FIRST RIDE: Kawasaki Z400

Looks like it’s gonna rain I thought, It was balmy and a cloudy day. According the weather forecast it would rain. Always the optimist, I was hoping it would not rain before I throw my legs over the bike for the test ride.

Luck was, however, on my side, the actual ride was rather pleasant with a cool weather. A mix of highway road straight for the obligatory “up to specification” function test, winding two-lane road for the testing the handling and the annoying town road with the numerous traffic light stops (good way the evaluate the engine cooling system and heat venting design). I was lucky as I was reaching the end of the ride; back to our starting point it started raining. And it rained really hard, just stop short of raining actually cats and dogs. But I digress.

The details

The Z400 SE ABS is the newest member of  Kawasaki beginner motorcycle and the first 400cc Kawasaki Z series of bikes to be available in Malaysia. With a deluge of sub-300cc motorcycles from Chinese manufacturers such as Benelli, new and higher capacity bike such as Z400 is a very welcomed addition.

Kawasaki officially unveiled the Z400 back at the 2018 EICMA show. It’s based off the Ninja 400 motorcycle. Most major components  – the chassis, the engine, and much of the bodywork (tail section, seat, tank) – are the same pieces used on the sportbike variant. Although there are some slight improvements such repositioning the thermostat to the inside engine and more significant improvement; standard ABS.

What made the Ninja 400 instantly popular also works very well for the Z400. Kawasaki claims the 399 cc liquid-cooled parallel twin makes 44 hp at 10,000 rpm, and 28 lb-ft of torque at 8,000 rpm. Like the Ninja 400, the Z400 uses a trellis frame, with a bolt-on plate mounting the swingarm directly to the back of engine. With this arrangement, Kawasaki claims it reduces weight (167 kg at the curb) while stiffening the chassis.

Being part of the Z-series, the Z400 lacks the Ninja’s full fairing and sports minimalist bodywork up front, in line with the Malaysian crave for naked bike. The six-pot LED headlight design looks rather attractive, something I haven’t said about many Kawasaki naked bikes (although they’re getting better). Overall, the bike’s styling is supposed to show off Kawi’s “Sugomi” design philosophy, giving you the visual impression of a crouched predator about to strike its prey. The bike does embodied the philosophy if you look closely. However, to be honest, aesthetic is on the 3rd place on my priority list when considering a bike; performance and comfort comes 1st and second, respectively.

As with most bikes designed as a naked bike, the bike comes with a standard handlebar, mounted higher and closer to the rider than the Ninja’s clip-ons. The suspension is also slightly revised from the Ninja 400’s spec, with softer spring rates for bumpy public roads. The front forks are non-adjustable, but there’s five-way spring preload adjustability in the rear. Kawasaki says the shock is adjustable with the onboard toolkit, and from what I could see, it looked like it’s easily accessible. So what that means is you don’t need a hand the size of a toddler to reach and make adjustments yourself. The headlight is similar to the Kawasaki Z650. That mini-windscreen redirects air flow rather well at highway speed although I doubt it’ll you provide adequate protection on long trips.

The bike does not disappoint. Riding out from the golf club parking lot onto a light traffic town street, there was no need for high revving, no unpleasant engine buzz, as I pick up speed due the abundance of torque for such small and light bike. The Z400 is actually quite pleasant to ride in urban traffic; although it makes its power higher in the rev range, there’s still enough torque down low to comfortably navigate hectic traffic without feeling like the handlebars are about to rattle off. However, the buzzing of the engine (typical of in-line twin) seems to peak around 5000-7000 rpm. It seems the 5th gear is the sweet spot for leisurely ride as the rev is not too high to ruin fuel efficiency or too low that the rev is inside the peak buzzing range.

Moving into the more rural two-laners, the engine continued to impress. It has more than enough power to snake through the rural area, as long as you keep it above the buzzing range. The torque spread is quite wide in the rev range so you don’t really feel it underpowered in most riding situation. Thus, the Z400’s motor was well-suited to the tight back roads we spent much of the day on. Plus, a big thanks to Assist & Slipper system, with the assist-slipper clutch it helps if you ever make a mistimed downshift.

On the open straight stretches, it pulled all the way to an indicated 140 km/h, and there was still power left on tap. At this speed, the handlebars did get a tad buzzy (which explains why Kawasaki installed bar-end weights), but for a 400-class machine, it performed way better than expected.

The power delivery was smooth, and although the engine has that cheap-sounding parallel twin rattle at idle, there’s a very distinctive howl from the intake when you’re at speed. It was not particularly a hot day and I did not really feel any heat radiating towards me from the bike during the numerous traffic stops.

When we headed down some pretty bumpy asphalt, the Z400 suspension works brilliantly. During the initial presentation, Kawasaki’s reps talked up all the tuning put into the Z400’s suspension; and boy it doesn’t disappoint. The front end (Showa 41 mm fork) went exactly where I wanted it to, with no vagueness or reluctance, even on uneven and patchy pavement.

The factory brakes are more than sufficient, did what needs to be done and then some more; they certainly got the job done on the street, although you want to use both front and rear if you really want to slow down in a hurry; with ABS as standard, locking brake during panic braking is now is a thing of the past.

Z400 still enough bike for anyone to have fun with, especially if you’re on back roads and twisties. With Z400 SE ABS priced at about RM28,755, RM1,200 cheaper than the Ninja 400 SE ABS, should be enough incentives for Malaysians who likes naked bikes to own this bike. For those two reasons, I think the Z400 will make an impact on the market, particularly in faraway residential areas, where most Malaysian would prefer riding over driving a car to work.

Contributed by Rashid.

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