The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-10R is the only machine in this shootout that comes in to the fray without a single update or revision. That being said it was an all-new bike last year and finished on the podium right off the bat. Our test riders gave it high marks for its electronics package, smooth power and strong brakes. Usually if you’re not moving forward in the superbike game then you’re gong backwards. Can the $13,999 2012 ZX turn that wisdom on its ear, or will its all-new and refined competitors gain the advantage?
Sizing up the ZX-10R, its small proportions look more like a 600cc supersport than a literbike. From any angle it looks to be on a smaller scale than the rest of the Japanese Superbike offerings and even to some of the European machines. Throw a leg over the ZX, however, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the real estate behind the clip-ons. The reach to the bars is comfortable and not too much pressure is put on the wrist. Two-position footpegs allow for a little more legroom if needed, but our crew felt the high setting gave us more than enough room and rated the Kawasaki fourth in comfort.
The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-10R’s traction control and engine power modes are easy to change on the fly and works well.
“The Kawasaki felt pretty stretched out; it was roomy,” says our more experienced lady tester, Lori Dell. “It was sporty, but was comfortable, kind of the best of both worlds. It lets you ride fast and long.”
In the rider interface and instrumentation areas the ZX-10R ranked third thanks to its nicely laid out controls. Everything is where you would expect it to be and the levers and switchgear fit the rider’s hands nicely.
“The ZX had a great instrument panel and controls; I really like the up/down toggle for power and TC modes,” comments Leah. “I loved the mirrors, you could actually see out of them.”
The dash of the ZX-10R is one of the best in the class, mainly because of the bright and easy to read tachometer. The slightest glance lets you know right where you are in the rev range. All the pertinent info is easy to find, but the LCD screen just isn’t as flashy as the Ducati’s multicolored screen. Switching through the power and traction control modes is easy with the rocker stitch on the left handlebar and the LCD screen communicates clearly the changes. There is no misunderstanding if you are in full, medium or low power and what level of TC is selected.
Kawasaki’s traction control is silky smooth and intervenes on your behalf seamlessly. On the street unless you are riding at completely insane pace that would likely get you some time behind bars, you will never butt up against the limits of Setting 1. However, Level 3 is noticeable on the street when dashing through the twisties, and will allow the bike to track through the corner like it should even with the most aggressive throttle application.
On the dyno the Kawasaki has lost its rating as the second most powerful bike on the block now that the Panigale has been introduced. Even so, the ZX-10R wasn’t far behind producing 162.96 horsepower and 74.78 lb-ft of torque. The Team Green machine also lost its title as the lightest in class, but still comes in at svelte 439 pounds with a full tank of fuel.
Out on our quick and dirty test strip the best the ZX-10R could muster was an 11.26 second quarter mile at 140.1 mph. That’s a mid-pack performance, as was the 0-60 time at 3.826 seconds. Bear in mind if we were on a proper dragstrip these
The 2012 Kawsaki ZX-10R feels larger than it looks, but it offers plenty of room for the rider to move around.
numbers would be lower, but we wanted to replicate the conditions that are more commonly found on your local highways and byways.
Just as important as the hard data is the opinions of our test riders, and our testers ranked the ZX’s engine power near the back of the pack. It’s amazing how quickly we adjust to new levels of power, and anything that isn’t ludicrous fast like the BMW is considered slow by comparison. The power delivery from the Kawasaki is so linear and smooth that the power feeling is deceiving. Additionally the exhaust is one of the quietest and that further bolsters the impression that the bike is less powerful than it really is.
Leah Petersen sums it up succinctly, “The ZX-10R is fast, there is no doubt about it, but it just doesn’t have one of the most exciting powerbands.”
In the handling and suspension categories the Kawasaki rated smack dab in the middle. On the freeway the suspension is firm yet not so much that it beats you into submission on the way to your favorite piece of road. It is just taut enough to remind you what its true purpose is. Once on the mountain roads the Showa Big-Piston fork and horizontal Showa shock keep things under control when the heat is turned up. The balance between the front and rear is excellent and most pavement irregularities don’t upset the chassis mid-corner. Turn-in effort is light and it changes direction with ease. It’s not a sharp-edged as some of the racier mounts such as the Aprilia, BMW and Ducati and the scores reflected that simple fact.
The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-10R’s engine is the third most powerful in the test with a linear delivery that tops out at a rider-friendly, 162 horsepower. The Ninja is deceptively fast.
“The Ninja is a better street bike than ever before. It truly does handle well and offers great ride quality too,” so says our Road Test Editor Adam Waheed. “It won’t beat you up over the course of a long ride either. My only real complaint is that it feels wider than it looks and doesn’t seem to dominate in the corners.”
Pull back on the right lever and you are rewarded with a very crisp feeling set of front stoppers. The initial bite is one of the most aggressive and was regarded highly by those of us who like an immediate grip on the rotors. While the feel was excellent, power on the whole was not as impressive as the response time. That lack of outright power kept it from ranking at the pinnacle of the braking category.
“The feel and comfort were really good,” comments street-maniac Ernie Vigil. “But the actual stopping response wasn’t that impressive. I was expecting a little more power wise from the ZX’s brakes.”
For 2012 the ZX-10R has been forcefully removed from the podium by the introduction of the all-new Panigale and a not so surprising return to grace by a former benchmark of the 1000cc class. In just 12 months the game can change, and progression marches on. The Kawasaki was caught catching its breath when some of the other manufacturers broke into a sprint. As the same bike that finished third last year, the ZX-10R is an excellent all-round sportbike, but some of the 2011’s newness has worn off. Despite finishing in a tie for fifth place it’s just a few revisions away from contending once again. The Kawasaki’s fortune may change, however, in the track portion of the testing.
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