2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS | Road Test Review

With agility, torque, light weight and ample cornering clearance, few bikes are as fun in the corners as the Suzuki V-Strom 650. Photography by John Howell & Enrico Pavia
With agility, torque, light weight and ample cornering clearance, few bikes are as fun in the corners as the Suzuki V-Strom 650. Photography by John Howell & Enrico Pavia

Remember the SV650? When it debuted in 1999, Suzuki’s small-fry naked bike wowed the press and public alike despite having modest power, budget components and no wind protection. Why? The SV650 had that special something not all bikes have. It can’t be bolted on and it doesn’t show up in spec charts. Character, soul, mojo, whatever you call it, the SV650 had it. Fun and rowdy, easy to ride but never boring, affordable and stone reliable, it was like that good friend who always has your favorite beer in his fridge, a comfy couch you can crash on and tools you can borrow.

The SV650’s good-times magic was buried deep within its 645cc 90-degree V-twin, and it survived a heart transplant into the V-Strom 1000’s chassis, giving life to the V-Strom 650 in 2004. Like the SV, the V-Strom 650 developed a cult following and outsold its big brother by a healthy margin. It was the ideal do-it-all middleweight—peppy motor, rugged chassis, effortless handling, comfortable seating, 250-mile range, reasonable price. What’s not to love? To wit, a husband-wife team rode a pair of Wee Stroms around the world on the eight-month, 40,000-mile Edelweiss Discover Our Earth expedition. Rider contributor Jerry Smith has one, and so does one of our ad guys. And even though the Triumph Tiger 800 edged out the V-Strom 650 in our head-to-head comparison (Rider, June 2011), the Suzuki’s charms proved hard to resist; Senior Managing Editor Donya Carlson refused to give back our test bike and ended up buying it.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

All gushing aside, after an eight-year run with few changes, the V-Strom 650 was looking a bit tired. Suzuki has given it a refresh for 2012, with tougher styling, more torque, less weight, revised suspension and better instrumentation while raising its price by just two Ben Franklins, to $8,299. And exclusive to the U.S. market is a new Adventure model ($9,799) that adds aluminum panniers, crash guards and a touring windscreen. After romping through the hills of Western North Carolina for two days at the V-Strom’s U.S. press launch, we procured a test bike to rack up more miles, hit the dyno and verify wet weight. Carlson recused herself from this evaluation, but we wrestled the keys away from her long enough to ride the 2011 and 2012 models back to back.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 90-degree engine
The 645cc 90-degree V-twin has the same dimensions and layout, but updates based on the 2009 Gladius make it smoother, quieter and more powerful.

According to Product Marketing Manager, Derek Schoeberle  at American Suzuki, the 2012 V-Strom 650 was restyled for both aesthetic and practical reasons: “The time had come for the V-Strom 650 to stand on its own, to have its own personality.” New black resin body panels not only look cool, they’re more durable than the painted plastic they replace. The front fender was redesigned to direct more airflow to the radiator, which has wind-directing plates for more efficient cooling and heat management. The engine was tidied up by replacing the unsightly oil cooler with a smaller, more efficient liquid-cooled heat exchanger behind the oil filter. And pushing in the front-end, clipping the tail and reducing muffler overhang made the V-Strom look more compact while centralizing mass. Sensible changes all, and with just a few splashes of Metallic Fox Orange amid a sea of black, the new V-Strom not only looks mean and lean, it weighs 18 pounds less than last year’s model.

Unfortunately, part of that weight loss came from a 0.5-gallon reduction in fuel capacity, from 5.8 to 5.3 gallons. Suzuki says the tank and front of the seat were made slimmer so more riders could plant both feet on terra firma since seat height was raised by 0.6 inch, from 32.3 to 32.9 inches. From the saddle the new V-Strom feels more svelte, but it didn’t feel too big before, and reducing the fuel capacity on a V-Strom is as sacrilegious as reducing the luggage capacity on a Gold Wing. Suzuki claims the new bike is 10 percent more fuel efficient, but our real-world fuel economy figures didn’t bear that out. In our June comparison test, we recorded 45.9 mpg on the 2011 model (range: 266 miles); on our 2012 test bike, we recorded 45.1 mpg (range: 239 miles).

The V-Strom’s engine has the same dimensions and configuration as before—liquid-cooled 645cc 90-degree V-twin, 81.0 x 62.6mm bore/stroke, eight-valve DOHC head—and it utilizes the same slick-shifting six-speed transmission and chain final drive. It has inherited enhancements found on the now-defunct-SV650-successor Gladius, such as low-friction, SCEM-plated cylinders, lightweight single valve springs, dual iridium spark plugs and a Throttle-body Integrated Idle Speed Control (TI-ISC) system. Other internal changes were aimed at enhancing the V-twin pulse, reducing mechanical noise and boosting low-to-midrange torque, changes that are readily apparent. Riding the new model back-to-back with its predecessor, the 2012 V-Strom runs smoother and quieter, it revs up more easily and it pulls stronger off the line and out of corners. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the new V-Strom cranked out 66.2 horsepower and 43.0 lb-ft of torque, compared to 63.5 horsepower and 41.2 lb-ft of torque on the previous model. Horsepower and torque are 3-10 percent higher throughout the rev range. The new V-Strom feels more refined and less buzzy than before, and power output feels just right.

Although more suited to the street, the redesigned Suzuki V-Strom 650 handles mild off-road excursions with confidence.
Although more suited to the street, the redesigned Suzuki V-Strom 650 handles mild off-road excursions with confidence.

Most of the chassis, including frame, swingarm, brakes and wheels are carried over from the previous model. Steering geometry is the same, but wheelbase has increased a skosh (0.2 inch). Front spring preload has been increased and there’s a heavier rear spring with 0.4-inch more travel (to 6.3 inches), which also increased ground and cornering clearance. Compared to the 2011 model, the new V-Strom feels more firm, soaks up bumps more readily and bounces around less when riding aggressively. The V-Strom 650 has always been particularly blessed with balance and agility, and these qualities remain. It still has light, intuitive handling, it still feels stable at cruising speeds, and the street-biased Bridgestone Trail Wing tires provide decent grip on- and offroad. ABS is standard—the new Bosch system is 1.5 pounds lighter and works faster, but it can’t be switched off. There’s plenty of braking power that’s easy to modulate, and ABS pulsing was noticeable only at the rear pedal.

The V-Strom’s seating position is mostly the same, which is a good thing. Wide handlebars are at a sensible height, there’s plenty of legroom and the seat is broad and flat with plenty of space to move around. The seat now has 25 percent more padding, which, along with the rear suspension changes, increased seat height from 32.3 to 32.9 inches. As many other OEMs are doing these days, Suzuki offers either a low (32.1 inches) or high (33.7 inches) accessory seat, though it will set you back an extra $215.95. The standard and high seats were comfortable even after hours in the saddle, and both offer generous passenger accommodations. As on the previous model, there’s a standard luggage rack with integrated grab handles, but it is now made of resin instead of aluminum to save weight and its rubber cover can be removed to install an accessory top box. Available accessories include hard luggage (resin cases made by Hepco & Becker or aluminum cases made by SW-Motech), hand guards, heated grips, centerstand, power outlet, lower cowling and chain guard.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
Instrumentation is much improved. The panel is at a more visible height, the tach and LCD are easier to read, new functions have been added.

As before, the windscreen is three-position adjustable (Allen wrench required), but its new shape noticeably reduces wind noise and buffeting. A more modern instrument panel has been positioned higher for better visibility. An analog tach remains, but the analog speedo was replaced with a digital readout on the easy-to-read, brightness-adjustable multi-function LCD display. New functions include gear position, ambient temperature, A/B fuel consumption and a freeze-warning indicator, and a button on the left handlebar makes it easy to toggle through functions.

The 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS has been refined in many ways. With its engine adapted from the 2009 Gladius, the new V-Strom makes more torque, less noise and less vibration, providing a more exciting, enjoyable ride. It looks and feels more svelte, and it weighs 18 pounds less, but some of the weight savings came at the expense of less fuel capacity —a questionable tradeoff since Suzuki’s claimed fuel efficiency gains didn’t materialize during our road test. The revised suspension, thicker seat, reshaped windscreen and better instrumentation are welcome changes. As an adventure tourer with off-pavement capabilities, we have concerns about reduced clearance on the new tire-hugging fender and, as on the previous model, the exposed exhaust header and oil filter are vulnerable to impacts. Suzuki says the vast majority of V-Strom owners don’t venture offroad, and it probably prefers it that way, which may explain why the ABS can’t be switched off and there isn’t a skid plate in the accessory catalog. We wish it had higher charging output, tool-less windscreen adjustment and a 12V outlet and centerstand as standard equipment, but we understand concessions must be made to keep the price low. Mile-burning farkle freaks will need to accessorize. All in all, what was al­ready a great bike is now better. How it will stack up against the rising tide of adventure tourers remains to be seen.

With 645cc of V-twin goodness and a solid chassis, the "Wee" Strom offers superb balance and agility in a rugged package.
With 645cc of V-twin goodness and a solid chassis, the “Wee” Strom offers superb balance and agility in a rugged package.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Specs
Base Price: $8,299
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: suzukicycles.com

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin
Displacement: 645cc
Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Adj. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection w/ 39mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.9-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: Electronic transistorized
Charging Output: 375 watts @ 5,000 rpm
Battery: 12V 10AH

Frame: Cast aluminum twin-spar w/ cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm stanchions, adj. for spring preload w/ 5.9-in. travel
Rear: Linked single shock, adj. for spring preload (remote) & rebound damping w/ 6.3-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual discs w/ 2-piston pin-slide calipers
Rear: Single disc w/ 1-piston caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 4.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 110/80-R19
Rear: 150/70-R17
Wet Weight: 471 lbs.
Load Capacity: 444 lbs.
GVWR: 915 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.1 gals. warning light on
MPG: 90 PON min. (high/avg/low) 49.5/45.1/43.3
Estimated Range: 239 miles
Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 4,250


  1. “As before, the windscreen is three-position adjustable…, but its new shape noticeably reduces wind noise and buffeting.”

    OK, that seems a tiny bit evasive; the previous V-Strom screen – which caused unacceptable buffeting – has been “noticeably” improved, but by how much? In other words, has Suzuki solved the problem?

  2. Myself and quite a few other Aussies have noticed significantly better fuel economy on the new vstrom, easily 10-15% better (I am averaging 4L/100km, I used to average 4.6L/100km on the old strom). I am averaging a range of 500km (300miles). So despite the smaller tank, I have bigger range then before.

    We suspect that in this test the throttle was used a bit harder than normal riding. Since the new bike makes more power, it will use more fuel on full throttle. That is simply science. The new engine is more comfortable at lower revs. This allows you to run around in one gear higher than before (around town), which seems to help the around town economy figure.

    And yes, the screen is fixed.

    • I noticed the same thing on my new 2012 VStrom 650. Normal mix of urban and highway gets me 51.5 MPG (USA). And if not even past break in mileage … Only at 250 miles. So if the first tank gets me that, I am expecting better later. What a great bike! Beautiful, comfortable, fast, and reliable. I don’t need more than that.

  3. I test rode the 650 V-Strom yesterday (3/31/12) at Arizona Bike Week (actually “biker” week really) and happened to ride it after first testing the GSX1250. I also own an ’07 wee-strom. I would say they did not solve the buffeting problem from the windshield. Where the GSX was 100% buffet-free, the buffeting from the ‘Strom was still there. Maybe it was better, but certainly not gone. I have a tall torso, but still… However, I would still buy it in a second. It had better brakes, suspension, handling, power, smoothness and a MUCH better seat. I also liked having a gear position sensor and even a thermometer. Oh, the GSX was fantastic too. Smooth, fast, sportbike handling, perfect ergonomics. You can’t go wrong with either.

    • I have recently purchased a 2012 650 V Strom. The demo bike had the screen on the middle setting which had too much buffeting for me. The top setting was no better. I have improved things a lot by lowering the screen as opposed to raising. I use the lower setting and then removed 30mm. Bikes without screens have little trouble with buffeting – likewise sports bikes and bikes with lower screens. If buffeting is a problem stand on the pegs and you will find clear air. The latest VStrom is in my opinion a fantastic bike and I love mine but wonder just how much wind tunnel testing Suzuki carried out – not much I feel.

  4. Winter problem with 2012 DL650 is wind being dragged over the tops of each side pod into my lap. In the rain this makes two rivers running down to the saddle and I am sitting in a puddle! Previuos bike was 2011 DL1000 and this had no such problems. Zusuki should go back to the wind tunnel.

  5. I’ve just purchased a 2009 Vstrom 650, 5,000miles on the clock and in mint condition. What a shame someone has kept the bike in such wonderful condition and then decided to sell. However my gain…

    I have to say coming off a 1200 K5 Bandit I was very pleasantly surprised, when I road tested the bike. The Bandit is now too heavy for me and although I’ve enjoyed it over the last 7 years, loved the performance of the 1200. I have to admit its too much like hard work…

    The Vstrom however is great, much lighter feel to it, easier to move around the yard and garage, I don’t feel as if I’m going to drop it each time I take it off the stand.

    No complaints with the Strom but have noticed the wind buffeting, no worse than the Bandit was. I’m experimenting with the screen heghts it was originally in the lower position, I’ve moved into the centre, no noticeable difference, so I’ll try the upper position in due course…

    I find the mirror are superb large glass area great reward visibility past your shoulders, slightly convex glass give good road coverage, but I’m thinking that they may be the cause of the wind buffeting. Redirecting air flows that may otherwise not be there.?

    I’ll continue to experiment, however no complaints this is a great bike I got it at a geat price, its in burnt orange which I believe is less available than most colours and it came with full luggage, engine bars, heated grips and grip bar covers and the usual engine protection under guard.

    I would have liked a gear position indicator, moving from 5 to 6. I keep forgetting where the hell I am in the gear box. I may have to invest in aftermarket indicator…

    Love it.

    • Yes big mirrors can cause wind buffeting to some degree.My Dr650 came with very big square mirrors which i replaced with smaller round ones .mirror area reduced about 20% id say BUT- way less wind noise-75% less.Vision to the rear not quite so good but still very adequate. Cost $30.

      The key thing with screens is YOUR height.Also if you sit high or slumped .Ride along and place your hand behind the screen to find out where it is hitting your body.You have 2 options A .wind goes right over your helmet (for cold wet climates)you need a very tall screen or one with a deflector on top.B. For hot or temperate climates the wind should hit your mid chest.You normally have to have the lowest setting and possibly cut off 1-3″from the top (very easy to do)- tall riders need their screen in a very different position to short riders. A chin screen or light scarf will stop wind roaring up into your helmet.

  6. Having ridden all sort of bikes I bought a new 650 Strom some months ago. Only thing I miss is a simple lever that changes the angle of the headlamps when riding duo, as bmw’s have.
    But it’s a wonderful bike !!!


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