An inline-four engine has possibly one of the most distinctive sounds, at least in India. The Suzuki Katana, hence, manages to check an important criteria for some people when it comes to motorcycle-buying decisions. That sweet engine note, however, does not paint the entire picture of what a lovely motorcycle it is.
Suzuki introduced the new Katana in 2019 and showcased it in India at the 2020 Auto Expo to gauge interest. The BS6 emission norms, however, were imminent, which is why we had to wait till Suzuki updated the engine. Now, in its BS6 avatar, the bike has not only received mechanical but cosmetic updates as well and it looks striking.
The design team has referenced the 1981 Katana and in many ways the new bike looks like an evolution of the original, while retaining the charm of that bygone era. This is clearly evident from the shape of the bodywork that largely comprises flat surfaces and sword-sharp lines running from nose to tail. The rectangular headlight with a tiny windscreen above it, the fang-like LED position lights and the seamless-looking amalgamation of the semi-fairing and fuel tank are design elements that grab attention.
In contrast to the front end, the mid and tail section are minimal yet superbly executed. For 2022, Suzuki has also introduced new colourways, with colour-coordinated Enkei alloy wheels that look neat. Continuing with the retro theme, the LCD instrument cluster appears pretty old school and despite all the information it provides, it is hard to read when the sun is overhead. Suzuki has tried to remedy the problem by introducing an orange-red backlight with adjustable intensities in this model.
The bike looks as sharp as the Katana, the Japanese sword, thus befitting the name. More importantly, you get a hit of nostalgia, the moment you look at it. If you are an ’80s or ‘90s child, you would relate to that feeling.
From the saddle
However, the Katana’s design is not entirely a case of form over function. Once seated on its 825mm perch, the riding position feels sporty yet relaxed. You could easily commute to work or attack corners on your favourite mountain road or a race track. In fact, the position makes for a comfortable touring machine. The caveat is the puny 12-litre fuel tank which equates to around 120-140km range or lower if you ride spiritedly. The number of fuel stops one would have to make over a long journey could be a major irritant. Also, there is not enough steering lock by street-naked standards, so tight U-turns would end up being a three-point turn.
An adjustable clutch lever would have been nice considering the brake lever can be adjusted. Still, the engine in the Katana is possibly one of the greatest ever made and is a marvel of engineering. At the core of the new Katana is the legendary Suzuki K5, inline-four cylinder engine. It is, essentially, over 15 years old and timely updates have ensured it continues to exist in an era where emission norms are tighter than ever.
For 2022, it gets new cam profiles, new valve springs, electronic throttle bodies, a new clutch and exhaust system. Power has gone up from 150hp to 152hp with a shift in the redline from 10,000rpm to 11,000rpm. The engine also produces stronger bottom-end torque and a wider as well as smoother torque curve.
All of these changes come together to offer an experience so special, that it makes it apparent why Suzuki has not pulled the plug on this engine yet. First of all, it has plenty of bottom-end grunt, so high-gear, low-speed, lazy riding is not going to be a bother. In fact, the Suzuki’s low rpm assist lets you crawl at slow speeds without the need to crack open the throttle.
The midrange is quite punchy and responsive, but it is only when you take it past 7,000rpm that all hell breaks loose. Everything from the intake howl, the screaming exhaust and the sight of the horizon coming towards you at an eye-popping pace is an experience that will leave you absolutely thrilled. The standard up/down quickshifter also ensures there is barely a pause in the bike’s relentless acceleration.
You have to be brave to let the tacho bar race to the 12,000rpm redline in each gear because the rate at which the speeds rise is so quick, you will easily find yourself on the wrong side of legal street speeds.
Three ride modes — A, B, C — and a switchable five-step traction control system keep you from flinging yourself into a tree. The three ride modes temper the power delivery without altering peak power outputs. Mode C, for instance, has the gentlest throttle response and has proved to be handy on wet roads.
The traction control system, on the other hand, works well. Although it did intervene too abruptly in Level 5, when it is at maximum alert, it is much more transparent in the lower settings.
Sense of balance
Complementing that beautiful engine is a nice chassis with adjustable suspension, that again is the same as on the GSX-S1000 street naked. It is well-balanced and you do not feel the 217kg kerb weight once you are rolling.
Also, out of the box, the suspension offers a good balance between ride and handling; the Katana’s ride quality is genuinely impressive for a litre-class sportbike.
The handling, too, is quite predictable and the motorcycle feels planted around corners. However, the Dunlop Sportmax RoadSport 2 tyres that this bike ships with are a let down. They simply do not offer the grip and feedback you would need while riding at a quick pace, especially in the wet. Thankfully, the 140mm of ground clearance did not prove to be an issue.
On to the brakes — the radially mounted Brembos at the front and the Nissin at the rear offer strong braking, hauling the bike down to a halt quite effectively. The wooden feel of the brake lever, could be down to the choice of brake pads and the use of an axial master cylinder instead of a radial unit. Also, Suzuki continues to persist with rubber brake lines on its sporty motorcycles, and you will want to replace them with steel braided lines if repeated aggressive braking is a part of your riding style.
There are few neo-retro motorcycles that evoke a strong feeling of nostalgia in the way this motorcycle does and the Katana’s design is largely responsible for that. Couple that with a gem of an engine as well as a sweet chassis and what you have is a truly desirable litre-class motorcycle. Although it costs close to ₹2 lakh more than its nearest 1,000cc competition from Japan, the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX, the money spent is worth it for the additional power, character and excitement.
So, if you have got your heart set on a neo-retro machine or nostalgia is a trip you keep buying tickets to, the Suzuki Katana is impossible to look past.