New bodywork is a modern take on the Hans Muth-designed 1982 GSXS1100 Katana and is striking in the flesh. Those old Kats are having something of a resurgence at the moment – restorations are rife and they prowl classic racing grids, tuned to the hilt, turning in incredible lap times.
It’s fitting, then, that Suzuki should revive the Katana now with a mixture of old and new detail touches, from the aluminium front mudguard strut, which apes the original, to modern LED lights and a swingarm-mounted number plate hanger (a first for a Suzuki), which leaves the tail unit, my favourite feature, looking uncluttered and racy.
A new narrow-hipped, 25mm taller seat and upright bars give the Suzuki a more streetfighter-like riding position and the KYB suspension has been tweaked to suit the revised weight distribution – firmer on the front, softer at the rear. New Dunlop Roadsmart 2 tyres (half way between sports touring and sports rubber) make their debut appearance on a production bike.
Suzuki didn’t hang around building the Katana. They clocked the Italian-penned ‘Katana 3.0 Concept’ at the Milan international show in 2017 and loved it so much they produced their own and revealed it in Cologne a year later.
Does that mean the Suzuki is a rush job, or is it the Samurai sword it’s named after? Its more upright riding position gives the Katana a shorter, squatter feel than the 6kg lighter GSX-S1000, but the way it rides and handles is basically the same.
There’s nothing the Katana won’t do. Steering, grip and general handling are sharp and it cuts through corners in a way that the 80s Kat could have only dreamed, but it lacks the refinement and composure of something like a Kawasaki Z900RS, Triumph Speed Triple, Yamaha MT-10 and any given European super naked.
Tyres take a while to warm up and in the cold and wet and you wish the Suzuki would hold a line that little bit tighter and change direction faster. Ride quality could be plusher and the rear shock bounces that smidgeon too much when you push-on over undulations.
Brembos are pinched from the current GSX-R1000, but with their more basic ABS control and different pads they actually have more bite on the road than the superbike’s. A dab of the powerful, progressive rear keeps a bouncing rear shock in check and back-braking against the throttle in slow corners irons out the throttle’s harshness.
Wind protection is what you’d expect from a naked, the riding position is comfy and the mirrors work well, but the new 12-litre tank could be a problem for big mileage lovers – you’ll be lucky to see 100 miles before the reserve light starts blinking at you.
The Katana is pretty much there out of the crate, but whack on some sticky tyres, quality aftermarket suspension and a gentler fuel map to flatter its monster K5 engine and the Suzuki would become a Kat with serious claws.
How does the Katana cope with the UK?
Despite the wet conditions on our 85-mile ride around Stratford-Upon-Avon, the occasional slither of dry tarmac revealed the Katana to be a true back road blaster, which is what Suzuki maintain the bike is for.
Firm without being uncomfortable and equipped with superb radial calipers derived from the current GSX-R1000 range, the bike feels planted and well balanced, dispatching with our pothole-laden tarmac with gusto.
Although softer than some more focussed super-nakeds, the bike is firm enough for real-world riding and coupled with its powerful-yet-progressive radial calipers, inspires you to chuck the bike into corners with a grab of last minute two-finger braking.
The Katana’s 999cc long stroke, inline four cylinder motor is lifted from the GSX-R1000K5 (the best one), retuned for more torque and wrapped in a lightweight cast aluminium chassis.
Suzuki have gone some way to cure the GSX-S1000’s snatchy low down power delivery since its 2015 launch and the Katana’s more progressive new throttle cam improves things further, but they’re still not there. Once past 30mph picking up a closed throttle through town or mid corner is as smooth as the best of them, but any slower and it’s a jerk fest.
You adapt to it in the end, with a steadier hand, but it’s a glitch on a motor that’s as flexible as a yoga teacher with a clear diary and would make the old 89bhp Katana cry in its wake.
It’ll scream out of slow corners in second with the front wheel skimming the Japanese tarmac or grunt through in third, surging to the next corner like a bullet train, snicking through its (slightly stiff and quickshifterless) gearbox. GSX-R fans will recognise its bloody-spitting exhaust note and deep airbox growl.
Back in the UK, the torquey four-cylinder lump offers plenty of linear drive throughout the rev range, as well as enough grunt to lazily cruise in top gear, should you so wish. This was especially useful on corner exit on our sodden test route, with the traction control still allowing the rear wheel to spin up with large handfuls of revs in its highest setting.
A check of our online owners’ reviews section reveals nothing but praise for the bombproof GSX-S1000, so the mechanically identical Katana should be the same. It’s being built in Suzuki’s new Hamamatsu factory (opened in September 2018), where quality control is even stricter.
More complex bodywork and an improved dash goes some way to justify the extra price over the GSX-S1000 and it’s slightly cheaper than its closest rival: Honda’s CB1000R.
That aside, the CB1000R offers more of a roadster feel, differing from the streetfighter-inspired Katana, which feels much more aggressive. The Honda also boasts traction control and four rider modes for just £100 more, derived from the über-exotic RC213V-S MotoGP replica.
For over a grand less the smaller-engined Kawasaki Z900RS is more refined and for a few quid more the more modern-styled Triumph Speed Triple and Yamaha MT-10 are more involving and offer a whole lot more sophistication.
The Katana wears big Brembos from the 2017 GSX-R1000, has ABS, four-stage traction control (including ‘off’), a one-push starter button, an anti-stall system and a new throttle grip cam.
There was never any mistaking the original Katana with its then futuristic nose fairing and sulky bottom lip. Suzuki pays homage to its distinctive looks with the new one with a sprinkling of 21st century practicality, including LED headlights.
Weedy twin piston calipers took care of stopping duties back in 1982, but the new Katana comes with ABS-assisted, radially mounted Brembo monoblocs. They’re taken from the current GSX-R1000 and have more bite on the road.
White on black digital LCD clocks and left switchgear button are redesigned GSX-R1000 items, but they already look dated compared to the current crop of colour displays. Maybe they should have gone full Katana analogue retro instead?
What's more, they are also slightly cluttered, with smaller details like your trip and live MPG readout being lost in a sea of numbers, drawing your attention away from the road in front of you.