Review: 2018 Suzuki DR-Z400E
Suzuki's DR-Z400 proves a great off-road fun bike, with plenty of road capability, and was a hard bike to send back.... Review by Tony 'Pommie' Wilding, Images by James Paterson, Tony Wilding
The DR-Z400 has been around for what seems like forever, 1999 to be exact, and is still really popular with some 18,000 bike sold here in Australia alone. The changes for the 2018 model are modest, but include new black alloy anodised rims and graphic styling updates. The old faithful DR-Z is still a great bike and as they say, why change a good thing?
The bike is fairly basic as far as the latest enduro weapons go, with conventional suspension and a carburettor, but that’s what not only makes the Suzuki cheap by comparison, it also make it less intimidating and more user friendly to ride, hence the large numbers sold.
When I first sat on the DR-Z I couldn’t believe how tall the bike was, with a 935mm seat height, even my long legs were struggling to reach the ground and I was reminded that even though this was more a trail/enduro bike than a full competition enduro machine, it was still designed with plenty of off-road purpose in mind. With a wet weight of 138kg it is not super light, but sometimes, a few extra kilos is not a bad thing for stability, especially on the road.
The cockpit area is well laid out, with the switches all in the right place and they look tough enough to take some knocks. The LCD dash has a fair bit of useful info on it such as speedo, odometer, dual trip meters with subtraction and addition functions, clock and stopwatch also with subtraction capability, so pretty much an enduro race dash.
The dash is tucked out of the way, but I can’t help think it would be expensive to replace should it break, so I can see people taking it off and swapping it for a cheap one until the bike is resold.
One thing I do like, is that the DR-Z comes with a carbie, older riders like me love the simplicity of carburetors especially on dirt bikes where you may have to work on them in the middle of nowhere, should you submerge the bike in a river crossing for example, there is even an on/off/reserve fuel tap and choke.
On any dirt bike it’s always a good idea to look at what may break when you drop it and the indicators look like they stick out a fair way, although they are on flexible stalks they look a bit vulnerable, so again, I would probably replace them with a cheap set just in case, the rear light would also come under this category.
THE RIDE – 2018 DR-Z400E
My first ride was going to be a short blast through the bush near my house that backs onto a retirement village, but as soon as I pressed the start button I knew this would not be a good idea. The thought of sneaking stealthy around the bush was out of the question with the amount of noise coming from the stock muffler, I had to get off the bike and have a good look at it to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with and I then decided that a change of riding venue was in order!
Setting off up the road, I was instantly impressed by the power and its delivery, there is plenty of grunt and it’s as smooth as silk with no dips throughout the rev range. The clutch is really light, almost as light as my competition trials bike, and with a great action, which is a blessing in town traffic or tight single track trails.
Accelerating through the gears, I found the gearbox smooth and precise, but was lacking a sixth cog, this is not a problem off road, but on the highway at 110km/h it really needs another gear or at least taller gearing. The disadvantage with that would be, if you made the gearing taller, then it would suffer in the bush, so unless you do a fair bit of freeway riding then I would just leave it as it is.
I was pleasantly surprised by the DR-Z’s performance on the road, apart from no sixth gear the bike is way better than I thought it would be. There was some vibration, but it was mainly from the full knobby tyres and not the big single-cylinder and you can’t fault the manoeuvrability, even the mirrors worked well. Although the seat is narrow, it has some depth in the padding and was reasonably comfy.
Like any off-road bike, the suspension is soft for road conditions and there’s a fair bit if dive under heavy braking, but every dirt bike is the same, so if you ride a bit on the road, get used to it. Saying that, the brakes are really good with a Nissin dual-piston caliper grabbing hold of a single 250mm disc at the front and a 220mm disc with a single calliper on the rear. The whole package does a really good job of pulling the bike up in any situation on or off road and offers plenty of predicable feel.
Although the DR-Z400 is fully road registered, it is primarily an off-road bike and this is where it really shines, its on-road limitations fade into insignificance as soon as I hit the dirt. This bike really makes me feel young again and the impressive power I felt on the road is so much more enhanced off-road, but remains smooth and predictable.
The super light clutch made feeding that power to the back wheel a breeze, making power slides stupidly easy, even for me. The front suspension felt a bit on the soft side, but is if fully adjustable, so with a couple of clicks from a screwdriver from the handy tool bag on the rear guard, it improved, but like I said before, this is not a full an enduro weapon and slightly softer is better for most of us, especially after a full day in the saddle.
With a bit of rain the day before my second ride out, there was a fair bit of mud around, this presented its own problem. I initially thought the bike had a problem as the engine was cutting out all the time. The problem turned out to be the sidestandswitch, which got mud in it. Once cleaned, it was fine.
If it were my bike, I’d pull the switch off as it ruined the first 10 kilometres of my ride trying to figure out what was wrong. One thing I did like when I was trying to find the cut out problem was the ease of which the side panels can be removed without tools, which makes cleaning the airfilter a breeze.
I threw a fair amount of obstacles at the bike and it handled them all with ease and that’s really a testament to the tractable engine, it just has power on-tap everywhere. When you launch over a log or rock the grunt is where it’s needed and does a good job of finding grip even in the loose stuff.
Hill climbs are a speciality and for me the most fun you can have, getting up on the pegs and using my body weight to counter balance the bike over rocks and ruts is so much fun. The speed of which you can climb a hill is impressive, I was basically treating the DR-Z400 like a big trials bike and it took me to places I didn’t think it would.
The only disadvantage I could find was, if I happened to stall the engine on a hill you do have a fair reach to get your feet down, but that would be the same on any enduro machine, so this might be off-putting for some shorter legged riders.
I would have also liked to see a kick start, just in case you happened to run the battery flat as the headlight is permanently on, so if you left the ignition on by mistake, you may have dramas.
For a lot of bikes I test, I don’t shed a tear when they go back, but I have to say I’m really going to miss the DR-Z400E, I’ve had so much fun riding it especially because a few of my mates have recently bought dirt bikes and I’ve really found it a great social event. I have loved every minute of my time on the yellow Suzuki. If you are interested in a DR-Z400E visit your Suzuki Dealer. If you are interested in the SM version which is more road orientated and learner legal, check Kris’s review here.
2018 Suzuki DR-Z400E Tech Talk
The Suzuki DR-Z400E uses a single-cylinder 398cc four-stroke engine that is liquid-cooled with a double over-head camshaft and a four-valve cylinder-head. The alloy cylinder has been plated for extra durability, weight reduction and superior heat transfer by a process called Suzuki Composite Electrochemical Material (SCEM).
Feeding the engine fuel is a Keihin FCR39SS flat-side carburettor, which was chosen for its seamless, smooth engine power delivery along with the digitally mapped DC-CDI system, which monitors throttle position and engine rpm, then adjusts ignition timing to maintain efficient combustion.
The engine uses a dry-sump oiling system, which makes the crankcase more compact, while the magnesium-alloy clutch, magneto and cam covers contribute to the weight reduction. The DR-Z400 is electric start only and uses a small powerful starter motor, while an automatic decompression system lifts one exhaust valve at cranking rpm for easy starting.
The engine produces broad, tractable power and torque, it is compact and streamlined in its design, which has the double advantage of low engine positioning and an extra-slim off-road rider-friendly chassis.
The frame is narrow and made of thin, round and rectangular chrome-moly steel tubes for exceptional torsional rigidity and minimum weight and has a lightweight aluminium bolt-on rear sub-frame. The front suspension uses conventional 49mm Showa telescopic forks with coil springs that are oil damped and fully adjustable for pre-load, rebound and compression.
The rear suspension again is by Showa and uses a coil spring oil damped shock that is again fully adjustable. The DR-Z400E uses the powerful tried and tested Nissin dual-piston caliper with a 250mm front rotor, on the rear a Nissin single piston caliper is used with a 220mm rotor.
The design of the 2018 Suzuki DR-Z400 is taken straight from the factory MXGP machines with the bodywork adopting the yellow with blue accent styling, which really adds to the racy look of the bike. The cockpit features an easy-to-read, multi-function digital instrument that includes a speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeters with both addition and subtraction functions, clock and stopwatch with subtraction capability for enduro use.
The design of the side panels means the air filter can be accessed without tools, also making for ease of maintenance, the grease nipples on the swingarm pivot and shock absorber linkage bearing, plus the clutch cover can be removed without draining the engine coolant, which saves time and money.
Specifications: 2018 Suzuki DR-Z400E
Price: $7,990 + ORC
Warranty: 12 months unlimited kilometres
Colours: Champion Yellow
Claimed power: N/A
Claimed torque: N/A
Wet weight: 138kg
Fuel capacity: 10L
Engine: Liquid-cooled, single cylinder, 4-stroke, OHC, 398cc
Clutch: Multiplate wet
Final drive: Sealed chain
Chassis: Rectangular chrome-moly steel, alloy swingarm
Suspension: 49mm SHOWA telescopic fork, coil spring, oil damped, fully adjustable, rear SHOWA, coil spring, oil damped shock, fully adjustable
Brakes: Nissin twin-piston calliper, 250mm Disc, rear Nissin single-piston calliper, 220mm Disc
Tyres: 80/100-21, (f) and 120/90-18, (r) Metzeler MC360
Seat height: 935mm