Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 review: Now a compelling KTM alternative

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 price, comfort, performance, features, design: review.

The original Husqvarna Vitpilen and Svartpilen were uniquely stylish and cool-looking bikes, but they also had a pretty unique problem - they were too tall for short riders and too small for large riders. That effectively relegated them to an obscure niche in the premium motorcycle market and its an issue Husqvarna has vastly improved in the new gen-2 models. 

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 design, changes for 2024

This time around we still get both the Svartpilen and the Vitpilen but much has changed. For one, the Vitpilen is no longer a cafe racer but more of a roadster while the Svartpilen retains its scrambler vibe. More importantly, the Svartpilen in India is now sold as a 401, while the Vitpilen remains a 250. We only rode the Svartpilen this time around, so the Vitpilen will come as a separate review some time in the future.

We’ll begin with the design, which is still easily identifiable with the Swedish minimalism we were first introduced to three and a half years ago. The tank panel continues to extend all the way under the rider’s seat, but not quite as dramatically as the old bike. The head and tail lamp units both follow very similar design themes and perhaps the biggest visual change is what’s going on over at the rear.  

The old Husqvarnas had a tail section that looked like it came straight off a custom bike with all the legal necessities like lights and the number plate mounted on a wheel hugger. However, the company has acted on feedback that the bike would sling a lot of muck back up on itself in the wet and we now get a larger, much more conventional looking rear fender. It significantly cuts down on the visual drama, although I’m sure that it will also significantly reduce the filth flying onto your back on a wet road.

The circular display has also been scrapped in favour of the rectangular one from the KTMs. Like the KTMs, the bigger bike gets a TFT while the smaller 250 makes do with a black and white LCD unit. The Svartpilen’s TFT gets a complete software makeover compared to the KTM 390 Duke with a neatly executed and quite customisable layout.

Perhaps the most relevant change comes in the motorcycle’s dimensions. We’re told that the bike has grown in length and width by about 20 percent, and the fuel tank itself is wider by nearly 5-inches. More meaningful is that the tank capacity has grown from 9.5ltrs to 13.5ltrs. Despite all these changes, at 171kg, the bike weighs just 5 kilos more than the old Svartpilen 250. It is about 3 kilos heavier than the new 390 Duke and that mostly comes down to the wheels and tyres.

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 comfort

In general this is a bike that comes across as noticeably larger than before and it no longer feels excessively compact when you sit on it. In fact, it’s actually considerably more spacious and comfortable for larger riders than the new gen KTM Dukes. On the other hand, seat height is now down from 842mm to 820mm which has made the bike a whole lot more accessible. It's still 20mm higher than the new gen KTMs but it’s no longer prohibitively tall.

The Husqvarnas are made by Bajaj alongside the new age KTMs and they share a lot of fundamentals with the orange machines.  That includes the main chassis, engine, suspension and swingarm. The differences then come down to the styling and the tubular steel subframe. 

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 engine

This being the 401, you get the very same motor from the 390 Duke, complete with its 46hp and 39Nm of torque. The sound, feel and performance are all exactly like you’d get with the KTM. That means a fairly rough and uninteresting sound from the underslung exhaust at idle, but one that changes to an angry, exciting note at high revs. Also like the 390, there are some significant vibrations in the handlebar and footpegs at different engine speeds.

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 handling

Feed this engine revs and you will be treated to the most thrilling performance available from a single cylinder road bike in India. But on the other hand, this new 399cc motor is a whole lot more tractable than before, allowing you to carry higher gears at lower speeds which makes it easier to live with in traffic. It also feels a little shorter geared now which sprinkles more spice on the experience.

When it comes to handling, things are slightly unusual. On the one hand, you have the full KTM 390 chassis package (including the adjustable suspension), so there’s excellent capability, sharpness and fun in there. But then you have spoked wheels and tubed blocky tyres that belong on a more off-road oriented machine. 

To their credit, the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs have superb grip on the tarmac and you will find confidence to lean the bike all the way over. But compared to a good street tyre there is no doubt that they feel a little heavier/slower steering and slightly unusual when transitioning from upright to lean. Despite that, this bike is a heap of fun on a winding road.

The braking hardware is the same as the 390 Duke, with the exception of this bike running organic pads instead of sintered ones. On the street, I had no issue with the brakes, even with plenty of quick riding.

The reason the Svartpilen wears these tyres is because it is a scrambler by visual theme. At the same time, Husqvarna is very open about the fact that it is a street bike designed to be ridden in a seated position. You can tell that by the roadster riding position with a slight lean forward to the handlebar. 

The bike has the same 151mm/161mm of front/rear suspension travel as the Duke and 177mm of ground clearance which is 4mm less than the Duke thanks to a metal bash plate. Sure you can take it off road, but it feels more like a rugged street bike than one with an actual appetite for off-road riding.

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 electronics

Features wise, the Husqvarna has much of what you get with the KTM, but not everything. There is the TFT and switchable ABS/traction control, but this bike doesn’t get the KTM’s IMU. That means that it misses out on lean angle sensitivity for the ABS and TC and it also doesn’t get launch control or riding modes. Bluetooth connectivity is also not available on the India spec model, although it  will be sold as an accessory. 

I don’t really have an issue with those missing features and my only concern is the tubed tyres. Bajaj says you can purchase the Vitpilen 250’s alloy wheels as they will fit here. 

Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 verdict

So where does the Husqvarna fit into the Bajaj premium bike ecosystem, with the Triumphs at one end and the KTMs at the other. The riding experience itself is remarkably similar to the KTM and quite different to the Triumph where the engine is more focussed on mid range performance. And while the Husqvarna has less to offer than the 390 Duke it also costs about Rs 20,000 less, but is still more expensive than both Triumphs. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the matter of looks and taste.

The new 390 is an absolute thriller, but its shouty colours, wild design and cramped seating position aren’t for everyone. That’s where the more subtle and classy Husqvarnas will step in and this time around, they make for a much more compelling alternative to the little orange hellraisers. 

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