May 24, 2024


Automotive to Us

Kawasaki Z400: Street performer – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Saying the sub-500cc class of motorcycle is popular for both beginners and seasoned riders alike may be an understatement. But, there is undeniable bang for the buck in these rides for most anyone.

Sub-500s are important for the future of the sport since they both atrract new riders and keep experienced ones seeking lighter and easier rides. Original equipment manufacturers know this and provide lots of choices for folks looking to buy new or change up existing bikes. Entries like the Yamaha MT-03, Honda CB300R, Husqvarna Svartpilen and Vitpilen, KTM Duke 390 and others are all vying for sales share in a class that provides beaucoup value for the dollar.

Kawasaki is bolstering its place in the sub-500 jungle with the naked streetfighter-class Z400 for 2021 that they call the, “Agile Aggressor.” Basically derived from the track-inspired Ninja 400 — the Z400 shares the same proven steel trellis frame and square tube swingarm, but they’ve ditched the front fairing and windscreen, opening the cockpit ergonomics with new bars. The new ergos sit the rider more upright than its racer Ninja sibling. They also softened the suspension a bit on the ’21 Z400, claiming it rides smoother over crumbly urban asphalt.

The 8V vertical-twin 399cc engine is a water-cooled, twin-cammed easy-revver that has plenty of power for the urban commute. Protecting my spot in the slab cut-and-thrust was without muss. The motor’s fun zone is balanced toward the higher end of its rev band so the bike effortlessly flowed with the freeway crush if kept in the 7-9,000 rpm range. It will rev to the 12,000 redline with the balancer technology working to keep the vibes down to an acceptable level. However, the maximum 44 horsepower peaks at 10,000 revs and 28 foot-pounds of torque at 8,000 revs; there’s no reason to push it into the red.

The 8.5-foot turning radius, 31-inch seat height, and a flickable 36-pound curb weight, wet and ready, make city riding a cinch. Wide handlebars with a flattish bend provide a heads-up posture assuring good situational awareness. Foot peg placement for me was nicely neutral, neither too sporty nor too cruiser-ish.

Kawasaki Z400

The cable-operated assist/slipper clutch has a light pull plus a wide range of engagement making it easy to modulate. The front brake is a single 310 mm semi-floater with a petal-edged rotor gripped by a dual piston caliper. The rear stopper is a 220mm with dual pistons. Straight-line ABS helps prevent inadvertent ham-fisted application. Good stuff, all.

Heavy and aggressive brake use will show the inherent weaknesses, but upgraded pads popular with the Ninja 400 racers are available. If you’re heavy into canyon-carving, you will eventually pop for a change. Clutch and brake levers are adjustable for hand grip and size.

Front suspension is a nonadjustable 41mm telescopic design with 4.7 inches of travel. Rear is a five-position cam-ring adjuster providing 5 inches of cushion through a bottom-link Uni-Trak single shock. The suspension, clearly a budget choice, works well for the price point. But push it hard and the dollars not spent show up.

Transmission is a smooth-shifting six-speed with Positive Neutral Finder. PNF allows neutral to be selected easily at rest by shifting up from first gear. I found this only after repeatedly failing to engage neutral while rolling to a stop in second. Once I adapted, it’s a clever touch.

Instrumentation is by multifunction LCD screen with an analog sweep tach (I’m a big fan of analog, it’s easier to see at a glance), digital speed, gear indicator, dual trips, remaining range estimation, current/average consumption, coolant temp, clock and Eco Mode. All standard stuff these days.

The fuel tank holds 3.7 gallons of regular petrol. Figure, at 60-70 mpg, a range of 200 miles. I needed a walk-around anyway as the bike sits small for me.

City riding was fun. Handling is nearly effortless; the bike is nimble and light. Seventeen-inch die-cast aluminum wheels, Dunlop Sportmax rubber and a short wheelbase of 54 inches make the bike perfect for city maneuvering, parking and lane-sharing. Performance is peppy for a 400cc, provided revs are kept up in the mid-to higher range. Use the Eco Riding Indicator if max fuel mileage is your jam.

Quibbles? Very few. The seat, despite being plush, was narrow at the nose putting me up against the tank. It’s OK around town; but after lengthy seat time — not so much. But it’s not a deal breaker.

And, the mirrors. I don’t know why designers and engineers can’t provide better mirrors. Despite some adjustability, the outside reach was simply too narrow for my torso; my arms blocked rear vision without my undue contortion.

Freeway travel was acceptable for 400cc displacement architecture. Figure 7,000 revs in top gear running 70mph with some additional top-end throttle still available. Overall, performance in both city and freeway use was hard to beat for a machine at this price point.

Kawasaki accessories are available. See your dealer for frame sliders, pillion seat cowl, Akrapovic slip-on performance exhaust, tank bag, and lower engine cowl. The standard warranty is 12 months with further Kawasaki Protection Plus plans available for 12, 24 and 36 months.

For 2021, the Z400 ABS is available in Pearl Nightshade Teal / Metallic Flat Spark Black and Candy Cardinal Red / Metallic Flat Spark Black with an MSRP of $4,999. Adding freight, prep, doc fees, tax/license will put you out the door for $6,920. Check your local dealer for full details.

My Pearl Nightshade Teal was popular with my neighbors.

The Z400 is sure to attract interest from riders wanting fun at a good price.

Michaud is a San Diego-based motorcycle writer and restorer. Send email to [email protected].