2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE Review: Supercharged Sport Touring
Kawasaki fans need not worry that the horsepower king has abdicated his throne. The all-new supercharged H2 SX is in showrooms and, yes, it is enormously powerful.Although a by-product of forced induction allows for improved fuel economy, I’ll wager not too many buyers of the supercharged Ninja H2 SX will have that very high on their priority list.
“That’s nice,” they’ll mutter to themselves as they lean forward behind the bubble, wrench the throttle open, and slingshot over the horizon with an ear-to-ear grin. Please try not to fall off the back.But there’s a lot more to this executive-express motorcycle than just monster power. Here are the fast facts and what it’s like to ride the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE.1. The H2 is the flagship model of the Kawasaki motorcycle range, and the 2018 H2 SX is the third iteration of the line. The H2 started out as the pure track performance H2R, followed by the streetable sportbike H2. Now, we have the H2 SX real-world sport tourer.2. The 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX is a sophisticated, premium sport motorcycle that exudes quality. Its impressive specs, lustrous metallic paint, and the top-quality fit and finish of every detail, show how much effort Kawasaki put into this machine.3. There are two versions of the H2 SX. In addition to the the standard model ($19,000), there is the fully equipped SE ($22,000). I tested the SE.4. The SE gets a number of upgrades for its $3000 premium. Here are some of the most important SE-specific features (though some are available for the standard versions as accessories): Quickshifter; steel-braided brake lines; launch control; TFT screen; LED cornering lights; centerstand; taller windscreen; grip heaters; wheels with machining and clearcoat; two-tone seat, 12V socket; knee and tank pads; upgraded graphics,5. The H2 SX only just squeezes into the sport touring category—and that’s not a criticism. It is a highly capable, high performance sportbike that is a little less committed ergonomically than its street-going H2 sibling. The clean-mounting accessory hard bags ($1230) are a useful addition, but make no mistake, the H2 SX is an enormously powerful sports machine.6. The Ninja H2 SX is powered by the same 998cc supercharged inline-4 motor as the 300-horsepower (claimed) H2R. Typically, when we find out an engine has been tuned for “more mid-range” there’s an element of disappointment and an expectation that the motor has been watered down. The SX has a higher compression ratio of 11.2:1, 40mm throttle bodies instead of 50mm, and it has been tuned to give massive mid-range boost (101 ft/lbs of torque at 9500 rpm) as opposed to the astonishing peak horsepower of its siblings. Those torque numbers make sure no one feels cheated.7. The supercharger’s precision forged aluminum impeller has six blades at the tip that merge into 12 blades at the base. They spin at 9.2-times the speed of the crankshaft. The motor is redlined at 12,000 rpm, so at that point the impeller is spinning at 110,400 rpm, with the blade-edges breaking the sound barrier.8. The H2 SX has improved thermal efficiency and I had no heat issues at all. Heat management is definitely a problem for the H2 and H2R, but not the H2 SX. The in-house designed supercharger does not need an intercooler, as the ram air duct has a direct path and the intake charge is minimally heated. A small hole in that duct allows the rider to hear the distinct chirping of the supercharger when the engine is on overrun.9. The gearbox on the H2 SX is rendered almost superfluous as the motor produces such strong power on demand in every gear. Several times I felt I was riding in third gear only to look down and discover I was in fifth, or even sixth gear on occasion.10. An upside to supercharging is extremely good fuel consumption in normal usage. During my test, which included spirited riding, I averaged just over 51 mpg according to the dash readout. This has the added benefit of not needing a large fuel tank, and the SX holds an even five gallons without sacrificing real-world range.11. The gearbox is about as smooth and positive shifting as it’s possible to get. The quickshift that comes on the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE is absolutely seamless on upshifts. On a couple of occasions when going from fifth into sixth under slight power, the only indication was the change of digit on the dash. The blip-downshifter works well, but like other downshifters I’ve used it can be fooled if you’re slightly on the throttle; then be a little less than smooth, especially in the lower gears. Overall, the quickshifter is so good I consider it a must-have.12. The H2 SX motor is also one of the smoothest I’ve ever felt. Dual secondary balancers ensure the vibes are removed, and an ECU-controlled blow-off valve regulates pressure gain when the throttle is closed. That prevents surging and vibration from the impeller.13. Curb weight of the Ninja H2 SX SE is 573 pounds, and I can’t say the bike feels light. It does feel a little top-heavy when stopped, once underway the weight disappears and it feels well balanced. The H2 SX is most certainly very agile and it changes direction easily. Keep in mind that it is nearly 100 pounds lighter than Kawasaki’s venerable Concours 14 sport tourer. If you go with the standard H2 SX, knock off nine pounds.14. Equipped with Bridgestone’s excellent Battlax Hypersport S21 tires, the handling overall is neutral and very confidence inspiring. With a 120/70 front and a 190/55 at the rear, the steering is precise and I could place the bike pretty much where I wanted. However, on turning in it, occasionally dropped into corners a little quicker than I intended.15. The 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX has a 30mm longer wheelbase than its siblings, and it is extremely stable, even at very high speed. It does not have a steering damper, and it doesn’t need one. Cresting over hilly corners there was zero trace of instability; the H2 SX feels planted at all times.16. The KYB suspension is absolutely superb. Firm yet compliant, it has a great balance of enough firmness to give the machine excellent handling, yet it is also compliant enough to soak up bumpy back roads. At no stage did the bike wallow; even when hard accelerating out of corners the chassis stayed firmly on line with no squat or squirm. The suspension at both ends is fully adjustable, with the convenience of remote spring-preload adjustment for the linkage-assisted shock.17. The clutch has an assist function, so it is extremely light to use. The bite is quite late in the lever throw. As expected, it also has a slipper function.18. The brakes are powerful, yet have great feel with modest initial bite so there are no surprises. Cornering ABS helps out if you get it really wrong. The radial front brakes bite down on 320mm rotors and the SE edition upgrades to braided steel brake lines.19. If the outrageous power and excellent handling don’t convince you the H2 SX is a sportbike, the ergonomics most certainly will. The handlebar position is fairly aggressive and leans forward into the wind. Even the slightly larger windshield on the SE is not big, and it is not adjustable. The footpegs are high- and rear-set, and sporting enough that by the end of the day my knees had started to ache. Comfort-wise, a Concours-14 competitor it is not. Indeed, the riding position is more aggressive than the Ninja 1000, as well.20. The electronics suite—like everything else on the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX—is top-of-the-line. It includes three power modes, Kawasaki’s IMU-data driven three-level traction control, launch control, cruise control, and full cornering ABS. Even the engine brake setting can be changed in the menu system to Light if you prefer a slightly smoother ride when coming off throttle. The Kawasaki Corner Management Function is a braking control that assists the rider in tracing an intended line through the corner.21. The SE has three LED fixed-direction cornering lights down either front side of the fairing for better road illumination while riding at night. They come on at 10, 20, and 30 degrees of lean, and are also based on the speed of rolling degree change.22. The SX has an LCD instruments display, while the SE gets a TFT color display. The SE dash includes a conventional rev counter and digital everything-else that can be set for either a black or white background. Two display modes—Sport and Touring—cover the normal functions including speed, gear position, power, TC and ABS modes, as well as mileage, temperatures, and fuel economy information. However, the display can also show boost level, lean angle indicator, and a G-force indicator.23. The pleasing-looking reverse-taper muffler is refreshingly small —the catalyzer is located out of the way under the engine—so the SX is a good-looking machine even without the hard bags. Kawasaki tells us that an accessory Akrapovic slip-on is coming soon. Although it will produce no more power, it will be lighter and sound throatier.24. There is no disappointment with the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE. More sport than tour, even with the hard bags, the Ninja H2 SX SE expands the definition of what a sport touring motorcycle can be.Photography by Kevin Wing
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.