Town & Country Scooter

The $5,899 single-cylinder 2007 Suzuki Burgman 400 offers the practicality of a scooter with the ride of a motorcycle

To demonstrate exactly what a modern maxi-scooter can do, Suzuki flew a bunch of motorcycle journalists to San Francisco, then had us ride the company’s new 2007 Burgman 400 through the city, out into the country on freeways and normal roads, to end up in the scenic Sonoma winelands.

That’s as varied an application as you can find for any vehicle—barring off-road stuff—and it underscored the versatility of these popular two-wheelers, helping explain their burgeoning sales success of late. Maxi-scooters are maneuverable in cities, yet have enough legs for the open road.

The new Burgman, in particular, is better suited for all-around work than ever. The single-cylinder engine is new, with dual camshafts replacing the former single camshaft design, and its displacement has increased from 385cc to a full 400cc. Fueled by a sophisticated electronic fuel-injection system with a port-mounted injector, the Burman’s exhaust emissions are controlled by a catalyzed exhaust with a closed-loop feedback system informed by an exhaust-stream oxygen sensor. The machine meets tight Euro-3 exhaust regulations.

Although power output is only slightly increased over the previous Burgman 400, the delivery is smoother and more flexible, and the exhaust note has been retuned for a sportier sound. The tube-frame chassis is a new design, incorporating an updated front end with 41 mm forks, a larger, 14-inch cast-alloy front wheel with dual 10.2-inch disc brakes, and significantly improved styling.

The Burgman’s frontal aspect is almost sportbike-like with its angled dual headlights and sharp fairing creases, and there are new

stylish floorboard cutouts to make it easier for the rider to put his or her feet down. The large, deeply padded dual seat has a movable rider backrest (butt-rest, really) to locate a variety of riders more securely. Under the seat is a cargo space that is over 2.0 cubic feet in volume, able to accommodate two full-face helmets.

There are storage compartments in the dashboard area, too, below new instrumentation that includes a tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, clock, and a multifunction trip-meter display that calculates fuel consumption. A 12-volt socket is provided for charging or powering small appliances, and there’s a small parking-brake lever integrated into the dash, handy for parking on inclines.

The best thing about the new Burgman is that it feels like a proper motorcycle. The engine and transmission mass is hung low, so the bike tilts and steers willingly, and the large front wheel adds gyroscopic stability to the whole chassis, making even 80-mph plus speeds on interstates feel solid and secure. With a 100 mph top speed, the Burgman clearly needs as much stability as it can get.

Like so many machines of its type, the Burgman starts easily with a jab at the button and settles to a steady idle dictated by an idle stabilization control mechanism. After that it’s just a matter of rolling the throttle open and taking off. Typical of machines that have centrifugal clutches, the Burgman’s initial take-off is a little lazy, because the clutch hooks up at low engine speeds.

But then the CVT (continuously variable transmission) works its magic, letting the engine rise to the beefy part of its torque curve and holding it there as speed rises. The steady engine note understates the Burgman’s acceleration, which is pretty brisk, but it seemed to me that the Burgman suffers less from that “slipping clutch” impression that so many CVT transmissions impart. It feels pretty solidly hooked up, with positive throttle response.

Cruising is what the Burgman does best. The CVT raises the overall drive ratio to the point where the bike is zipping along at unhurried engine speeds, happily covering ground with little apparent effort. And, as the fuel economy gauge soon tells you, your progress is accompanied by rather miserly fuel use. We had a fuel economy contest during the Burgman’s introductory ride, and results varied from the high 50s to the low 50s, despite some riders’ efforts to squander as much fuel as they could.

When the fuel metering and gear ratio selection is taken out of the rider’s hands, however, it’s hard to deflect this little machine from its frugal tendencies. So you can expect your average fuel economy to be good, despite the Burgman’s not inconsiderable 440-pound mass.

The tall windscreen is a new design, and it worked well to fend off most of the windblast, even for this 6-foot-5 rider. The ‘screen’s sculpted shape disturbed some riders, who said it produced a fisheye-lens effect near its lower margin that had the road immediately ahead of the machine appear humped. I tend not to stare directly ahead of any bike, so this didn’t trouble me much.

In fact, the transition from a conventional motorcycle—with a clutch, manual transmission, and foot-operated rear brake—was no real challenge. One soon gets accustomed to both levers operating brakes (the right-hand one for the front discs, the left-hand lever for the rear disc) on the Burgman, and I found the braking performance quite good. Certainly, the rear wheel, weighted as it is by the hub-mounted transmission and engine, produces better retardation than any motorcycle’s rear brake ever will.

With cornering clearance the only factor inhibiting high-speed exercises (the Burgman offers a 43-degree lean angle) the Suzuki takes to the hills with confidence. I honestly expected the bike to touch down sooner than it did, and the right-hand side of the bike—where there is more clearance—actually takes quite a determined lean angle before graunching noises greet one’s ear.

As a dedicated motorcycle enthusiast, I’m not likely to switch to scooters anytime soon, but I can certainly see their appeal. The ample luggage and stash space is addictive, as is the general ease-of-use the Burgman enjoys. For riders who don’t want to throw a leg over a tall motorcycle or operate its manual systems, the scooter is a fantastic alternative.

Nimble enough to scoot through traffic, and frugal enough to make that three-buck’n’change gallon really last, the Burgman is also big fun to get around on. If there’s a downside for me, it’s the $5,899 pricetag. Hey, that’s almost enough to buy a real motorcycle.

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