2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 Review

Here in the U.S. the GSX-R600 never achieved the fame and glory of its 750 and 1000 siblings, yet it is one of the all-time most popular motorcycles for club racing and Suzuki’s top-selling sportbike year after year. Those who follow our comparison tests religiously know that we’ve often liked the Suzuki but it has been relentlessly held back by a lack of personality and panache to put it over the hump. That isn’t the case in ’08. This year the GSX-R600 comes to the game boasting one of the better all-around packages in the test thanks to a few key tweaks to motor, suspension and brakes. These help it battle for top honors in both track and street portions of Supersport Shootout VI.

Engine: 599cc Inline Four

Bore x Stroke: 67mm x 42.5mm

Horsepower: 109 hp @ 13,100 rpm

Torque: 46.7 lb-ft @ 11,300 rpm

Weight: 424 lbs w/fuel, 397 lbs w/o fuel

Power to Weight Ratio: 0.26

Wheelbase: 55.1 in.

Seat Height: 31.9 in.

Exhaust dB at 5000 rpm: 88

Measured MPG: 35.8

MSRP: $9,399

During our first track test session at Infineon Raceway, the Suzuki was impressive. Its new brakes and front end were a revelation, as rider notes always had something to say about how the high level of feedback and feel instilled loads of confidence in a short period of time. Great new brakes and meaty mid-range didn’t hurt its cause either.

On the 600-friendly Infineon course it drew mostly praise, but there are a few complaints about the rear end feeling a little soft. A lack of top end power on the rougher surface of Thunderhill Raceway tended to get the Suzuki unsettled more than the Honda or Ducati if allowed to wander into the bumpy stuff.

The front end though, is one of the best in the test and, according to the notes and scoresheets, it plays bridesmaid to only the R6 in cornering prowess. This feat in spite of being one of the heavier bikes in the group. Although no one complained specifically that it felt sluggish or hefty, it gets penalized for weighing in just 4-lbs lighter than the portly Ninja and a full 5-lbs heavier than the Ducati 848.

“The Suzuki engine and tranny are super smooth,” reports Call, who competes on a GSX-R1000 in AFM. “It feels pretty strong, probably the second- or third-fastest, but the Honda and Triumph feel faster. The motor revs good and pulls hard on top with really great bottom end and mid range. At Infineon it was exposed a bit but the freaking thing stops like a champion. I felt it had the best braking performance of the group – the feel at the lever is great. It has a very racebike feeling – not as comfy as the Kawi but the bars are low, the tank is wide and while the Kawi has places in its bodywork for the rider’s knees, the Suzuki is flatter and fatter with less places to brace off of when riding fast.”

One of the quandaries we faced was how a bike posting such good figures on the dyno feels so mellow up top. The accompanying dyno graph supports that observation as the Suzuki curve peaks at 109 hp around 13-grand while the CBR spins another 500 rpm and the R6 is still another 1200 rpm from hitting its peak power output. The GSX-R signs off a moment sooner in the real world and the riders could tell by the seat of their pants – the extra 28-lbs compared to the Honda and 20-lbs more than the R6 don’t help the cause either.

Despite this blemish on an otherwise impressive debut, the easy-going GSX-R and defending champ CBR both have the ability to make good riders feel special while offering fast riders something exciting to work with. The two motorcycles take a similar approach by employing a well-rounded bike design, rather than a narrow focus like the R6 or Ducati. Their rider-friendly ergonomics help make these two motorcycles more capable than the others at pulling double duty as both street and track bikes.

“This bike may not be the most-powerful, nor does it have the most sorted suspension right out of the box,” mumbles Mr. Moore. “But I know from experience that with very little work this bike can be a lethal weapon on the track. Oh, and you don’t have to be built like a 12-year-old boy to fit comfortably on it either.”

The advantages the Suzuki holds over the Honda and Yamaha on the track includes a slipper clutch, which the CBR still lacks, and mid-range that makes it more forgiving than the R6. Both help the GSX-R to be a little more forgiving than the other two. Since our riders are on the heavy side of the spectrum compared to what a prototypical supersport rider would be, it’s nice to have that extra mid-range power as a margin for error.

“Much improved motor over the previous GSX-R, though it’s still a little soft,” confirms the 195-lb Earnest. “The brakes are good and strong too and for some reason it’s just easy to ride fast.”

As the dust settled on our Superpole session, Mike’s sentiments are confirmed. The ’08 Suzuki GSX-R600 posts the fastest lap times for both him and the 175-lb Hutch, establishing itself as one of the top contenders in Supersport Shootout VI from that point on. Our objective metrics pushed the Suzuki even further up the food chain courtesy of its second-highest horsepower and its 46.7 lb-ft of torque at 11,300 rpm – bested only by the big-bores from Triumph and the Ducati. Unfortunately, its tendency to be second or third in the rider’s track subjective scores kept it from overtaking the YZF-R6 for top billing in the track portion of the test. As the track runner-up, Suzuki finishes ahead of the two previous track-portion winners from Honda and Triumph.

From the first year it was unveiled, the GSX-R600 has been one of the best streetbikes available and one of the more popular picks during the road-portion of our tests. Suzuki won our Street test in ’06 and challenges for it again this year. The little GSX-R is even better than it was last year thanks to an infusion of mid-range grunt that proved to be so popular on the track and is downright essential to middleweight success on the street.

In real world riding, the power boost pushes the Suzuki along a little better than last year. As our quarter-mile times reveal, it is within a tenth of a second of the Honda with a pro at the controls (10.9 @ 126.4 mph), but with Hutchy on board it posted the fastest drag strip time of the Japanese bikes (11.2 @ 123.2mph) by two-tenths and barely ahead of the quick Ducati 848. In addition to being more capable than ever, the GSX-R is also one of the most accommodating bikes in the test. The riding position is not too aggressive, wind protection is quite good and the seat is comfortable over the long haul.

Included in the list of amenities is a lighting system that will scare deer off the road and the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector. The switchgear is neat and tidy and overall fit and finish seems to be excellent on this model. The instrumentation is clean, if not a little smallish, but it looks good. Of course the SDM-S feature has trickled down to the baby Gixxer too. Check out the chart that shows how much difference there is between the three settings: At a wimpy 65 hp, the B-mode is a whopping 40-horsepower below the A-mode’s 109hp output. Who knows, it might be good for beginners who opt for the 600 instead of a Hayabusa, so we have to give Suzuki props for the effort.

While it damn near steals the show from Honda on the street, the CBR is regularly ranked higher in the subjective motor, comfort and grin factor categories – taking runner-up to Big Red’s baby in just about every cat. Keep in mind that on the street there are factors to consider that go beyond the numbers we provide here. Personal preference plays a huge role and in the case of the Suzuki our tough crowd chooses it as the second-best streetbike, making it the consummate bridesmaid.

Not only did Suzuki perk up the GSX-R600s most conspicuous assets by boosting midrange performance, but they also dressed up their baby in daring new digs that make it more difficult than ever to keep our hands off this toy. In the past the Suzuki has been a flat-liner, not excelling at anything but doing everything well. This year it excels in key areas like lap times, peak performance numbers and a list of upgraded components that give it the edge over the majority of the bikes in this comparison and it shows in the final standings.

At $9399, the refinements come at a $500 higher price tag than the ’07 model. Is it worth the extra loot? You bet it is. Just look at the results. It is fractions of a horsepower from beating the R6 for top billing in that category, it’s the torque leader among the Japanese-built machines, has some of the quickest quarter-mile times and backs that up with the fastest laps for both test riders during our Superpole run at Infineon. The 2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 is a superb all-around motorcycle that did what no bike could do last year – it beat up on the Honda at the track and nearly deposed it on the street.

Suzuki GSX-R600 – Rider Notepads:
Add a little more motor and this bike would beat the R6.
Neutral feeling on turn-in, more stable others.
Much improved mid and top end power delivery.
Bars are too narrow.
Engine is super-smooth.
Tank feels wide.