Suzuki DR-Z400E Review
Motorcycle Test by Trevor Hedge
Well here we are, almost 20 years since the DR-Z400 first landed on Australian shores, I have been again banging about the bush on Suzuki’s versatile enduro bike for the masses. Since its inception, at the turn of the century, almost 20,000 of these hardy machines have been sold from Suzuki dealers around Australia.
And a couple of those 20,000 were sold to me! The last one of which ended up with RM forks and modified shock, 440 big-bore kit, cams and a PTR prepared cylinder head which pushed it up to 46 horsepower at the rear wheel. With Supermoto rims slipped in it also got me down to 68-second laps around Wanneroo Raceway. Yes, Trev and the DR-Z have plenty of history together…
Not all that many DR-Z machines end up being motarded these days, as it is much easier to just buy the DR-Z400SM model direct from Suzuki.
It would be nice, however, if the trail versions of the DR-Z400E scored the same dual-chamber inverted forks from the RM series that grace the front end of the road biased SuperMoto ‘SM’ model of the DR-Z.
On the other hand, it would also be nice if the DR-Z SM boasted the high-compression piston and larger Keihin FCR39 flat-slide carburettor of the DR-Z400E, rather than the much tamed down variant of the DR-Z engine that the SM receives. For outright grunt the enduro biased DR-Z400E punches appreciably harder than its road biased SM sibling.
One thing is for sure, Suzuki’s DR-Z series has been a massive success for the brand. Legendary reliability backed by a 12 months parts and labour warranty, that compares especially well to the strictly limited warranty available on some of the more hard-core enduro bikes in the market, along with an attractive retail price, have combined to earn the DR-Z a fantastic reputation amongst trail riders.
While the hard-enduro segment of the motorcycle market continues to trend towards higher and higher performance, the DR-Z400E has now been demoted to the role of trailbike. But still, the Australian buying public continue to cast their vote for the DR-Z400E with their wallets. (Sales Figures – Link)
But certainly don’t imagine that the DR-Z is a low performance budget clunker. The DR-Z is perhaps the modern incarnation of Honda’s legendary XR400R. The Honda was for a long time king of the sales charts thanks to unrivalled reliability and reasonable performance but its day has passed, a fact lamented by many, including Honda dealers…
The type of riders that would have bought the XR these days turn to DR-Z machines in droves as the Suzuki has now built a well proven reliability record to rival that of the XR.
The DR-Z also boasts water cooling, better suspension and an engine that is at least 20% more powerful than the XR. Thus the DR-Z has firmly established itself as the XR400R for the 21st century.
Suzuki claim a 138kg wet weight with all fluids for the DR-Z however the machine never really seems that heavy. That’s unless of course you are stuck halfway up a snotty hill while trying to keep the bike upright, then you feel every last one of those grams. But at least you have the comfort of electric start to get going again should you stall rather than having to resort to a tired hoof to spark the bike into action.
That weight is suspended reasonably well by a pair of 49mm forks that offer rebound and compression adjustments. They are not ultra bling upside-down units but still do a fairly good job of controlling the front end and provide a generous 288mm of travel.
Like almost all enduro bikes the DR-Z400E utilises a single cylinder mill for motivation. It is a willing performer with good throttle response right throughout the rev range and enough mumbo to lift the front wheel with ease in the first couple of gears. If you have reasonable throttle control you can keep it there right through to top gear without too much trouble.
After spending so much time on modified DR-Z machines it was somewhat of a revelation as to just how smooth that throttle response is on a standard bike. How easy it was to start from cold, and its overall good manners compared to those bikes that have had their air-box opened up in order to liberate a few more ponies up top, suggested that leaving well enough alone is probably not a bad idea for a lot of riders.
The DR-Z is not a rip your arms out of their sockets powerhouse like the more hard core enduro options, but it is rarely found wanting when called on to deliver. It’s also not quite as resistant to stalling as the latest and greatest enduro engines. It could benefit from a little more flywheel weight, but that’s about its only real shortcoming in trail use. The standard gearing is not too bad.
A huge plus for many riders is the relative lack of maintenance that a DR-Z requires. It has a relatively generous oil capacity nearing two-litres, which is more than twice that of many hard enduro bikes, and thus it does not require changing anywhere near as often.
It is also not at all highly strung. Many of the higher performance options in the market make a lot more top end power, for sure, but some also need an oil change almost every long ride, yes, you read that right, every ride. Some of those race bred machines also need rebuilds that can cost up to $2000 every 100 hours…
In comparison, the DR-Z will go for tens of thousands of kilometres without needing any serious mechanical attention. They will take an incredible amount of abuse without complaint.
The clutch is light but has proved robust and the five-speed gearbox is also a breeze to use and has proven to be strong. An overdrive sixth gear would certainly be welcome on long transit sections or road work, as the DR-Z can start to feel a little busy at speed.
Braking hardware consists of a 250mm disc at the front and a 220mm disc at the rear which work well enough, but could provide a little more feel and control at both levers.
A 935mm seat height is quite tall but par for the course in the enduro market when you have long travel suspension and 315mm of ground clearance. This will likely prove problematic for those that have the dual disadvantage of short legs and little off-road experience.
Ergonomically the DR-Z is a one size fits all style of affair and riders will want to experiment with the bar position and perhaps different style bends of bars to feel best at home. Some riders find that bar risers under the mounts help them to feel comfortable. A stronger set of bars wouldn’t go astray either, and if you must run mirrors, get some light/cheap aftermarket items, as the standard DR-Z mirrors are some of the heaviest I have ever encountered.
Fairly wide footpegs provide good purchase and a fully featured enduro style speedometer with dual tripmeters and distance countdown functions help with off-road navigation. The instrumentation looks aged now, but, like the rest of the bike, it is well proven and functional enough.
The omission of any sturdy handguards or barkbusters on the DR-Z is a major oversight. When exploring some overgrown tight single trail I lost count of the amount of times the clutch or brake levers were snagged by branches which made for some heart stopping moments that I could have done without.
A decent bashplate is also a must for bush work, and some protection for the engine side covers is also a worthwhile addition as a fall on a rock the wrong way can push the rear brake or gear lever into the engine, punching through the case covers.
Clearly, as it comes out of the box the DR-Z400E is not perfect. But what it does offer is an unrivalled blend of performance and practicality that makes it the jack of all trades, but master of none. It is these characteristics that have made the DR-Z400E such a firm favourite in the Australian market.
The DR-Z400E is also LAMS legal and a first time bike buyer could do little wrong in choosing a DR-Z400E as their first mount. It has the reliability to serve as a commuter during the week, while providing plenty of thrills as a dirt trail blaster during the weekend.
With an aftermarket big tank mounted on it for added versatility the DR-Z400E would also prove a very handy adventure bike, especially if you stood up on the pegs a fair amount of the time…
The DR-Z does have a frame mounted steering lock, but newcomers should be aware that a dirtbike parked anywhere is a tantalising prospect for thieves. If you do use such a machine for commuting, only park it in safe areas and secure it with some sort of sturdy chain lock.
As for rivals, the next leap up in Enduro performance to something like Yamaha’s brilliant WR450F comes with a much larger price tag. Then of course there are the European options such as KTM’s 450 EXC-F and a myriad of other models in the market as Enduro riders have never before had so many options.
Still, the $8990 ride away DR-Z price point, along with fuss free dependability and the added versatility of full road registration, means the machine wins plenty of admirers amongst riders who just want to get out and enjoy casual trail riding. However, after almost 20 years in production, you would think Suzuki HQ might eventually get around to giving us a new generation of DR-Z, hopefully sometime soon…
Suzuki DR-Z400E Specifications (L8)
- Engine – 398cc, liquid cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder
- Transmission – Five speed manual, chain final drive
- Seat Height – 935mm
- L x W x H – 2310 x 825 x 1235mm
- Wheelbase – 1475mm
- Wet Weight – 138kg
- Fuel Capacity – 10 litres (including 2.3 litre reserve)
- Fuel Range – 165km
- Warranty – 12 months, unlimited kilometres
- Price – $8990 Ride Away with Full Rego