Honda XR 400 vs Suzuki DRZ 400 – Which is better?

Honda XR 400 vs Suzuki DRZ 400… Can an air cooled old-timer beat the DRZ’s legendary reliability? OK so at first glance a shootout test between these two motorcycles looks far from current news, given that the Honda first rolled off the production line way back in 1996 and the Suzuki some five years later in 2001. With the off-road market now completely dominated by shiny new metal from KTM and their recent acquisition Husqvarna, why would any potential buyer possibly be considering either of these bikes?

The answer is all about context. Heading out on your £8k 2017 Yamaha WRF250 when you are competing in the British Enduro Championships in Mid Wales or setting out on the Prologue to the Romaniacs in downtown Sibiu makes perfect sense – there are few that could fault your buying decision. But riding off into the muddy trails and dirt tracks that cut through the dense forests of rural Cambodia, there are some very good reasons to consider the tried and trusted technology of the XR and the DRZ

At Ride Expeditions we operate astounding motorcycle tours throughout some of the most beautiful landscape of Cambodia and beyond and the bikes we chose matters – we mean, really matters. The latest enduro machinery might be technologically brilliant with enough power to win the world championship, but if it needs servicing every 20 hours and gets through engine oil almost as fast as petrol it simply will not pass muster. Period. What we need is bulletproof machines that will put up all the abuse that we can throw at them without complaint. Expedition riding is hard on the bikes we use – for our Tough One tour we take on really challenging trails over 10 days, so the bikes we use need to ride well, crash well, be reliable and easy to repair – anything else is just window dressing.


The Honda is tough and super comfortable, like your favourite pair of Doc Martens. The seat is soft, the cockpit open and seat to foot-peg dimension is spot on.


The XR is a highly dependable bike, from the motor to the running gear; it will not let you down. Some people however do experience difficulty kick starting these old bikes when they’re hot.


The XR is no longer made so everything is second-hand. As such it’s beer money cheap for champagne fun. Parts are well priced and available globally.


Buy an XR400R and you get one good-looking hunk of metal, but in a decidedly old-skool, retro MX way – but that’s no bad thing. A fettled example with new plastics still cuts the mustard on the track or the trail.


The mighty Honda delivers a sledgehammer of power if you give it the full handful, but will still do the delicate stuff with an unexpected lightness. It may be a bit slower to pick up than the new four-strokes, but once you make the adjustment, it’s fun from tick-over to top end.


When Honda launched the XR400R in 1996, it joined a rich line of off-road models from the diminutive XR50 to the top of the range XR650, itself one of the longest running unchanged production models in the history of motorcycling. As such it had much to live up to, and it did it well. The bike was equally popular with everyone from hobby riders to pro-racers, and Honda shifted boatloads of the machine in the eight years it was in production, eventually shutting down the line in 2004.

So let’s breakdown what exactly makes the Honda tick. At its heart is a 397cc single overhead cam, four valve air-cooled four-stroke engine. It’s kick-start only, which reduces the weight of the engine, but on the odd occasions it won’t fire up, you’d probably trade all of that weight and more for an e-start.

While we are talking weight, the XR comes in at a respectable 120 kilos or 265 lbs. – fine for the age of the machine, but at least ten kilos over more modern machinery and that’s before you add fluids – reliability comes at a price! But that same reliability has amassed the XR fans all over the world and the Honda continues to gain converts. Reviewing the bike in 2009, Dirt Rider said, “ the XR remains a slim, nimble bike with outstanding steering, proven reliability and affordability” – ‘Nuff said?

The oil is held within the frame, so way out of harm’s way, and the conventional mounted fuel tank will take 9.5 lites, which although on the light side for an expedition machine, there are plenty of oversize options available for those forays into the unknown.

To complete the stats’, the bike puts out a modest 34bhp and sits at a 930 mm seat height, but with almost motocross levels of suspension travel, it soon sits down when you are in the oh-so comfy saddle. The plastics are well-designed and high quality, the brakes are super powerful and the build quality typically Honda – what’s not to like?




Suzuki might have come to the 400cc trailie market later than Honda, but they came in strong with the DRZ, a model that continues to roll off the production lines some fifteen or so years later. European regulations may have led to its demise closer to home, but over much of the rest of the world, the humble DRZ continues to have legions of satisfied buyers, including the Australian Army. Motorcycle News called it “a brilliantly competent dual purpose motorcycle” and they got it spot on – with road versions, trail versions and even a supermoto option, the DRZ has earned well for Suzuki and keeps doing so. If it ain’t broke …

OK so what do you get for your money? Well, the major difference to the XR is that the DRZ runs a 398cc liquid-cooled double overhead cam, four valve lump, making the motor sound all together more smooth and refined. You might think that this would make the bike heavier than the Honda and although it certainly looks more bulky, the early kick-start only version is actually 5lbs lighter at 260 lbs, or 117 kg. Add in an electric boot that came as standard on all later models and that goes up to a chunky 277lbs or 125 kilos, and that’s just the dry weight! But if you are stuck halfway up a snotty hill and your left leg can’t reach the ground, that button is a lifesaver and you’ll forget those extra pounds …

Thanks to the more modern design of the engine and the reduced tolerances that liquid cooling can allow, the DRZ puts out a healthy 40 BHP, six up on the XR. It will take half a litre more fuel too at 10 litres and you’ll need to swing your leg a bit higher thanks to the 945mm seat height. The bodywork is well made and easy to remove, and the seat offers good comfort – just what you need for covering the big distances on our Cardamom Mountain Explorer tour. Brakes are strong and forgiving for off-road use, but lack a certain bite at road speeds.



As with all off-road Suzukis, the DRZ has armchair levels of comfort from the plush saddle – a must for long days in the trail. What is not so comfortable is lifting all that weight if you fall off.


The DRZ has almost legendary durability – it’s like ‘The Terminator’ of the trail world. The motor requires less maintenance than a rock and is about as tough.


OK so it looks like we are being harsh here, but if you buy new, the DR is quite pricey for such old tech. As a second-hand buy however, it’s cheap as chips and will make you smile all day.


In a world now populated by lean athletic machines, the DRZ has the body of a shot-putter. If only they could have made it sexier like the RMZs – Oh wait they did it was called the RMX450 and didn’t sell very well…


The DRZ has enough power in that slightly ugly motor to drag a barge out of a canal. OK so it’s not delivered in a particularly exciting way and the top end is just not worth looking for, but the mid to low is just endless and super strong, it’s just that if you’ve ridden anything modern, you will be disappointed.


The stats and figures on the two machines only tell part of the story. A bike might look like a racehorse on paper and ride like a donkey, so the only true test is to take them out on the trails where we are going to ride them. OK so bearing in mind how many units these bikes have shifted, and in the case of the Suzuki, continue to shift, neither is going to be a lemon. That said, there are fundamental differences between red and yellow, and heading out onto the achingly beautiful, if challenging trails of Cambodia where we run our tours, those differences come to the surface pretty quickly.

First off is how they feel when you sit on them. The XR feels like an old-skool ‘crosser – nice open cockpit, wide bars and an uncluttered feel – just what you want to see on an off-road bike. In comparison, the DRZ feels cramped with too much going on in front of you – it obviously has all the same controls and equipment but they all seem a bit busy and packed in on the bars.

With the engines fired up and engine warm – a far easier process with the DRZ’s button, the bikes are good to go and straight away the XR feels the livelier and easier to ride. Despite the fact that the DRZ had a better spread of power across the whole rev range, the XRs superior suspension allows it to be far more spritely and controllable. From cornering and high speed stuff to following single ruts and gnarly climbs, the XR wants to do what the rider wants far more than the DRZ, which often takes a dose of ‘body English’ to get it to comply. And on the later e-start versions this feeling is increased.

The Suzuki is happier on the faster tarmac road sections than the Honda, but for use on the backwoods around Phnom Penh, this is fairly academic – there are very few fast tarmac roads! While the DRZ does have more power, the opportunities to use it tend to be few and far between in the jungles of South Asia.

Which brings us to another plus for the XR – its simplicity. Talk to adventure motorcyclists and this is a watchword for success – simple is good. The XR might have an old fashioned air-cooled power plant that harks back to pre-war engine design, but its simplicity is its strength. You can get to the plug without dismantling the bodywork, there are no radiators to crack and break when you are miles from civilisation and a kick-start doesn’t need battery power. This is a bike stripped back to the essentials, and proven in the harshest of conditions. For both bikes access to the air box is from a user- friendly side-loader, which although most of the time can prove an asset, when you are one of the many deep river crossings that form part of the Ride Expeditions experience, an old fashioned top-loader or even the filters over the engine like the new breed of Yamaha WRFs would be vastly better.

Yet in fairness to the Suzuki, the liquid cooled motor is an absolute beauty. It has masses of power from low-end grunt to screaming top end punch – it’s a fantastically linear power curve. The engine might be slightly harder to work on, thanks to the increased size of the water jacket, but it’s so reliable that you probably will never have to do much maintenance anyway – change the oil once a year whether you need to or not! And if you are worried about the radiators, a full set of aftermarket braces will keep off all but the worst of the impacts.

This is a bike that will go on all day without complaint, and being a model still in active production, if limited development, it continues to be a sound buy for everyone from commuters to adventure motorcyclists.


If you haven’t guessed where we’d put our money by now, you clearly have not been concentrating. Both the machines will provide hours of maintenance free enjoyment whether in the dirt trails of California or the forests of Laos,
 thanks to almost legendary reliability and rock-solid engineering. Both have been, or were in production for long enough to iron out the wrinkles and for an armoury of aftermarket goodies to be available. Similarly, both Honda and Suzuki have good enough global coverage to mean that getting hold of spares, even in remote locations, is relatively easy.

But for all this, the team at Ride Expeditions would choose the XR over the DRZ every time. OK it doesn’t have an electric start, but with better suspension, handling and off-road performance and one of the best seats ever fitted to a dirt bike, the trade off to choose the red bike is an easy one. We travel to some of the most remote parts of the planet on our tours and for us the pure engineering simplicity of the XR400 is the obvious choice.

But here’s the rub – while the Honda might be the choice of the two in this test, both are outclassed by the more modern machinery on the market right now. Although both bikes have proved more than up to the challenge of trail riding in the Laos jungle and riders around the world continue to love them, the reality is that they are both heavy and bulky compared to the new metal. From 2016 we phased out both the faithful DRs and the dogged XR replacing them with the total wonderful Kawasaki KLX300 and Yamaha WRF450. Both are far more refined and purposeful than the DRZ and XR.

If you fancy riding on the trails of Laos or Vietnam check out the tour videos below or contact us directly. With tours from a one-day taster, to an astounding seventeen days of adventure taking on the whole of the country and running through the whole year, we can provide the ultimate motorcycle expedition, from riding in the jungles of Laos on Hondas to travelling through the Himalayas on classic Royal Enfields. With a full support team, experienced local guides and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, this will be a holiday you will never forget.


53 comments on “Honda XR 400 vs Suzuki DRZ 400 – Which is better?

  1. I agree, the xr400 is amazing but so is the drz400, i have a 2004 xr400 and its amazing, but i have also riding the drz400 and it is better at high speed stuff, like cruising. the only problem i have with the drz400 is the radiators. 🙂

  2. Good choice.

    I think that in your sort of environment a simple mechanical device is preferred; no electric start, radiator (and extra weight top end), DOHC = double the amount of parts on top.
    Just look at how popular the simple CG125 (born out the CB125 with OHC) is all over the world and it was created for a harsh enviroment with little maintenance, although I wouldn’t want to take one on a trek…but people do.

    Also the DRZ is trying too hard to get that mini-Dakar look. I think it’s good but not as good and all-rounder as the XR.

    I am guessing parts avalability and costs are better with the XR.

  3. Ben – The radiators are an issue for us too! We’ve actually been considering buying some WRs for a while now… but the high maintenance and radiators worry me – we take these bikes on rocky trails high up in the mountains… puncture a radiator up there and it would not be good news!

  4. Spencer – You’re right, parts for the XR’s in Cambodia are very easy to get a hold of. That’s not the case for the DRZ.
    I’ve actually put in an order for some more XR400s from America – just can’t go wrong with them! Incredibly simple engine, incredibly reliable, performs well in the heat & dust and great to ride.

  5. OOOOOORRRR you could buy a radiator guard?? Ive been riding my DRZ for years and ive literally thrown the bike off a cliff and into a tree. it was still running when i got to it. a well armored liquid cooled bike is just fine.

  6. Hi there, this is an interesting post for me. I am about to go on an off-road trip in Vietnam with my wife. She will be riding pillion. Which do you recommend will be most comfortable for her? We will be doing some moderate off road stuff, a little bit of hard stuff, but will be taking easy with her on the back so I just want to know which is going to be more comfy for her on the back? Any help much appreciated.


    1. Hiya Michael,

      I’d say the DRZ would probably be more suitable for the riding over in Vietnam. As for the seats… I’d suggest taking the seat to a scooter shop and asking them to put some extra padding in it. Riding these bikes with a pillion will always give you a sore bum and the standard seats on either bike does not have enough padding to combat this!



  7. If you go with a pillion, neither one would be suitable. Best to go with bikes along the lines of the Dl650. it can handle a fire trail fine, but falls short on more challenging parts. you do have a very reliable and cheap bike that is relatively easy to work on. Do make sure you get a bashplate to protect the oil filter. Your wife will thank you for it. The dl has a comfortable seat for both rider and pillion, leaving you with enough space for luggage. If you end up worrying about top end power, with all the added weight you could consider its bigger brother the dl1000.

  8. Hi , I thing that both of this two bikes are to small for you. Seat of the xr is more comfy but this is a bike for one person. Drz seat is much harder than XR. For You two the better bike will be something like old yamaha tenere or honda africa twin or maybe newer bmw f800gs. If you wont more extreme riding you should concider honda xr 600 or xr 650 , but you must prepare those bikes for two person, and they be less comfortable than tenere and AT.

  9. I have an XR, my friend the DRZ. We are both in our early 50’s and cruise the dirt tracks. (Could be a new style) My XR is lighter and tighter, his DRZ more road suited except for the hard seat. I am 6’2″, 105 kgs and will stay with the XR as long as I kick start it, also I don’t trust liquid cooled. A 20 ltr tank and extra luggage space, I can roam all day long…………..

    1. I’ve got a 2006 xr400, I brought it new with a after market electric start kit from a 4 wheel Honda fitted to it. So you have the best of both worlds, kick and electric start.

  10. Did you compare the drz400e or the drz400s? Very different machines! I can’t belive you feel the suspension is better on the Honda. Do they even have a adjustment for rebound?

    1. Hi Jay – thanks for the feedback. The E and the S model have a fair few differences and we’ve ridden both. As with the suspension, which bike you prefer can be very personal. So have you owned both? We’re guessing you are a DRZ fan and there are plenty of those all over the world. Keep enjoying the trails

  11. Great article! I just picked up a mint XR400r and I couldn’t be happier. I have a CRFx too, but it’s now for sale! You just can’t go wrong with either one of these bikes. My dad still rides our old 1996 DR350 and it’s been flogged, never had any issues!! There is a lot of value in Reliability. The new bikes are amazing, no doubt, but I think the manufactureres would do well build a modern DR/XR type bike, air cooled, low maintenance, more technology for guys who don’t need a $7-8k full blown race bike to ride trails. I’ve dreamed about a fuel injected XR400 in a CRF frame! Just saying!!

    1. Thanks Chad. The XR can still cut it! I guess the closest to what you are suggesting is the CRF250L which is a true trail bike and cheap to buy and maintain – one reason why we will be using them in Cambodia alongside KLX250s. As for a return to air-cooled , that ship has probably sailed thanks to emission regulations. That said, if you threw a pile of cash at Service Honda in the US I’m sure they would build you Fuel injected XR/CRF Hybrid!

  12. I completely agree with you Chad Smith. I live in Washington state and ride a DR650. It’s super reliable and very easy to maintain. It’s good on the pavement and on the unpaved forest roads but a lighter version would be nice.

  13. I got a good old 1992 XLR250 Baja with kick start only and I love it. Much lighter than the 400 and almost as much power. I love air cooled bikes for their simplicity, reliability and good looks. I live in Japan and the rough mountain trails around here aren’t suited for any large bike. A 400 rider would be wishing he had a 250.

  14. It was a good write .Each bike has their own strengthens and weaknesses . I chose the DRZS 400 because it comes dual sported. Ive had one radiator pierced by a stick 22 miles from home in the mountains of West Virginia . It went into the guard and was luckily a small leak. Only dripping on the exhaust was my warning to head for home. I’m on my second DRZS. had an 2001. then bought a 2011. On both many miles and smiles!

  15. For the trails in the UK, I’ve had a RMZ250, a DR350 enduro kick start, a DRZ400E but sold this and now have another DRZ400E, which I intend to rebuild. I sold the track focused RMZ for a 1999 DR350 and never looked back. The DR350 was brilliant, ultra reliable and took massive abuse for the 9 years I rode it on the trails. I reluctantly sold it following an injury to my ankle. The first DRZ, electric start/no kicking, was ok but I rebuilt it and then sold it while pining for my old 350. I have not been able to find another DR350 pucker off road bike so have bought another DRZ400E, which I also intend to rebuild. However I must admit to looking at purchasing a XR400 due to its simple design and fantastic reputation, although on this occasion I will most likely stick with my latest DRZ.

    1. You really love those big thumpers Chris! It’s worth trying one of the new breed because they are so good, but you can’t beat an air-cooled XR

  16. I had a XLR250R….kick start and very simple to ride and work on….found it lacked a bit of power in the sand…Im 6ft and 110kg…I recently got a drz400e…and loving it…in South Africa there isnt any XR400 around or parts….drz is available here…I find I ride the drz better than the xlr250.

  17. my 2002 XR400 is the best bike ever.
    I ride it to work everyday on the street in socal, and i take it to baja and prerun. it does everything. I can go out my driveway, 20 miles down El Toro road, and then straight up Saddleback mountain, . From sand to asphalt to snow, and in one day. I got a speeding ticket the other day the sheriff said he laserd me at 76 mph. Gets like 40-70 mpg. I put a wiseco and a mikuni36 pumper in it, it starts first kick everytime. I leave it outside in the salt air of socal and it still looks and runs great.

    pic in the website link

    i dont even ride my 03 yz450 anymore

    1. Yep – it’s all good Joseph. Sadly in the UK it’s discontinued like the XR so the bikes are becoming less attractive to own!


  18. How on earth can you describe the DRZ as having armchair levels of comfort .It’s seat is notoriously UNcomfortable!

    1. Hi William

      We describe it as such because in comparison to off-roads bikes like KTM or Husqvarna, the Suzuki saddle is vastly more padded and comfortable! If you don’t
      agree. the we’re fine with that – these things are all relative and subjective.


  19. Just move the suspension setting to S and lower the height to comfort. This is with use of street 17s though. Using motocross setup is definitely stiffer. Fitting 160 tires is also possible and makes better comfort

  20. I love this! I’m a Honda guy. I learned to ride on a XR250r and always said I’d like to add an XR400r to the garage for the trails – I’ve got a CRF450r now. I haven’t ridden the DRZ but from my experience (and this post), I’ll stick with the XR.

  21. Loving all this information about both bikes. I’m hoping to ride around the US and Canada in 2020 and this is the size of bike I’m interested in. Mostly street but want to ride trails as often as possible too. Toying with something more modern though, maybe KTM but want bullet proof reliability more than anything.


    1. Both these bikes are quite old tech now Michael – there’s better out there now for sure, and what’s more the newer stuff is much lighter. Maybe look at the KTM 690 Enduro or Husky 701 (basically the same)

      Let us know how you get on


  22. XR400 all day long! If you like working on bikes, buy a modern piece of kit! If you want to ride your bike, wash it and forget about it until your next ride, buy a XR!!!

    1. Well they certainly have a dogged determination Robert, but so does an KTM EXC250. There are plenty of very reliable bikes on the market and if you’ve dropped one in 3 ft of water and need to get it going again, we’re not sure we’s love the XR400 that much! But we love them too.


  23. Well DRZ’s are better on road, a bit faster and stable (bigger wheelbase, thicker forks). You can see the engine is kind of like on street bikes, made of higher revs, the stroke, valves, cooling. And XR’s are better off road, lighter, with a simple engine, stronger in low revs. It may just depend on your situation what you choose.

  24. XRs are the Caddys of woods bikes. All day long no problem. Had a WR400 which way too much fun short term…but all day in the woods you have to work too hard to cover the same ground. WRs are for open less technical trail. Fork rake build for speed. Never rode a DRZ but suspect they are also great bikes. They are all good in my book. Ride while you can…I plan too.

  25. Hi,
    Really nice post, thanks!
    Anyway I was wondering what you guys would suggest as the best bike for riding trails/light enduro and do road/city!
    I like to think that I have one bike (and only can afford 1 unfortunately) and that bike can serve my 2 purposes: I love dirt but I need a bike to go work and do some good KM’s… (80 a day)
    Whats the best (and specially reliable) option? XR650R? CFR L? KLX? KTM models? I can spend til 6500 USD/EUR
    I live in Spain
    Thank you

    1. If funds are tight and there’s only enough for one bike, go from the CRF250L every time Walter – cheap and cheerful on every level


  26. I own a Drz..I love it with the only downside being the weight!..Great fair article guys..I’ve always suspected that about the Xr..but when I bought mine you could no longer get the XR here in the States…I agree there really is no comparison sometimes for Simplicity.
    And now with the likes of the KTM,s n so. On.I get that they are better bikes..but still feel my DRZ still has it with the reliability N Fun factor
    Great article
    Cheers guys

  27. I’ve got a Drz400S. Along with a bunch of other bikes including an early Transalp 600 as a daily rider. Previously had a Dr250. Got tired of kickstart and the lack of power after riding bigger bikes. I rode that Dr250 over the Cardamons 3 times. Up Preah Vihear twice. Have hired Xr 250s and Degrees at various times and tried friends bikes. For comfort my old Transalp beats them all. Capable of mild off roading and remarkably flickable in traffic. The Drz is best handling off road. Great for the urban commute with its ability to bounce up kerbs. Xrs and Bajas just don’t track as well as the Drz.

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