Kawasaki ninja 400

Kawasaki hope to re­claim the small sport­bike crown with this siz­zling ma­chine


The meatier twin Kwacker has ar­rived and we show it some cor­ners

It was nine years ago that the lime green mar­que brought us a proper twin-cylin­der, quar­ter-litre sport­bike in the form of the ninja 250. the lit­tle 250 made a name for it­self as an out­stand­ing be­gin­ner sport­bike with ex­cel­lent han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics and a rev-happy en­gine be­fore it was re­placed by the ninja 300, with ca­pac­ity upped from 249 to 296 cc. now, for 2018, Kawasaki have raised the stakes with an­other diminu­tive yet sharp mo­tor­cy­cle — a ma­chine that dis­places 399 cc and makes a healthy 49 Ps to lead the out­right power race in the com­pact sport­bike class. the bike in ques­tion is the new Kawasaki ninja 400 and i was lucky enough to spend a few days with this Ja­panese pocket-rocket on some ex­cel­lent twisty roads near Pune. Kawasaki sport­bikes have al­ways been look­ers and the ninja 400 is no ex­cep­tion. its black and green fair­ing looks sharp, feels solidly put to­gether and, when viewed from straight ahead, shares a dis­tinct fam­ily re­sem­blance with the mighty h2. the slanted leD head­lamps add an ag­gres­sive air to the chis­elled front end while the screen above them fits in well with the de­sign of the fair­ing and aids aero­dy­nam­ics, di­rect­ing air over the rider’s hel­met when in a full tuck. the 14-litre fuel-tank doesn’t look or feel un­duly large and is shaped just right to fit in with the over­all de­sign of the bike, ta­per­ing towards the seat to make room for the rider’s knees.

the ninja 400 is avail­able only in this green and black Krt-in­spired colour­way and looks ex­cel­lent from just about ev­ery an­gle. it em­anates a proper big-bike aura from the ag­gres­sive stance and wide fair­ing. Fit-andfin­ish of the paint and plas­tics is fault­less, while high-qual­ity ma­chined fit­tings such as the foot-pegs, gear link­ages, top yoke, and mir­ror stalks add to the pre­mium feel of the bike.

the ninja 300 was al­ways an en­gag­ing mo­tor­cy­cle through a set of twisties and i had been look­ing for­ward to see­ing how the 400 could bet­ter it since its launch ear­lier this year. as it turns out, Kawasaki knew ex­actly what needed to be done and so made a host of im­prove­ments across the board to sig­nif­i­cantly up­lift the rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of this en­try-level ninja. at the heart of this ma­chine is the com­pact, eight-valve, liq­uid-cooled par­al­lel twin with re­vised bore and stroke di­men­sions, push­ing the ca­pac­ity up to 399 cc. this ex­cel­lent pow­er­plant makes a healthy 49 Ps at 10,000 rpm, while peak torque is 38 nm at 8,000 rpm; these fig­ures are 10 Ps and 10.5 nm higher than the ninja 300’s peak fig­ures and come in at lower rpm. as an added bonus, the ninja 400, at 173 kg (kerb), even weighs six ki­los less than the ninja 300, fur­ther boost­ing the power-to-weight ra­tio.

the en­gine is sus­pended from an all-new steel trel­lis frame that has been

This mo­tor­cy­cle is a vast im­prove­ment on the age­ing Ninja 300. It is faster, lighter, cor­ners bet­ter, and feels a lot more modern

de­signed with im­proved han­dling in mind. the Kawasaki en­gi­neers have man­aged to cre­ate a frame that is stiffer and lighter than that of the ninja 300, while also re­duc­ing the wheel­base by a whop­ping 35.6 mm and steep­en­ing the steer­ing head an­gle. the end re­sult, as i soon found out, is a bike that steers as if it is on rails, slays apex af­ter apex, and never once feels vague or dis­con­nected with the road’s sur­face, even at ex­treme lean an­gles.

these ex­cel­lent han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics are in no small part due to an ex­tremely well-bal­anced sus­pen­sion, which in­cor­po­rates a 41-mm tele­scopic fork up front and a link­age­mounted KyB monoshock at the rear. on pa­per these com­po­nents seem quite basic and the only ad­justa­bil­ity on of­fer is a preload set­ting at the rear. in the real world, this set-up works ex­tremely well, find­ing the ideal bal­ance be­tween com­pli­ance to soak up bumps on the road and taut­ness for more ag­gres­sive cor­ner-carv­ing.

swing­ing a leg over the lat­est ninja, i set­tled into the for­ward­canted seat and was pleas­antly sur­prised that i could flat-foot this mo­tor­cy­cle on both sides. at barely 5’ 5” tall, i mostly find my­self on tip­toe and this ac­ces­si­ble 785-mm seat height is a clear in­di­ca­tion that this is a sporty ma­chine aimed at be­gin­ner rid­ers who may be in­tim­i­dated by an overly high sad­dle.

ahead of me is an at­trac­tive dash, with a large round cen­tral tacho, small inset dig­i­tal dis­play for en­gaged gear and clock, and a larger dis­play to the right for speed, range, fuel econ­omy, odo, and trip me­ters. all the dig­i­tal pan­els have been given the neg­a­tive lCD treat­ment first seen on the Z900 and then on the Z650. two small bar-type dis­plays are smartly in­cor­po­rated for fuel level and coolant tem­per­a­ture, while to the left of the tacho is a panel for all the tell-tale lights. the me­ters are set within a sturdy black plas­tic sur­round and the en­tire cock­pit area looks so­phis­ti­cated, stylish, and modern. the black triple clamp is curved up­wards towards each fork leg and atop this sit the clip-on bars that are an­gled back sportily, but are set rea­son­ably high and within easy reach.

once on the move within the city, i im­me­di­ately be­came com­fort­able. the seat isn’t the flat­test or the plush­est but it pro­vides de­cent sup­port and the clip-ons are ide­ally placed so as not to put stress on the rider’s wrists and shoul­ders while still re­tain­ing a sporty feel. at city speeds, it im­me­di­ately be­came ap­par­ent that this mo­tor­cy­cle is a lot more ride­able at low revs than the ninja 300, which felt pos­i­tively anaemic be­low 4,000 rpm. the larger en­gine of the ninja 400 makes more torque ear­lier in the rev-range and it is pos­si­ble to poo­tle around town be­tween 30 and 50 km/h in the top two gears with­out the en­gine knock­ing or lug­ging, although a down­shift or two may be needed if a quick over­take is in order.

the en­gine feels smooth and re­laxed through most of the revrange and is hap­pi­est purring along at be­tween 5,000 and 7,000 rpm; in sixth gear the ninja 400 does a com­fort­able 100 km/h at 6,000 rpm and at just over quar­ter throt­tle, which means that munch­ing miles at high­way pace is a piece of cake. the rel­a­tively com­fort­able rid­ing po­si­tion and in­clu­sion of bungee hooks in­te­grated into the pil­lion foot-peg brack­ets add a touch of ver­sa­til­ity and some own­ers will surely be happy press­ing this bike into sport tour­ing duty. the wide mir­rors stick out a bit when fil­ter­ing through traf­fic, but are ex­cel­lently placed to pro­vide a fan­tas­tic rear­ward field of vi­sion, rather than just a view of the rider’s el­bows.

once out on the open road, i could stretch the lit­tle ninja’s legs and she was happy to re­spond to big hand­fuls of throt­tle with smooth, seam­less ac­cel­er­a­tion all the way to the red-line, ac­com­pa­nied by an ad­dic­tive ex­haust note and in­take howl. this is not a blis­ter­ingly fast mo­tor­cy­cle, but has enough grunt to at­tain triple-digit speeds while still in sec­ond gear and the lin­ear power de­liv­ery through the higher reaches of the rev-range means that it won’t be in­tim­i­dat­ing to newer rid­ers, while still bring­ing enough fire­power to keep even more ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers thor­oughly en­ter­tained. gears shift smoothly and with a sat­is­fy­ing click, while fuelling and throt­tle re­sponse also seem spot on; mod­u­lat­ing the throt­tle at any rpm feels ab­so­lutely nat­u­ral and de­void of any jerks or sur­prises.

i was soon turn­ing off the high­way and on to one of my favourite sec­tions of moun­tain road and the lit­tle ninja was strain­ing at the bit, wait­ing im­pa­tiently to be un­leashed into its el­e­ment. as the road wound its way up into the hills, i found my­self seam­lessly switch­ing from the re­laxed rid­ing po­si­tion to a more for­ward-bi­ased pos­ture, hunched over the front of the mo­tor­cy­cle with my chin inches from the fuel tank. the ninja 400 im­me­di­ately felt right at home and re­sponded to my ev­ery steer­ing in­put in a neu­tral and pre­cise man­ner, blast­ing out of cor­ners at full throt­tle as we hunted for the next one.

the chas­sis and sus­pen­sion felt spot on for this kind of rid­ing and the Dun­lop sport­max tyres never once gave me rea­son for worry, even over a cou­ple of bumpy cor­ners and sud­den mid-cor­ner cor­rec­tions. the bike feels ex­tremely light on its feet and fast side-to-side tran­si­tions are ex­e­cuted with­out too much ef­fort and it re­mained com­posed even as the some­what high foot-pegs grazed the tar­mac. the sin­gle 310-mm

disc up front and 220-mm disc at the rear are sup­ple­mented with aBs and did a fine job of shed­ding speed, with con­sis­tent feel at the lever as the day wore on.

a cou­ple of days spent with this awe­some ninja has con­vinced me that the boffins at Kawasaki know ex­actly what they’re do­ing. this mo­tor­cy­cle is a vast im­prove­ment on the age­ing ninja 300, with a big­ger en­gine, more rigid chas­sis, sharper steer­ing ge­om­e­try, big­ger brakes, and a modern rider in­ter­face. the end re­sult is a bike that is faster, lighter, cor­ners bet­ter, and feels a lot more modern than the ninja 300, while also claim­ing the ti­tle of the most pow­er­ful bike in its class. the only down­side i see is the strato­spheric price: the ninja 400 can be yours for rs 4.69 lakh (ex-show­room) and will be sold along­side the older ninja 300, which has seen a price cut to now re­tail at a rea­son­able rs 2.98 lakh (ex-show­room), mak­ing a com­pelling case for it­self. what most prospec­tive buy­ers will no­tice is that for just rs 30,000 more than the ninja 400’s sell­ing price, they could have a Z650 in the garage, mak­ing it hard to jus­tify the pric­ing of the new 400.

so, is this the new king of the com­pact sport­bike class? the spec sheet and rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence would have me agree, but Kawasaki would need to re­con­sider the pric­ing if they ex­pect this mo­tor­cy­cle to make a se­ri­ous im­pact in our coun­try’s en­try-level sport­bike mar­ket.

ABOVE: Dash is stylish and easy to read ABOVE RIGHT: Love the H2-in­spired front end RIGHT: Fuel tank takes 14 litresBE­LOW: Ma­chined bits,such as the pegs and gear lever have a high­qual­ity feel to them

ABOVE: At­trac­tive rear is marred by an un­sightly grab rail; thank­fully this is eas­ily rec­ti­fiedRIGHT: Ex­haust looks good and sounds even bet­ter

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