MotorbikesReviews

2020 Kawasaki Z H2

Kawasaki has taken its high-spec, high-performance H2 and made it available to the masses.

Less than a decade ago, the idea of a supercharged motorcycle from a major manufacturer seemed pretty fanciful. Sure, there had been supercharged bikes in the past, but these were confined to the dragstrip and salt flats, while the turbocharged era of the 1980s flared brightly but only briefly.

More recently, we’ve seen aftermarket kits and home-built concoctions for those that like their blowers on two wheels, along with a handful of supercharged specials from “manufacturers” you’ve never heard of that never seem to advance past the concept stage.

So, a blown production bike from a trusted brand all seemed a bit like the Holy Grail until Kawasaki dropped the H2 in 2014. Gamechanger? Yes. Mindblower? Absolutely!

In simple terms, the H2 is a litre-class sportsbike with a centrifugal supercharger attached, but that’s selling Kawasaki’s work short. Taking a supercharged motorcycle and making it a reliable and rideable production reality is the Holy Grail other manufacturers never found, so kudos to Kawasaki for having the courage and capability to see it through.

As good as the H2 is (and by all accounts it’s very, very good), it’s out of the reach of regular riders in terms of price and availability. The next great challenge was to bring a supercharged bike to the wider market. Fortunately, Kawasaki have made this dream a reality, too, with the recently-released Z H2.

Supercharged Super Naked

If you’re already a fan of Kawasaki’s ‘Z’ family of sports nakeds, you won’t need much persuading of the merits of a supercharged version being added to that family. But, for those that aren’t, maybe the Z H2 is the bike that changes your mind about nakeds.

Obviously, the supercharger is the main attraction with the Z H2, but it leads a supporting cast of features and rider-assistance tech that includes electronic throttle valves, electronic cruise control, a choice of four selectable riding modes, a quickshifter, intelligent ABS, cornering management function, three-way traction control, Bluetooth connectivity and a smartphone app that enables remote adjustment of the bike’s settings and enhances the functionality of the instruments.

The Z H2 is no Z1000 with a supercharger strapped to it, either. The inline four engine is of a different capacity for starters, at 998cc compared to 1043cc for the Z1000. Bore is slightly smaller at 76mm (77mm on the Z1000), with a shorter stroke, too – 55mm vs 56mm on the Z1000.

Another key difference is in the pistons, which are cast, not forged, to handle the extra heat generated by supercharging. Compression ratio is also different from the Z1000, along with other changes.

Despite the slightly smaller capacity, the difference the Kawasaki-developed supercharger makes to the engine is out of all proportion to its compact size. Listed maximums of 147.1kW at 11,000rpm and 137.0Nm at 8,500rpm are leagues ahead of the Z1000’s 105kW and 111Nm. 

The supercharger itself is a 69mm impeller, forged from a single block of aluminium for extra strength and CNC-machined for what Kawasaki says is high precision and high durability. It’s the obvious showpiece of the Z H2, but the supercharger is tucked behind the forward-canted engine. It’s painted red for contrast, but I thought Kawasaki would have made more of it in a visual sense.

Feeding air into the supercharger is a ram-air intake mounted on the nearside, with the mesh on the intake said to be pivotal in smoothing out airflow to the supercharger, rather than just serving as a bugcatcher.

The Z H2’s transmission is a familiar 6-speed, but has a dog-ring-style set-up, based on feedback from the Kawasaki Racing Team in World Superbikes. It comes with a slip/assist clutch as standard, as well as ‘KQS’, Kawasaki’s Quick Shifter that allows both up and down clutchless shifting.

As mentioned, there’s electronic control for just about everything on this bike, including traction control, launch control, cruise control and ABS. How well the Z H2’s electronic throttle control works is something I can’t really comment on until I ride it (that’s a hint, Kawasaki), but for those of us raised on mechanical response to twisting the wrist, I’m sure it takes a bit of getting used to.

To simplify all this tech, there are four riding modes. ‘Sport’ delivers all 147.1kW of supercharged grunt, while ‘Road’ cuts that by 25 per cent. ‘Rain’ cuts power by 50 per cent, with ABS and traction control (KRTC in Kwaka-speak) intervention inversely proportional to the power reduction. The fourth setting is ‘Rider’ which enables you to mix and match the various electronic settings and includes the ability to disengage traction control entirely.

Another note on the engine performance is that, buy all accounts, its very usable and docile in everydav riding. Supercharged engines conjure up ideas of machines that only perform in straight lines when they’re being absolutely thrashed. The Z H2 certainly has that capability, but Kawasaki says they wanted the power to be manageable, so the outright performance has been balanced with usability.

Spider, Showa and Brembo. And Nissin!

See the Z H2 stripped to its frame and its remarkable just how little frame there actually is. We should be used to seeing spindly trellis frames, a’la Ducati, but the simple framework holding the Z H2’s main elements together seems positively miniscule. To me, it looks like a spider’s web that’s missing a bunch of strands. There’s a coupe of reasons for that, apparently.

Firstly, a smaller, slimmer frame helps to dissipate the supercharged engine’s additional heat more effectively. Secondly, the mix of tube diameters is said to offer more flex (more than that on the faired H2 and H2R) to handle the power of the engine, while still allowing nimble handling. The frame is unique to the Z H2.

What little frame there is is hooked up to a twin-sided swingarm, instead of the single-sided units on the more exotic H2 and H2R, developed from the ZX-10RR race bike. Standard suspension consists of a Showa SFF-BP front end and Uni Trak monoshock rear. The 43mm fork offers full compression, rebound and preload adjustment, with the rear shock offering rebound and preload only.

Braking is a bit of mixed bag, but based closely on the H2 and ZX-10R. There’s radially-mounted Brembo M4.32 monobloc calipers on the dual 320mm front discs, but these are fed by a Nissin master cylinder. The back end is a single 260mm disc with Nissin caliper and master cylinder. Kawasaki’s Intelligent Anti-Lock Braking System (KIBS for short) is standard. Thanks to the Bosch IMU, ABS input is said to be smooth and reassuring, even when cornering.

Whole Lotta Acronyms

Read through the spec sheet of the Z H2 and you get bamboozled by all the acronyms Kawasaki has for their rider-assistance tech. There’s KTRC, KCMF, KLCM, KIBS and KQS. I’ve already covered a few of them, but the three-level traction control (KTRC), launch control (KLCM) and cornering management (KCMF) are the main ones. Part of what Kawasaki calls “next level electronics”, these are all controlled by a Bosch IMU that monitors inertia along 6 DOF (degrees of freedom). Acceleration along longitudinal, transverse and vertical axes are also measured, plus roll rate and pitch rate. Kawasaki says the additional feedback from the IMU gives a clearer real-time picture of chassis orientation over their own programming used in isolation. Against this, the yaw rate is calculated by the ECU using Kawasaki original software.

Feedback from the IMU enables KIBS to incorporate an additional function – corner braking management. Via the IMU, KCMF monitors engine and chassis parameters through the corner – from entry, apex, to corner exit – modulating brake force and engine power to enable the rider to follow their intended line.

The KIBS intelligent braking has already been mentioned, and apart from the obvious, also helps to suppress rear-end lift and kickback under heavy braking and also factors in back torque.

The KLCM launch control is pretty self-explanatory and works by limiting engine speed when the clutch is held in – even if the throttle is held wide open – to minimise wheelspin and keep the front end on the ground from launch. KLCM needs to be manually activated, but disengages automatically when you hit 150km/h or engage third gear.

The KQS quick shifter is similarly self-explanatory, but a note on this is that, while it does work on up and down shifting, it only operates above 2500rpm.

I’m surprised that Kawasaki don’t have an acronym for the riding modes, too, but I’m sure that will come!

Speaking of those riding modes, they’re accessed off the right switch block, but adjusted through the left switchblock. A ‘power mode’ is activated here, too, and essentially limits engine output to the same degrees as the riding modes do.

The up and down increments for the cruise control are accessed off the left-hand switchblock, too. Cruise control may be something of a new thing in the sportsbike and naked area, but I believe it’s one that’ll be embraced by riders – think how much easier those long highway sections down to Phillip Island will be on your right wrist!

Style and Vision

I’ve only got press images to base my opinions of the Z H2’s style on, but to me, it’s a visually stunning bike. There’s some clear lineage to the rest of the Z family, but enough difference there to make sure this model stands out in the naked lineup.

Design is said to be based on the Sugomi concept applied to the H2, with a predatory, animalistic stance. Like the H2, the Z H2 carries Kawasaki’s exclusive ‘river mark’ as well, while a nod to the rest of the Z range is in the ‘Z’ pattern tail light.

That ready-to-pounce stance belies a riding position that’s relatively upright, and more suitable for a naked than a sportsbike crouch. Seat height is 830mm and there’s 239kg of weight under you. While that sounds like a lot, remember you’ve got a supercharged engine to haul it.

The metallic green frame makes a statement amidst all that “darkness” on the engine and plastics, with details like the headlight styling and small instrument screen only apparent on closer observation.

Speaking of the instrument screen, it’s a TFT unit and appears to be as comprehensive as you’d want, with two basic differences in the display modes, but a whole lot of information on each. Some of that stuff is essential, like the speedo, tacho and fuel level. Some of it is handy, but not essential, like odometer, clock, tripmeter and remaining fuel range. Some of it is bordering on useless, like the current/average fuel consumption, IMU indicator, boost pressure, boost temp and Economical Riding Indicator. But one item on this display is just plain bizarre to me – the Outside Temperature. Outside Temperature? On a motorcycle? Really?

How visible the TFT display is can only be judged on the road (that’s another hint, Kawasaki!), but reports I’ve read suggest it works fine in all light conditions.

The TFT display is mounted above what Kawasaki calls a ‘fat-type’ handlebar that has an upright, wide spread.

Other notables in the Z H2 spec are the full LED lighting and smartphone connectivity.

Using Kawasaki’s ‘Rideology, the App’, you can monitor various bike features remotely, view and update GPS route info, set the TFT display to notify you of phone calls when you’re riding and adjust the instrument display. Using the app, you can also pre-set your riding mode and other electronic functions, like the KQS, while off the bike.

For now, the Z H2 is available in one colour combination – Metallic Spark Black with Metallic Graphite Grey and Mirror-Coated Spark Black accents. And, of course, the metallic green frame.

Everyday Hero?

In the current motorcycling market, there are plenty of machines that can be enjoyed on weekdays and unleashed on weekends, but few, I believe, would do it as uniquely as the Z H2.

At $23,000 (+ ORCs), the Z H2 is an attractive proposition, especially compared to the H2 that’s over the $40,000 mark.

I can’t wait to get my hands on a Z H2, and based on early feedback from Kawasaki dealers since its local rollout in June, I’m not alone.

Editor's Rating

Overall

2020 Kawasaki Z H2 – specifications

ENGINE

Type: DOHC, 16 valve, in-line 4-cylinder

Displacement: 998cc

Bore x Stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm

Compression Ratio: 11.2:1

Engine Start: Electric

Ignition: Digital

Intake: Kawasaki Supercharger

Induction: EFi

Cooling: Liquid

Max Power: 147.1kW @ 11,000rpm

Max Torque: 137.0Nm @ 8,500rpm

 

TRANSMISSION

Clutch: Wet, Multi Plate

Gearbox: 6-speed

Final Drive: Chain

 

CHASSIS

Frame: Trellis-type, high-tensile steel

Front Suspension: Showa 43mm USD telescopic fork – adjustable compression, rebound, preload – 120mm travel

Rear Suspension: Showa monoshock – adjustable rebound, preload – 134mm travel

Fr Wheel: 17-inch alloy

Rr Wheel: 17-inch alloy

Fr Tyre: 120/70 ZR17

Rr Tyre: 190/55 ZR17

Fr Brake: Twin 320mm discs, Brembo 4-piston calipers, ABS

Rr Brake: Single 260mm disc, Nissin 2-piston caliper, ABS

 

DIMENSIONS

LxWxH: 2085 x 810 x 1130mm

Wheelbase: 1455mm

Rake: 24.9 degrees

Trail: 104mm

Ground Clearance 140mm

Seat height: 830mm

Kerb Weight: 239kg

Fuel Capacity: 19.0lt

 

COLOURS: Metallic Spark Black

LAMS APPROVED: No

PRICE: $23,000 + ORCs (approx. $25,500 ride away)

WARRANTY: 2-Year / Unlimited km


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Fred Nailit
Fred Nailit
1 month ago

Would this be alright as a first bike to learn on

Alex Rae
Alex Rae
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred Nailit

Hi Fred, this is not a LAMS learner-approved bike, but this Kawasaki 650 is, and worth a read: https://practicalmotoring.com.au/motorbikes/reviews/kawasaki-ninja-650l-and-z650l-review/

Cheers

hardly joking
hardly joking
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred Nailit

sure its fine just get the speed governor removed first then full throttle everywhere best way to learn on these slow bikes

Phil Suriano

Phil Suriano