Suzuki’s all-new litre-class motorcycle marks the revival of an old legend in spectacular fashion
There are few things that match the feel of riding a litre-class motorcycle fast, especially one powered by an inline four-cylinder engine screaming towards its redline. This feeling gets even more special when the motorcycle is a Japanese one. Sadly though, launches of such motorcycles are less than a trickle for us, but every time there’s a new one coming to our shores, enthusiasts’ ears perk up.
Like the new Suzuki Katana. It’s a motorcycle that has big shoes to fill, as the original Katana that was launched way back in 1981 was a cult classic. Not many would also know that the original Katana was the world’s fastest production motorcycle at one point in time, even if not for very long. Thanks to the purported ‘gentlemen’s’ agreement, top speeds in excess of 300kmph have become a thing of the past in the motorcycling world, riding the new Katana of the challenge.
As an everyday litre-class motorcycle from the land of the rising sun, the new one does have a lot of expectations to meet though. What made the new Katana special for me, long before I swung a leg over it, were two very specific bits about it. First, the fact that its design is a brilliant execution in terms of recreating the original’s lines. And second, the fact that it is powered by an updated version of the 2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000’s (dubbed the K5) inline four-cylinder engine, which was known for its manic power delivery, refinement and reliability.
It’s been a long wait since the 2020 Auto Expo where I first saw the new Katana in the flesh, besides the fact that I got to ride the bike slightly later than I would have liked. But the banshee-like wail of an inline four is something I’m always looking forward to. And the last time I heard it was on the third generation Hayabusa for our anniversary issue at the start of the year – been a while since!
The new Katana’s design is quite a nod to the original, especially the front end. While the fairing is more ornamental, its design and the way it is angled towards the front aggressively, not to forget the rectangular headlamp unit all remind us of the original Katana and look brilliant, like a perfect fusion of retro inspiration and modern lines. Even the Suzuki name is etched onto the fairing in a manner similar to the original Katana’s. The headlamp design deserves a mention too – the rectangular unit is split into two horizontally and is flanked by pilot lamps on either side, making for a retro look in a very appealing manner. The approach to the design overall is minimalistic and even the Katana name sits in a tiny font below the one-piece seat, while the Katana logo sits on the sides of the fairing.
Forks are finished in gold while the copper hue of the wheels goes well with the matte blue paint job. The tail lamps are shaped like a pair of fangs, another Suzuki design trait. The instrument cluster display is rather busy looking and difficult to read on the go, as it crams in too much information and is also not very legible in harsh daylight. But you wouldn’t bother looking down at the clocks when you’ve got a 999cc, inline four-cylinder engine powering the motorcycle, would you?
The Katana’s unit like I mentioned earlier, belongs to the 2005 ‘Gixxer’ 1000, also known as the ‘widow-maker’ for its performance. Of course, the motor has been updated to meet Euro 5/BS6 emission norms meaning it isn’t as manic besides being detuned to make it more livable. Peak outputs stand at 150PS and 106Nm, sent to the rear wheel via a six-speed gearbox with a switchable bi-directional quick shifter.
Don’t be fooled by the 11,000rpm mark at which peak power is produced though, the Katana offers plenty of grunt at low to mid revs. The engine’s tractability is excellent and trundling in traffic at speeds as low as 30kmph in fourth gear is easy. But while performance is as brisk as it gets on a litre-class machine, power delivery felt somewhat restricted – blame the ever-strict emission norms – and felt the need for a free-flow exhaust.
Performance gets stronger as you go higher up the revs and triple-digit speeds are where the Katana really impresses and getting to 150kmph and beyond is a cinch. Keep the throttle pinned, shift up through the gears and 200kmph is attainable with ease. The motor also boasts excellent refinement, even close to its 11,500rpm redline, adding to the likeable manners, besides the high-pitched wail from the exhaust and the intake howl at higher revs. Hammering through the gears is easy thanks to the slick-shifting six-speed gearbox and unlike a lot of European motorcycles, the quick shifter feels smooth even at part throttle. A spanner in the works is the 12-litre tank, which means the bike does not even offer a 200km range.
The suspension setup is on the firmer side but the Katana lives up to the tag of being a Suzuki, offering an impressive ride quality despite its sporty demeanour. It soaks up broken roads well and the ride only gets better at higher speeds. The 43mm, fully-adjustable KYB upside-down forks and preload and rebound adjustable mono-shock also did a brilliant job of soaking up the rain-battered roads, but the suspension impresses even more – and expectedly so – on the handling front.
The Katana feels very planted even close to 200kmph, besides offering ample confidence to lean into corners. The front end lets you dive in with aplomb and the rear follows quickly, offering a stable feel. Our test bike was shod with Dunlop Sportmax rubber and while the 120-section front and 190-section rear tyres offered good grip, I could feel myself reaching their limit rather quickly when pushing hard.
I also like that the Katana is a fairly simple motorcycle on the electronics front. All you get is three riding modes, five traction control levels and the ability to switch TC off. More importantly, unlike many other machines, you can switch traction control off on the go, making matters easy when you want to pull those massive wheelies! The Brembo brakes at the front offer a progressive feel, but I would have liked a stronger initial bite.
Overall, the Suzuki Katana isn’t just a new litre-class motorcycle on the block, but one with the original’s legacy to live up to. Resurrecting legends isn’t easy but the new Katana is a job well done by Suzuki. It looks the part and delivers the goods as a fast, confident motorcycle. More importantly, Suzuki assembles the Katana right here in India, alongside the mighty Hayabusa, which has allowed it to price the bike at Rs13.61 lakh ex-showroom. That’s a steal when compared to a lot of fast motorcycles, especially European ones with smaller engines and lesser power outputs. All this, while being a perfect homage to an icon!