Burgman 400, 650: A tale of 2 cities

By From page B8 | August 30, 2013

With gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, people are still looking for economical transportation. When gas prices spiked in 2008, motor scooters became the craze. Gas prices are nearly at their 2008 prices again and scooters are again becoming popular. Even BMW has introduced a 650 Maxi or Super Scooter to the U. S. market and Aprilia has plans to bring over the big daddy of super scooters, its V twin 839 cc unit.

To that end the Road Beat has extensively tested two offerings from Suzuki, a 400 cc super scooter called the Burgman 400 and an even larger engine model, the Burgman 650. Burg means city, hence the title of this report “A tale of two cities.” Both of these units, considering their adept handling, could be considered “artful dodgers” as well.

As you can see by the photographs, both of these super scooters look quite similar and their overall lengths are within a fraction of an inch and both sport a 62-inch wheelbase. To put that in perspective, the wheelbase of a Harley is about 65 inches and the average 1 liter sport bike is about 56 inches. A Vespa has a wheelbase of just 55 inches.

Burgmans are also imposing with their sleek body work. From the front or a front quarter view, Burgmans look more like a sport touring bike. About the only thing separating them from a full on motorcycle is their easy mount step-through design. Both the 400 and 650 look great from all directions, with the 650 having a bit more body width, although the specs show the 400 to be a half an inch wider at 32.5 inches. That translates to safe, easy lane splitting.

Body work is important as it provides weather protection for the rider. In a rain event, you stay almost completely dry. In the cold, it keeps you warm. The windshield offer almost complete wind protection and although the 650 wind screen looks smaller and slightly less sleek, it does a marginally better job at its task. But both are superb at their intended purpose. In the overall design of these super scooters, the biggest appearance difference is in the front fairings and headlights, with the 400 being a bit slicker, but the 650 having a bit more sophistication, but both are beautiful.

Engines provide the largest differentiation between the two bikes, with the motive force behind the 400 coming from a liquid-cooled, counterbalanced for smoothness, 399 cc single cylinder dual overhead cam four-valve engine. It provides about 36 hp (estimated). The 650 gets a liquid cooled parallel 638 cc DOHC 8 valve twin with dual counterbalancers, that cranks out about 50 hp (estimated). While the 650 packs 80 pounds more weight (440 versus 518 dry), there is a significant performance difference. Even in 100 degree temps, both machines had their temp gauges right in the middle, never wavering. They also ran at the same temp in 60-degree weather with no engine heat entering the cockpit, a problem with some motorcycles.

Both machines use a CVT automatic transmission, similar to those used in automobiles like the Subaru Outback or Nissan Sentra, Altima or Maxima. Final drive is by a maintenance free V-belt. It means that there is no shifting, just twist and go and the continuously variable tranny will always select the right ratio for the situation. The system works beautifully.

Five years ago when I put a 1,000 miles on a 400, I found the performance quick, on par with your average midsize sedan with an estimated 0-60 mph time in the 9 second range and a top speed of about 95 mph. It also has excellent mid range power from 40-75 mph for passing or maneuvering. On the freeway, it flows with traffic with plenty of throttle to spare. Now here is the best part, in almost 4,000 miles of testing (that’s not a misprint, 4,000 miles as I recently did another 3,000 miles) the 400 returned between 64 to 67 mpg. In two trips to South Lake Tahoe, the Burgie averaged 68 mpg and that included full throttle passes in every passing zone.

The Burgie 400 proved itself to be a smooth mover with almost no vibration anywhere. With liberal suspension travel it also smoothed out the bumpiest roads and its highway ride was good. Handling with a 14-inch wheel up front and a 13-inch wheel in the rear was also quite good. It has a maximum lean angle of 43 degrees before you start scraping hard parts (the center stand) and several times I exceeded that bank angle while remaining stable and comfortable. With less weight to toss around, left-right transitions were easy.

Going from the Burgie 400 to the 650 you wouldn’t think there would be much of a difference, but there is. While the 400 has a smooth engine, the 650 feels like an electric motor. It’s ethereal or perhaps turbine like. You have to experience a 650 to understand. And while the 400 leaves little on the table, the 650 will feel like a rocket. It flat out goes with 0-60 mph times under 7 seconds and a top speed approaching 120 mph. The Burgie 650 flat out gets it done. It might embarrass a Harley or two.

On the flip side of this super performance is fuel economy. Don’t expect 60 plus mpg. In several hundred miles the 650 averaged about 53 mpg. Both scooters have fuel computers which read about 3 mpg low while their speedometers read about 5 mph fast at 65 mph. The 650 has a 4 gallon fuel tank and it needs it as stretching more than 175 miles before refills might cause some anxiety, while the 400 can travel 200 miles from its 3.6 gallon tank before hitting a gas station. By the way, both super scooters use 87 octane regular gas.

Handling on the 650 is heavier. You can still flick it in the chicanes, but it requires more effort. However, the bigger Burgie feels more stable in high speed sweepers, being less hinged in the middle. And on the freeway at 70 mph plus the bigger Burgie also feels more relaxed. The tach on the 400 shows 6,000 rpm at that speed while the 650 turns just 4,200 at the same speed.

Ride quality is actually firmer on the 650, even with the bigger wheels and tires (15 inch up front and a 14 inch in the rear shod with a 120/70X15H and a 160/60X14H tires respectively). Both, however, have the ability to swallow bumps with aplomb using large telescopic forks up front and a swingarm in the rear with about 4 inches of travel at each end. It sounds just like a middle weight motorcycle, doesn’t it?

Brakes on both Burgies are triple discs with two rotors up front and one in the rear and they are powerful. More than once I had to clamp them on hard and they did their job, stopping the Burgie in a very short, controlled manner. And now new Burgies have ABS standard, although my test vehicles did not. I didn’t miss it, but I will take ABS if available, especially if riding in wet weather.

Both units coddle the rider and passenger with low comfortable seats, with the 400 sitting like a low rider cruiser at a 28-inch seat height. That is a huge plus. But even the 650 has a low seat at 29.5 inches, allowing both feet flat on the ground while stopped, making it easy to back up as there is no reverse gear like you have on a nearly 900-pound Honda Goldwing. Seat height is important. I have ridden the new 650 BMW super scooter and it sits about two inches higher and its handle bars were lower. Coming to a stop was a bit unnerving for me. Speaking of bars, both Burgies have handle bars perfectly positioned.

Instrumentation for both machines is complete with speedo and tach, fuel, temp and twin trip meters. Besides the fuel computers both have outside temp gauges. Now for the best part, the trunks. Under the seat is a lighted compartment that holds two full face helmets. I go grocery shopping on a Burgie. One time I put in the trunk four big boxes of cereal, several liters of diet coke, four pounds of pork, four boxes of granola bars and some other items. And on top of that there are three glove boxes up front. These babies can carry the mail.

Price of admission is not that cheap ,with a new 400 ABS listing at $7,599 and a 2012 Burgie 650 ABS at $9,899 with a revised 2013 model coming in at $10,999. I discussed the new 2013 650 with the managing editor of Motorcycle Consumer News and it is improved with less off idle throttle snatch and a lighter feel. But to make that decision harder there are huge incentives on the 2012 models. I’ve seen $1,500 incentive discounts, making a 2012 Burgie 650 very inviting.

Larry Weitzman

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