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.
The GSX-R600's dash is unchanged...
The GSX-R600's dash is unchanged aside from background color and the addition of the S-DMS display. The ECU has been upgraded with more memory to accommodate the additional mapping.
As with the GSX-R1000, the...
As with the GSX-R1000, the 600's S-DMS switch provides full power in A mode and progressively less in B and C modes. B mode takes the edge off the 600's crispness, while C mode feels less powerful than an SV650.
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.