, both adjustable for preload. Unlike its Japanese rivals, the Gladius comes with ABS as standard (as opposed to being optional or not offered at all), which is a bit of a coup for a CBU bike with a retail price of RM39,750 including the dreaded 6 per cent GST.
For the money you get a good-looking bike that is almost European in the way it’s styled. There’s lots of curves and a fat twin-pipe silencer with a chrome heat shield to draw your eye as well as sporty ergonomics to keep things interested once you’re aboard. Crucially, the bars are set wide enough for big riders to feel at home and have a place to hang off from when cornering.
The looks may be good but the cockpit display lacks some information. There’s a useful gearshift indicator but no fuel gauge so you use the twin trip meters to keep track of how much you have left before running dry. There is also neither a distance to empty readout, nor an average fuel consumption figure, which is baffling in 2015. I pulled in to refuel when the low-fuel started to blink only to find there was still three litres left in the 14.5-litre tank.
Grab the clutch, thumb the starter and you’re serenaded by the sweet offbeat rumble of a sporty V-Twin. It sounds a lot like Ducati’s 803cc air-cooled motor when idling, though of course this bike has a water-jacket around it. That makes it more efficient and from the off, it’s also apparent the Suzuki has superior low-rev fuelling. It pulls away with no fuss or stumbles, meaning you can split lanes in second or even third gear. Give the throttle a good whack though and the engine zeroes in on its 10,000rpm redline with no hesitation.
Suzuki’s V-Twin delivers a delicious growl past 7000rpm, which encourages you to use more and more of the available power and torque. Head down and elbows tucked in, I saw an indicated 207km/h on the digital speedometer, which would undoubtedly be topped by a more aerodynamic (read slimmer) rider.
Go hard on tight bends and the benefits of the engine layout are clear to see. There’s torque seemingly everywhere in the rev-range, so dropping multiple gears to keep the revs up isn’t as critical for drive out of corner exits. Keep a minimum of 5000rpm on the counter and the Gladius will pull hard with the bellowing exhaust accompanying an aggressive right wrist.
Unfortunately, the linear power delivery comes off feeling a bit flat. The bike isn’t slow but after the strong low-end delivery it seems to keep on chugging along with no top-end rush as a reward. Then again, this is a middleweight naked street bike so expecting 600cc SuperSport type thrills is a bit ambitious.
Unless we’re talking about cornering thrills. The lean forward riding position puts more weight over the front end so you feel what the tyre and suspension are doing under braking and in corners. Shod with Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier tyres, the Gladius gobbles up bends like a government investment gobbles up public funds, with the exception that everybody who rides it can enjoy the benefits.
Cranking the Gladius over is an almost telepathic experience, with the size of your nuts or the hero blobs on the foot pegs determining the lean angle, and though the suspension has preload adjustment only, the damping at both ends has been well thought out. In extremis, there is an odd wobble when you’re in total attack mode as the suspension struggles to cope with hard braking and cornering but by then most riders would have scared themselves silly, which means for 95 per cent of the time, you can’t fault the dynamic talents the Gladius has.
So it’s good at going quick and, thankfully also good at slowing down. The dual 290mm front and single 240mm are effective and though lever feel was a bit vague, the ABS system worked faultlessly throughout.
Taken as a whole, this is a surprisingly capable bike and perhaps a sleeper hit for Suzuki. Sure, there are more potential buyers for its fellow 650cc brethren like the V-Strom and V-Strom XT but measured up against rivals like the Kawasaki ER-6n, Honda CB 650F and Yamaha MT-07, it more than holds its own by delivering a balanced riding experience that won’t scare beginners yet thrill old hands at the same time. It’s also priced attractively. You just have to be able to live with the name or start calling your bike Pete instead.
Engine 645cc, V-Twin, liquid-cooled, 8v, fuel injection
Output 75hp @ 8400rpm; 68Nm @ 6400rpm
Frame Steel tube trellis
Suspension 41mm forks (FF) / progressive link, mono-shock preload adjustable (RR)
Brakes 290mm, two-piston caliper (FF), 240mm single-piston caliper (RR), ABS
Fuel capacity 14.5L