Scooters are rapidly shedding their dowdy image and limited performance for slick styling and 100mph+ top speeds. Now you can have all of the practicality of a commuter bike, a quiet four-stroke engine, ease of use, tons of storage space, lots of equipment and all in a package that is grandly called a luxury scooter. We took the plunge and headed off down the road on one of the best selling scooters in the U.S. — Suzuki’s Burgman 400 ABS.
Photos: Anne Watson
Let’s make this clear from the start: Nobody is going to rush out and buy a scooter to replace their motorcycle. But what scooter ownership can offer is an alternative, cheaper way of getting about instead of using a car. You get a lot of carrying capacity, excellent fuel economy and the fun of being on two, albeit quite small, wheels.
Europe has known about scooters for years. It’s where they originated from in the aftermath of World War Two and where they are seen as a cheap and easy means of transport. That’s still true today with towns across Europe littered with scooters with everyone in the family from grandmothers to teenage kids using one to get about on, go shopping, or do the daily commute to the office.
But those noisy old Vespas and Piaggios of the past have slowly been replaced by sophisticated larger scooters that seem light years away from the original concept of being just a form of two-wheeled transport. They have also got faster, streamlined and more comfortable and have really nothing in common with the original concept except perhaps offering a utilitarian, practical appeal. But it comes at a price.
Underneath all of the flashy bodywork of a 21st Century "luxury scooter," some of the original principles apply. Ease of use, nimble and convenient. Today’s scooters are just more technically advanced, quieter, faster and smoother and surprisingly still a lot of fun to ride.
Suzuki’s Burgman 400 ABS is a good example of how far scooters have come in recent years. Gone are the traditional scooter features of a sit-up-and-beg seat, stubby handlebars and a front cowl protecting the rider’s legs.
Instead, on the Burgman you’ll find design cues taken from Suzuki sport bikes such as the front end with its neatly faired-in headlight and turn signals, and a tire-hugging fender. At first glance, looking head on you, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Burgman is a motorcycle. To our eyes it looks like the offspring of a liaison between a sport bike and a scooter. But the big give away is its step-through seat and the tiny 14-inch front and 13-inch rear wheels. And when you see the Burgman’s side profile, it’s evident this is a scooter and not a motorcycle.
It’s a big scooter too. The wheelbase of a conventional Vespa is just over 50 inches. Suzuki has stretched the Burgman to 62.4 inches, primarily to accommodate a bigger engine, larger seats and large load carrying capacity.
That storage space is a striking feature of this Suzuki. There’s apparently more than 16 gallons of it, which is conveniently placed around the Burgman. Up front and just below the handlebars, there’s a good size glove box with an AC outlet to charge your phone or ipod. There are two separate smaller compartments alongside the instruments that can take a wallet or keys. The lids are a bit flimsy and are hard to latch securely but they serve their purpose.
But it’s under the seat where the real space lies. Lift up the seat and there is enough room to get a briefcase in if you’re off to work and once you arrive you can store your helmet, jacket and gloves in the compartment that can be locked. There’s also nice touch with a built in light that comes on when you raise the seat so you can find things in the dark.
You can actually stow two helmets in the under-seat space if you need to. This means that wherever you’re going, office, shops, or a restaurant you don’t have to walk around in your riding gear. With all of that carrying space on the Burgman you can ditch the backpack too.
The flip side is that this Suzuki weighs in at 438lbs, which is more than some large capacity motorcycles and with the Burgman there’s a lot less engine performance to move all that weight around.
In line with its utilitarian appeal, nearly all riders should at a stop be able to plant both feet flat on the ground sitting on the 28-inch high seat. The 400cc engine is mounted very low, so there is a low center of gravity, which makes it a doddle to ride at low speeds. Unlike some other modern maxi scooters, such as the Yamaha TMAX and the Burgmans's 650cc big brother, the motor is mounted to the swingarm in conventional scooter fashion. That obviously impacts the ride, with large bumps upsetting the rear suspension, which then takes a while to recompose itself.
There’s also both a center and side stand as well as a hand operated parking brake to keep the Burgman stationary when stopping on an incline or when you park.
The seat is huge and can easily take two people. A nice feature is the rider’s adjustable back support, which moves backwards and forwards across five points so you can find the ideal riding position. You passenger is not going to have many complaints either. There’s an excellent, well-padded rear seat, good grab rails and well-positioned boards for them to put their feet on.
At the heart of this Suzuki is a 400cc, single cylinder, water-cooled, DOHC four-stroke engine that has fuel injection. Suzuki does not publish any performance figures for its engines but we did some research and according to some European motorcycle web sites there is around 33bhp and 26lb-ft of torque. That, we feel, is just about adequate if a little modest for the job in hand.
The engine is coupled to a CVT transmission so there is no gear lever and final drive is via a belt to the tiny rear wheel. It’s really is a case of turn the ignition on, then twist and go. It’s as easy as that to get on this big scooter and just head out.
Up front you have telescopic front forks with 41mm inner tubes that give 4.3 in of wheel travel, while a motorcycle-style, link-type monoshock rear suspension offers adjustable preload, giving 3.9-inches of travel.
An excellent feature is the anti-lock braking which is what this scooter needs. Because there is a fair amount of weight being carried by those small tires, they would struggle for traction under heavy braking and ABS is a very sensible standard feature. There are twin 260mm discs at the front and a single 210 at the rear. But you have to adjust your riding style and use them smoothly together and in return you’ll be rewarded with sharp braking that brings the Burgman to a pretty swift stop.
If you are expecting a dynamic, motorcycle-like ride with the Suzuki Burgman you’re going to be disappointed. The essence of a scooter is to be a practical run about. Sure it’s fun but it in no way replicates the dynamic ride you get on a bike.
It can also take you a bit time to get used to the scooter method of riding. There’s no clutch, no gear lever and you sit perched on the Burgman’s seat with your knees close together. It’s not unpleasant, just different from a bike and once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a lot of fun to settle back on that big seat and enjoy the ride.
For your money, you get a decent equipment level. There are a lot of instruments and the dash layout is not that dissimilar from one that you would find inside an average car. There’s a conventional fuel gauge, speedo and taco, as well as an engine and external temperature gauges. Plus you can monitor your fuel economy at a press of a button. It’s all nicely laid out, easy to read, and very accessible.
There’s such a lot of room in the front that we’re surprised that Suzuki has not offered a radio/cd player or GPS as part of the Burgman 400 equipment list. But whilst this would be a welcome addition it would undoubtedly push the price up.
The windshield looks like the result of some serious wind tunnel work by Suzuki’s design engineers. Aerodynamically it deflects a lot of the wind straight over the rider’s helmet, which means that, although you sit upright on the Burgman, you’re not struggling to keep your helmet up. But the downside is that you can’t look through the screen as its odd shape distorts the road ahead and on our test scooter it vibrated a lot.
You also sit up high, which makes you more visible to other people and from the Burgman’s seat you’re able to see a good way down the road. Rear vision is excellent too thanks to a pair of large mirrors, which would look out of place on a motorcycle, but somehow fit the image of this big scooter.
The thing to bear in mind when riding a luxury scooter is that you’re actually riding something of a compromise. At close to 650lbs, if you include a rider with some luggage on board, the Suzuki Burgman is no lightweight. The 400cc engine is still brisk off the line and will propel you along smoothly enough through rush hour traffic. You can lane split with it too but you need to remember there’s quite a large high rear end, so you need to pick your moments wisely.
The ‘twist and go’ approach is smooth with a quick pick up and it’s easy to see why this scooter is really in its element for town riding at urban speeds limits. The problem is that it starts to struggle a little when you head out on to the freeway. It’ll do it, but it’s not entirely happy and while the ride remains smooth and compliant the engine starts to get buzzy at anything over 60mph. It’s not inadequate, you just feel you could just do with a little more power for overtaking.
Long distances on the freeway on this version of the Burgman are not going to be a rewarding experience. For that you should consider the Burgman 400’s big brother, the 650cc version but then you’ll be looking at several thousand dollars more.
The 400 though is an excellent runabout for around town, or for a daily commute but with limited freeway riding. It handles well too. Steering is precise and direct even with that tiny front wheel and it hustles along and is super easy to maneuver both at low speeds and when you’re in fast moving traffic.
You can also make it lean over well in the corners – Suzuki claims a bank angle of 43-degrees – but don’t go too far or you’ll start scraping the center stand.
In smooth, fast sweeping corners the Burgman 400 has absolutely no problem and goes round them extremely well feeling composed and solid. Tighter curves make it a little less nimble and you’ll soon discover the Burgman doesn’t have the agility of some smaller scooters due in part to its long wheelbase.
It’s zippy and accelerates well all the way up to 50mph and you can quickly move this scooter around out on the road. But it’s no sports machine even though the optimistic speedo says it can reach 110mph. We found 75mph was about as fast as you’d really want to go. Braver souls than us have claimed they have got up to 100mph on a Burgman 400 and we don’t disbelieve them. We just didn’t want to try that.
Out on city roads it lopes along nicely, keeping up well with the ebb and flow of traffic. But where it scores best is under 50mph. It’s sprightly and you can move in and out and of fast moving traffic with a high degree of flexibility. The Burgman is quiet too and the flat black version we tested looks unpretentious despite its "luxury scooter" tag.
The best bit about this whole scooter experience is the fuel economy. While that 400cc engine has to work extra hard at the top end it just sips gas at anything under 50mph. That’s a good thing as this scooter is equipped with a 3.6-gallon tank which on a mid-size motorcycle would mean you’d be lucky to get a 150 mile range. However, with the Burgman, we were seeing a consistent 50-60mpg just running around town. So potentially you’re looking at a 200 plus miles between fill ups.
It’s estimated that most people live on average 10 miles away from their work place. In theory you could commute on this Burgman, carrying a laptop and brief case. When you arrive, change into your work clothes and store all your riding gear under the lockable seat. And you still wouldn’t need to fill up for at least seven days. But when you do, it’s going to cost you less than $15 at today’s gas prices.
The Suzuki Burgman is a sensible, cost saving alternative to using your car for running around town or commuting to work. There’s heaps of storage space, good overall build quality and great gas mileage.
It's maybe a compromise between a motorcycle and a scooter, but as an economical, comfortable means of transport for getting from A to B in an unfussy, predictable way it’s hard to beat.
Not many things at all. You may have some trouble explaining to your motorcycle loving friends as to why you bought a scooter. The engine on the Burgman 400 gets buzzy at high speed and it is definitely more at ease on urban streets than cruising on the freeway. The aerodynamically styled windshield, while it’s very effective at deflecting airflow away from the rider, it’s almost impossible to look through as it distorts the rider’s vision too much.
Overall build quality is excellent apart from the cheap, fragile lids on the Burgman’s front two storage compartments, which are not at the levels we have come to expect from Suzuki.
What Others Say
"The Burgman is something of a hybrid, with the luxo-scooter representing the offspring of a sport-touring motorcycle and 50cc scooter. The Burgman does its best to meld the two worlds but taking the controls after throwing a leg through, instead of over, the machine, the differences are noticeable right away. Claiming a dry weight of 438 lbs, the Burgman is a different beast altogether from its smaller scooter siblings, yet the low center of gravity and 28-inch seat make it scooter-like easy to control at low speeds or when stopped." Motorcyle-USA
"With the ability to hit almost 100mph should sir require, tons of luggage space with enough room to stow away a weekend’s worth of luggage, and fuel consumption that’s not going to trouble the world oil crisis, the Suzuki Burgman is an often over-looked big to medium scooter." — Bennett's Insurance
At $7899, the Suzuki Burgman 400 ABS offers reasonable value if you are looking for a big scooter. There are good levels of equipment, easy to ride convenience and practicality built in. If you want more performance and even more kit you can shell out a further $3,100 for its big brother the Burgman 650 ABS.
You could also consider Honda’s Silver Wing ($9270) that offers a larger engine and different specification to the Burgman but at a higher price. Or you could stick to one of the originals and go with a Vespa GTS300 Super Sport SE ($6399) where you’ll get all the Italian styling you could ever want but on a smaller capacity, less well equipped scooter.
We said at the outset you are unlikely to ever want to swap out your motorcycle for a scooter. But the Suzuki Burgman 400 makes sense as an alternative means of transport for a host of other good reasons.
It can be used instead of a car for running errands or even going to work on every day. It will effortlessly and comfortably whiz you around town, take you to the office, carry home groceries and cost you very little to run. On top of that you’ll be riding something with two wheels, which whilst it may not be a motorcycle, it is still a pretty entertaining way to get out there on the road.
RideApart Rating: 7/10