Dated design keeps this Suzuki from measuring up

Suzuki’s decision to bring its GSX1250FA to the states came as encouraging news. After all, the Japanese marque took the most dramatic measures in response to the reeling economy: It chose not to import any 2010 street models! The 1250FA would deliver not just a 2011 bike, but an all-new model, one that seems to fill the sport-touring void in Suzuki’s lineup. Our first ride appraisal of the new ride muted our expectations somewhat, but we deemed it a street-friendly addition to Suzuki’s famous GSX sportbike line. But the question before us now is where this quasi-Gixxer slots into the Road Sport class.

At 1255cc the Suzuki’s Inline Four is the second-largest engine of the comparison, at least in terms of displacement. On the dyno it’s another story, where 93.8 rear wheel horsepower rank it at the bottom – 30 ponies down on the nearest rival, the 123.5 hp Kawasaki. The Suzuki’s tuned for street-friendly torque and feels about the same on the street as it does on the dyno too. Its 74.6 lb-ft is an impressive number on its own but still trails all the other bikes; except for the top-end-biased Yamaha, it’s neck and neck with the 76 lb-ft churned out by the Kawasaki.

The Suzuki sports a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other torque curve, which beats all rivals off the bottom, with the BMW not overtaking until 3500 rpm and the VFR surging by at 5500. Things head south at 6500, where the Suzuki signs off, its torque curve crashing and horsepower flat-lining while the higher-revving competition keep sailing upward.

Test riders ranked the Suzuki engine at the bottom in performance and character. This is more of a nod at the monster motors in this class than a dig on the Suzuki. While it may feel tame by comparison, the Suzuki doesn’t want for power on the street, particularly down low. The Suzuki engine proves quite street-friendly, and deceptively fast. Riders don’t need to ring its neck either.

“Engine performance is where the Suzuki shines,” says Robin. “There is ample power anywhere; you could put this thing in third gear and ride it all day.”

The powerband proves quite manageable, and the Suzuki gets pegged as “easiest” to ride. Seamless fueling and a forgiving throttle contribute to user-friendly feel. Where the other bikes exhibit more aggressive acceleration and, in some cases, intrusive engine braking, the Suzuki’s creamy motor doesn’t chug on decel. Instead it’s smooth and steady, both on and off the throttle. There’s also little vibration, further smoothing out the ride.

The Suzuki feels the tallest geared, with comparable speeds coming at about 1000 revs lower than the other test bikes. This may exaggerate the less-sporty engine feel compared to the competition. Despite taller gearing, the GSX is easy to launch, as the hydraulically-operated clutch offers up silky engagement. However, we did find the six-speed gearbox clunky at times.

Rough edges in the gearbox are about the only thing in the entire Suzuki package that doesn’t get slapped with the soft and smooth descriptors – for good and ill. The suspension components are notably the softest sprung of the lot. This leads to a plush ride on the freeway, enhancing the bike’s touring credibility (more on this later). But cram up the road with some tighter corners or high-speed sweepers and the soft chassis proves too lax.

“On the freeway the Suzuki is a smooth and comfortable ride,” deems Robin. “If all you are going to do is ride around on the streets and freeway, the GSX is adequate, but when you start to push it hard in high-speed corners the rear end starts to wallow.”

A preload-adjustable 43mm fork, the only non-inverted unit in the test, falls behind when pressed hard. The Suzuki’s steel-tubed frame also gets unwieldy at higher speeds, particularly when ridden side-by-side with the tauter aluminum-framed chassis offered up by the competition.

The soft and smooth judgment gets applied to the brakes too. While the dual 310mm disc with four-piston Tokico calipers haul things down up front, they feel spongy and less powerful than the higher-spec competitors.

“The poor Suzuki gets blasted in subjective scoring, and the brakes are a perfect example of how this is a bit unfair,” says Ken. “These brakes are still very good and, considered in a vacuum, would be really great. However, compared to the silky feeling of the Ninja and VFR, or the sporty feel of the FZ1, the GSX just leaves me uninspired.”

Standard ABS delivers a confidence boost, bringing the 567-pound (tank full) mount to a quick halt. Not as refined as the Honda system, the ABS is still effective and a laudable safety feature in this road-oriented class. Speaking of weight, the Suzuki registers 70-80 pounds heavier than the Kawasaki and Yamaha. This doesn’t aid its handling or braking, as only the 569-pound BMW feels as hefty on the road.

The GSX wins back favor in rider comfort and ergonomics, with a neutral riding position and easy reach to the bars. It’s the most touring-friendly mount in this test, with credit owed to a comfortable seat and steady wind protection.

“The Suzuki has the most comfortable seat for long, long rides because it’s so soft,” says Hutch. “I didn’t like that when we were hustling on the backroads, but if you want the most comfortable seat for logging a thousand-mile day, the Suzuki has you covered.”

Hutch’s pillion partner, Laura, rates the Suzuki mid-pack for two-up riding. “Similar to the BMW, the Suzuki seat is really plush. This seems great at first but on the back it sort of slides me forward and creeps up my butt cheeks. I like it for shorter rides but after a couple hours I didn’t like it much. The riding position itself was very comfortable though. My legs had room and I was upright with a nice view without being too tall above the rider. If it was firmer it would be the best for long rides.”

Bolstering the GSX touring capabilities, it tied with the Yamaha for the longest range at 191 miles. Its 38.9 mpg fuel efficiency almost topped the comparison too, a scant single mpg down on the thrifty FZ1.

While an all-new 2011 model, the Suzuki looks old. Part of this is because it’s essentially a faired version of an older bike, the Suzuki Bandit. Even so, components like the cheap chrome handlebar, non-radial-mount brakes, conventional fork and blasé exhaust canister give the GSX1250FA a parts bin bike feel. Fit and finish doesn’t measure up to the higher-end bikes, and while we’ll credit the instrument console’s inclusion of a gear position indicator, overall it looks bland and dated. All these hurt it in the appearance category.

The 1250FA’s $11,599 asking price is another stumbling block. It’s a full thousand more than the FZ1 and $600 more than the Ninja 1000 – both the other bikes featuring higher-spec components. Granted a big chunk of that price disparity comes from the Suzuki’s standard ABS.

“The Suzuki didn’t do anything bad, it just didn’t feel on par with the other bikes,” sums up Scot. “It feels like a 10-year-old design with no inverted fork and a lazy chassis. Riding it hard and over long distances just made it feel bland compared to the other bikes.”

Despite its faults, the Suzuki delivers big with comfort and its street-friendly engine. It just doesn’t measure up to the higher-performance competition in this Road Sport shootout.