I think we actually have a greater choice in dual sports than ever before. The Japanese are doing more or less the same thing making a range of good affordable durable bikes that are not cutting edge. Yamaha took it further with their excellent WR250R and of course we Americans want more in the form of a 450 model. The Euro manufacturers have taken the lead, selling durable cool bikes like the new Husky Terra that are a cut above Japan's dual sport offerings and on up to KTM and Husky selling racing bikes made street legal. I am old enough to remember the bad old days of 2 strokes with points ignition. Those were grim times. We have it a lot better now.
The venerable DRZ400S is an interesting bike, beaten lightly over the head with the Japanese dual sport club (please Japan, throw that away!) but sharing the same basic engine, chassis and fully adjustable cartridge suspension as the off road only "E" model, which may not be a cutting edge racer, but is an excellent serious trail bike. A firmed up "S" model DRZ can be ridden on any off road terrain at a good "C" to "B" rider's pace. Had one for 8 years and wound up using it as a pure dirt bike, it was that decent. Really liked the modded forks on my DRZ, reminded me of the excellent forks on the '87 CR250 I had. They were great off road forks, especially in the gnarly rocky rooty stuff. Slapper landings did not sting. They did not bottom, they just worked. Same with the modded shock which had a Race Tech gold valve kit. The engine in the DRZ is a gem too, especially after adding some relatively easy power up mods (cams, carb, pipe, big bore). Adding a full exhaust with just the off road bike's cams and carb makes a huge difference. A very sweet punchy midrange oriented hooked up powerband and mid 40's hp results.
A 6 speed DRZ 400 with "E" model cams and FI with a bore increase does not exist, but it could and that would be cool. It would be nice if Japan could just take it a little further. They don't have to match KTM on the cool front, just improve on the rugged stuff they have now. The DRZ 400 is an old design but a good design. Time for a mild update. It is a little frustrating that Suzuki does not sell the DRZ with proper springs and firmer valving, and that they dumbed down the cams and especially the carb. The good parts needed are already there. Does it really cost more to just do it right?
15K miles on my '02 DRZ 400 mostly off road, and the head was never off it (except for my power increase mods), valves never needed adjustment after original bed in. The DRZ was durable, the mod money I spent on it for the Yosh full exhaust, cams, suspension revalve/srpring and carb added up to a savings in the end, as I enjoyed it or 8 years. Put that bike through tortorous hell riding with KTMs and WRs and the like. It never flinched. It did manage to bruise a few egos along the way though. Do not underestimate a well ridden and modded DRZ400. The DRZ was good to me in the end, too, it sold for the $2,650 asking price in 2 days. The buyer recognized it was a very well maintained and set up bike, rode a fat wheelie past my house, came back and said SOLD!
I have a plated '10 'Berg FE450 now and love it, but still have a soft spot for the DRZ. My overall speeds have not changed, it is just less work to attain them on the new lighter bike, which, believe it or not, has an engine that feels not a lot different than my modded DRZ. Just take the whole DRZ curve and lift it 10% but keep the smooth punchy hooked up character and ice that cake with a truly wide ratio 6 speed trans (granny 1st and easy 65 mph cruising in 6th) and spot on crisp fuel injected response. The 'Berg powerplant is damn near perfect :) The new bike seems to have a well put together engine too, but I have no illusions it will prove to be the unbreakable anvil the DRZ was.
A few shots of my now sold but not forgotton DRZ, being ridden in real off road situations.
Yep, that is me on the DRZ, halfway down Radical Hill, going to say hi to the mountain goats :)