It may have surprised some where it was unveiled, but Aprilia has more than made good with its all-new middleweight adventure bike: this a seriously impressive newcomer
We test ride the Aprilia Tuareg 660.
The sprawling 630,000-acre Murray-Sunset National Park takes pride of place in northern Victoria, just down the road from Mildura and near where the famed Hattah Desert Race is held.
It’s a haven for activities galore: boating, camping, bushwalking and tracking birdlife – my favourite the stocky little Malleefowl.
My sons’ primary school used to head to Murray-Sunset on bi-annual school camps, and it was brilliant: tents spread over vast distances and no concerns about unruly neighbours as there weren’t any. Superb early spring weather and frollicking in the sand. A brilliant, calming sanctuary.
I returned to the national park recently for the Aussie media launch for the all-new Aprilia Tuareg 660 middleweight adventure bike, which was a reminder of the glorious past and the seriously impressive new.
More full-bodied plaudits will be peppered throughout this review, but the premise is quite simple: the Tuareg is a magnificent motorcycle. It talks the talk and walks the walk in what is unquestionably a challenging category – middleweight adventure – to begin your working life in.
As we rolled out of our hotel to begin the 200km launch – a return loop from Mildura and back, taking in large chunks of the Murray-Sunset – there were instant attractions such as the low 860mm seat height, slim waist, torquey engine and electronic smarts. But it was only a brief lick of the ice-cream, and the proof of the Tuareg’s bona fides would obviously come once we hit the rough and tumble of the bush. But as a starting point, the buzz was palpable.
Even the top brass at Aprilia Australia admitted they were surprised when the Tuareg nameplate, which was a part of the Aprilia family from about 1985 until 1994 across the sports-touring and adventure spectrum, parachuted back into play at a motorcycle show a few years back. In a good way, of course, as the iconic Italian firm was moving into a segment where manufacturers galore are playing – or about to start playing – in. Suzuki and Honda will be the next to show their hand.
And with the 21- and 18-inch wheel combo, it was an exciting and bold move from Aprilia to engage the likes of the Yamaha Ténéré 700 and KTM 790 (and now 890) Adventure R. But with a ready-made engine – the 659cc parallel-twin which also powers the Tuono 660 and the RS660 – as the mechanical backbone, the developmental smarts were already in the bag.
Of course, Aprilia didn’t leave it entirely at that, and tweaks to the engine management, valve train and cam profile flattened the performance curves to provide a more satisfying mid-range experience and less of a frenzied top-end. Other adventure-esque changes included a redesigned intake for easy access to the air filter, a high-mount muffler, and beefing up the radiator capacity alongside twin fans.
Peak power for the Euro 5 engine is 61kW (82hp) at 9250rpm, and maximum torque is 70Nm at 6600pm, all in a package with a claimed dry weight of 187kg (204kg wet). The learner-approved version of the Aprilia Tuareg 660, now on sale locally alongside the full-powered model, has been retuned to 35.5kW (47.6hp) and 61Nm but all other features remain the same.
The engine is used a stressed member in the open cradle steel frame, which in days of yore could have been problematic when a vibey parallel twin got to work. Not on the Tuareg with its 270-degree firing order – close enough to perfectly balanced – and there’s only the slightest buzz through the major touchpoints; the type of stuff that is only felt on the road and becomes inconsequential on the dirt.
The first part of the launch was on twisty bitumen through farming country – punchy straights, cambered turns and citrus fruit ripe for the picking – and the Aprilia Tuareg 660 impressed: crisp throttle response, sweet gearbox, light and progressive clutch, solid chassis and the ability to pull cleanly from as low as 2000rpm in top gear at 45km/h. No jerking or resistance, just a great connection between ride-by-wire throttle and engine.
That’s tenacity at the bottom end, but the mid-range is the real trump card to the extent that reaching peak power rpm is a futile exercise – short-shifting is way more fun to keep the enjoyment levels high. Riders of all abilities will love this engine, as you can go gangbusters with the same level of satisfaction as taking the mellow route. It’s not a ‘fast-twitchy’ or aggressive engine, but so beautifully refined and the fuelling is spot on – mainstays I’d include in my kit bag any day.
In terms of electronics, the Tuareg has four separate riding modes – Urban, Explore, Individual and Off-Road – with the first two ‘fixed’ and the other two fully customisable. Any more modes than that and the laws of diminishing returns kicks in – you just don’t need them.
Toggling between the modes is seamless via a button on the right-hand switchblock. All done on the fly, and Off-Road mode automatically disengages ABS on the rear and, by continuing to hold down the button when the bike is stationary, ABS can be completely deactivated on both wheels.
Traction control can also be metered or turned off via a switch on the left-hand switch block (it’s the same switch that also controls cruise control), with disengagements of all persuasion clearly shown on the five-inch connectivity-ready TFT screen. And the great thing about the modes: when the Tuareg’s turned off, it remains in the same settings on restart. Bravo!
All the electronics such as mapping, engine braking, ABS and traction control are regulated under the Aprilia Performance Ride Control (or aPRC) banner, which is acknowledged as one of the best in the caper. The switch gear has been well thought out as well, and I particularly enjoyed the elevated blinker button. The menu function is managed via four keypad arrows.
With desert racing fast man and local motorcycle shop owner Luke Woodbury leading the ride, the initiation into Murray-Sunset was, well, at a decent clip. Didn’t cause the Tuareg any concerns, though: it was extremely engaging, and it’s like the chassis was pre-wired for high-speed gallops with excellent stability and a low centre of gravity. There’s stiffness, certainly, but flexibility too, and the Brembo brakes with twin 300mm front discs don’t come on too strong which is an ideal off-road setup. The rear is a 260mm disc, again with a Brembo caliper.
In terms of weight distribution, the Aprilia Tuareg 660 feels like it sits somewhere in the middle of the 890 Adventure R and Ténéré 700 – the KTM nailing the mass equation with those low fuel cells and the Yamaha just feels a little top heavier.
The bulk of the Tuareg’s 18-litre fuel tank is positioned in the centre of the bike, with a ‘tail’ running between the rear KYB suspension and wheel. With sedate open riding – at 100km/h it’s only doing 4500rpm – 400km in one hit is within the realms of possibility.
Not in the bush when you’re having a blast, though, and with 240mm of suspension travel front and rear – and the same amount of ground clearance thanks to a slimmer oil sump – it can produce a wide-ranging body of work. The tapered aluminium handlebars provide comfort sitting or standing. In fact, standing up is really rewarding and even more sure-footed when the rubber inserts are quickly and easily removed from the footpegs.
There’s remote preload adjustment on the KYB suspension, a necessity on an adventure bike, as well as the full suite of damping adjustment. The non-adjustable screen is bigger than what I expected on an adventure bike with such off-road prowess, but that’s a boon for the tarmac as well.
The tyres are tubeless, and the launch bikes were fitted with Continental TKC80 rubber which obviously made pushing through the deep sand in Murray-Sunset an easier proposition than the standard Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres – but the Pirellis are obviously much better on the blacktop in terms of grip and longevity.
There was single-track to sink our teeth into, and first gear was tall enough so that there was no lurching or jolting – just smooth acceleration from the rpm basement, and beautiful shift patterns from the six-speed gearbox. I’d enjoy it even more with a quickshifter from the accessories catalogue, and perhaps heated grips as well… Other accessories include hard luggage, protection bars, LED fog lights, centrestand, touring screen and comfort seat. A centrestand fitted as standard probably wouldn’t be pushing the friendship.
The crux of the matter is that gun riders – and then were a few on the launch – can perform some incredible things on the Tuareg, while those lower down in the naturally gifted pecking don’t have to use body language the whole time – just sit and the Tuareg will do the rest. Win, win.
There are three separate liveries for the Aprilia middleweight: Martian Red, the one I rode, Acid Gold and Indaco Tagelmust (Evocative Premium). The first two are $22,230 ride away, and the latter $22,530 ride away.
Moving up from an enduro bike or down from a large capacity adventure machine? A learner? Then seriously consider the Aprilia Tuareg 660 or 660L.
The last time I was this taken with an adventure bike was the KTM 790 Adventure R, which went onto win the bike of the year award at a publication I was working for at the time.
That could be a positive omen the Aprilia Tuareg 660 is also going to make its own award headlines. And why not: I can’t see any fault lines, the ergonomics are first-class, and the industriousness and attention to detail from Aprilia is evident in all parts of the bike – to a level that even surprised me. It’s box office territory: one out of the bag.
Type: Parallel twin, four valves per cylinder
Bore & stroke: 81 x 63.93mm
Compression ratio: 13.5:1
Fueling: Marelli EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate, slipper
Final drive: Chain
Power: 61kW @ 9250rpm (claimed); LAMS: 35.5kW @9250rpm (claimed)
Torque: 70Nm @ 6600rpm (claimed); LAMS: 61Nm @ 6500rpm (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 4 l/100km (claimed)
Rider aids: ABS, traction control, engine mapping and engine brake control
Rider modes: Urban, Explore, Individual and Off-Road
Frame material: Steel
Frame type: Open cradle
Front: 43mm USD fork, fully adjustable, 240mm travel
Rear: Monoshock, fully adjustable, 240mm travel
Wheels & brakes
Wheels: Spoked alloy
Front: 21 x 1.15 Rear: 18 x 4.25
Tyres: Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR
(As tested: Continental TKC80)
Front: 90/90ZR21 Rear: 150/70ZR18
Brakes: Brembo, ABS
Front: Twin 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear: Single 260mm disc, single-piston caliper
Weight: 187kg (dry, claimed)
Seat height: 860mm
Ground clearance: 240mm
Fuel capacity: 18L
Servicing & warranty
Servicing: First: 1000km
Every 20,000km: Plugs, air filter, valve clearances
Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometres
Price: from $22,230 (ride away)
Colour options: Martian Red, Acid Gold or Indaco Tagelmust
Yamaha Ténéré 700
Engine: 689cc parallel twin
Riding modes: 1
Switchable ABS: Yes
Traction control: No
Cruise control: No
Seat height 880mm
Weight: 206kg (wet)
Suspension travel: 210/200mm
Ground clearance: 240mm
Fuel capacity: 16L
Price: $19,399 ride away
KTM 890 Adventure R
Engine: 889cc parallel twin
Riding modes: 4
Switchable: ABS Yes
Traction control: Yes
Cruise control: Yes
Seat height: 880mm
Weight: 196kg (dry)
Suspension travel: 240/240mm
Ground clearance: 263mm
Fuel capacity: 20L
Price: $25,380 ride away
BMW F 850 GS Adventure
Engine: 853cc parallel twin
Riding modes: 2
Switchable ABS: Yes
Traction control: Yes
Cruise control: Yes
Seat height: 875mm
Weight: 244kg (wet)
Suspension travel: 230/215mm
Ground clearance: Not given
Fuel capacity: 23L
Price: $19,040 plus on-road costs