It is a little depressing to see former racers who are so competitive that they have to quit riding after they quit racing. Somehow they don’t have the ability to back away from the ragged edge and just enjoy roosting around with good friends, finding a new trail or even just ride a day with perfect dirt—those little things that make riding a sport quad such a great sport. The same thing can happen to certain quads. They dominate racing for a time, and when something newer and faster comes along, it fades away. That never happened to the Suzuki QuadSport Z400. At one time it was the race weapon of choice, but it was eclipsed by harder-edged sport 450s—even by its own younger sibling, the QuadRacer R450. But the LT450R is no longer here, and the Z400 still sells well. Like those former racers/riders, the Z400 was able to bow out of racing and be a better trail quad than ever. The Z400’s success is easy to understand: there simply aren’t many quads that are this much fun on the trail.
Unlike fuel-injected dirt bikes, the Z400 fuel pump is mounted to the frame. It is tucked in and out of the way, and it is protected from abuse.
Much of the reason for the Z400’s continued success is that it was designed as a fun trail quad that had the potential to be a racer. The engine is a big part of that. It traces its roots back to when Yamaha had just set the moto world on fire with the YZ400F dirt bike. Rather than face off toe to toe with Yamaha for the same section of the dirt bike market, Suzuki chose to invest in modern four-stroke technology for the trail. The DOHC, liquid-cooled, five-speed engine was available in three motorcycle forms: off-road kickstart only, off-road E-start only, and an E-start dual-sport model with milder cams and a CV carburetor. In a move that some found odd, Suzuki based the Z400 on the dual-sport motorcycle version of the 400 engine. Riders looking for more performance had to find the Keihin FCR carburetor from the off-road versions. Suzuki fixed that problem in 2009 when they converted the Z400 to EFI. EFI fixed all the lean-running and hesitation issues blamed on the CV carburetor while still allowing the quad to easily pass federal emission standards.
Since Suzuki designed the engine for off-road riding right from the start, it has smooth, tractable, effective power. The wide-ratio transmission has a low first, but a largish jump to second gear. The remaining ratios have no noticeable gaps, and the engine rpm drops right into the torque’s sweet spot, so it pulls very hard from gear to gear. Shifting is crisp and clean, and the clutch pull is light with a smooth, solid engagement.
You have to pull the clutch lever in, but the 400 starts easily in gear. The EFI is seamless with perfect response at all times. Suzuki must have stolen some plans for stealth technology, because this machine is super quiet. There is little exhaust or intake noise to intrude on your trail experience or that of posy-sniffers or bird-watchers you might encounter on the trail. This Suzuki 400 engine was always smooth, and it still is, both in power delivery and vibration levels. Suzuki even added the dual-sport 400’s bar-end vibration dampers to the Z400, and the lack of vibration is a real bonus on long rides. If you want more power, there are options that will nearly triple the output of the engine, and a little more would be nice, but we wouldn’t want to ruin the usable and tractable boost it has in stock form.
Being a sport model, the Z400 controls are pretty basic. The right side of the bar is all business, but the left side is a little busy. In addition to the clutch, there is a parking-brake function that works fine, but does require two hands. There is also a switch pod with high and low beam, engine kill, start button and an enrichening lever for cold starts. The ignition has an on/off switch, with the light settings on the left fender and the reverse switch on the right fender.
Reverse is a nice feature on a trail quad. To engage reverse, turn the switch and step down on the shifter. A red light lets you know it is engaged, and we could see it easily in bright sun. The brakes are strong with good feel, and they do not require much effort.
Suzuki probably could have left the Z400 alone, but it got more aggressive styling in 2009 to go with the EFI. It remains a striking machine. The fenders are soft and flexible, so they should prove plenty durable, and the heel guards have plenty of coverage. An amply padded T-shaped seat finishes up the bodywork. You would think that once the QuadRacer R450 was in the line, the Z would really get ignored, but that wasn’t the case. In 2012, it gained the wider pegs of the 450, the front track was widened 25mm, the chassis’ rigidity balance was changed to improve performance in rough terrain, and the axle taper was finessed to complement the frame changes. The riding position is a little more all-day-comfort upright than the latest sport quads, and that works great for extended trail-play sessions.
TRAIL FITS AND GIGGLES
Most of our testing on the Z occurred during a crushing heat wave, but the Z400 is so much fun on the trail that it made riding in 100-plus temps a ball! Despite the heat, the engine lit right off at all times. It takes off quite smoothly, and there is always plenty of acceleration on tap. There isn’t so much power that the tires go up in smoke and dust. You can easily pull the front end up whenever you need. On the other hand, when you do need to spin the rear wheels to slide a turn, there is plenty of boost for that as well. We had the Yamaha Raptor 700 along, and the 400 had no trouble keeping pace. For certain, the Dunlop tires earn some of the praise here. From sand to solid rock, the tires provided great feedback to the rider.
In 2012, Suzuki changed the chassis’ flex/rigidity mix, revised the taper of the rear axle and widened the stance 25mm. The result is a quad that can handle a lot of trail miles without hammering the rider.
Suzuki graced the 400 with double-A-arm front suspension with preload- and compression-adjustable, piggyback-reservoir-style shock absorbers that provide 8.5 inches of front-wheel travel. In the rear, the linkage-type rear suspension features a beefy swingarm and a fully adjustable, piggyback-reservoir-style shock absorber with 9.1 inches of wheel travel.
We have a big attaboy for whoever developed these suspension settings. Much of our testing was in an area with much rutted hardpack and many rocky stairsteps. We had almost decided that sport quads didn’t belong there after taking a beating on a few, but not the Z. The action is extra plush, so it handled all of the rocky sections with supple ease. At the same time, the trails are littered with steep water bars to control erosion. The Z was plenty happy jumping those, and it was predictable on take-off and cushy on the landing. Many of these trails are cut into the side of a hill, so they are narrow, and going off the side would be ugly, yet we still looked forward to the jumps with full confidence.
With a curb weight of 425 pounds, you would expect to feel that weight on the trail, but you really don’t. If anything, the 400 feels light on its tires. First gear is plenty low for anything we tackled, but we hit a couple of tight, twisty sections where the quad would happily have wiggled through quicker. The problem was that first gear was wound out, and the jump to second was too large for the steep trail. Otherwise, we can’t fault the performance.
HOME SWEET HOME
Every test rider felt totally at home on the 400. It didn’t matter whether we were ripping high-speed roads between trails or rockhopping slow, technical climbs. Come over a blind ride to find a rut or whoops? No sweat. Simply lift the front and wheelie through. It felt effortless, natural and completely comfortable.
There is a whole list of reasons that the Z400 is a favorite sport quad for the trail. The individual parts are impressive enough, but the package is where this quad comes together. The thing is a ball to ride. You hear it calling from the garage, “Ride me!” It is nimble, zippy, reliable and ready to rock your trails. In a world populated with 450s, we found ourselves wishing for a bit more grunt down low, and we felt that gap between first and second gear, but mostly we just had fun while the suspension kept the trail from beating us up. Now that is a sport quad!