Within the space of less than a year, new riders have gone from having the choice of no naked motorcycles to having three, the latest of which is the Kawasaki Z300. Based on the long lived Ninja 300 platform, does the baby Z bring anything new to the field or do the existing low capacity naked bikes from Honda and KTM do the job better? Read our world first review of the Z300 to find out.
If you happen to live in South East Asia, then you’ll already be familiar with the appearance of the Z300. Released a few years ago there, the Z250 as it was known was based on the Ninja 250. It’s proved quite successful in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where a naked sportsbike from the big Japanese brands is virtually unheard of.
So the western world gets the goods a little bit later but in doing so, the Z has been upgraded to use the same engine as the Ninja 300. In fact, there’s very little difference between the two bikes other than the obvious visual changes. Losing the fairings saves the Z300 about 4 kilograms of weight. Ground clearance is up fractionally by 5mm and the rake and trail is modified from 27°/93mm to 26°/82mm, giving a slightly more upright riding position – though still slanted more towards performance than comfort in comparison to Honda’s CB300F.
The first thing that came to mind when looking over the Z300 is how it looks far more expensive than it actually is. Kawasaki has done an excellent job with the fit and finish on this bike and the metallic grey paint scheme looks fantastic. Plastics are of good quality and I honestly couldn’t find any areas of the bike where there were obvious gaps or poor alignment.
The dash on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. At a basic level it does what it should do very well – the tachometer is nice and large and easily readable both day and night. However the digital display doesn’t really give you much information – speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge is all you get. No information on average fuel consumption or even remaining mileage.
The aesthetic appeal of the bike is carried over when you pull away and begin riding. The gearbox is a great unit, regardless of what price bracket you’re look at. It’s smooth and direct and I even managed to do clutchless upshifts from 1st to 2nd gear without any issue. Not bad from a bike that had done only 6 kilometers when i hopped on it. Like the Ninja 300, it also comes standard with a slipper clutch – an addition that might save a few newbies who accidentally downshift multiple gears too quickly which would normally cause the rear tire to break traction.
If you’ve ridden the Ninja 300 before you’ll know that it’s parallel twin engine, which pumps out 29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm and 27.0 N.m @ 10,000 rpm is a great little motor and performs well given its capacity. You’re not going to win any traffic light drags against bigger bikes on the Z300, but you’ll still easily hit the speed limit before 90 per cent of cars on the road.
The great thing about this engine is that unlike the singles of both the CBR300R and the Duke390, power delivery is far more smooth and linear – there’s not as much need to keep revs up high when rolling on the throttle at speed. This translates into an easier bike to live with for everyday riding. Like the Ninja 300, expect a 0-100kph (62mph) time of just under 5 seconds. Counter intuitively, there’s still a bit of vibration from the engine that travels through to the bars. Not as much as the two aforementioned thumpers but more than I would have expected from the twin.
Suspension is pretty stiff and I would l have liked to have seen Kawasaki dial it down for the Z300 in comparison to the Ninja. You definitely feel the bumps in the road, though I found the damping to be pretty spot on so that it didn’t bounce around when hitting those bumps. Don’t really on the seat to help absorb these bumps either – it’s a pretty hard pew but in comparison to the competition it’s no better or worse.
Our test bike was the ABS version and stopping power was fine. There’s a good amount of feel from the brake lever and we found the ABS to be pretty unobtrusive, too. I’m nitpicking on a bike of this price level but it would have been nice to have included adjustable levers – those with smaller hands might struggle a bit to comfortably pull in the brake and clutch levers.
Steering however is great. This is a tremendously flickable bike and it reacts very quickly to your input. Given the more upfront riding position it’s probably even easier to turn that its faired brother as you can more easily leverage the bars in the direction you want to go. This translates into a fun ride in the corners which is what bikes like this should be aiming for. But there is a limit to this and it’s probably the only major negative to this bike.
It’s the tires. We’ve mentioned before how much we loathe the IRC Road Winner tires that are put on both Kawasaki’s entry level machines and Honda’s as well. Not only are these old style bias ply tires, they’re made for longevity and not grip. We’ve heard stories from riders that have managed to do 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) or more on the IRC’s. In order to have such durable tires, it means you need to sacrifice grip.
Not only are you sacrificing grip, but these tires just don’t communicate enough with you. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to low side on these tires by going around corners, but they don’t allow you to fully exploit the bike and feel what it is doing underneath – they sell short what is a great machine for the price. I’d highly recommend you include in your budget a replacement set of Pirellis that are designed to fit these smaller bikes as soon as you can. You’ll enjoy the bike a lot more and you’ll be safer for it.
On the practical side of the equation, the Z300 has a 17 liter tank and due to it’s excellent fuel consumption you won’t need to refuel very frequently. Again, the riding position makes filtering in traffic nice and easy, though I was consistently keeping an eye on the mirrors which stick out a little bit too far for my liking.
If you’re in a country that restricts new riders to lower capacity/lower horse power motorcycles than you can’t really go wrong with the Z300. It has Kawasaki’s reliability, it’s the best looking (in our opinion) entry level naked currently for sale and its got enough zip to provide an enjoyable ride.
Pricing hasn’t been announced in the US yet, but in Australia, the Z300 retails for $500 less than the fully faired Ninja 300 and for $500 you’re certainly not missing out on anything.
Special thanks to Wayne and the team at Team Moto Kawasaki Bowen Hills for the use of their bike.
|Engine Type||296cc 4 stroke, parallel twin|
|Bore And Stroke||62mm x 49 mm|
|Induction||32 mm x 2, with dual throttle valves|
|Valve Train||DOHC, 8 valves|
|Horsepower||29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm|
|Torque||27.0 N.m (2.8 kgf.m) @ 10,000 rpm|
|Chassis / Suspension / Brakes|
|Front Suspension||37 mm telescopic fork|
|Rear Suspension||Uni Trak with gas charged shock and 5-way preload|
|Front Brake||Type Single 290 mm petal disc|
|Rear Brake||Type Single 220 mm petal disc|
|Front Tire||110/70-17 M/C 54S|
|Rear Tire||140/70-17 M/C 66S|
|Wheelbase||1,405 mm (55.31 inches)|
|Seat Height||785 mm (30.9 inches)|
|Wet Weight||170 kg (383 lb)|
|Fuel Capacity||17 L (4.5 gallons)|