2019 Kawasaki Z400: MD Ride Review

If you read our report from the press launch of the 2019 Kawasaki Z400, you know we were impressed. Not surprising, really, given the fact that the Z400 is very closely related to its sibling the Ninja 400, which was named MD’s BOTY last year.

We won’t bore you with all the details, which can be found in our earlier articles, but here are the highlights. Basically, Kawasaki chose to leave behind the “entry level” street bike category by building a 399cc parallel twin engine with way more power and torque than the 250s/300s, putting that engine in a more capable chassis (larger diameter fork tubes, larger rear tire, and bigger disc brake up front), while keeping the price in line with those entry level models – a U.S. MSRP of $4,799 with standard ABS and LED headlights and tail lights. On paper, this is a very impressive motorcycle … and it kicks ass in the real world beneath anyone from a novice to an expert rider.

We wanted to perform a longer test, and Kawasaki loaned us the Z400 for several weeks to ride on familiar roads. One of those roads, in particular, confirmed our initial impression of the handling, i.e., that very few production motorcycles can touch a Z400 on a tight, twisty hillside. A fully fueled weight of 364 pounds (with 3.7 gallons in the tank) plays a big role in this. Together with the increase in power and chassis capability, Kawasaki actually reduced the weight versus the previous Ninja 300 models.

Given the bargain price, it is hard to complain about the suspension or the brakes. The suspension lacks adjustment, and is slightly softer than the Ninja 400 sibling, but it generally strikes a good compromise between comfort and performance. With 5.1″ of travel in back, and 4.7″ in front, it absorbs sharp edged bumps (like potholes) better than expected, but not at the level of pricier models equipped with adjustable cartridge forks. As usual, faster riders may want stiffer damping front and rear.

That big 310 mm front brake disc rotor contributes to a braking system with good power and feel for a bike priced under $5,000. Given the light weight of the bike overall, and the low rolling inertia created by the relatively small tire and wheel package, the brakes should prove up to any street task thrown at them, even by aggressive riders. For track day enthusiasts, a simple change in brake lines and brake pad material might keep them happy.

We didn’t have any problems with the six-speed transmission, which provided easy, confident shifts. The clutch requires an extremely light pull – just another reason this bike is so easy to hop aboard and ride. Gear ratios allow relaxed highway cruising together with good acceleration … in large part a result of the torquey power delivery that allows the rider to roll on the throttle at just over 2,000 rpm and achieve a seamless response from the fuel injection mapping.

Although the little Ninja provides good straight-line stability on the highway, it really comes into its own when carving corners (the tighter the better). The wide handlebars and upright seating position don’t hinder the ability to throw the little bike from side-to-side and feedback to the rider from the tire contact patches is excellent.

Of course, high speeds on the highway are accompanied by considerable wind blast on the naked machine, and the seat (as we noted at the press launch) proves a bit too hard on longer rides and tends to push the rider toward the tank. Passing power at elevated speeds, although dramatically improved when compared to the 250s/300s, is still strained when compared to larger displacement bikes.

We applaud Kawasaki for equipping the Z400 with LED lights, but even budget bikes need to move to the brighter TFT screen technology, rather than the traditional, relatively dull instrumentation found on the Z400. To be fair, legibility is still good, and the amount of information available, including a gear position indicator, is excellent.

In the end, just like its sibling the Ninja 400, the naked Z400 with its standard ABS brakes and fuel economy in the neighborhood of 60 mpg (easily achievable, even with moderately aggressive riding), represents one of the great bargains currently available in the motorcycle industry. Inexpensive, practical and loads of fun to ride, we can’t recommend the Z400 highly enough. For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site.

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