2009 Suzuki QuadSport Z400 ATV Review 0

Suzuki’s QuadSport Z400 has us coming back for more with its updated looks and performance in 2009. It was our first choice for multi-use sport riding on a recent fun-run to the coast. Suzuki makes one heck of an all-around sport ATV. We discovered this at the 2009 Suzuki QuadSport Z400 First Ride, and then again when we enlisted CT Racing to build us a Z400 Project ATV. Between the two we had a fair amount of seat time on the new model in Southern California, but those of us here in Oregon missed out on all the fun. We recently had a trip to the dunes planned as well as some local trail riding around our southern Oregon headquarters. Knowing we’d need a quad that can do it all, our first call was to the local Suzuki dealership – Medford Powersports – for another rendezvous with the mid-size Suzuki.

2009 Suzuki QuadSport Z400 comes in two colors yellow or white.

2009 Suzuki QuadSport Z400 comes in two colors yellow or white.

Why the 400 and not it’s bigger, badder sibling, the QuadRacer R450; namely because we wanted to spend time on the local trails. Sound familiar? That’s because this is exactly the kind of things families are doing across the country. Parents looking to ride with their kids and not deal with the monstrosity of a gnarly MX quad, or perhaps Junior is ready to move up to a full-size machine and manual clutch? Maybe you already have a gnarly quad but are tired of letting pals hop on your decked-out racer and afraid they’ll demolish themselves or your pride and joy? Perhaps the last time you pushed the ol’ thumb throttle was when Bill Ballance was still an amateur and you just want to get back into the saddle. The Z400 would be perfect in any of these situations. Big enough for adult-sized fun, but manageable so that young or novice-level riders can climb on and enjoy the ATV experience.

Our particular experience was comprised of a day of on the dusty trails followed by a trip to the dunes and then back home again for another session out in the woods. It was a typical riding week with our buddies. When someone said, “I want to try your bike,” we didn’t hesitate to let them climb on, just to see how normal riders reacted to the Suzuki under normal, relaxed riding conditions. We had riders ranging from 5’7” to 6’8” – not to say that they were all comfortable all the time, but we did plop a wide range of ATV riders on the seat. Experience levels ranged almost as widely as head height, but none of them wound up disliking the Z400.

There was a time when the 400 was where hard-core Suzuki racers first started. That isn’t the case anymore with the QuadRacer model providing the arm-wrenching, berm-blasting performance needed for serious competition. It’s a good thing, too, because now the Z can really focus on its strength as a wonderful trail bike. Engineers wanted to better low-end power with a straighter intake angle and updated camshaft profile and timing. We found that the Z400 had plenty of low-end muscle, especially in the bottom two gears. Trying to grab an upshift on climbs or in the deep sand doesn’t work extremely well, but considering that it’s a 398cc motor, the output is satisfactory. Stalling was very rarely an issue, and even then it was shoddy clutch work that was more to blame.

The frame is now purple/blue colored rather than the boring silver of years past. Combine that with updated bodywork and the 2009 version has better looks to go with the improved performance. The angular and racy attitude is aided by a wider front track which has been bumped out nearly an inch. Stability is very good, even when riding at top speed down dirt or gravel roads. We even hit a section of pavement in an open riding area where we put straight-line, top-speed stability to the test. The slightest nudge on the handlebars creates a reaction, but once we learned to relax and let it move just a bit, the Z400 promised us it wouldn’t get crazy unless we asked it to.

Gearing was versatile for all of the terrain we encountered with first gear being short enough to allow for uphill launches from a dead stop.

Gearing was versatile for all of the terrain we encountered with first gear being short enough to allow for uphill launches from a dead stop.

The trails at Prospect OHV area are tight enough to work up a sweat, but flowing enough to cover some serious ground with a good pace. Whoops are scarce, but the ones we did find were easily negotiated with a simple flick of the ultra-light clutch and the front wheels lofted over the rough sections. We managed to find some hidden stumps along the way which put the suspension and our wrists to the test. These sharp-edged menaces have a nasty habit of loitering around the edge of the trail. With a wider front end this year, it takes a bit more concentration on the pilot’s part to identify and avoid painful impacts. The suspension is taught, especially up front, but a comfortable seat helps soften the ride until speeds increase. Pick up the pace and it starts to feel right at home soaking up ruts and rocks. We never bottomed either end, even when we hit the coast and did some mild dune jumping. One rider even thought the front two could be softened up a bit for trail use, but everyone was content to leave the single rear shock alone.

Once we headed off to the power-robbing sand of the Oregon Coast, the first thing we did was line up at the bottom of the best-known drag spots – Banshee Hill. Equipped with AMS Sidewinder V-shaped paddle tires on the rear, the Z400 buzzed right to the top of the main line. It didn’t want to pull third gear doing it, but the single-cylinder motor screamed over the crest in second. Once we tried moving into the more technical climbs, the lack of outright power became more of an issue. One of our guides on the trip (who happened to be running a modded Honda 400) pointed out the beauty of the mid-size machines. Any fool can dump the clutch on a high-horsepower machine and make it over most hills, and they’ll stomp stock quads like the Z400. However, that hardly means the smaller bikes are less fun. Climbing isn’t impossible; it just takes more rider skill. As life-long sand riders, our guide and his experienced son have both reverted back to the 400 class. With the explosion of hi-po 450 machines, bikes like the Z400 can be purchased used for dirt cheap. Also, they’re simple to work on and aftermarket support is enormous. This means that the sky is the limit for enthusiasts who enjoy spinning wrenches.

We like spending a bit of time in the garage, but I was extra appreciative during our dune preparation that all I really needed to do was bolt on the paddles. The fuel injection brought serious peace of mind knowing that we didn’t have to worry about jetting, or melting the motors for our friends at Medford Powersports. EFI is the rage these days, and Suzuki did us all a huge favor by installing it on the new Z400. Fueling is very crisp and the bike lights up cold or hot without complaint. Even though it reacts quickly to a mere blip of the throttle, not once was I caught off guard or get into trouble as a result – there really just isn’t enough power on tap to do that.

You can tell a lot by comments from the general riding community, including people who aren’t riding your ATV. We didn’t hear a single negative statement or opinion during our time with the Suzukis. Even hard-core racers and dune rats with bored-out, long-travel sand monsters were quick to comment on how they used to have a Z400, or their buddy owns one, and how much they loved it. These are popular machines for a long list of reasons. Adding fuel injection for 2009 really tops our list along with the reverse gear which some sport quads don’t have. To say there weren’t times when we wanted more power or a wider platform would be a lie, but the number of times we praised its many attributes far outweigh them.

Ripping around on the Z400 brought a smile to my face and a single thought to my head – it doesn’t matter who is riding this ATV, they’re going to be able to command it comfortably and safely, and it will reward them with exceptional fun. When people think of amazing ATVs, there probably aren’t many who would add the Z400 to that list. But, that’s exactly what it is. Suzuki has managed to pack a whole lot of greatness into a $6499 quad.

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