The Kawasaki ZX-6R enters this year’s Supersport comparison defending a two-year winning streak. The middleweight Ninja took top honors in our track-only 2010 Modified Supersport Shootout as well as the 2009 Supersport Shootout. The 2009 victory came after a complete model refresh, but that comparison combined street impressions into an overall score – the ZX-6R earning the top spot in no small part from its prowess on the track. Unchanged for 2011, the Kawi isn’t so much a favorite as a strong contender in this street comparison, though Kawasaki did boost its chances by cutting MSRP down to a now class-leading $9999.
Power from the ZX-6R Inline-Four is notable for its smooth delivery. While peak torque output tied for lowest overall at 43.57 lb-ft, its peak horsepower of 107.22 vaulted to the top of the 600s and just 3.6 shy of the second-placed Triumph. The Kawi engine produces those ponies with the steadiest powerband of the comparison, sporting the flattest torque curve of the bunch. On the open road this makes for an unintimidating throttle delivery and smooth power application.
“The Kawasaki doles out nice and smooth power, which is surprising because usually 600 powerbands can be a little herky-jerky as far as nothing, nothing, nothing then wham full acceleration force,” observes our Road Test Editor, Waheed.
The engine’s steady characteristics, while pleasing to some testers, run in contrast to the raucous, slightly menacing ripsnorters we’ve come to associate with the Ninja moniker. This was a disappointment to Waheed, who notes: “While it had decent acceleration, I wasn’t as impressed by its character, or lack thereof. It didn’t wow me like the engines used in the other bikes. It’s still plenty fast and easy to ride but I wish it had more rumble or oomph in the character department.”
The Kawasaki ZX-6R returns to defend its two-year Supersport winning streak against three revamped contestants.
The engine’s mellower feel hurt the Kawasaki’s rankings in engine character, where it contrasts the playful personality of the Ducati and Triumph. The engine sound and exhaust tones in particular weren’t blowing up the skirts of our testers. Decibels at idle, 77, and half-redline, 95, were relatively low, but that’s not really the problem (in fact, it’s a positive trait in our scoring). It’s the exhaust tone itself that didn’t resonate, as bikes with even quieter readings, including the Honda and Triumph, made the Ninja sound bland.
“I hated the exhaust on this bike,” admits Simon. “I like to hear my bike and really listen to it when I’m riding. The ZX-6 was just way too quiet for my liking.”
Running a quarter-mile in 10.77 seconds the Ninja beat its Honda and Yamaha rivals. A 0-60 mark of 3.3 seconds bettered all its Japanese 600 rivals, including the Suzuki 600 by a mere 0.02. The Kawasaki six-speed transmission is typical Japanese smooth, with effortless clutch play that makes for an easy launcher. The ZX-6R also sports a slipper clutch, like the Suzuki and Yamaha, though our Road Test Editor felt it wasn’t calibrated as well for road use. Another foible of the driveline is bothersome bodywork near the gear shift pedal, which got in the way of our larger-footed test riders on occasion.
The Kawasaki’s 107.22 peak horsepower was the highest of the 599cc bikes, with the ZX-6R exhibiting the most potent top-end hit of the traditional Big Four entrants.
The Kawasaki brakes rated average by our test riders but actually tied with the Yamaha for second overall in 60 to zero stopping at 124 feet. Again, we’re dealing with more than capable braking components on all these SS rides – a consistent theme if you haven’t figured out thus far. On the street, we found nothing to complain about and the Kawi’s radial-mount four-piston Nissin components up front do a more than adequate job. It falls to our track comparison to determine high-performance issues like fade or razor-thin precision and feel, as heading into the corners on Palomar with a full head of steam we scrubbed speed with plenty of confidence and feel.
The ZX-6R is a capable handler too. This tester found it fell into a turn with authority and delivered solid feedback from the chassis, which includes a three-way adjustable 41mm Showa Big Piston fork up front and four-way adjustable shock out back. Other test riders couldn’t find much fault either, though the Kawasaki didn’t distinguish itself as a universally praised easy-to-ride mount quite like the class-leading Honda and just a step behind the GSX-R600.
It’s hard to find fault with the Kawasaki on the road, with a confident chassis and strong brakes. Like its Honda rider it does everything well and nothing poorly on the street.
“I really love the way the Kawi handles in the corners – it was really easy to toss around. But at 6’3” I felt pretty cramped on it, as it’s kind of on the small side,” said Simon, continuing, “Because it felt so small it made riding it uncomfortable for extended lengths of time.”
If there’s a knock on the Kwakker handling, it’s just that. Of the 600s, the ZX delivered the most compact riding position, a frustration for our larger test riders. We did our best examining rider triangles to discover a glaring reason for this compact feel, yet all the 600s measured virtually identical in dimensions between seat, pegs and handlebars. Instead subtle changes in the angle of the clip-on handlebars and 32.1 inch high seat seem to be the best rationale for the complaint.
If the riding position was on the small side, the instrumentation was well received by all. One particular quirk on the Kawi that we enjoyed was the large, easy-to-read tach. The left side display features a graduated rpm gauge, with the broad mid-and-top end sweet spot exaggerated by large green graphics between 8 to 16K. A gear position indicator was much appreciated as well, the digital speedo also easy to read.
“One thing I like about the Kawasaki is the mirrors,” notes Garcia. “You can actually see behind you, where on some of the other bikes they’re so far in you’re just looking at your elbows the whole time.”
The fact that styling is a fickle category subject to test rider whims is best exemplified by the Kawasaki: “The green color of the bike helps it stand out, so driving down the freeway everyone’s checking you out, all the ladies…” croons MCUSA pal and sometimes racer Frankie Garcia. Meanwhile Mr. Steeves proves the old beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder truism, saying. “For me the Kawasaki doesn’t really do it. I want that pull-up-to-a-stoplight chick appeal, and I don’t think the Kawi has it.”
Perhaps we’ve identified a new subjective category for our 2012 comparison, vis-a-vis random opinion polls of the fairer sex. We’ll look into it… That said, Frankie seems all alone in his evaluation of the ZX’s fashions – as it rated dead last in this year’s appearance rankings.
- $9999 MSRP lowest by far thanks to Kawasaki slashing the price
- Best top-end hit of the 600 class
- Instrumentation easy to read and informative
- Compact ergos for larger riders
- Styling didn’t resonate with our
The ZX-6R’s 34.2 mpg fuel efficiency and 154.1-mile range are good for third-best overall, as is the 423-pound curb weight (included full 4.5-gallon tank). One area it won’t be beat is in pricing, as the aforementioned $9999 MSRP is almost $700 less than the second-best Yamaha. It makes us pine for those days, not too long ago, when all four 600s were below that five-figure marker… C’est la vie.
Add things up and the Ninja ranks fifth overall in our street comparison. It’s a fair bit adrift of the street-friendly Honda, but far ahead of the last-ranked Yamaha. In spite of the result, the two-time defending champ didn’t go backwards so much as it faced three improved challengers in the Suzuki 600, Triumph and Ducati. The Kawasaki also wasn’t able to bolster its mid-pack street credentials with the class-leading track proficiency it exhibited in 2009 comparison (which combined street and track ratings for an overall score). That said, Kawasaki delivers a more than competent street shredder. If the Ninja’s lines please, its tempting price tag certainly won’t dissuade riders from taking the Team Green plunge.
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