In 2004 Suzuki introduced that year's new GSX-R600 at the Circuito Internazionale Santamonica in Misano Adriatico, Italy. The track, used for World Championship Grand Prix racing until 1993 and traditionally on the World Superbike calendar, was highlighted by a unique series of four left-hand bends, each faster than the previous. While the first corner of the four, the Curva del Carro, was taken in second gear, each got progressively faster until the final bend-feeding onto a long back straight-was wide open in fifth gear on the little GSX-R. Easy. Fast. Fun.
Fast-forward to 2008, and Suzuki again introduces a new GSX-R600 in Misano. But in preparation for the MotoGP series returning in 2007, one of the improvements to the track was to reverse its direction from counterclockwise to clockwise. Those ever-faster lefts? Now they're a series of rights, each slower than the one before and calling for some pretty hairball maneuvering at high speeds to make time. Still fast. Still fun. Definitely not easy. No matter for the '08 GSX-R600, though-it carves through with the precision and finesse of a sculptor's freshly sharpened blade.
The focus of Suzuki's efforts in the 600's overhaul was to enhance circuit performance by improving the three basic elements: engine, braking and cornering. The engine's midrange was beefed up by the usual hot rod tricks of more compression and milder intake and exhaust dimensions, and the words "refined" and "user-friendly" were often heard when the braking and cornering aspects were discussed in the press briefing. All minor changes, as far as bi-yearly GSX-R updates go. In fact peak horsepower is said to be identical to the previous model, and the new bike is listed as a few pounds heavier. But those many small improvements still add up to a significantly better GSX-R600, as two days of lapping the Misano World Circuit certainly showed.
Slip into the Suzuki's seat and everything is quite familiar. The dash layout is identical but for the S-DMS display, and the controls are unchanged, as are the three-position rearsets. The new seat, blue to match the graphics, is a bit on the slippery side, but otherwise the GSX-R's ergos are-as always-comfortable and practical for racetrack scratching. A murky morning fog put a damper on the first session's festivities, but at a moderate pace it's easy to see the new bike retains many of the old GSX-R's good characteristics: Stability is excellent, steering is light and power is smooth throughout the rev range. One aspect noticeably absent is the intake and exhaust noise. Whereas the last iteration of the 600 had an almost too-loud exhaust and a distinctive intake howl, this version is quieter on both fronts.
The afternoon sessions provide better conditions, and the correspondingly quicker pace reveals more of the new GSX-R's character. It's the back section of the course, the series of ever-slower rights, that requires the most from the chassis:
The first corner is taken in fifth gear, the throttle rolled back only slightly while the chassis settles before being opened fully again. I'm too afraid to look at the speedo, but a video provided on the press CD shows the rider touching 250 kph-over 150 mph-through there. The apex of the second right is a good brake marker for the third turn, and this is the trickiest part, as you must brake and catch two downshifts while leaned over. The gravel trap looks awfully short and the billboards awfully close at those speeds. Thankfully the GSX-R's chassis is as brilliant as ever with fantastic stability on the binders, light steering and impressive grip from the new Bridgestones. The brakes are the biggest improvement in the chassis department, with the altered leverage ratio providing better feel and a more linear response; even with several hard-braking zones in each lap I can't detect any fade over the course of the 20-minute sessions. The lever definitely travels farther through its stroke with the master cylinder and caliper changes, but this is a worthy tradeoff for the stellar overall performance. It helps, too, that the modified slipper clutch transmits more engine braking to the rear wheel, and while this calls for more care on downshifting it's another overall improved aspect.
The OEM Bridgestone BT-016 tires, replacing the old bike's BT-014s, provide flypaper grip even in what could almost be considered a light drizzle. The new rear tire has two compounds-harder in the center for wear and softer on the edges for grip-while the front tire is a single, grippy compound (check out this issue's Late Braking for more information about the new Bridgestones). Oddly enough, the GSX-R's steering felt awkward at low speeds when the tires were new but was fine once the tires were scrubbed in. If anything the GSX-R steered almost too lightly with the provided settings, falling into turns at close to full lean. Certainly this could be changed with suspension adjustments, but we'll have to wait until we have our own test bike to experiment.
Our biggest complaint with the old bike, especially in the company of the midrange-potent CBR600RR and Daytona 675, was unspectacular power, and Suzuki engineers have nicely addressed this with an impressive boost of midrange steam. Decent power starts at approximately 8000 rpm, and the motor pulls hard and seamlessly until power peaks at about 15,000 rpm. As is typical of the GSX-R series, the engine has good overrev until the limiter cuts in just before 16,500 rpm-redline is unchanged at 16,000 rpm. The added midrange has the GSX-R exiting turns with more authority and, combined with the unchanged but well-spaced tranny ratios, makes gear selection less crucial than on the old bike. Unfortunately that increased power seems to be at the expense of throttle response. We've come to expect a silky-smooth off/on throttle transition from Suzuki's SDTV setup, and the 600 is noticeably more abrupt than previously in this respect, making it difficult to keep midcorner speed up.
It will be interesting to see how the GSX-R stacks up in our upcoming middleweight comparison test. Both it and the Yamaha R6 have benefited from more midrange power for 2008, exactly what they need to compete with Honda's potent CBR600RR. We've ridden all the contenders independently now and can only say that the Suzuki is definitely not lacking in any way. Calling an advantage is too difficult without riding all the bikes under the same conditions, however. We're deep in the planning stages of this year's middleweight smackdown now, and you can expect to see the results in our next issue.
Even with the minor drawback of a slightly abrupt throttle, the combination of the 600's solid chassis and newfound power made it a joy to ride at Misano-the GSX-R is the perfect tool for learning a new track in tricky conditions. We usually smirk at press-speak terms like "refined" and "user-friendly," but in this case those terms apply perfectly: The '08 GSX-R600 does exactly what you tell it to, no more, no less. And you can't ask for much better than that.
'08 Suzuki GSX-R600
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, transverse-four, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 67 x 42.5mm
Compression ratio: 12.8:1
Induction: SDTV, 40mm throttle bodies, 2 injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016F M
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-016R M
Rake/trail: 23.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 55.1 in. (1400mm)
Seat height: 31.9 in. (810mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L)
Claimed dry weight: 359 lb. (163kg)