Just a bit short of excellent

Over the past few years, it could be claimed that Suzuki has ignored the GSX-R1000. The 2009 and 2011 Gixxer were basically the same bike with different paint jobs, and there wasn’t even a 2010 model to be had in the U.S. market. For 2012 Suzuki finally gave some attention to its liter-bike. The new GSX-R is not a total redesign, but a few changes were made to increase the performance of the venerable superbike. An always solid performer on the street and track, not much would really be needed to bring the $13,799 GSX-R1000 back into the spotlight of our Superbike Smackdown.

Starting with the powerplant of the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000, engineers installed new pistons that are lighter and more durable with a new crown and skirt shape to increase the low-end and mid-range power while still allowing for quicker revs. The crankcase venting has been revised to reduce pumping losses. Suzuki also ditched the bulky twin exhaust pipes for a new 4-2-1 system made from stainless steel and titanium. And of course the ECU settings are revised to work with the engine changes and to create a more linear and smooth spread of power. There is still no traction control, just the customary power modes that have been in play since 2009.

Twist the throttle on the Gixxer and you don’t really feel any more power, but it does rev freer and hit the redline quicker. The buildup is smooth and controllable without any sort of hit or hiccup, just a constant rush to 13,300 rpm. For the street, that is key to gaining confidence quickly in the connection between the rear tire and the right grip. It might not set the world on fire in terms of power, but it is competitive with the rest of the Japanese superbikes.

“The GSXR has the smoothest power delivery of the whole bunch,” claims Monster Energy stunter Ernie Vigil. “From beginning to end, the Gixxer pulls hard; not quite the power of the big boys but more than enough to have some fun.”

Throttle response and fueling couldn’t get much better, but the engine character didn’t rate too highly with our testers when put up against two V-Twins, a V-Four and a crossplane crank motor. It’s pretty crazy to think the high-RPM scream of an Inline Four has started to become old hat.

On the MotoUSA Dynojet 250i dynamometer the GSX-R1000 churned out 151.6 horses and 73.78 lb-ft of torque. While these numbers might not be impressive when compared to the big numbers posted by the BMW and Ducati, in our acceleration testing the Gixxer performed better than expected. The 448-pound blue and white machine accelerated to 60 mph in 3.783 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 11.09 seconds at 142.2 mph.

At the pumps the Suzuki continued to perform with a three-tank fuel economy average of 35.7 mpg. That is second to the miserly Honda CBR1000R. With a 4.6-gallon tank, the GSX-R will give you 164.2 miles of fun before you’ll have to stop.

With that kind of range, it’s good to know your body won’t quit before the fuel runs out. Our crew ranked the GSX-R1000 third in terms of comfort, citing a Cadillac-smooth ride on the highways and a roomy rider compartment without any extreme relationships between the control points.

“The Suzuki is a very comfortable motorcycle to ride and would probably be my go-to machine for long-distance riding,” says our Road Test Editor Adam Waheed. “I’d have no problem throwing some soft luggage on it and hitting the road for the weekend.”

Even though the comfort was rated highly, the ‘Zuk ranked in the bottom half in the rider interface and instrumentation categories. The gauges on the Suzuki are easy to read and all the information is clearly conveyed, but the styling is dated and very simple. Toggling through the modes is drama free, but the feel of the switch gear and levers isn’t as exotic as the European machines. One positive is the easy to see gear indicator.

“The gauges on the GSX-R are classic looking; I’d say borderline dated in design,” admits our lady stunter and guest rider Leah Petersen. “But they are useful.”

Suzuki gave the suspension a going-over along with the motor in order to raise the GSX-R’s game. Most of the changes revolve around the weight loss thanks to the lighter single canister exhaust. The Showa Big Piston Forks have been shortened by 7mm, but the travel has been increased by 5mm. The initial stroke was softened up with revised valving. The front axle has also been lightened and uses a nut to secure the axle in place rather than threads in the fork leg. Out back the shock has been left untouched.

Handling on the Suzuki is just what we have come to expect from the GSX-R line: rock-solid stability with just enough agility to get the job done without any hair-raising tendencies. While it is confidence inspiring, it feels a bit disconnected from the pavement and has a slightly vague feel, but it works to the Suzuki’s favor as it filters out the noise from the road. Turn-in isn’t as light as the more high-strung repli-racers in this shootout, but it does feel more balanced than some of the others in the corners. Our crew ended up rating it just behind the razor-sharp Aprilia and easy-to-ride Honda.

“I like the Suzuki a lot. It’s a more ‘loose’ feeling bike in the way that it doesn’t feel maybe as accurate as some of the other bikes … but it just plain works,” says Heed. “It’s also very stable. Overall, it’s a great package and one of my top bikes for sure.”

The last major and maybe most significant change to the GSX-R is the addition of Brembo monobloc brake calipers. In the past the binders on the Suzuki had an inconsistent feel, but now the power and feel has been greatly enhanced. The initial bite isn’t as powerful as you would expect, but the deeper you get into the brakes the more powerful they get. Despite the new and improved braking performance, our subjective scoring puts the GSX-R mid-pack, and its 132.6 foot stopping distance from 60 mph falls in line with our riders' opinions.

While the Suzuki may not look new, its newfound performance was almost enough to get it back on the box in our Superbike Smackdown IX Street. It’s familiar comfort, confidence-inspiring handling and smooth power was just enough to edge out the competition for a fourth-place finish. The Gixxer has always been the people’s champ, and it falls just a bit short of being ours.