Entering this fight the Kawasaki ZX-14 would have to deal with a revitalized Busa and revamp its motor to meet stricter emissions and sound regulations.
2008 Kawasaki ZX-14
Like any challenger that knocks off the champ, the Kawasaki ZX-14 must have known that Suzuki would be out for blood. Entering this fight the Kawasaki would have both the privilege and pressure of holding its top position with only minimal changes to the spec sheet.
Even though the Suzuki gets a slim nod by our testers in the engine department, the Kawasaki motor is a beautiful thing. A dangerous beauty, as the potent 16-valve Inline-Four can get you in trouble just as easy as the Busa mill. Although overall power numbers fell from ’06, the big Ninja still crested 160 horsepower and matched its torque figures. The 7.4-horsepower drop from ’06 can in part be explained by our dyno, which tends to be more modest in its power numbers. That said, the internal tweaks to meet Euro III emissions and sound regs, which include the addition of a third exhaust catalyzer, must have played a part as well.
The new ZX does produce power earlier in the powerband compared to its predecessor. In doing so, the ZX-14 answered our ’06 criticism that it was too neutered on the bottom end.
So while it was deemed the ZX pulls arms out of sockets at a slightly less aggressive rate than the hairball Hayabusa, there’s a lot to like about the Kawasaki motor. In particular, we loved the Kawasaki’s responsive throttle – a necessity for a machine putting out over a cavalry regiment’s worth of horsepower.
“Throttle response is extremely crisp and precise on the ZX,” recalls Adam. “The ZX throttle feels like it has a direct connection to the engine, which really makes riding it fun at any speed.”
While the clutch pull on the Busa feels lighter, the engagement on the Kawasaki is flawless and the transmission is more precise. The ZX rolls through the gears lickety-split, one reason why the ZX was a bit easier to run at the dragstrip. Downshifts are effortless on the street, even lacking a slipper clutch – although we admit a day at the track may have changed our minds in this regard.
The brakes on the two machines left us split. While the Busa’s initial bite was better, the Kawi’s radial-mount four-piston Nissin units were up to the task, with the rear stopper deemed superior. Although they get the job done, they aren’t the “clear-cut favorite” they were back in 2006.
Although it lost its dominance over the Busa, the 2008 ZX-14 does make good on its promise of better power on the lower end of the powerband.
Even though its 160-plus horsepower motor will no doubt drive sales, the real feather in the Ninja’s cap, and the distinguishing characteristic from the Busa, is its comfort. Yes, it sacrifices some handling, but the ZX-14 sports more comfortable and forgiving ergos. Although the two seats are similar, with near identical seat heights (31.5 Kawasaki, 31.7 Suzuki), the difference is in the riding position.
A rider on the ZX is not pitched as far forward. The handlebars are placed higher and footpegs feel lower than those on the Suzuki. Not that a rider will mistake the position of the ZX-14 for its Concours 14 touring sibling. A rider will still be shaking out sore wrists at riding stops, but not like their Busa-riding buddy.
Rider protection behind the windscreen and fairing is better on the Kawasaki, although the Suzuki delivers decent protection as well. At 31.7 inches wide the Suzuki is 1.8-inch wider, but the body of the Kawasaki behind the fairing is slimmer, increasing the fairing’s effectiveness. One side note on the Kawasaki is the heat blowing off the engine. Believe us when we say that we didn’t mind it during our 27-degree winter ride, but if we had held this test during triple-digit mid-July, we’d be bitching.
Now, even though we have lauded the Busa as the better handler at speed, the ZX-14 ain’t exactly a schlub. The Kawi’s more aggressive steering geometry and lighter weight make it more than capable in the corners. One test rider did express a lack of confidence in the front end, compared to Suzuki, with the Busa delivering a more planted feel up front.
The Kawi’s fully-adjustable 41mm fork and Bottom-Link Uni-Trak rear shock deliver serious stability, though neither of the bike’s suspension units outshine the other. As we already mention, at lower speeds the Kawasaki is the easier machine to handle. That said, unless you’re feathering the clutch in first gear, there is no such thing as lower speeds on these bikes.
From behind the controls, most riders preferred the ZX instrumentation. It may be a matter of personal taste, but the all-analog configuration of circular dials on the Suzuki dash was not as clean as the analog tach and speedo framing the LED display screen on the ZX-14. The larger dials with white background on the Kawi are easier to read, but we did have one gripe about the ZX display, as we could use a handlebar button to shuffle through available info, rather than having to release our grip and poke around on the instrument console. Both bikes possess gear position indicators.
Fit and finish on both machines is top notch. In some aspects, the Suzuki was superior, like its stock steering damper, but the Kawi’s overall package is bit more polished. It was little things, like the tidy switchgear and significantly better mirrors.
With a 160-horsepower engine underneath, ZX-14 owners should not be disappointed with the Kaw’s power output.
“The Busa’s hydraulic clutch and brake master cylinders aren’t radial-style, so they look of lesser quality than the ZX’s,” opines Waheed. “The clutch and brake position adjustments also seemed to be designed for riders with extremely large hands. I had to have the lever adjustment all the way closest to the handlebar.”
Appearance divided our testers. Some preferred the distinctive bug-eyed front end of the Kawi, while others dug the humpbacked Suzuki. On the whole, the Suzuki tends to polarize opinions.
“One of the subtle changes that help push the Hayabusa ahead of the ZX in my eyes are the changes to the bodywork,” explains the pro-Busa Hutchison. “The new look does not stray too far from the original at first glance. Instead, it is the evolution of the Busa. Its bulging bodywork, muscular stance, new tail section and massive dual exhaust is more appealing to me now than it was before.”
“Overall, I never cared for the original Busa’s styling cues,” argues Adam. “The new model continues with the original Busa theme, but with a new modern twist, but it still doesn’t appeal to me as much as the ZX.”
As far as value is concerned, the two bikes run side by side. The ZX-14 is $300 cheaper, but the advantage is offset by the Suzuki inclusion of OEM stabilizer and slipper clutch. The special-edition flames on flat-black paint scheme on our test Kawasaki brings the price up to dead even with the Hayabusa. But, like so many other things on these two mounts, it’s a wash as to which is better. And so this leads us to the most difficult part of any comparison test – picking a winner
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