2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX
Editor Score: 91.75%
Thumb the starter on Kawasaki’s new Ninja H2 SX and its supercharged 998cc inline-Four springs to life with alacrity. At idle it sounds pretty much like any other sportbike, but even the slightest blip of the throttle sends the revs soaring and introduces an added layer of mechanical sounds, a whirring rushing noise as the gear-driven supercharger accelerates 9.2 times quicker than the engine via 1.15x stepper and 8x planetary gears in its crankshaft-driven drivetrain.
There is a lot going on down there, but it sure seems to work. Motorcycle.com discovered this first-hand when we were given an exclusive opportunity to conduct this 2018 Ninja H2 SX Review – First Ride!, shortly before Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (KMC) announced the H2 SX was even coming to America
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There is actually quite a lot going on everywhere around a 2018 Ninja H2 SX: a new frame, new subframe, new swingarm, new seats, new bodywork, new advanced electronics suite and engine tuning. It is, of course, based on Kawasaki’s over-the-top Ninja H2 hyperbike, but the new SX has been targeted at a more realistic overall mission, blending ultra-performance with sport-touring practicalities. To that end, Kawasaki stretched the H2’s wheelbase by about an inch and slightly increased fork rake to promote high-speed stability and freeway comfort, but they also increased the available steering lock by a whopping 30 degrees to boost its parking lot maneuverability and reduce the chance of an embarrassing tip-over while carrying your date on its new passenger seat. But enough about the details, there is plenty of that stuff in our EICMA coverage of the bike, this story is about what it’s like to actually ride the thing.
The news is good. It only took about 30 seconds to determine that Kawasaki has fixed our number one complaint with the original H2, as the new H2 SX cleanly accelerated out of KMC’s parking lot and onto the streets rather than lurching abruptly like the older H2 would. The revs rise with alacrity, and the clutch engagement is way out there near the end of the lever’s travel. So, my first few starts were accompanied by plenty of extra revs, but the bike pulled-away smoothly, letting its new character really shine through. Gone are the H2’s abrupt and sometimes snatchy off-to-on throttle transitions. Instead, the new H2 SX feels like someone spent about a decade with a file, smoothing and blending all of the original H2’s rough edges into a refined machine with silky responses.
My (terrible) helmet cam caught a lot of positive comments from me because just about every element of the new bike seems worthy of praise. Its throttle response is quick but not abrupt, its dog-ring gearbox is tight and positive shifting, its suspension is compliant but not sloppy, its seat and riding position feel sporting and comfortable, its new switchgear is easy to use while navigating the various screens in its gorgeous new full-color TFT display (a feature on SE versions, standard H2 SXs only get a monochrome LCD display), and its around-town handling is light and neutral. To put it simply, the H2 SX makes a very positive first impression in real-world street situations.
The road got empty and twisty for the last couple of miles before our first stop at a park to shoot the opening video stand-up, so I accidentally gave the Ninja H2 SX a bit of extra throttle and may also have forgot to brake so much for the corners. As the pace elevated, the helmet cam began to get overwhelmed by winds noise while I excitedly noted that the new “H2 SX makes a Concours14 feel like a pig.” and then pontificated that “this might be the Goldilocks bike for sport-minded sport-touring buyers.”
It might be, indeed. Kawasaki’s most recent sport-touring efforts never really offered that elusive blend of a real superbike with added comfort and luggage capacity. Both the Concours14 and the Ninja 1000 (with optional bags) offered sport-touring chops, big and semi-luxurious for the Concours14, more simple and sporting for the Ninja 1000, but neither of those bikes offered anything close to superbike performance. Even the big Concours14 lacked some essential sport-touring features. The SE version of the Ninja H2 SX that we rode seemed to offer exactly what its Kawasaki siblings lacked, with top of the line touring amenities like the bright new TFT display (with trip computer), cruise control, and heated grips coupled to better handling, lighter weight and more acceleration. Like I said, Goldilocks.
Let’s circle-back to that acceleration. Following our video stand-up at the park, Evans Brasfield, JD, a visiting video producer from Arizona, a couple of Kawasaki chaperones and I all made our way to a freeway somewhere down in Mexico. Once there, I was able to make some high-speed fly-bys for the video. To accomplish this we had Evans drive the camera truck (green 4-Runner in the video) while the video guy filmed out of the open back window. We pre-coordinated that they would accelerate to a steady 80 mph in the left lane of the mostly deserted Mexican autobahn, while I hung back for a few seconds before taking a run past them. It didn’t take long! As I approached the camera truck a few seconds later and began my sweep over to the right lane for the fly-by, I tried to shift the Ninja H2 SX into a non-existent seventh gear…. because the one I was already in was quickly running out of revs as the bike leaned over onto the right sides of its tires. Folks it was impressively fast, beyond fast, but with absolutely zero drama. This bike was made for autobahns, but be aware: The H2 SX is so drama-free that its acceleration is truly deceptive… maybe it’s the supercharger masking the angry intake howl, or the smooth compliance of its suspension, but this thing makes crazy speed feel perfectly sane.
Back to sanity, the H2 SX isn’t as quick and doesn’t have the top-end lunge of an H2 at full-song, but it is supremely usable everywhere in the powerband and delivers abundant thrust in an easily accessible manner. It’s either a civilized superbike engine or a fire-breathing sport-touring powerplant, and those are two great options for a motorcycle like this one. Its gearbox quickly swaps ratios with a nice positive feel at the lever. Its quickshifter (standard on the SE model) works seamlessly and doesn’t cause annoying pauses in acceleration unlike some other units. The quickshifter even allows the rider to manually blip and clutchless shift on their own without messing up the programming, simply disappearing into the background when the rider feels like doing it for themselves, which is nice.
The rest of the electronics impressed on our test ride as well. The 5-axis Bosch IMU integrates with a proprietary Kawasaki sixth-axis measurement to inform the cornering ABS and traction control systems as well as Kawasaki’s engine brake control, anti-wheelie, and launch control systems. It all seems to work, seamlessly fading into the background while we got down to the business of exploring the bike’s dynamic limits. At no point did I get the impression they were holding me back, which is something I can’t say for many of the systems on the market today. A safety net that is there but not noticable is precisely the kind of safety this rider prefers.
From an outright handling-oriented perspective, the new H2 SX offers a very pleasant and solid feeling combination of calm stability with light steering and a clear willingness to attack apexes up to the limits of its ground clearance. That impression is magnified by the refined throttle that allows precise adjustments with very smooth transitions into and out of the power. It’s a very rideable motorcycle, willing to do whatever the rider asks without any drama. Its somewhat relaxed peg position results in the feelers scraping a bit earlier that I would like, but to be fair I’m 2F (fat and fast), and the Ninja H2 SX still gets down a twisty road with a quickness and authority most other sport-tourers couldn’t hope to match.
It also makes crazy passengers feel perfectly comfortable. Crazy in this instance refers to crazy-large. Kawasaki really didn’t want any images of us riding two-up, because I’m about 240 lbs, and my passenger, Evans, is about 195. Our heights average to over 6-feet tall, and we’re about as aesthetically appealing to look at as a dumpster fire, so we really can’t blame Kawasaki for the no-photos request.
Nevertheless, we did ride the new Ninja H2 SX two-up for about 20 miles down a twisty highway as we rushed back to KMC at the end of our brief 2-hour loan window. As the rider I can confirm that even with more than 450 lbs of combined payload, the H2 SX still handled itself with composure. Aside from being extra smooth with the throttle and brakes, I rode the SX down the mountain a lot like I had ridden-up it when solo, somewhat in excess of the speed limits. There was one particularly noticeable dip in the asphalt that did cause the H2 SX to bottom its rear shock, but it didn’t cause a problem as the bump-stop, like every other part on the H2 SX, did its job in a refined and comfortable manner. Pretty much every other bike would also have bottomed-out at that spot and speed with this rider and passenger aboard, so the bottoming was our fault, not the Kawasaki’s.
Comfort-wise, having a large passenger did not create any boot, leg, butt, or helmet interference for this rider, but it would be a fair observation to note that H2 SXs do have a riding position that falls on the sporty end of sport-touring, so the rider leans away from the passenger a bit more than on more-upright machines, helping to create some space in an otherwise close relationship.
So the rider was good, but what about the passenger? Evans says,“I was surprised by how comfortable I was on the H2 SX’s pillion. The legroom was not as cramped as I expected. In fact, I could easily see my 32-inch inseam being able to fold up for a 90-minute stint. The seat itself was firm but well-shaped, with nothing leading me to think that it would get overly uncomfortable on a longer ride. Additionally, my feet didn’t interfere with Sean’s legs – even when I hooked my heels on the pegs during the more sporting sections of the ride. My riding position was comfortably upright for the straight portions of road, but I didn’t feel like I was lying on top of Sean when we hunkered down for some peg-scraping.” That’s a thumbs-up for what is surely going to be the H2 SX’s prime role of fast two-up sport touring, especially if you swap-out manly Evans for a somewhat more svelte significant other, as I intend to do ASAP.
What about the bags?
Although they weren’t available in time for our exclusive first-ever test ride on the new Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX, Kawasaki does offer an accessory set of quick-release color-matched 28-liter hard bags that appear to cleanly integrate with its new subframe. We liked the single-key accessory bags on the 2017 Ninja 1000, and these appear to be similar and looked attractive when we saw them on the SX at EICMA. We can’t wait to try them once they are available.
Not many. We can’t figure out why on earth Kawasaki would chose not to include a helmet lock on a sport-touring bike that doesn’t come standard with bags, although they do offer an accessory helmet lock. So, that’s a bit strange, but somewhat more troubling on our pleasant but admittedly aggressive 70-degree test ride was the presence of noticeable heat around our right shin and boot. It wasn’t hot, per se, and would even be much appreciated on any really cold riding days, but the thought of sitting in traffic in 100-degree weather does raise some concern about what that’s going to feel like. To be fair, it is definitely a lot better than some bikes with excessive heat hitting their rider (I’m looking at you Ducati) and was never actually unpleasant on our brief test ride.
My biggest gripe, however, is a purely subjective one: I find her to be very attractive from the neck down, but her face appears to be the victim of an unfortunate parachuting accident over the ugly forest. The new fairing works well and provides effective wind protection, but its nose and intakes are, to my eyes, garish and gratuitously bold. Perhaps her inner beauty will shine through, but first impressions also count.
From its perfectly reasonable $19,000 base MSRP, to its well-equipped $22,000 SE version, the new 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX and H2 SX SE are well-positioned to dominate the sharp end of the sport-touring market. For our money, the H2 SX SE which we rode for this story is the one to buy. The SE’s fit and finish are spectacular, with deep and complex paint over machined-face aluminum wheels serving as window-dressing to its unique (and large) LED cornering lights, larger windscreen, bright full-color TFT display, steel braided brake lines, heated grips, quickshifter, launch control and centerstand. We didn’t get to sample the base bike, but we like everything the SE version adds for the extra three grand, even if we also think Kawasaki should have included the optional saddlebags for that price.
This is just a first impression from a brief special test ride, but we’re mightily impressed so far. The Ninja H2 SX seems to solve the original H2’s most glaring flaw while adding a ton of refinement, usability and comfort to the mix without becoming a boat.
I worked for Kawasaki from 2006 through 2013, and I’ve ridden every new Kawasaki as a magazine test rider or employee since the early 2000s, but I really don’t drink Kawasaki’s Kool Aide or hold any special loyalty to the brand. Heck, most of my favorite bikes are Italian or English. That said, Kawasaki prides itself on being somewhat rough and in your face, but the new Ninja H2 SX is admirably refined and feels like it’s hewn from a single block of exotic metal. In fact, it is probably the best motorcycle Kawasaki has ever made.
Highlights of the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX Key Features:
- Re-tuned (from the H2) 998cc four-cylinder supercharged engine produces less heat with better everyday usability and fuel efficiency
- Redesigned (from the H2) passenger friendly trellis frame and longer wheelbase
- Re-tuned (from the H2) suspension for additional comfort and load capacity
- New subframe with passenger accommodations and convenient KQR® luggage mounting
- New full fairing bodywork
- Electronic cruise control for improved comfort on long distance rides
- Comfort designed seats
- All-LED Lighting: headlamp, taillight, and license plate light
- High-class instrumentation bank
- Full suite of electronic rider assist functions
2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE (adds)
- LED cornering Lights
- New large multi-function TFT color LCD display
- Larger windscreen
- Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM)
- Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS) (up and down)
- Steel braided brake lines
- Heated grips
|2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX Specifications|
|Engine Type||4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve, liquid-cooled, supercharged|
|Bore x Stroke||76.0 x 55.0mm|
|Fuel System||DFI with 40mm throttle bodies (4) with dual injection|
|Transmission||6-speed, return, dog-ring|
|Final Drive||Sealed chain|
|Electronic Rider Aids||Ninja H2 SX: Kawasaki Corner Management Function (KCMF), Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS), Kawasaki Engine Brake Control, Öhlins Electronic Steering Damper
Ninja H2 SX SE also receives: Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM), Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS) (upshift & downshift), Cruise Control, LED Corning Lights
|Front Suspension||43mm inverted fork with rebound and compression damping, spring preload adjustability and top-out springs, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||New Uni-Trak, gas charged shock with piggyback reservoir, compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability, and top-out spring, 5.5 in. travel|
|Front Tire||120/70 ZR17 (58W)|
|Rear Tire||190/55 ZR17 (75W)|
|Front Brakes||Dual radial-mount, opposed 4-piston monobloc calipers, dual semi-floating 320mm discs, KIBS ABS|
|Rear Brakes||Opposed 2-piston calipers, single 250mm disc, KIBS ABS|
|Frame Type||Trellis, high-tensile steel, with swingarm mounting plate|
|Overall Length||84.1 in|
|Overall Width||30.5 in|
|Overall Height||Ninja H2 SX: 47.4 in
Ninja H2 SX SE: 49.6 in.
|Ground Clearance||5.1 in|
|Seat Height||32.9 in|
|Curb Weight||Ninja H2 SX: 564.5 lb (claimed)
Ninja H2 SX SE: 573.3 lb (claimed)
|Fuel Capacity||5.0 gal|
|Color Choices||Ninja H2 SX: Metallic Carbon Gray/Metallic Matte Carbon Gray
Ninja H2 SX SE: Emerald Blazed Green/Metallic Diablo Black
|Warranty||12 Month Limited Warranty
Kawasaki Protection Plus (optional): 12, 24, 36 or 48 months