Though the 350 has garnered the most attention recently, the orange brigade hasn’t lost sight of the crown jewel in its racing arsenal: the 2012 KTM 450 SX-F ($8799). The 450 shares the same chassis and running gear only with full-size engine capacity.
The 450 SX-F is the only motorcycle in this test to still make use of a carburetor in lieu of electronic fuel-injection. Some tech-savvy riders might consider this a deal breaker, but it shouldn’t as it has a capable and exceptionally rider-friendly engine.
“The motor has got plenty of power,” says Milan. “It just lacked that bottom-end hit that I kind of like to have. I don’t use a lot of clutch normally. I just kind of like to roll the power on and I found myself having to use the clutch a little bit more.”
“Power is definitely good on it but the motor has a real heavy feel to it. It’s especially noticeable in tight corners,” chimes in Taylor. “It accelerates hard and has a real smooth powerband. Occasionally it will hesitate slightly when you land off jumps but it’s hardly noticeable on an outdoor track.”
As Taylor mentioned the KTM’s engine is a bit heavy-feeling and doesn’t spool up with the same vigor as some of the other bikes. While it is plenty capable of being revved out, it seems to be more short-shift friendly. When spun on the dyno the 450 dished out competitive torque figures with just over 28 lb-ft available at 8800 revs (fourth best). The
(Top) Suspension calibration was better than past year models – KTM 450 SX-F. (Center) The KTM 450 SX-F’s engine has a heavy “old school” feel to it. However it is easy-to-ride and makes good power everywhere. (Bottom) The carburetor-equipped KTM 450 SX-F runs almost as good as an EFI bike but fast riders will note slight engine hesitation when landing off big jumps.
engine pumps out good horsepower too with just over 42 ponies available at 8600 rpm (sixth best). Both the torque and horsepower curve taper off very smoothly which makes the bike more rider-friendly at high rpm.
A few years ago KTM’s SX-Fs where the quietest bikes on the grid, but today the other brands have caught on and are fitting even quieter mufflers. Still the 450 cranked out slightly less sound reading than its smaller bore family member at 94 dB, good for sixth position.
The 450 weighs 242 pounds without any gas in its 1.98-gallon tank. This placed it fifth heaviest, though it’s only one pound heavier than the KX and YZ but still 10 pounds more portly than the class-leading Honda. The 450 does offer the push-button convenience of electric start, which no doubt adds some weight.
In the holeshot acceleration test the KTM took 4.71 seconds to launch off the gate and arrive into Turn 1 placing just in front of the Yamaha but behind the Suzuki. It again finished mid-pack in the third gear roll-on test by accelerating across 119.1 feet between 15 and 45 mph in a time of 2.71 seconds (fourth fastest). Like the 350, the big SX-F makes use of an excellent drivetrain setup and offers one of the best clutches in this test. The five-speed gearbox functions flawlessly as does the gearing, thereby netting it a top score in that category.
“If you have to use the clutch the KTM is the bike to use it on,” states Milan. “It’s got a bitching hydraulic clutch that works great and never needs any adjustment.”
Despite sharing the same chassis, the 450 KTM doesn’t handle quite as well as the middleweight orange bike. While it still turns with a high-level of predictability and is plenty stable, it’s a little bit heavier and requires more body language entering corners.
“The 450 KTM actually surprised me a lot,” says Simon. “I’ve never gotten a chance to ride one. It really felt stable to me. It sat down and settled in the corners really good and it was real smooth on the jumps.”
For the most part the 450 feels very similar to the 350. Highlights are the high-quality controls and properly proportioned cockpit. Problem is it feels a bit bigger and that combined with the somewhat sluggish feel of the engine makes it seem larger than it really is.
The calibration of the suspension is better than last year, but the bike still has a propensity to pitch more aggressively than some of the other bikes. It’s not that the suspension or handling is bad; it just didn’t impress us in the same way as the other bikes hence receiving low scores in the suspension, handling and ergonomics categories.
(Above) The KTM 450 SX-F doesn’t steer the quickest but it is very predictable. (Center) Bottom-end power is a bit softer than the other bikes but that can be a boon on slippery surfaces. (Bottom) The 450 SX-F KTM is plenty maneuverable as pro-level tester Drake McElroy proves.
The 450 SX-F was third-fastest in Super Lap with Simon (1’44.5) behind the handlebar despite having never ridden it up until the day of our test. Meanwhile, See registered his fifth-fastest time (1’48.3). The combined average netted a fifth-place result for big orange.
Although the 450 SX-F shares identical Brembo braking components as the 350, they weren’t rated quite as high because of its added heft and higher speeds at the end of straightaways due to its more powerful engine. Even still, the power and feel of both the front and rear brakes are at a level much higher than the Japanese bikes.
“The brakes are out of control,” states Garcia. “I absolutely love the brakes. From the feel of the brakes to the way your foot sits on the rear pedal and the way the levers work. The brakes on the KTM are my favorite.”
There’s no doubt that some riders will fall in love with KTM’s 450 SX-F charm. It’s got a super smooth engine, excellent drivetrain and stops and turns great too. With the exception of braking, some of the other bikes do most things just a hair better, and that’s why the KTM ultimately finished in fourth-place – not a bad finish for a platform that is scheduled to be totally revamped for ’13. Just ask Ryan Dungey.
- Smooth, tractable engine power
- Predictable handling
- Electric start
- Suspension balance could be better
- Engine is slow to rev
- Could be lighter