2008 Suzuki GSX-R600 Review
America’s favorite sportbike, only better
There are only 18 racetracks in the world which are deemed worthy of MotoGP competition. So when Suzuki invited Motorcycle.com to Italy’s Misano World Circuit to test its revamped GSX-R600, we were chomping at the bit.
But why send a bunch of scribblers overseas to ride what may be perceived as simply a warmed over and restyled middleweight Gixxer?
Well, the GSX-R600 is a veritable lynchpin of Suzuki’s lineup. It not only outsells every sportbike on the American market (about 20,000 in 2006), it’s the best-selling Suzuki among all of Team S’s extensive catalog, according to Garrett Kai, American Suzuki’s Senior Communications Specialist.
So, 16 hours of traveling had us situated at the seaside resort town of Riccione, just down the street from the 2.6-mile Misano circuit where we’d have two days to wring out the tweaked Gixxer Sixxer in its new set of clothes. (Or we would’ve if persistent fog not spoiled each morning’s track sessions.)
As is typical with Japanese sportbikes, Suzuki generally adheres to a four-year model cycle in which they follow up a clean-sheet design with a freshened up version in its third year. This 2008 GSX-R600 is an updated riff on the 2006 version.
Anyway, the major theme with this revision is a boost in midrange power to go along with its new exterior duds. As 600cc sportbikes have been endowed with bigger top-end horsepower numbers, it’s come at the expense of accessible power at lower revs. Suzuki has addressed this problem with a host of changes to the Gixxer’s engine. Tech heads will want to check out the accompanying sidebar for more info on how they did it.
Tuning for Torque:
The expression “tuned for torque” is often vilified by those who have seen exciting sportbike motors neutered in the search of more bounteous midrange power. But the demand for higher peak outputs from middleweight sportbikes have come at the expense of low- and mid-range performance. As such, whacking open the throttle below 8000 rpm on a contemporary 600 is most often met by response so flaccid that a Camry might beat you across an intersection.
Suzuki’s rejoinder to this conundrum is a plethora of revisions to the GSX-R600’s existing motor. Typical tuning tricks employed to gain more power down low include:
- Increased compression ratio, from 12.3 to 12.5:1
- Newly tapered intake ports to increase velocity
- Intake camshafts with slightly reduced valve lift
- Exhaust pipe diameter shrunk by 3mm for boosted power at peak torque revs
- Overall muffler volume increased
Fuel atomization is improved by changing the fuel injectors from 4-hole units to 8-holers. The addition of iridium-tipped spark plugs helps ensure a fuller burn.
Internally, the ventilation holes between cylinders again go up a couple of millimeters to reduce parasitic pumping losses. Suzuki makes no claim for higher peak output from this engine, but a Suzuki-supplied dyno graph shows greater horsepower and torque across the bulk of the rev range. Our seat-of-the-pants dyno confirms this assertion.
Although the Gixxer is just in its mid-cycle revision year, it looks like a ground-up redo when it’s seen in its fleshier new flesh. “We created this to be more than the fastest machine on the racetrack,” said Suzuki’s aptly named product planning guru, Norihiru Suzuki. “In short, we wanted it to be beautiful.”
Bodywork from front to rear is completely new, giving the G6 a more contemporary countenance. A nose job is the most obvious change. A centrally located low-beam projector light is flanked by dual high-beams for a purported increase in side-area illumination. A “position lamp” is placed above the main headlight. Situated below are dual scoops for ram-air induction. Turnsignals remain neatly integrated into the rearview mirrors.
A little further back is a new gas tank that ups fuel capacity by 0.5 liter to 4.5 gallons. Below are curvy new side fairings with an X shape, while a more flamboyant tailsection includes integrated turnsignals with clear lenses. Four colors schemes are available in the U.S. The white/silver version might be my fave, and yellow/black and all-black iterations join the traditional Gixxer blue/white combo which includes a blue seat. Kudos go to Suzuki for providing a passenger seat cowl at no extra charge, unlike the other OEMs.
An item borrowed from the liter-sized GSX-R is the electronically controlled steering damper, and this makes itself known while rolling out onto Misano’s foggy pit lane during our first session. While the previous unintelligent damper made low-speed steering a bit awkward, this smarter version has seemingly no affect at parking-lot velocities. “Movement has become more neutral,” says Suzuki’s aforementioned Suzuki.
To be honest, that’s about all I could glean from the new bike during our first session that was shrouded by thick mist. Vision was greatly impaired, which is doubly troubling when it’s your first time riding a new race circuit. Compound this with a fogged up faceshield, and even a GS500 with a plug wire pulled off would be exciting.
This might’ve been a good time to experiment with the Suzuki Drive Mode Selector that is a new addition to the smallest GSX-R, but I didn’t need any new distractions. More on the S-DMS later. In the meantime, the cold track temps yielded low grip for the newest Bridgestone sport tires, BT016 Hypersports, resulting in a few slides as I wobbled my way through the mist.
The second session of the day was thankfully blessed with a moderate amount of sunshine, upping grip levels and extending visibility greatly. Now that I could get a handle on the track and see where I was going, the Gixxer revealed itself to be the excellent sporting tool GSX-Rs are known for.
Nothing new in the geometry department, as rake, trail and wheelbase remain the same as previous: 23.45 degrees, 3.82 inches (97mm) and 55.1 inches, respectively. As such, the G6 is as trustworthy as ever. Turn-in is obedient, and the bike’s slim and compact stature makes its rider feel like a master. One of the great challenges of Misano is the Curvone, a fifth-gear sweeper that tests a rider’s courage a motorcycle’s stability. The GSX-Rs new steering damper helped make it a knee-down corner at a-buck-thirty-five.
Sensations new to the little Gixxer arrive with the throttle open and closed. As before, the Gixxer uses the Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve system which consists of dual butterfly valves in each throttle body. The primary is directly connected to the throttle cable, while the secondary is controlled by the ECU based on rpm, gear position and primary valve position. The secondary also is adjusted by a new, faster computer to maintain intake velocity. These work in conjunction with the new 8-hole twin fuel injectors per cylinder. Suzuki’s exhaust butterfly valve is also controlled by the ECU to optimize power at all rpm, working in conjunction with slightly increased muffler volume for the ’08 model.
The above is a mouthful that, together with the midrange-enhancing tweaks for ’08, results in throttle response free of stumbles and lurches. More impressive is how the middleweight mill pulls from the smaller numbers on the legible tachometer. Midrange squirt now likely exceeds the Kawi ZX-6R and even the trick new R6, though my butt dyno still says the CBR600RR is the 599cc bike to beat in this respect.
When it’s time to bleed speed, the Gixxer has a couple of enhancements to do it easier. Reacting to the front brake lever is a master cylinder with a 2mm smaller bore for increased pressure at the caliper. A 2mm smaller leading piston in the front calipers maintains the same effort required at the lever, according the Suzuki’s Kai. The radial-mount Tokico calipers bite on new 310mm discs with four more buttons, now 12, for better heat dissipation. The extra weight from the added buttons is offset by 0.5mm thinner rotors, now at 5.0mm.
That’s a lot of tech details to describe brake feel that, to my hand, don’t feel much different than before. They have a softish initial bite but are plenty powerful. Journos faster than me had praise for them, and it’s feasible that they would better be able to handle the rigors of racing than the previous binders. If it makes you feel better, you might appreciate knowing that they are said to be the same brakes as used on the heavier and faster Hayabusa.
While we’re in the braking zone, let’s touch on another notable tweak: a better slipper clutch. Suzuki has added an additional clutch plate with revised friction material and a modified drive cam shape. Tech stuff aside, I can say Suzuki has taken a good back-torque-limiting clutch and made it better, able to suck up sloppy and/or rapid downshifts without upsetting the chassis.
As speeds grew faster throughout the day, it revealed the Misano circuit to be the bumpiest GP track on the schedule. But the Gixxer responded very well at sucking up the imperfections. Suzuki reports only mild internal revisions to the 41mm Showa fork and the Showa shock for ’08.
With the first day of riding sessions completed, the spoiled and smart-assy journalists and I looked forward to the next day when we’d have a full day of riding in the sunshine. Well, it turns out that Misano would be a fickle lover. Fog thicker than the day before kept us off the track until well after lunch. Oh, feel our pain!
This gave us time to literally and figuratively kick some tires, of which the BT016 Hypersport Bridgestones will come on all Gixxer 6s and 750s for ’08. That rubber is mounted on new, cooler wheels that are said to be lighter, though Suzuki didn’t say by how much, so it’s obviously not a lot.
Eventually the fog abated somewhat and we suited up for another couple of sessions. This time the murkiness enticed me to try out the Drive Mode Selector first seen on the 2007 GSX-R1000. Mode A is the full-power setting. Mode B offers softer throttle response at all rpm ranges, while mode C is knocks back power even further.
Cat begins with the letter C, and another name for cat is pussy. All I’m saying is that I could only tolerate one lap in C mode before frustration set in. It might make sense on a 160-horse literbike, in the rain, but it mutes a 600’s power too much.
Mode B, on the other hand, was quite entertaining. It felt like the thrust of an early-‘90s 600, so the power wasn’t as clipped as I anticipated. It was actually enjoyable to dial on the throttle to the stops exiting corners without much fear of launching myself to the moon.
Still, riding in any setting but A mode is like having sex with a porn star in the missionary position – it may be fun, but it’s not all it can be. The acrobatics really bust loose after 10,000 rpm when the Gixxer shrieks to its power peak around 14 grand, with 2000 revs of overrev headroom before its 16K redline.
The S-DMS is just one part of what Suzuki refers to as “rider-friendly performance.” The instruments include a handy gear-position indicator, and the shift light is programmable for rpm and brightness. (Oddly, there is no lap-timer function.) Adjustable footpegs are again part of the ergo package, still the only bike in the class to offer this desirable feature. And the shift lever is easily adjustable for the best fit for feet and can be simply converted to a GP-style shift pattern if that’s your preference.
So as I wiped the Adriatic mist from my faceshield for the last time, I was sure I was stepping off the best GSX-R600 yet. Its most desirable changes are its punchier midrange and its sharper styling, with bonus points for a more compliant slipper clutch.
On the negative side of the ledger are two areas in which bigger numbers are less pleasing. The G6’s claimed dry weight is now 363 lbs, an increase of 9 due largely to the revised exhaust system. And its MSRP takes a $500 jump to $9399. That’s $300 more than the Kawi, but it’s $200 cheaper than the Honda and Yamaha.
Which one would we most want to park in our garage? In the spirit of the election season, we’d better congregate ’em and hold a caucus!
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