The Z300 likes the city. With its small dimensions and wide steering lock, it will cut sharp turns through tiny gaps before irritated drivers can close them. The mirrors are at a level and distance apart to clash with those of some cars, so you sometimes have to stop and wiggle the bars to get through. Otherwise the Z300 is a traffic scalpel. It might be a little too good - I found myself taking risks I might not dare to on my Suzuki SV650, cutting through gaps that were closing too quickly for comfort, then questioning the risk versus the gain. Filtering is not a competitive sport, even if some bikes can make it feel like it should be.
Maybe it's because it's so manoeuvrable, dissecting lanes of stationary traffic to find a way to the front.
I'm bad at U-turns - I have to re-learn every time I get on a new bike. But on the Z300 even I could do full-lock turns almost off the bat. With its wide bars and small dimensions, it's a good machine to practice on.
The riding position is upright but sporty, with pegs directly below your body. The brakes are good, with more than sufficient bite from the single front 290mm petal disc and twin-pot caliper.
Last year I rode KTM's RC390, the fully-faired version of the Duke 390, at the launch in Spain. The front brake had power, if I moved my two fingers a little further out along the bar for extra leverage. The Z300's requires a lighter touch.
It's let down slightly by the IRC Road Winner tyres. The front sometimes feels vague under braking, eroding the confidence needed to pull the lever hard, even with the assurance of ABS.
The Z300 has better suspension than the KTM too. Where the RC was a bit soft at the rear, rebounding too much in rough bends, the Z300 isn't and doesn't. Out of London, on winding roads, it skips over dips and bumps as lightly as a well-damped 170kg motorcycle should.
The Z300 could be lighter still. It's as though Kawasaki has taken away the fairing, realised the bike looks weedy, with the small engine hanging from its tubular steel frame, and so put the bottom half of the fairing back on. Personally I'd rather it didn't try to look any beefier than it is.
Fuel receipts show I got 58.4mpg, suggesting a range of over 200 miles from the 17-litre tank. The fuel gauge was still showing half full after about 100 miles.
I did about 150 miles in total including 70 in one go, on a seat that's firm and flat. I wasn't uncomfortable but the Z300 wouldn't be my first choice for a ride to Dundee.
This is no tourer though. It's just a really good-fun, small motorcycle.
It costs £4,359 plus on-the-road charges. That's £550 less than the Ninja 300.
KTM's RC390 is £4,998 plus on-the-road charges while the Duke 390 is £4,499.
I think I'd choose the Z300 over the KTMs. It may be less powerful, at 39hp compared to 44hp, but it's just as much fun and probably a more complete motorcycle, with its excellent brakes and suspension.
The real test, for both the Z300 and the Ninja 300, could be Yamaha's new 42hp YZF-R3. I still say more power doesn't necessarily mean more fun. But if the R3 turns out to be just as much fun and more powerful, then the Kawasakis may have a problem.
Model tested: Kawasaki Z300
Engine: 296cc parallel-twin
Price: from £4,359 plus on-the-road charges
Power: 39hp @ 11,000rpm
Torque: 19.9lbft @ 10,000rpm
Kerb weight: 170kg
Tank capacity: 17 litres
Fuel economy (calculated from receipts): 58.4mpg
Seat height: 785mm
Colours: green, black
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