First ride: Kawasaki Z650 review

Kawasaki Z650

Is this the friendliest middleweight ever?

THE Z650 is the replacement for the popular ER6-n and much like the new Z900, it’s got some substantial boots to fill.

The reason for the ER6-n’s popularity is simple: it’s a punchy, affordable and fun package, with funky, loveable looks. Importantly, along with offering lots to new riders, there’s also plenty for the more experienced and as a dependable and capable all-rounder, is hard to ignore.

Kawasaki hopes for more of the same with the Z650 and on paper, it follows the same recipe, although its looks have a taken a step towards something more conventional.

If you’re a beginner rider, I can see this being a winner, like chicken for your evening meal. At £6,099, it’s priced about right. Against its Japanese competition, it costs the same as the Yamaha MT-07, which means it's £400 more than the Suzuki SV650 and Honda CB650F.

Book a test ride or go to a dealer for a spot of tyre kicking and I guarantee the first thing you’ll notice is how small the Z650 is. It’s short and narrow, weighs 187kg (19kg less than the ER6-n) and has a friendly-for-short-people seat height of 790mm – of the Japanese nakeds I've just mentioned, only the SV650’s 185mm high seat is lower.

In fact, the Z650 feels like it’s been made almost solely with new riders in mind, such is its diminutive stature. Get close to it, jump on and it’s plain to see that it’s intended to be completely unintimidating and easy to get to grips with, and that is exactly how it rides.

The view from the seat is of the tiny looking 15 litre tank, in front of which sits a compact but perfectly readable LCD instrument display that dishes out all the basic information you’d want at a glance, along with a shift light.

There’s barely any reach to the bars because they sit at just the right height and gently sweep back to meet the rider, adding to the feel that even the smallest of people will be able to dominate the Z650. Leg room was acceptable for me, but I’m not famed for my lengthy pins and I suspect that tall riders are likely to find it more cramped than sitting next to Mr Creosote on a Ryanair flight.

Overall, its ergonomics are neutral but sporty and providing you’re not freakishly tall, the Z650 is comfortable enough, even though the seat is a little too firm and not wide enough, even for my pert arse.

It’s almost hard to believe this is a middleweight machine. It feels physically closer to something like a KTM 390 Duke than competition from Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. Whether you should be bothered by the fact that the Z650 doesn’t have quite the same big bike feel as the MT and SV all depends on your stature, confidence and strength but if you’re looking to build your confidence on something that’s really manageable, the Z650 will be an excellent choice.

But the 69hp and 48.46lb/ft of torque on tap from the 649cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin engine put me in no doubt that I was in charge of something bigger than an A2 machine and that power comes from the same motor that you’ll find in the new Ninja 650.

Like the Ninja 650, the Z650 has good low end punch and an unthreatening dose of midrange grunt. It’s a friendly and accessible motor that means the Z650 holds its own in town and country. Smooth performance, no nasty surprises from the throttle or fuelling mean that it feels superbly suited to the new riders, downsizers and city dwellers. Find room for the motor to stretch its legs and rev out as you click up the smooth, slipper clutch-equipped gearbox and it quickly gets up to 60mph and tips its way over into triple digits, with the only fuss coming from the lack of wind protection.

With the digital rev counter reading 7,000rpm and above, the engine is still keenly driving forward to the 10,000rpm redline. It’s a capable but not particularly exciting engine and I’ve just done a fart that sounded better than the note from the exhaust. If you’re looking for entertainment, the MT-07’s parallel-twin bests the Z650 power plant and the SV’s V-twin is also more engaging.

On one 110-mile ride that took in everything from built up urban roads, dual carriageways and fast, empty country roads, the Z650 returned 52mpg – lower than Kawasaki’s stated consumption of 68.9mpg, but I wasn’t exactly being frugal, so there’s room for that figure to improve.

The brakes are a good match for the engine. The pair of Nissin two-piston sliding calipers and semi-floating 300mm petal discs have enough power to easily reign back speed and they come with decent feel through the adjustable lever, if not the most searing initial bite.

Still, the front stoppers will easily trouble the soft feeling 41mm non-adjustable conventional front fork. Although the front end is perfectly at ease with sedate speeds and town riding, its support starts to dwindle when the pace increases and it has to cope with more aggressive braking and changes of direction on faster stretches of road, or anywhere I was riding with a little more urgency.

It’s the same story with the preload adjustable back-link shock (the ER6’s side-mounted shock is gone and the Z650 also has a new swingarm). Driving out of corners, the Z650 can feel vague and mushy under acceleration. The rear shock is also prone to delivering a harsh time over lumps and bumps.

It’s a shame that the suspension isn’t firmer and more refined, but on a bike that costs a little over £6k, that’s the expectation and but unless you’re out caning it on every ride, you’re unlikely to upset the suspension too much. However, if it didn’t feel so soft, the Z650 would be a little scalpel because it’s so light and effortlessly manageable that when it comes to flicking it around, the handling comes almost telepathically. Better damped suspension would definitely give the Z650 so much more stability and confidence to exploit its light, nimble handling…

.. which really shines through in town. The Z650 is a razor-sharp recruit in the war against the rush hour because of its size and weight. It easily fits through the smallest of gaps and working through gridlocked roads feels like you’ve engaged cheat-mode – the light weight, top notch manageability and good balance means the Z650 really rules in nadgery, slow speed situations.

The Z650 is a really competent bike – agreeable, simple, flexible, well put together, with a good chassis, light handling and a good engine. It feels smaller than a middleweight bike should, isn’t as exciting as the MT-07 and doesn’t handle as well as the SV650, but the Z650’s dimensions, weight and easy-going nature are also its strength and anyone whose main criteria for a first big bike is something really friendly and manageable is likely to be well happy, innit.

Tested: Kawasaki Z650

Price: £6,099

Engine: 649cc liquid-cooled DOHC 8-valve parallel-twin

Power: 69hp at 8,000rpm

Torque: 48.46lb/ft at 6,500rpm

Frame: High tensile steel trellis

Suspension: Front – 41mm conventional fork / Rear – Horizontal back link shock with adjustable preload

Brakes: Front – Two dual-piston calipers, 300mm demi-floating petal discs / Rear  - Single-piston caliper and 220mm petal disc

Seat height: 790mm

Fuel capacity: 15 lites

Weight: 187kg

Colours: ‘Pearl Flat Stardust White / Metallic Spark Black’, ‘Metallic Raw Titanium / Metallic Spark Black’ and ‘Metallic Raw Titanium / Metallic Spark Black’

Availability: Now

Comments

Jamo 2's picture

... the under body exhaust. Why aren't the race bikes - the ZX-6R or 10R - like that?

I got the faired version a couple of months ago. Very happy with it, although the exhaust probably needs changing to something a bit fruitier and I'll put on a higher seat when Kawasaki make it available. It's diminutive size and light weight make it a doddle to drive in traffic - and I'm talking Jakarta traffic which is not for the faint hearted.

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