The clock on the wall says 8 a.m. as we spill out of a coffeehouse in downtown San Diego. Today's route offers a taste of everything Southern California—rush-hour traffic, twisty canyons, and deserted desert—before circling back at the end of the day to the same corner shop. And with each passing mile, the 2018 Yamaha XSR700 looks even more impressive, especially to the hipster barista who complimented it while brewing my espresso.

Yamaha says the idea behind the XSR700 was to design a motorcycle to answer consumer demand for a classically styled machine with performance that meets today's sporting standards. To achieve this goal, engineers began with the MT-07 (previously known as the FZ-07). Core components—engine, frame, and suspension—are identical, with only "Sport Heritage" cosmetics distinguishing the two models.

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The XSR700 benefits from using the MT-07 as its base, retaining all of its sporty handling while adding a unique, classic look.Kevin Wing

Despite the round headlight, taillight, and LCD instrument panel, plus the addition of a reshaped gas tank and a stubby seat, the general character of the XSR700 is very similar to that of its sportier-looking sibling. Compared to the previous-generation FZ-07, the KYB suspension has 6 percent stiffer fork springs, an 11 percent stiffer shock spring, and corresponding increases in damping.

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At the heart of the XSR700 is the same 689cc parallel twin that’s used in the MT-07. Torquey? Yes. Capable of wheelies? Heck, yeah.Kevin Wing

On the road, those changes prove beneficial, enhancing stability and feel at maximum lean angles. The previous FZ-07 would wallow midcorner, whereas the stiffer setup of the XSR delivers a more planted feel that gives the rider confidence to brake later and carry more speed. Pirelli Phantom Sportscomp tires with a retro tread pattern complement the suspension changes and provide excellent feel and grip.

2018 Yamaha XSR700

  • Engine Type: liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel twin
  • Displacement: 689cc
  • Seat height: 32.9 in.
  • Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.
  • Claimed wet weight: 410 lb.
  • MSRP: $8,499

Subtle changes were also made to the ergonomics for a more upright riding position. Seat height is slightly higher (32.9 in. versus 31.7 in.) and the handlebar is nearly 3 in. wider. At 5-foot-7, I fit well, with a comfortable reach to the handlebar and plenty of legroom; taller riders shouldn’t have any problems either. My only gripe is that the softly padded seat cut into my comfort quotient after just 50 miles or so.

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Part of the XSR’s classic styling is this round-shaped LCD instrument panel, which is legible even at a full clip.Kevin Wing

Opening the throttle on the 689cc parallel twin makes discomfort a distant memory. This compact powerplant is famous for its torquey nature, and pointing the front wheel skyward under hard acceleration is no problem. The XSR really takes off around 5,500 rpm, and the strong delivery only tapers off near redline. Initial throttle response is impressive, direct without being overly abrupt at lower speeds.

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Up front, a pair of Advics Monoblock brake calipers do a fine job of bringing the XSR700 to a halt. ABS is standard.Kevin Wing

Good brakes are critical for mitigating all that steam, so Yamaha equipped the XSR700 with Advics Monoblocks clamping 282mm discs up front with a Nissin unit in the rear. The combination manages stopping needs just fine, even if a lack of feel at the front lever hinders true potential. ABS is standard and only intervened during overly enthusiastic low-speed braking.

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Regardless of the environment, the XSR700’s upright seating position is relaxed and comfortable, but the spongy saddle makes longer rides a pain in the, um, seat.Kevin Wing

This modern-day performance and timeless styling cater to both exploring open roads and kicking tires at the coffee shop. At $8,499, the Yamaha XSR700 costs $900 more than an MT-07, but if you really like that classic look and don’t mind ponying up a little extra cash, the XSR700 might be the bike for you. As for me, though, I would rather pocket the difference and buy more coffee.

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The 2018 Yamaha XSR700 in its Matte Gray/Aluminum colorway.Kevin Wing
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Raspberry Metallic is the second paint option for the 2018 XSR700.Kevin Wing