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Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ review: Blends effective motor power with great economy and weighs only 17kg

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £3600
inc VAT

The Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ combines a lightweight mid-drive motor with a sleek design to produce a quick-riding commuter machine


  • One of the lightest mid-drives around
  • Great range from a relatively small battery
  • Clever smart features


  • Non-removable battery
  • Pricey

Within the e-bike sphere, there are different types of machines. Some are designed to give the maximum amount of power assistance for the minimum effort; others are designed a little more carefully – to be ridden like a normal bike but with the option of a little boost.

The latter category is where the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ sits, combining an efficient, low-profile mid-drive motor with high-quality equipment and a huge dose of fun factor riding.

If you like riding non-electric bikes that are sporty but have decided a bit of electric assist might also be useful, the Vado SL ticks all the boxes.

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Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ review: What do you get for the money?

At the heart of this high-pedigree steed is Specialized’s very own motor system, the SL1.1. Developed in cooperation with Swiss engineers at automotive supplier, Mahle, it’s one of the few sub-2kg mid-drive motors around. Before it was introduced, mid-drives tended to weigh at least 3kg or more, and even today Bosch’s lightest mid-drive weighs 2.75kg.

This 48V, 240W motor is housed in a slim alloy frame with sporty geometry that comes in four sizes (S, M, L and XL), and I found the medium was a great fit for my 5ft 8in frame. The frame also houses an integrated 320Wh battery, which although relatively modest in size delivers surprisingly good range. What may be more of a drawback for most riders is that the battery cannot be easily removed for charging, so you won’t be able to take the battery out and into the office during the day to top it up for your ride back home.

However, the rest of the equipment is – as you would expect from a Specialized machine – of suitably high quality. The derailleur gearing uses SRAM’s 11-speed wide-range NX system, there are hydraulic disc brakes courtesy of the Tektro ND 290, and there’s a host of extra bits and pieces, thanks to this model’s EQ tag (it stands for “equipped”).

There’s a pair of powerful and effective front and rear LED lights, which are hardwired to the bike battery so you never have to change or charge the lights. You get full-length mudguards to keep you and your bike clean, and there’s a sturdy rear rack and kickstand. In other words, everything you need to keep riding in all weathers and at all times of day.

Surprisingly, there’s no LCD display on Specialized’s SL models, just a top tube display (called the Turbo Connect unit), but it’s nice and clear and shows you your battery capacity and which of the three assist levels you’re riding in, which is all you really need. This simplicity extends to the controls, which comprise plus and minus buttons next to your left thumb, and make it easy to quickly switch between power-assist modes or turn off the motor entirely.

If you want more data you can have it. Specialized sells an add-on screen (the Turbo Connect Display), which among other things shows your current, average and max speed, distance, riding time and cadence, along with battery capacity and rider power. It can even show your current heart rate if you’re wearing a compatible heart-rate monitor or sports watch (Bluetooth and ANT+ connections are supported).

If you don’t fancy forking out the rather expensive €110 price tag, you can get most of that information on the screen of your smartphone for free by installing Specialized’s Mission Control app and connecting it to the bike via Bluetooth. This adds some extra features, too, including the ability to fine-tune the behaviour of the motor to your own preferences or employ Specialized’s clever Smart Control feature.

The latter allows you to enter various parameters, either how far you want to ride or how long for, and it then takes care of battery management for you. Effectively, it sets the power levels automatically so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice before you get to your destination.

Another advantage of using the app that I haven’t seen elsewhere is that it has a battery diagnostics section that allows you to keep an eye on the condition of your battery, including the number of charge cycles the battery has had.

Specialized guarantees the battery will retain 75% of its capacity after two years of use or 300 charge cycles, so this lets you check if it’s performing as it should. That’s important when batteries are so expensive to replace.

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Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ: What’s it like to ride?

E-bikes vary wildly in the way motor power is delivered once you start pedalling (legally you have to be pedalling for the motor to kick in). On the worst budget models with crude pedal sensors, you get jerky “stop start” power delivery. The Specialized SL system is the polar opposite; it’s beautifully smooth from the moment you start pedalling.

It’s immediately obvious that there isn’t as much power on tap as with the heavier mid-drive motors from the likes of Bosch and Shimano – with only 35nm of torque on offer, that’s hardly surprising. But the point of the SL motor is that it’s more efficient, so you can still get a good range from the relatively modest 320Wh battery. A smaller battery also means faster charge times, with this unit going from 3% to 100% in a mere 2hrs 35mins.

I got it to last more than 30 miles in windy and hilly Pennine conditions, which should be enough for most commuters and leisure riders. If you really need more you can purchase an optional 160Wh range extender, which mounts just like a water bottle and plugs into the charging port. This should allow most riders to ride all day without suffering from range anxiety.

And while the Vado SL’s hill-climbing ability isn’t a match for e-bikes with more powerful, heavier motors, the low gears mean it’s still easy to spin up very steep gradients without too much effort. I hauled 18kg of extra load in panniers and a backpack up one of the steepest hills in the area and was only mildly out of breath at the end of it. There is an audible hum from the motor when it’s really working hard like this, but it’s never so loud as to be annoying.

And it’s a lovely bike to ride quickly, swooping down fast descents and standing out of the saddle for fast climbs. The large 29in wheels feel stable and the Nimbus II tyres are fast and free rolling, with just enough air volume to give a reasonable amount of cushioning over smaller humps and bumps. They’re really road tyres but would cope with mild off-road conditions such as well-maintained railpaths. Gear changes are slick and accurate and braking safe and progressive, all giving a very reassuring feeling ride, even at speed.

The front light is powerful enough to illuminate unlit paths very clearly and the beam direction can be adjusted while you’re riding, while the rear light, integrated into the rear mudguard, is highly visible. The full-length mudguards give great protection in the wet and the rear rack feels like it will cope with much more than its 15kg max rating. All in all, it’s a highly practical package for day-in, day-out use.

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Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ: Is there anything it could do better?

As mentioned, the lack of removability of the battery is the only real weakness of this bike and it’s hard to see why Specialized has gone down this route.

The price may also look a little steep when you consider you can get a more powerful, albeit significantly heavier, Bosch-powered e-bike for less than £3,000.

Having said that, the Vado SL is a high-quality product with impressive gear, braking and connectivity spec, so it’s sophistication you’re paying for, rather than motor power and battery size.

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Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ: Should you buy one?

I’m no spring chicken but still reasonably fit and I felt this e-bike could have been designed just for me. At nearly 60, I like a reasonably good workout but nothing too straining and, if you’re fighting the flab like me, then the Vado SL means you always get a reasonable bit of exercise without it ever feeling like you’ve entered an ironman competition.

If you want an e-bike that will do as much of the work for you as possible within the power and speed limits the law allows (15.5mph assisted speed from a 250W motor), then buy one with a heavier mid-drive motor. As it is, the Vado SL is a wonderful combination of sportiness, practicality and clever lightweight design and it comes highly recommended.

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