Suzuki’s DR-Z series has been a massive success for the brand. Legendary reliability backed by a great warranty and a retail price that seems to get lower each year have combined to earn the DR-Z a fantastic reputation amongst trail riders.
The Australian buying public has been voting with their wallets for many years now. The DR-Z has been near the top of the sales charts since its inception over a decade ago. Not bad for a bike that has remain largely unchanged for ten years.
There are certainly higher performance options in the marketplace. Yamaha’s WR450F, Honda’s CRF450X, Kawasaki’s KLX450R, Suzuki’s own M-Z450, Husqvarna’s TE450 and KTM’s 450 EXC machines all offer more power, lighter weight and better suspension. They also come with a higher price tag, a more intensive and costly maintenance schedule and less warranty than the versatile Suzuki. In short, those premium performance offerings are true thoroughbreds and that performance comes at a price.
But certainly don’t imagine that the DR-Z is a low performance budget clunker. Nothing could be further from the truth. 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. Those XR buyers are now turning 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 tyre and provide 288mm of travel.
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 DR-Z. But 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 rather than a tamed down variant of the DR-Z engine.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to the DR-Z400E.
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.
The DR-Z is not a rip your arms out of their sockets powerhouse like a hard core 450 enduro bike 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 and could benefit from a little more flywheel weight, but that’s about its only shortcoming in trail use.
The clutch is incredibly light but has proved robust and the five-speed gearbox is also light to use but strong.
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 at the lever.
A 935mm seat height is tall but par for the course in the enduro market with long travel suspension and 315mm of ground clearance. It could be 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. Nice and wide footpegs provide good purchase and a fully featured enduro style speedometer with dual tripmeters and distance countdown functions to help with off-road navigation.
The omission of any style of 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.
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 and it is that jack of all trades, but master of none, style of character that has made it such a firm favourite in the Australian market.
The DR-Z400E is LAMS legal in those states that have enacted the power to weight restrictions for learners rather than the blanket 250cc restriction. A first time bike buyer could do little wrong in choosing a DR-Z400E as their first mount as it has the reliability to serve as a commuter during the week, and the ability to provide plenty of thrills as a dirt trail blaster during the weekend.
The DR-Z is truly Mr Versatile.
Specs – Suzuki DR-Z400E
Engine – 398cc, liquid cooled, DOHC, single-cylinder
Transmission – Five speed manual, chain final drive
Seat Height – 935mm
Wet Weight – 138kg
Fuel Capacity – 10 litres (including 2.3 litre reserve)
Average Consumption on test – 6 litres per 100km
Range – 165km
Warranty – 12 months, unlimited kilometres
Price – Expect to pay just under $9000 (Can be had for as little as $8000 when on special)