KTM 390 Duke First Ride Review: Great Balls of Fire

Drop dead gorgeous looks, edge of your seat performance, razor-sharp handling and it is now also packed to the brim with features. Then, is there anything that the KTM 390 Duke can’t do?

By Dhruv Paliwal | on September 17, 2023 Follow us on Autox Google News

When I first got to know that there’s a new 390 Duke coming out, I was left wondering. What could KTM possibly do to make it better than before. I mean the first generation motorcycle had its issues, but the kind of performance and handling abilities it brought to the table, most enthusiasts would happily live with it. Then, the second generation motorcycle had some of those chinks worked on, got a bump in power and retained its abilities to make a gap in traffic feel like a three-lane expressway, so, that should have been that. But apparently, the good folks at KTM had more to give it. And so lo-and-behold, one fine September day, I found myself at Bajaj’s test track in Chakan, Pune, and laid eyes on the new 390 Duke for the first time.

KTM 390 Duke Review: Love at First Sight

I have never ever been too particular about how a motorcycle, or even a car looks for that matter. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t resist gazing at spectacularly designed automobiles, but in the buying process, it’s never something that’s too big of a priority for me. And still, I would have put my money down on the new 390 Duke the moment I saw it. If you thought the second generation motorcycle looked pretty, wait till you see this one on the streets. You have two options to gaze upon, the age-old orange, and a new shade of blue. And I for one have found that the orange had aged like fine wine, and still looks the prettiest on the Duke. A lot of my colleagues didn’t agree on that, but hey, if it’s KTM, it has to be orange! There is no other colour that after so many years, does justice to this motorcycle.

KTM 390 Duke Review 3

What make it even prettier are the design elements KTM has used. The headlight, which is an LED unit, gets external positioning lights around it as well, or in layman language - DRLs. While these are not new, KTM’s use of them around the headlight accentuates the aggressiveness of the Duke’s design. The same goes for the tank extensions and the under-belly exhaust too. Then there is the dual colour seat which I think is a real design ace! There is simply no angle from which you won’t find yourself going gaga over the 390 Duke. Honestly, it looks like it went to the gym and got shredded!

KTM 390 Duke Review 2

KTM 390 Duke Review: Dropped the Water Weight

Getting shredded at the gym is one thing but losing those last few kilos is another. Honestly, the Gen 2 Duke felt pretty sorted in terms of weight, but once again, the good people at KTM did not seem to believe in that narrative. The engine, which is all new (more on that later), has lost 1kg, but more importantly, 1.7kg of weight has been reduced from the unsprung mass of the motorcycle, and a majority of that has come out of the wheels. The rear tyre hugger is also gone (good riddance as I never liked how it made the motorcycle look) and KTM says they have managed to shave off about 800 grams just there. The new chassis, which is a steel-trellis frame and has an aluminium subframe has actually added a bit of weight but it has been done in the interest of increasing torsional rigidity. With all said and done, the new Gen 3 Duke tips the scales at 4kg less than the Gen 2 motorcycle, and we are talking about kerb weight. That’s even more impressive when you realise that the new motorcycle has a larger fuel tank as well!

KTM 390 Duke Rear

Those last few kilos are the hardest to drop in the gym but my god have they made a difference in how the Duke behaves. It tips into corners with an urgency that you only now realise was previously lacking. Last second adjustment into corners don’t unsettle it and that’s also partly down to the sticky Metzeler rubber. Even when you ride it in the city, the motorcycle feels like it was meant to be thrust into gaps in traffic and reduction in weight only adds to your confidence in manhandling this little beast.

Also Read: TVS Apache RTR 310 Review

KTM 390 Duke Review: New Heart

I had always wondered, why did KTM call it the 390 Duke when the displacement was only 373cc? Whatever reasons it might have had, KTM has now rightened this and given my OCD a rest. Quite simply, there is a new 399cc engine (yes I know it’s still not 390) which makes an increased 45bhp and 39Nm. The quickshifter, though present on the previous generation Duke as well, is now better integrated as KTM thought of it while designing the engine. Finally, the engine is not only lighter than before, but the compression ratio has also been reduced to make it run less stressed than before. So, does it?

KTM 390 Duke Engine

Yes. The engine, while it still has that manic KTM nature that we have come to love over the years, feels relaxed. The biggest difference is that even when you ride the new Duke sedately, the engine doesn’t feel like it will break. Yet, you can still feel all that power frolicking around restlessly in its loins, and you need only give that ride-by-wire throttle a twist of the wrist to unleash its assault on your senses. And boy does it seduce you with its dollops of power. Safe to say, if you are riding it for the first time, you can be rest assured that the 390 will do its best to get you into trouble. Once you have given it the full beans, the quickshifter becomes an able companion as it helps you ride up the gears in a frantic fashion, while keeping things smooth, and even the downshifts feel seamless effortlessly. Marry that with the slip-and-assist clutch on offer and going hot into corners, banging down the gears, and then smoothly hitting the apex becomes an every-corner occurrence.

KTM 390 Duke Handling

There are riding modes too, with Rain mode reducing the power output. The other two, Street and Track, have only a minor difference between them. While the power output remains the same, Track mode reconfigures the display for the track, with the revs and gear position indicator getting highlighted. Also, it gives you access to launch control, which is now a thing on the 390 Duke! You  can launch it three times in a row before the system asks you to take a break.

KTM 390 Duke Review: Updated Bling

KTM 390 Duke Instrument Cluster

Just like the engine, the instrument cluster is also all new. Although, it does serve the same purpose as before, KTM says they have now used bonded glass (something found on smartphones) on the display, and that means the cluster won’t fog up like before. Honestly, we will let the Mumbai and Pune folks be the judge of that when the rains hit them, and for now, let’s just take KTM for its word. The switch gear is all new too, and while the functionality is great, and it looks decent too, the switches don’t feel top-quality to operate. Honestly, even I think I am asking too much of the 390 Duke now.

KTM 390 Duke Review: Should You Cut That Cheque?

Why am I asking too much of the 390? Well, simply because of its mouth watering price tag of Rs 3.1 lakh (ex-showroom). With its class-leading performance, handling, looks and even features, maybe I got a little carried away in demanding that every bit of material used on the motorcycle feel like it belongs on a BMW or something. The writing is then on the wall (in a good way) then. The 390 Duke is what it always was, a super value-for-money performance motorcycle for the streets, one that will push you to become a better rider, so if you are quite literally looking for the most amount of bang for your buck, then, you should be rushing to your nearest KTM dealership with a signed cheque in hand!

  • KTM 390 Duke

Engine: : 399cc / Single-Cylinder / Liquid-Cooled

Transmission: 6-Speed

Power: 45bhp @ 8,500rpm

Torque: 39Nm @ 6,500rpm

Price: ₹3.1 lakh (Ex-Showroom)

X-Factor: A stunning, feature-packed, and agile pocket rocket – the full package!

•  Design

•  Rider Aids

•  Performance

• Noticeable Vibrations at Slow Speeds

•  Side Stand Positioning

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Tags: KTM KTM 390 Dukle

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