Kawasaki has officially confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in motorcycling by launching the Ninja ZX-4R – but sprung a major surprise in confirming that the bike is heading to Europe and the UK.
While the ZX-4R has been the subject of multiple leaks and teases over the last few months, most have been focussed on the Asian, Australian and North American markets, where various documents have confirmed it will be going on sale. Given that tough Euro 5 emissions laws have essentially killed the 600cc four-cylinder class here and in mainland Europe, it seemed unlikely that a highly-strung 400cc four could be made compliant. However, Kawasaki has confirmed that the ZX-4R will be coming here, albeit not until autumn 2023, as a ‘2024’ model.
The bike will hit other markets including the USA this month, with three versions appearing altogether. As well as the standard ZX-4R there will be a more expensive ZX-4R SE and an even higher-spec ZX-4RR. The SE gains uprated forks, KRT paintwork, a quickshifter, a USB socket, frame sliders and a smoked screen, while the RR adds a Showa BFCR-lite rear shock, like the ZX-10R’s, as well as the improved forks, quickshifter and KRT paint.
Whichever version you opt for, the ZX-4R is based on the existing, Asian market ZX-25R, a screaming 250cc four-cylinder that occupies a class of one in the current motorcycle market.
The extra 150cc that takes the engine out to a total of 399cc promises to work wonders for performance. Where the ZX-25R peaks at 47hp (35.2kW), the ZX-4R manages 77hp (57kW), a number that rises to 80hp (59kW) when the effect of ram-air is added at speed. Revs max out at more than 15,000rpm.
The 399cc, DOHC, four-cylinder engine is bolted to the same steel trellis frame that’s used on the ZX-25R, with identical body panels and graphics, making the two bikes hard to tell apart at a glance. The most notable difference is the addition of a second front disc brake to the ZX-4R, which has twin, 290mm stoppers with radial calipers, assisted by a single 220mm disc at the back. Harder to spot is the wider rear tyre, up from 150/60-17 to 160/60-17. The front is a 120/70-17. Even the base version has Showa SFF-BP forks, although you have to step up to the SE or RR to get preload adjustment on them, and only the RR gets the Showa BFRC-lite rear shock. A quickshifter is optional on the base model and standard on the higher-spec versions.
Onboard, there’s a 4.3in colour digital dash including a ‘track’ mode that adds lap times, gear position and an easy-to-read rev counter when rpms rise above 10,000. As on other modern Kawasakis, it’s smartphone-connectable via the Rideology app.
You can choose between two power modes – full or low power – each with their own throttle mapping, and there’s an assist-and-slipper clutch as well as traction control.
The final figures that count are the weight, with the base and ‘RR’ versions coming in at 188kg (ready to ride), and the SE 1kg heavier at 189kg. Those numbers include a 15-litre tank of fuel.
Finally, there’s the question of price. Since the Euro and UK bikes won’t appear until the 2024 model year, reaching showrooms this autumn, there’s no confirmation of what they’ll cost here, but we can look to other markets for a clue. And the indications are that if you’re hoping for a cheap bike, you’ll be disappointed.
In the USA, only the high-spec RR version is currently being offered, but it comes in at a hefty $9,699. That would be around £7,900, but the UK price may end up higher than that. For comparison, the Ninja 400 costs $5,699 in the USA in ABS-equipped form, but £6,099 here. The Ninja 650 goes for $7,999 in the States and £7,799 in the UK. The ZX-10R starts at $17,399 in America and £17,499 in the UK. Taking those bikes as a template, there’s nearly a direct 1:1 conversion between the £ and $ when it comes to RRPs, suggesting the ZX-4RR could be over £9,500 in this country. The base ZX-4R will be cheaper, but not by a vast amount.
However, if you want a modern take on the 400cc four-cylinder bikes of the 1990s, there’s simply no other option, at least until China’s Kove manages to get its 400RR onto the market over here.