2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS Review: It was only a matter of time before Kawasaki would take their super little Ninja 400 and strip it naked.
One of our favorite motorcycles from the 2018 model year was Kawasaki’s stupendous little Ninja 400 sport bike. This is a motorcycle anyone from Ashton Yates down can rip and enjoy, thanks to a superb combination of just the right amount of horsepower, low weight, and excellent chassis balance.
The success of the Ninja was not going to stop at just one model, however. Now we have the Ninja’s more street-focused cousin in the brand new Z400—the same bike but stripped back into naked-bike style.
The Z400 marks a joining of the dots for the Kawasaki Z family. Seeing as the U.S. does not get the Z125 model that’s prevalent in the Asian markets, the Z400 is now the smallest in the family (as long as you discount the tiny Z125 Pro) and presents a real option for riders looking to get onto a bike and particularly on a Kawasaki for the first time.
New riders are central to a big push from Kawasaki with the 400 who are presenting the new bike to market at a starting MSRP of $4799. The lower cost of ensuring a small displacement motorcycles, plus the current boom in naked bike styling, should prove profitable for Team Green as it now finally has a foothold in the lower capacity bike segment with which to compete against the likes of naked-bike class stalwarts KTM and their 390 Duke and Honda’s recently released CB300R.
Photography by Kevin Wing
What’s Been Changed for the 2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS?
In short, not a great deal. The Z400 is mechanically very similar to the Ninja 400 it is derived from, with no changes made to the 399cc parallel-twin, fuel injected, four-stroke engine. Kawasaki doesn’t give power or torque figures, but you can expect around 42 hp in Z guise as everything from the intake to the crank is the same as you’ll find on the Ninja 400 sport bike.
The chassis is the same as the Ninja in the trellis steel frame with the engine used as a rigid stressed member of the chassis. Kawasaki is claiming a featherweight 363 pounds curb weight for the Z, although it’s still a touch heavier than the 390 Duke, which we’ve seen as a wet weight of 360 lb. The Z does have an extra cylinder, so we’ll forgive it for that.
What has changed between the Ninja and Z400, however, is the suspension and the lack of clothes. Kawasaki has gone 10 percent softer on spring rates front and rear for the Z to give it a suppler feel and better bump absorption for the street-orientated Z compared to the more track-focused set-up of the Ninja. You still get the same wheel travel at 4.7 inches for the front and 5.1 inches at the back.
As a naked bike, the ergonomics have also been revised, with the one-piece handlebar 50mm higher than the clip-on style set-up from the Ninja. The seat unit is new although the same height as the Ninja at 30.9 inches. Made from 90mm low-rebound urethane, it’s slimmer side-to-side at the point where it meets the tank to give the rider an easier grip of the tank, allowing them to hold their body position better under braking.
The Z now closely mimics the styling of bigger brothers in the Z650 and Z900 and features six-chamber LED lights front and rear, a sharp seat unit design and a revised instrument cluster that features a gear position indicator right at the point where the speedo should probably be.
There are no significant electronics to speak of other than the superbly mapped Nissin ABS acting on the twin piston front and rear calipers, although in true Kawasaki fashion you can’t switch the ABS off.
Testing the new 2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS
The Z’s relaxed riding position is the first thing you’ll notice. You’ll also notice—if you’re above six feet tall—that the seat-to-peg distance is probably too short, meaning leg cramps might set in after an hour on board.
Yet the reach to the bar is nicely spaced and allows you to settle into a comfortable position quickly. The seat unit itself is not the most comfortable, as that aforementioned skinny part to the front of the seat pad caused me to slide into the tank more than I’ve have liked—the wedgie from my riding jeans and unwelcome result.
I found the Ninja 400 to be a slightly more comfortable set-up for my six-foot frame—odd considering it’s a sportbike. However, a day’s riding is still pretty stress-free on the Z, with absolutely zero weight on the rider’s wrists.
Kawasaki’s 399cc parallel-twin motor is probably the best version of a junior engine currently available on the market. More than something like the Yamaha YZF-R3, the Z’s engine is a little more flexible and gives a solid rush of top-end power for something so small. It also sounds better, so you want to give it the berries all the time as the power above 8000 rpm certainly makes it worth it.
Throttle response on the Z is excellent. There’s not much internal mass rotating between your knees in the little 400—everything is light and free, and you can feel it at the twist grip. This light feel is matched to a supremely easy lever pull at the clutch. Kawasaki uses a Slip and Assist unit, so the rider experiences a near effortless clutch lever pull when clicking up and down through the gears.
The softer suspension settings compared to a Ninja are a welcome addition over some of the crappy road surfaces we experienced in SoCal for our day’s test. The front suspension action is particularly smooth (it better be considering it’s un-adjustable), and you can adjust rear preload, so getting a base set-up dialed should be pretty easy for most riders out there.
With no traction control and un-adjustable ABS, the Z is very much an analog bike. So all the better for it. With nothing to worry about except the ride, the Z400 is an excellent machine for new riders to get acquainted with the dynamics and behavior of a motorcycle. It’s a tough-looking little bike, exuding the same attitude the Z900 is renowned for. Kawasaki calls this “Sugomi.” Like a crouching animal waiting to attack. I think it looks cool.
The Z400 is a brilliant little bike but seeing as Kawasaki already had the Ninja 400—which we love—this should come as no great surprise. It’s mostly the same bike, but fills a massive hole in Kawasaki’s line-up and might spur fellow Japanese marques Yamaha and Suzuki into developing naked versions of their junior sport bikes.CN
2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS Specifications
||Liquid-Cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, parallel twin
|Bore x stroke:
||70.0 x 51.8mm
||Wet multi-plate, slipper type
||41mm conventional fork
||Monoshock with preload adjustment
||310mm disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS optional
||220mm disc, 1-piston caliper, ABS optional
||363 lbs (ABS)
||Candy Lime Green/Metallic Spark Black &Candy Cardinal Red/ Metallic Flat Spark Black