Kawasaki Z H2 Review (2020)

BikeSocial
By Michael Mann
MannOnABike BikeSocial's Web Editor. Been riding bikes since 1984 and writing about them since 2013. Commuted in Central London for 10 years, fast and smooth road rider, does a reasonable job in a track day quick group. 6 ft and 14 st.

 

The generation of ‘naked’ bikes inspired by the 80s and 90s streetfighters with limited fairing and straight bars evolved into ‘supernakeds’ when Aprilia’s Tuono made big performance figures. Then along came the likes of KTM’s Super Duke, BMW’s S1000R and the Yamaha MT-10. All of sudden 160bhp+ got even the hardiest of souls wincing as spec sheets were inspected.

Despite Kawasaki’s best efforts with the 140bhp Z1000, the Green Team haven’t had a competitive entrant in that new-fangled supernaked category… instead, it brushed straight past opting for the more exclusive ‘hypernaked’ class with its brand new supercharged Z H2, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last October. Making a claimed and rather insane peak power figure of 197bhp, the Japanese entrant sits 20bhp above this year’s KTM 1290 Super Duke R and Aprilia Tuono V4 1100, and only a shade behind the Italian duo of Ducati’s V4 Streetfighter and MV Agusta’s Brutale 1000RR. These are naked bikes remember, this is madness.

On paper this is one of the most exciting motorbikes for years with the recipe mixing forced induction, swathes of torque, a new chassis, aggressive styling, some polished electronics and high-end components. But does it have the kind of character needed to stand out in this competitive sector of the market? Fully faired sports bike sales are in decline yet nakeds are bucking that trend all the way from 125cc through to 1000cc and above. The Z H2 is the latest addition to Kawasaki’s Supercharged family and the first to bear the Z name, reserved for its street, or naked, line-up.

Las Vegas, Nevada was the setting for the International Press Launch with a mixture of road riding through the spectacularly scenic Valley of Fire State Park and two track tests; one on the 1.5-mile oval Las Vegas Motor Speedway, home to NASCAR racing, as well as its adjacent 2.4-mile road handling course. Is it all about big power or should we be concentrating on peak torque position too?

 

Above: Three colourways available, each with a different price.

 

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Price

Available in three colours schemes, most notable via the frame paint, which have their own price:

  • Metallic Diablo Black / Metallic Flat Spark Black (black frame): £15,149
  • Metallic Matte Carbon Gray / Metallic Flat Spark Black (red frame): £15,599
  • Metallic Spark Black / Metallic Graphite Gray / Mirror Coated Spark Black (green frame): £15,799 

If you’d rather look at monthly payments on a PCP deal, then an example offer looks like this for the black framed version:

Deposit

£2,348.07 (15%)

Agreement duration

37 months

Annual mileage

4,000

Monthly repayments

£209

Optional final repayment

£7,352

APR

6.3%

Total amount payable

£17,224.07

 

Power and torque

Kawasaki has pinned the Z H2 at a nice rounded 200PS, or 197bhp. That’s the same output as the H2 SX sports tourer, suggesting the supercharged 998cc four-cylinder is in a similar state of tune. The differences lie with the Z H2’s impeller whose blades differ to those in the H2 SX to produce more mid-range torque thus befitting this supernaked style. However, the same basic engine design is also used, with appropriate changes, in the 228hp H2 and the 306hp H2R, so there’s plenty of headroom for more if the firm decides it needs to uprate the bike in future, i.e. if someone one day says ‘hmm, 197bhp isn’t enough for a naked bike’.

For the naked Z H2, the real target is to combine its huge power with similarly deep reserves of torque, and it’s hard to imagine that any of the normally-aspirated rivals will be able to compete when it comes to mid-range, pull-in-any-gear thrust. Peak torque is 101 ft lbs (137Nm), the same as the H2 SX, but it arrives a full 1000rpm lower at 8500rpm.

 

Does the 197bhp supercharged supernaked take the class to new heights with even more fruitloopiness?

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Forced induction is the headline here; the Z H2 comes equipped with a supercharger – a device to push more air into the engine at a higher compression ratio via a 69mm forged aluminium impeller to enhance performance and economy. It also means Kawasaki didn’t have to increase engine capacity to make the necessary torque and power figures with which it can go toe-to-toes against its rivals. An air intake duct in positioned to one side of the headlight cluster and defines the head-on asymmetrical appearance. The look isn’t to everybody’s taste but this is how Kawasaki can balance the weight of the bike and get as much fresh air to the supercharger as directly as possible.

Short final gearing and a bit of tinkering with valve timing also contribute to a very easy-to-manage throttle response, highlighted by its inclination to be aggressive with power when needed but gentle enough not to shake your bones.

By far the stand-out best bit of the Z H2’s press launch was the chance to feel the rush of boost. Such is the strength of the torquey engine, what was early in the first session a mid-speed second gear right that opened, became a third gear corner where I could be both reliant on the performance and as confident as possible with the throttle to push the bike through the revs. The result was increased corner speed and no requirement for changing up (and potentially upsetting the handling) while hard on the gas and still leaning a little. The same can be said for any chance to give the Z H2 some gas during the road ride; coming out of junctions or slower corners was a joy every time.

Will the novelty wear off? I very much doubt it!

The supercharger then creates its recognisable chirping sound when off the throttle as the excess air is dumped through a blow-off valve. And it’s instant too.

Will the novelty wear off? Yes.

One had to applaud Kawasaki and their reintroduction of forced induction in recent times via its own bolted-on supercharger feeding an otherwise conventional four-cylinder 998cc engine. Turbos and their resulting lag were played with in the 80s by the four major Japanese brands but nothing has cropped up since. The development continues as the system becomes more refined and tailored to the individual bikes and their objectives. Having asked the Z H2 Project Leader, Koji Ito, about its use, “You can’t just bolt on a supercharger, you have to start from the bottom up. Technically it is possible [to bolt it on] but we had to design the bike itself to consider the stresses on the engine, tyres, chassis. I cannot tell you how much it weighs but the resulting power is beneficial [versus the weight increase], although we did feel 200hp was enough and instead the focus was on low to mid-range torque!”

The red line is up at over 11,000rpm which is an easy target for the right-hand throttle snappers because the engine spins so quickly and climbs through the revs with little regard to the comfort of the rider’s neck muscles. Snap another gear at peak power while at full throttle and the revs don’t even drop as far as the 10,000 indicator as your eyes work overtime on the peripheral vision while scanning for the next brake marker. It’s a joyous and endorphin-laden feeling without feeling over-hostile, second to third is exciting but then third to fourth gets even better as the noises emanating from inside the helmet become audible only to nearby dogs. Stunning performance but horrible bulbous exhaust that despite sounding pretty cool (for a four) is a nasty thing to look at. Even though you can’t see it while riding, you know that pedestrians and other road users are pointing and laughing. An up and down quickshifting gearbox is a very welcome addition as standard although it’s not the slickest I’ve ever used. No false neutrals were found but I reckon a nip and tuck with the lever arm to firm it up would result in slicker and even quicker changes with less effort. It isn’t a deal breaker though.

 

Above: The photos flatten the banking out, trust me

 

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Economy

This is a touch one to evaluate. Of course, flat chat on a banked NASCAR oval will result in next-to-nothing MPG which is irrelevant in terms of accurate and responsible journalism yet at the other end of the scale, the law abiding 25mph ride through the Valley of Fire State immediately after 20-miles down the i15 highway then back again gave an indicated 43.1mpg which will be as good as it gets. In which case, an estimated range from the 19-litre tank is around 180-miles… but you’d be ready to get off by then anyway.

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

A 197bhp machine weighing around 239kg when ready to ride seems like a reasonable power-to-weight ratio, although is surpassed by many, if not all, rivals (see the chart below). That said, and despite the vast frontal area ahead of the flat-ish bars, the Kawasaki handles itself admirably. It’s been purpose built, you see. It’s not one of these bikes that’s been morphed from another, much like the original existence of this naked category, and therefore the centre of gravity of the Z H2 and its secure and engaging handling have all been developed with performance, comfort and handling in mind.

I love a sports bike. The thought of a dry circuit and anything with 150bhp to play with and I get all weak at the knees so I could barely contain myself when the first time we got to play with the Z H2 with any degree of anger was on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road handling course. Not exactly Jerez or Mugello but a 2.5-mile flat ribbon that allowed a decent test for hard acceleration and hard braking mixed with a range of corner styles. After all, we’re all just red-blooded mammals keen to get our kicks somehow, and the kicks came by the bucket load with the chirping, the grip, the peg-scraping, the hooliganistic tendencies manifesting themselves in excitable aural emissions from both the mechanical and more squishy type of orifices. 239kg plus me shouldn’t feel this lively.

Though the trellis frame, made from pipes of high-tensile steel, appears to replicate that of the H2 or H2 SX, it has been designed with stability and handling as the focus, so the bike will theoretically feel equally as suited when at high speed as it does in the twisty bits. Fortunately, the oval runs mixed with the more challenging road course allowed us to test that theory. While it’s no Fireblade or even a Street Triple RS, this Kawasaki defies its weight in the more complex parts of a circuit, staying on its trajectory through the faster corners with enough stability, it’s wheelbase and those Pirelli Diablo Rosso III helping to keep things in check.

When sitting astride it you quickly work out the width of the fuel tank section and rather annoyingly, the join between tank and frame (on the right) or air intake duct with frame (on the left) is positioned right where you knee should be. Well, mine anyway.

The Z H2 is suspended by a set of adjustable Showa SFF-BP forks at the front and an equally adjustable Showa Gas-Charged Shock at the rear. Though neither front nor rear is electronic and there’s not even a remote preload adjuster on the rear, nope that’s a job for a man and his old-fashioned tools. On track and the preload on the rear was left requiring some tinkering while on the road it was the compression on the front but these were extreme circumstances. That said, if your plan is to power through some back-road miles on a Sunday then at least it’s all adjustable to suit your needs. With that weight, the bike had a minor tendency to run-on in the quicker corners but this is justified by saying, ‘it’s not a track bike’, and I’m being over pedantic. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 239kg Japanese faired, and how well it turned in.

 

Above: Asymmetrical face and exhaust aren’t up to everyone’s styling standards

 

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 Brakes

While other manufacturers are buying the Brembo Stylema packages as quickly as they’re made, Kawasaki have opted to keep the overall price down by choosing the not-quite-as-fancy M4.32 version and coupling it with a Nissin master cylinder.

A twin set of 320mm discs aid stopping power which is well suited to road riding with a graceful feeling when squeezing on that front brake lever. They’re found a little wanting on track and the ABS is quick to raise a hand in an apparent bid to be noticed. Overall, not many Z H2 owners will find themselves on track and requiring enormous stopping power where ABS does become an issue. Instead, the safety harness will be well received if required in a road-based situation.

 

Rider aids and electronics

Oh yes, acronyms-a-plenty here. If you’ve switched from another manufacturer to the Z H2 then a recalibration is needed because the clever Bosch 6-axis IMU, the ECU brain and handlebar-based controls have... are you ready for this… KTRC, KCMF, KIBS, KLCM, KQS, KECC four riding modes and three power modes at their disposal, all operational via the neat and stylish full colour TFT LCD screen.

OK, let’s break that down because it’s not as imposing as it might seem. In order, they refer to Traction Control, Cornering Management (think cornering ABS), Intelligent Brake System (think ABS), Launch Control, Quick Shift and Cruise Control. See it’s not that bad.

This suite is everything you’d expect on a modern-day power-laden bike because the current era calls for more of everything and when manufacturers’ engineers are out Top Trumping each other every year, the electronics guys have to keep up by designing systems to prevent, in this case, Z H2-shaped holes in every fence, bush or bus stop in town.

Cruise is doddle to work; one button activates the system while the up and down switches are well-located for a quick tap when necessary. The operating buttons on the left-side of the ‘bars won’t take much familiarisation, but they aren’t back-lit so get used to them before any night time riding.

Full, middle and low power modes offer 100%, 75% and 50% depending on conditions although I’d tend to focus on the four riding modes of Sport, Road, Rain and Rider, with the latter being the bespoke version where traction control (thus, wheelie control) can be turned off. And it’ll stay off too even when the ignition is switched off and then back on again. In Sport mode the wheelie control makes you feel like a riding god, displayed by allowing the front wheel to hover above the ground at a high enough angle to impress the girls. It’ll stay there too until you get bored, reach a corner, arrive at work, find the drive-thru or run out of fuel.

Seeing a quickshifter as standard fit is thankfully becoming the norm nowadays and the Z H2’s system is pretty good. It’s not as clunky or flimsy as some, there were no missed gears and neutral was simple enough to find yet I still felt a little underwhelmed. I’ve been fortunate enough to try many systems on many bikes and this is a solid 7/10 but could be better. The lever has too much play and I wanted more of a precise and sharper, perhaps faster, feel.

A Bluetooth compatible Smartphone app, called ‘RIDEOLOGY THE APP’ in theory allows riders to chart and monitor vehicle info, a riding log, phone notifications and allows adjustment of general settings as well as riding modes. Here is where I wish I could have told you how whiz it all is and offered evidence in the form of photography but my iPhone didn’t feel like linking up <insert sad emoji>.

 

 

Rivals

Even though Kawasaki calls the Z H2 a ‘Supercharged Supernaked’, I’m more of the opinion that 197bhp needs its own category alongside the other two c.200bhp machines listed below. That said, it’s all a bit ‘top trumps’ for bragging purposes because if put the following excellent eight together, even the entrants from BMW (S1000R), Yamaha (MT-10 SP) and even Triumph’s Street Triple RS on both track and road for a group test and there’s a fantastic line-up of multitalented and rather handy machinery which have their own strengths. We’ve yet to ride the Ducati and MV Agusta but they have a sporting chance of holding their place at the big boys table. The BMW and Triumph have the handling characteristics if not the outright pace and torque-laden mid-range of the Z H2 but equally this Japanese contestant is carrying plenty of extra kg’s.

As I alluded to earlier, a spec sheet can mislead. On paper, the Z H2 is all about the big 197bhp number but realistically it’s the zinging and manageable 4-8,000rpm band where the entertainment is and that’s the USP.

 

Bike

Peak Power

Peak Torque

Kerb weight

Price

Kawasaki Z H2

197bhp @ 11,000rpm

101 ft lbs@8500rpm

231kg

£15,149

Ducati Streetfighter V4

205bhp @12,750rpm

90 ft lbs @ 11,500rpm

201kg

£17,595

MV Agusta Brutale 1000RR

205bhp @ 13,000rpm

86 ft lbs @ 11,000rpm

204kg (est.)

£26,380

KTM 1290 Super Duke R

177bhp @ 9500rpm

103 ft lbs @ 8000rpm

207kg (est)

£15,699

Aprilia Tuono 1100 RR

173bhp @ 11,000rpm

89 ft lbs @ 9000rpm

209kg

£17,199

Yamaha MT-10 SP

158bhp @ 11,500rpm

82 ft lbs @ 9000rpm

210kg

£14,745

BMW S1000R Sport

162bhp @ 11,000rpm

84 ft lbs @ 9250rpm

205kg

£13,380

Triumph Speed Triple RS

148bhp @ 10,500 rpm

86 ft lbs @ 7150 rpm

 

205kg (est)

£13,600

 

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 verdict

Despite the eye-bulging spec sheet and equally fierce acceleration performance, things on the Z H2 can be as sedate and day-to-day as you need. It’s a very useable maniac with plenty of understated aggression. To have this power arsenal at your disposal makes knowing that A-to-B could be record-breaking, that in turn is transformed into a warm and fuzzy feeling when you blip the throttle for long enough anywhere between 4000 - 8500rpm.

For the money, there’s no other new machine that is as speedy yet versatile with the throttle connection, comfort and safety blanket-esque electronics. The Z H2 has grown on me over these last two days and I’ll be keen to check how it deals with what the UK has to offer. Don’t put your typing efforts into slaying the exhaust size but consider what this Kawasaki has to offer as a riding experience.

Electronically adjustable suspension would have been a neat addition, so too would top spec Brembos and some weight saving but despite having room for improvement, those additions would have seen an extra few thousand pounds added to what is surely an attractive price tag given where it sits among the competition.

There’s no point dwelling over justifying its existence or rationalising why one would even ‘need’ all that performance on a street bike, here is a purpose-built exercise in ‘hey, look what we can do’ while maintaining a side of ‘sensible’ road-worthy motorbike that just happens to be hold a supercharged ace card when it comes to pub or café chat.

 

Three things I loved about the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 …

  • Booming mid-range torque. The stuff to make you tingle.
  • Riding position for a sportster is more than just pleasant
  • Brilliant OE Pirelli tyres and electronics/rider aid options (ok, so that’s four things I loved really)

 

Three things that I didn’t…

  • Weight; carries it well but could do with dieting #FatShaming
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but not when soooo many have grumbled at the face, the asymmetry and the size of the exhaust
  • Heated grips aren’t standard. Grrrr.

 

 

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 spec

New price

From £15,149

Capacity

998cc

Bore x Stroke

76 x 55mm

Engine layout

Inline-4, Supercharged

Engine details

Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 16-valve DOHC

Power

197bhp (147Kw) @11,000rpm

Torque

101 ft lbs (137Nm) @ 8500rpm

Transmission

6-speed with quickshift (up/down)

Average fuel consumption

43.1mpg indicated

Tank size

19 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

180 miles

Rider aids

6-axis IMU, Bosch Cornering ABS, Quickshifter (up/down), launch control, wheelie control, traction control, cruise control, Bluetooth app

Frame

Trellis, high-tensile steel

Front suspension

Showa SFF-BP Fork

Front suspension adjustment

Compression and Rebound Damping, Spring Preload

Rear suspension

New Uni-Trak, Showa Gas-Charged Shock

Rear suspension adjustment

Compression and Rebound Damping, Preload Adjustability

Front brake

Dual semi - floating 320mm discs, Caliper: Dual radial - mount, Brembo M4.32 monobloc, opposed 4-piston

Rear brake

Single 260mm disc. Caliper: 2 - piston

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17 M/C 58W

Rear tyre

190/55 ZR17 M/C 75W

Dimensions (l x w x h)

2085 x 810 x 1130mm

Wheelbase

1455mm

Seat height

830mm

Kerb weight

239kg

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 2 years

Service Intervals

First service: 600 miles, then 7,600 intervals

Website

www.kawasaki.co.uk

 

Looking for bike insurance? Get a quote for this motorcycle with Bennetts motorbike insurance

 

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