The new Suzuki Katana brings a strong sense of nostalgia packaged with modern motorcycle performance and handling to the table.
The sound. It is that riveting sound of an inline-four cylinder engine that envelopes your senses. Roll on the throttle as hard as you’d dare and said noise intensifies, with a corresponding rise in your heart rate. In that moment, you realise that there are very few ‘motorcycle sounds’ that leave you thrilled and satisfied in equal measure. Which explains why the inline-four engine is possibly the most loved and desired format in India. The Suzuki Katana, hence, manages to check an important criteria for some people, when it comes to motorcycle buying decisions. But that sweet, sweet engine note doesn’t paint the entire picture of what is a lovely motorcycle.
Almost every manufacturer these days is coming up with a neo-retro motorcycle, given their rising popularity. Suzuki has done so by seeking inspiration from one of its most iconic motorcycles, the GSX-1100 S Katana from the ‘80s. Back then, the Katana not only had a powerful, four-cylinder engine and competent chassis, its styling lent it a distinct identity. The same can be said about the 2022 Katana as well.
Suzuki introduced the new Katana in 2019 and also 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, my word, does it look 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 is 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, especially when you see the fonts that seem to be inspired by Nintendo Gameboy. You’ve got all the information you’d want on the cluster, however, 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. While that helps to some extent, I still think the backlight could have been brighter.
Instrument display is hard to read when the sun is overhead.
In summation, the bike looks as sharp as the Katana, the Japanese sword, thus befitting the name. More importantly, you get this hit of nostalgia, the moment you look at it. If you are an ‘80s or ‘90s kid, you would relate to what I’m saying.
From the saddle
The Katana’s design isn’t entirely a case of form over function either. Once seated on the 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 isn’t enough steering lock by street naked standards, so tight U-turns would end up being a three-point turn.
Then there are a few other minor issues we noticed. The black paint on the rear brake lever as well as the heel plates had begun to wear off. Also, an adjustable clutch lever would’ve been nice considering the brake lever can be adjusted.
But, we are willing to look past all of this, for the engine in the Katana is possibly one of the greatest ever made.
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 that 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, new clutch and exhaust system. Power has gone up from 150hp to 152hp along 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, it makes it apparent why Suzuki hasn’t pulled the plug on this engine yet.
First of all, it has plenty of bottom end grunt, so high-gear, low-speed, lazy riding isn’t 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 also quite punchy and responsive, but it’s 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’ll leave you absolutely thrilled. The standard up/down quickshifter also ensures there’s barely a pause in the bike’s relentless acceleration.
To be honest, you’ll 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’ll easily find yourself far into the wrong side of street legal speeds.
Three ride modes – A, B, C – and a switchable 5-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 proved to be handy on the wet roads I was riding on.
The traction control system, on the other hand, works well. Although it did intervene too abruptly in Level 5, when it’s 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 don’t really feel the 217kg kerb weight once you’re rolling.
Also, out of the box, the suspension offers a good balance between ride and handling. The monsoon ravaged roads in Maharashtra, as is the case each year, are in downright pathetic shape. Considering the conditions, 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 don’t offer the grip and feedback you’d need while riding at a quick pace, especially in the wet. Thankfully, the 140mm of ground clearance didn’t prove to be an issue.
On to the brakes and 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. My only gripe is with the wooden feel of the brake lever, which 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’ll want to replace them with steel braided lines if repeated aggressive braking is a part of your riding style.
There are very few neo-retro motorcycles that evoke a strong feeling of nostalgia in a way that this motorcycle does. The Katana’s design is largely responsible for that and to me it is its big USP. 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 Rs 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’ve 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.