Speedy and supple: It's MCN's best sports tourer motorcycles of 2023

Kawasaki have been left to fly the sports tourer flag alone in recent times, as adventure-style bikes have become the new allrounders and the £12,349 Ninja 1000SX has been the only choice for those who want a low, long, road bike-shaped way to enjoy big, sporty miles.

Best sports tourers: Kawasaki Ninja Z1000SX vs Suzuki GSX-S1000GT

Best sports tourers of 2023: 

BMW have the R1250RS, of course, and we pitched it against the Kawasaki around our old MCN250 in 2019. The German was the more characterful of the two, but it doesn’t have the same kind of mass appeal as the SX. It’s more expensive, too, especially when you start ticking options boxes.

Best sports tourers: Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX vs Suzuki GSX-S1000GT on the road together

Kawasaki’s SX has been around since 2011 and is quite rightly their biggest UK seller. Then called the Z1000SX, it was basically a Z1000 super-naked with added wind protection and comfort, but it also ticked the ‘sports’ box with a strong 138bhp, 1043cc inline four, radial brakes, quad exhaust cans and adjustable suspension.

In 2014 it got beefier Tokico calipers and uprated suspension and in 2017 was facelifted with added lean-sensitive rider aids, chassis tweaks and minor engine mods (check out MCN’s online reviews for the full lowdown).

Fast-forward and we have the Ninja 1000SX you see here with sharper steering geometry, superb Bridgestone S22 sports-touring tyres, an up/down quickshifter, colour TFT, cruise control, modes, a plusher seat, new exhaust and mapping to deliver a claimed 140bhp.

What are these sports tourers like on the road?

Our MCN250 B-road and motorway loops let the Kawasaki shine, even in the gloom of a frosty January day. It’s a genuinely exciting sportsbike when you want it to be, thanks to the easy grunt and turbine-smooth urgency of its bigcube engine and it flows through corners beautifully.

Its S22 tyres are grippy, even on cold tarmac, steering is direct, high-speed stability is excellent and the brakes are powerful.

Who needs a ZX-10R when the 1000SX is this good?

Spending all day on the Kawasaki isn’t a chore, either. Despite looking like a sportsbike and having relatively high pegs, it’s genuinely comfortable, even for a six-footer like me with battle-scarred joints.

With its sleek aerodynamics, wind noise is significantly lower than a ‘tall-rounder’, too, which is quite literally music to my ears. I spent time on a Yamaha Tracer 9 GT before this test and the racket it makes from its upright screen at motorway speeds borders on the offensive.

Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX clocks

The Ninja’s screen is two-way adjustable and a remote rear preload adjuster knob makes carrying pillions easy. Our bike is the Ninja 1000SX Performance Tourer edition, costing an extra £2300 with niceties like a carbon Akrapovic can, crash protection, pillion seat cover, tank pad and touring items such as heated grips, panniers and a taller screen.

But for 2023, the Kawasaki gets its first proper competition and it’s clear Suzuki are after a slice of the action with the new £12,499 GSX-S1000GT (in February 2023).

The two are remarkably similar, even down to the price, give or take, and it’s also powered by a gutsy inline four pictured below, this time derived from the GSX-R1000K5. It makes slightly more power than the Kawasaki (150bhp v 140bhp), but being fractionally smaller (999cc) it has slightly less torque: 78lb.ft v 82lb.ft. It’s also lighter, to the tune of 9kg.

Suzuki GSX-S1000GT engine

Given the engine’s history, you won’t be surprised to learn the GT is the racier of the two. It has a raspier exhaust note and despite having a beautifully wide spread of power and perfect fuelling when you pick up the throttle, the motor has a rawness which will appeal to those who like a bit of zing from their sports tourer.

Being lighter and more powerful than the SX, the GT will be the more sprightly of the pair on hot tarmac, but for normal riding the Kawasaki’s engine is calmer and more refined.

You’re often reaching for an elusive seventh cog on the Suzuki, where the Kawasaki’s gearing is perfectly judged for more relaxed riding, revving at 4400rpm @70mph in top, 500rpm lower than the GT.

The GT’s slightly more frantic nature is something you notice after jumping off the Kawasaki with its extra cubes and peak torque, made 1250rpm further down the revs. But in isolation the Suzuki’s engine perfectly suits life in its sports touring clothes and as we discovered at its launch last year, the good stuff keeps on coming.

Suzuki GSX-S1000GT with a pillion

Its gearbox and up/down shifter are slick, it has a handy cruise control, a bright and bold dash that links to your phone for satnav (absent on the Kawasaki) and it’s just as comfortable as the Kawasaki over distance.

Where the SX’s bars and tank are slim the GT is wider with higher, straighter bars, which will suit larger riders. It also has power modes, traction control and ABS, but they aren’t lean-sensitive.

Handling is as crisp as you’d expect but the suspension isn’t as plush as the Kawasaki’s and it runs on budget Dunlop Roadsport 2 rubber. Fitting latest-generation sports or sports touring rubber would make an immediate improvement.

The Suzuki stops as well as the Kawasaki, but there’s little feel through the lever, which takes away some of the enjoyment. It’s also lacking a couple of touring fundamentals. Like the SX there’s no centrestand and the low screen isn’t adjustable (a taller accessory version is available).

Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX cornering on the road

You’ll have to skin your knuckles with a C-spanner to adjust the rear preload for a pillion, too. Talking of pillions, we took our 22-year-old, 13.5 stone videographer on the back of the GT.

He was happy with its legroom, but he’d want a bigger seat for long distance. He didn’t try the SX as it was fitted with a single seat shroud.

Overall Suzuki’s GSX-S1000GT has all the makings of a go-to sports tourer to rival the SX, but the longestablished Kawasaki is just that bit more refined in every area. 

Best sports tourer verdict: Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX vs Suzuki GSX-S1000GT

Both the Kawasaki and new Suzuki do what traditional sports-tourers do best: neatly mix all-day comfort with headbanging performance. They’re affordable, well equipped, very fast and slip through the air almost silently compared to adventure-style all-rounders.

We saluted the GSX-S1000GT was when we rode it at its launch last year and here on the MCN250 it’s every bit as impressive. It’s easy to ride, roomy and – of the two – has the most raucous and powerful engine, so it’s every inch the GSX-R1000 you can go touring on. Of all the GSX-S1000 models produced since 2015, the new GT is easily the best.

But it doesn’t take many miles on the Kawasaki to realise what a class act it is. It’s more refined in every area: the engine is smoother, gearing more relaxed on the motorway, suspension plusher, tyres grippier, brakes more powerful and paint finishes deeper.

The adjustable screen and remote rear preload adjuster put the GT in the shade, too. Most of all, Kawasaki have had a decade to polish the SX to perfection – and it really shows.

Other sports tourers to consider

The Kawasaki and Suzuki along with the BMW R1250RS are the mainstream offerings in this market, with the Italian high-tech hero, the Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello pictured below the only other bike worthy of consideration from a sports-touring perspective. We’re putting that to the test on the MCN250 very soon…

There are also softer, less sporty rivals like the Yamaha Tracer 9 and the Honda NT1100.

As a used buy, the obvious choice is Honda’s VFR800 – a much-loved model we were sad to see go off sale in 2021.

Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello