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