Malcom Smith was a teenager when he pointed his Matchless up the San Bernardino Mountains to Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear and beyond, and it's in this ADV playground that Suzuki invited us to sample the new 2017 V-Strom 650. Our mileage was limited, but we had enough seat time for initial impressions on dirt and pavement on our loop around Big Bear Lake.

The 2017 V-Strom is offered in two variants: 650 and 650 XT. Both share a new exhaust system, EFI and intake updates, new multi-function instrument panel, and updated cargo rack and subframe. The base model is fitted with cast wheels, while the XT gets wire-spoked anodized rims mounted with identical Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A40 tires. Plastic hand guards and lower engine cowl are the only other upgrades the XT receives. Suzuki believes the V-Strom has always been perceived as a road bike with some adventure styling. The XT is a baby step toward changing that perception. The spoked rims are needed and wanted off-road, but the added plastics are only a hint, at best, at what’s possible. Company man Avery Innis estimates that only 10 or 15 percent of current V-Strom owners venture off the pavement, and Suzuki thinks that significantly more customers either want to, or want to look like they want to. Humans are funny. It reminds me of my friend who dreams of owning and driving a tractor. “I wish I wanted to be a farmer,” he says.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT static 3/4 view
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki

The bike has been completely restyled for 2017, and is significantly easier on the eyes than the 2015 iteration. The new fairing wraps around vertically stacked headlights. It’s narrower and handles airflow more cleanly, reducing noise and buffeting, helped by the new three-way height-adjustable windscreen. The overall width of the optional rear panniers has been reduced by a significant 8.5 inches relative to the previous model, while maintaining the identical storage volume.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT on-road action
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki

Most agree that the V-Strom 650 has always been a solid, comfortable choice as an all-around motorcycle. What makes a current V-Strom owner want to upgrade to the new model? More power, for starters. The full specification SV650 engine has been transplanted, and offers roughly 5 more claimed hp, incorporating new camshafts and low-friction resin-coated pistons. Smooth, docile, and well-mannered, engine performance will only disappoint if you decide to street race a GSX-R600. A new traction-control system is standard, with three different modes: OFF, 1 is standard, and 2 intervenes even more. Dirt riding is most fun with the TC off, but I was impressed with how the V-Strom reacted in setting 1 when I crossed an unseen patch of sand mid-corner on a paved two-lane twisty. I can imagine how it might have prevented a crash if that patch had been much longer. The ABS system functions quietly and unobtrusively, though owners with serious off-road intentions will lament there is no option to disable it.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT engine details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki

Suzuki sees Kawasaki's KLR650 and BMW's new F700GS as the V-Strom 650's closest competitors. At $8,799 for the base model, and $9,299 for the XT, the Suzuki is closer to the German bike than the Kawasaki not only in price but design. The 2017 V-Strom weighs 2.2 pounds less than its predecessor, but it's roughly 40 pounds heavier than the KLR, and 9 pounds more than the BMW. The XT is offered in Champion Yellow with gold wheels, or Pearl Marble black with black wheels. The base model is available in Pearl Glacier White, only.

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT stand up action
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki

Comfort stands out. It’s difficult to imagine a more neutral, comfortable riding position. At 6-foot-2, I felt as though the bike was sized just for me, and that I could ride for days on end without discomfort. Virtually no vibration makes its way to the pegs or bars, regardless of engine speed. Pleasant vibes are present, but are so refined they are scarcely felt, and through the seat only. Steering is (you guessed it) neutral and precise. Can a motorcycle be too refined and comfortable, or too average? For some, certainly. If so, this could be that bike. But it’s sure to be the ideal motorcycle for some, and the perennial selection of the V-Strom 650 by numerous Iron Butt enthusiasts is proof. On-road manners are impeccable, and the new V-Strom makes a guy want to ride to the horizon and beyond. With the factory offered, street-oriented Bridgestones fitted, though, the adventure of leaving the pavement is more the “trying not to crash” kind than it is the Paris-Dakar ideal. Unfortunately, we didn’t yet get to sample the V-Strom XT with knobbies and skid plate. Maybe that needs to happen on the 650 XT that we’re taking back to the office. Malcom Smith Trail, here we come…

Check out more photos of the 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and 650 XT:

2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT off-road action
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT nose fairing details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT windshield details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT dashboard details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT left grip details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT front wheel details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT engine details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT exhaust details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT taillight details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT cockpit view
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT on-road action
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT off-road details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XTCourtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 static 3/4 view
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650Courtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 nose section details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650Courtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 engine details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650Courtesy of Suzuki
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 seat details
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650Courtesy of Suzuki

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