Comparison test sports enduro bikes, Honda XR 400 R, Husaberg FE 400, Husqvarna TE 410, KTM 400 LC 4, Suzuki DR 350 S
… but no half measures. The 400s from Husaberg, Husqvarna and KTM are established sizes in the dirty business. But now the XR 400 comes from Honda.
Real sport enduros – there’s no mistaking that – come from Europe and are called Husqvarna, KTM or Husaberg. Everything that has so far been bogged down in off-road four-stroke vehicles from overseas could not hold a candle to the glorious three Euro bikes and was disparaged as soft junk by the cracks. In this respect, nothing has changed with the introduction of the 400 category in the Enduro World Championship. The hardware still provides the aforementioned trio, and there is amazing consensus in the Old World about the recipe. Take the company’s 600s, swap crankshafts, cylinders, pistons, valves, camshafts, carburettors – and the latest 400s are ready.
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Comparison test sports enduro bikes
Husaberg agile and lively, almost snappy like a two-stroke. The Honda develops its 37 hp significantly more tame, but very efficiently. Typical of the XR line with air cooling, balancer shaft and radially arranged valves in the head, the engine looks lively and lively in the lower and middle speed range, converting its power into forward thrust in a well-dosed manner. The XR can hold its own against its competitors up to these speed ranges, it only runs out of breath in the upper range.
Exactly the opposite is the case with KTM. The engine of the LC 4 seems a bit tough around the bottom and doesn’t have much to offer from the lower speed range, but in terms of top performance it again catches up with the two European competitors. The richly jagged performance curve provides information about a not exactly successful vote. Accordingly, the KTM appears tired when accelerating. The very short first gear of the Super Competition is certainly well meant when it gets really tight in the woods, but with the rather large jump to the second gear, the connection is easily lost, especially on deep ground.
Equipped with a spring strut and upside–down fork from White Power, KTM, on the other hand, has a lucky hand when it comes to the delicate subject of spring and damping adjustment. In particular, the latest version of the fork with rebound and compression damping, each housed in a spar and adjustable from above, impresses with its extremely sensitive response to even the smallest bumps, paired with secure puncture protection for merciless use. A comparison with the Husaberg makes it clear how important tuning is, especially with long suspension travel. It is equipped with exactly the same fork as the KTM, but each has its own set-up.
With significantly more compression damping, the Husaberg front can sometimes prance on fast slopes and sometimes hit the wrists when driving over edges. In conjunction with the Ohlins shock absorber in the rear, the Swede reacts to rutted and hole-riddled slopes much more sensitively than the stoically straight-ahead KTM. The Husqvarna is right in between. The conventional Marzocchi fork is already being used in the second model year, and its coordination has been quite successful. In deep longitudinal grooves, it appears somewhat more flexible than the upside-down fork of the competition, the feedback from the front wheel to the rider’s wrists and shoulders is lower. And the Honda? There is absolutely nothing to complain about with the 43-millimeter stanchion fork, which is almost thin by today’s standards. As usual from Honda, it responds sensitively and is designed taut enough not to break through even on bad mogul slopes, as is the case with the somewhat slack set-up of the XR 600.
Quite okay for enduro speeds, but the XR 400’s shock absorber often hits the block when hunting over bad mogul slopes and when landing after big jumps. Amazing, because the Honda hindquarters looks quite tight at first glance, but obviously there was not enough progression planned towards the end of the suspension travel to prevent bottoming out.
The Honda is in its element on typical enduro terrain. When things get really tight, steep and difficult, she has the edge. No wonder, because with its short wheelbase in conjunction with a steep steering head, it is the cornering artist par excellence, without compromising safe straight-line stability. Thanks to these properties, even inexperienced users can get to grips with the delicate machine straight away. Sit on it and drive off, everything fits like a glove. The Husaberg is also super handy – and this despite its chassis, which it has inherited from the large 600 series.
Thanks to its unrivaled low weight, the FE 400 can almost be thrown into the corners, but in connection with the hard-hitting engine it seems nervous and requires the pilot a certain amount of time to get used to. The lineage from the 600s can be felt more clearly at Husqvarna and KTM. With still good handling, the Husky can be turned around the corner with confidence and provides confidence-inspiring track stability even when accelerating out. Despite a well-arranged seat, on which the front wheel can be loaded by shifting body weight, it does not achieve the driving dynamics of the Honda or Husaberg. Which doesn’t have to be a disadvantage, because in connection with good straight-line stability, the TE 410 is recommended as the most balanced machine in the comparison. The KTM, on the other hand, seems quite clumsy.
The chassis of the Austrian trimmed for straight-line stability – Paris-Dakar sends its regards – may go well with the powerful 620 drive, with which cornering is sometimes initiated by engine power with a skidding rear wheel. In connection with the less agile 400 engine, however, the weaknesses of the modular system become obvious. After several changes to the geometry in recent years, the KTM no longer has the clear aim of going straight through corners, but it seems more sedate than the rest of the field. Using the example of LC 4, the question of the concept becomes a political issue.
In the long run, with a castrated 600, you can certainly not keep up with the 400 in terms of sport, because the requirements are too different. Meanwhile up to more than 60 HP strong, the “big ones” with long undercarriages have to be trimmed to safe directional stability so that the animal propulsion can still be used without the permanent risk of accidents. With the 4000s, on the other hand, you are usually with the throttle on the stop and use the engine power to the full. You make time in curves and in tricky places. Handling plays a decisive role here.
Honda is exactly right with the concept of the agile XR 400, but the little ones lack top performance for seriously sporty use. In addition, it is not consistently trimmed for sportiness like its European competitors, but rather corresponds to the American cross-country idea of the all-round enduro. But it is uncomplicated. No protruding water coolers that could break in the event of a fall, the air filter can be changed in no time using a quick-release fastener without tools, and a balance shaft eliminates gross vibrations.
The exact counterpart embodies the Husaberg. With one liter of oil content, the elimination of an oil pump – the camshaft is supplied with centrifugal oil from the timing chain – and only the bare minimum of add-on parts, it is all about sporting ambition in the dirt. You should stay away from the street with such a part. This machine is extreme in every respect – light as a feather, super handy and maintenance-intensive. After a weekend in the field at the latest, it will be time for an oil change, the two air filters on the square frame tube are only accessible after the radiator cover and seat have been removed.
The Husqvarna offers a good compromise. Its design is sporty, but not so extreme that it would only be suitable for competitions. KTM, on the other hand, thoroughly dispels the stubborn prejudice that all Europeans are generally sloppily processed. Clean weld seams, sensible paintwork, a trustworthy electrical system, plus useful details such as the standard main stand, which also allows emergency tire repairs off-road to be carried out relatively stress-free – that is impressive. In addition, the LC 4 is the only machine in the comparison that really starts reliably at the first step. Due to the protruding water cooler and the associated lack of space in the area of the steering head on all three Europeans, the steering angle is rather modest, which is not exactly noticeable when turning around on narrow paths or in the undergrowth.
There is only the spin turn. In terms of delay, however, the Japanese and Europeans don’t give each other anything. Equipped in unison with the latest braking systems from the Italian manufacturer Brembo, the trio of Husaberg, Huski and KTM need not hide from the well-known Nissin stoppers of the Honda XR 400. Even emergency braking from top speed during asphalt orgies can be handled by all four without noticeably diminishing in their effect.
Ultimately, it should be noted that the latest Japanese attempt to bring the sporty Euro enduros into trouble has not or only partially succeeded. Nevertheless, the XR 400 should make some engineers think. Because with a little more power and a different shock absorber, the softie would have what it takes to stir up the established hardliners.
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