KAWASAKI VULCAN S (2015 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Easy-to-ride, cheerful, mid-size cruiser
  • Far more usable than image suggests
  • Same name as a V-bomber, so must be cool

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.1 out of 5 (4.1/5)
Annual servicing cost: £190
Power: 60 bhp
Seat height: Low (27.8 in / 705 mm)
Weight: Medium (503 lbs / 228 kg)

Prices

New £6,499
Used £4,700 - £6,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Kawasaki Vulcan is listed within the ‘Cruiser’ section of the firm's range. Someone should really inform trade descriptions. Sure, the 649cc parallel twin looks like a laid-back device for sauntering about, admiring yourself in shop windows and perhaps considering getting a tattoo or growing a ponytail. However, this is a perky, light, exploitable roadster; a fun-to-ride middleweight naked, just one that happens to be low and with long raked-out forks.

Perhaps an even greater surprise with the Vulcan is that the whole package feels as right as it does. This is a low-priced, lightweight cruiser based round a detuned commuter engine, with more matt plastic than machined metal and blingy chrome, so should be as tempting as soggy cabbage in cold custard. Yet the Vulcan’s is utterly convincing, not just on that crucial first test ride, but every time you go back. The ex-ER-6 engine, chassis dynamic, sprawled-out riding position, ease of control and up-to-date colour scheme meld together into a wholly convincing motorcycle.

It’s a bike with a semi-traditional image that nuzzles its way into the current trend, without resorting to lashings of chrome, period baubles or to trying too hard to be ‘authentic’. People are beginning to see its attraction too. The Vulcan might sit down the order in Kawasaki UK’s best-sellers list but try getting a razz on the demonstrator at your local dealer. You’ll probably find it’s already booked up with demo rides.

In 2018 an A2 licence-friendly version of the Kawasaki Vulcan 650 S was introduced to the range, cementing the bike's position as a great first big bike. There's a thriving scene for enthusiasts, too, resulting in the Vulcan Riders and Owners Club.

The Vulcan S ridden by MCN staff

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Riding the Vulcan is as taxing as remembering to blink. Steering is light and accurate, despite the stretched-out 31 degrees of rake and 120mm of trail, and it rolls cleanly into, through and out of corners with its easy-turning 160/60 rear tyre. Let’s not get carried away: the Kawasaki is no Triumph Trident or Yamaha MT-07. However, there are no issues with the usual cruiser ’peg scraping during normal riding, and it has the sort of nimble day-to-day usability you get with, say, a Ducati Scrambler or Suzuki SV650. And finding this sprightly, inspiring, usable dynamic in a package where you expect a delayed response and ponderous behaviour is most pleasing.

The riding position limits you to about 75mph. Any faster and it’s a strain staying upright. Having the footpegs out front takes getting used to as well, but you soon acclimatise – and the ergonomics are good for a cruiser-like device.

Though 228kg sounds chubby for a 649cc parallel twin, the Kawasaki is flyweight for something with cruiser-style geometry and the mass is all carried somewhere below the low-slung 705mm seat. So the Vulcan is amazingly manageable. Even pushing it around the 650 feels like it weighs about half what it actually does.

Most large-capacity bikes with this silhouette have the ride quality of a horse and cart on a corrugated steel roof, however the Vulcan’s suspension has damping and ride quality that outshine larger feet-forward creations – and that defy its £6499 starting price. Nothing fancy about the single front disc and two-pot sliding caliper, but there’s all the stopping you need with a hefty squeeze.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
3 out of 5 (3/5)

his is the parallel-twin 649cc unit that Kawasaki have been thrusting into the ER-6 and (in spruced up guise) the Z650 for yonks. It has fewer revs to play with than in the ER-6 it was originally swiped from, and 11bhp fell out onto the factory floor during the transplant.

Crucially the engine’s torque is intact, though, and the flywheel is heavier. Power arrives 1000rpm earlier than in an ER making the Vulcan even more willing to get going. It doesn’t require effort to get a wriggle on. It’s a flexible engine, happy to hobble along at 2000 revs in a high gear, burp between turns using its enhanced midrange, or thrash about playing silly buggers. It’s nice being able to work an engine hard without worrying (too much) about needing to enlist a solicitor who specialises in traffic offenses.

It feels a bit limp next to the ever-growing motors in the increasingly high-tech retro market, of course. The Vulcan has nowt like the wallop of a Triumph Street Twin, for example. But truth is that the 650 is more than ample for regular riding.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The engine’s well proven and very durable in ER-6 form, and equally bombproof in its softer state of tune for the Vulcan. You’ll have no worries. Header pipes and top engine mounts can be fragile on the ER, especially in a prang, but there are no concerns with the Vulcan.

Obviously, the Kawasaki is built to a price. Finish and presentation are as god as anything else at this price point and it doesn’t scream ‘budget’. But if you’re an all-weather year-round rider then the chassis with need protecting with anti-corrosion gubbins to prevent furry components and to stop corrosion getting its teeth in.

Our Kawasaki Vulcan 650 S owners' reviews are very positive. From the comments it seems there aren't any prevailing problems with the bike.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

It is hard to put a price on the Vulcan as it is somewhat unique. At £6499 it is cheap, especially when compared to the £8895 a Harley 883 Iron will cost you or the £8699 Yamaha want for the XV950R, but it is also less of a motorcycle.

The Vulcan’s main rival is probably the Harley Street 750, which is £6045, or Street Rod at £6795. In this context it is about on the money.

The sporty-cruiser’s insurance is group 11, so sorting out a modest premium shouldn’t be hard. It’s the same as a Z650 and Versys 650, but a group higher than Honda’s popular CMX500 Rebel.

Economy is decent even when used with the gusto that the chassis allows – expect 63mpg or more. Tyres, brake pads and chains and sprockets last ages too. The cheapest Vulcan variant starts at £800 more than the rival Rebel but brings additional extra pillion-hauling ability and performance. It’s very keenly priced.

MCN Verdict: Kawasaki Vulcan 650 S vs Harley-Davidson Iron 883

In 2015 MCN put the Kawasaki Vulcan S up against the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and Yamaha XV950R to see which came out on top. 

Kawasaki Vulcan S vs Harley-Davidson Iron 883 vs Yamaha XV950R

Why are middleweight cruisers so popular? Simple, because they are great fun. A lot of motorcyclists don’t want to go fast, instead they want to relax and enjoy the ride and that’s what these bikes are all about. When it comes to the complete package it is hard to argue against the Harley as it’s got it all – price, heritage, feel and soul.

The Yamaha has almost the same merits, but lacks the heritage. Either are great options, but I have a feeling fashion-conscious riders will be swayed by the logo on the tank. The Vulcan is very practical and enjoyable, but it is aspiring to be something it can never be. It’s a quirky lightweight bike that will appeal to some, but for many it’ll be too leftfield, and tradition will steer them towards the Yamaha or Harley.

Equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

There’s no denying that the Vulcan’s dash and generic switchgear look dated in world of widescreen colour panels and light-up buttons. Electronics are limited to ABS and… erm, some lights. Oh, and a hooter.

This said, you do get adjustable clutch and brake levers, plus three mounting position options for the footpegs. The compact digital dash houses ample data, too. Kawasaki have also got various Vulcan versions served with different trimmings: there’s the base Vulcan S; Vulcan S Café with trendier colours and flyscreen; a Vulcan S Performance with larger screen and Arrow exhaust; and also Tourer variants of each with huge screen, panniers and pillion back rest.

Kawasaki Vulcan S clocks

Specs

Engine size 649cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 8v, parallel-twin
Frame type Tubular steel trellis
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Seat height 705mm
Bike weight 228kg
Front suspension 41mm forks, non-adjustable
Rear suspension Single rear shock, adjustable spring preload
Front brake 1 x 300mm disc with two-piston caliper
Rear brake 250mm single disc with single-piston caliper
Front tyre size 120/70 x 18
Rear tyre size 160/60 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 57 mpg
Annual road tax £96
Annual service cost £190
New price £6,499
Used price £4,700 - £6,000
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 60 bhp
Max torque 46.4 ft-lb
Top speed 100 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 2015: Vulcan S (EN650) launched using a retuned version of the ER-6 engine in a bespoke frame. Billed as a sports-cruiser, designed to bring a more modern approach to the cruiser market with contemporary colours and black finishes, rather than glittery metalflake and lashings of chrome.
  • 2017: The Vulcan S SE arrives
  • 2018: The Vulcan S Café and Sport variants join the range alongside Touring versions of both. An A2 licence-friendly version was launched at the same time. 

Other versions

There are multiple versions: the entry-level Vulcan S; the Vulcan S Café with jazzy colours and flyscreen; and a Vulcan S Performance with larger screen and an Arrow exhaust. All three models are also available in Tourer guise, complete with huge screen, panniers and pillion back rest.

Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI VULCAN S (2015 - on)

9 owners have reviewed their KAWASAKI VULCAN S (2015 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your KAWASAKI VULCAN S (2015 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Engine: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.1 out of 5 (4.1/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Equipment: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Annual servicing cost: £190
3 out of 5 Great outside of mechanical issues.
24 March 2021 by Logan

Version: 650S

Year: 2017

Annual servicing cost: £200

Was a great bike and fun to ride around in town. While it decently powered, it seemed to lack on the interstate. The only real problems I had with this bike were mechanical. After owning the Vulcan 650s, I'll never purchase another Kawasaki.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Outside of the mechanical issues I listed, it was a nimble and responsive bike that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Engine 4 out of 5

The engine was quite nice with plenty of torque at lower RPMs.

Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5

From about 600 miles up, the coolant system wouldn't hold pressure and I'd regularly have to top it off. Two months outside of warranty and with approximately 2000 miles on it, 3 gears in the transmission disintegrated while accelerating in 3rd gear.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Filters were easily replaced and not hard to find.

Equipment 5 out of 5
5 out of 5 OUTSTANDING
22 March 2021 by Collins

Version: Non ABS model

Year: 2019

outstanding blend of cruiser and sport bike.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5 Very happy with my bike
27 January 2021 by Arctic Paratrooper

Version: Non ABS base model

Year: 2019

comfort with style and performance.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

The lights need to be upgraded to LED. I already changed out my turn signals. The headlight is next.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

I ride mine everyday to work and for fun on the weekends. Cheaper than a second car and a lot more fun.

Equipment 5 out of 5

Get a crash guard.

Buying experience: Bought mine new from the local dealer and happy with their services.

5 out of 5 Good first big bike
08 May 2020 by simon parker

Version: ABS

Year: 2018

Annual servicing cost: £125

Low seating position, not too heavy, manoeuvres well round town and comfortable on a ride out....Good choice for a first big bike.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

3 optional positions for bars, pegs and seat.

Buying experience: Purchased through M&S in Newcastle and they where very helpful , financial package was a good deal also.

5 out of 5
10 April 2020 by Viv Hamill

Year: 2019

Annual servicing cost: £400

It’s such a dream to ride as my first bike. Very forgiving but packs a punch. Totally love how it looks too with many heads turned.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
4 out of 5 Vulcan s
10 April 2020 by Jon frosty

Year: 2018

Annual servicing cost: £100

The riding position is the best for me even when two up ,don't really notice you've got somebody on the back .front pegs could do with being raised slightly do grind out on the tighter corners .would recommend to a friend.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Bikes a good alrounder,I prefer riding on twisty roads only downside the pegs grind out when not leaning to far over ,I have to lift me foot up .can last 2hours on a long run with the wife on the back. Before we have to stop for a stretch and fuel.

Engine 5 out of 5

Loads of low down torque,nice and smooth .

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Its the same quality as any other Kawasaki.not had any problems with the bike ..

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5

Sissy bar on the back for the wife she loves it..an extra but was already on bike when purchased.

Buying experience: From a dealer for £5400 was up for £5500.

4 out of 5 Vulcan S Cruiser/Tourer
24 September 2019 by Raymo The Red

Version: ABS

Year: 2015

Quick off the mark and a breeze when overtaking. I simultaneously owned a Harley Sportster Custom (1200), a Street 750 (now sold) and the Vulcan S and I can tell that on a long touring trip the smoothness of the Vulcan was most welcome (but I still love my sportster) .

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Done a 1500 km trip over 5 days (fully loaded) over motorway, standard roads and very mountainous twisty's and the vulcan took it all in its stride.

Engine 5 out of 5

Smooth and responsive and the gearing seems just right.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

One tiny bubble on the tank paintwork lost a star but other than that it's been solid.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Apart from annual service no other spend has been required so far.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Ergo-fit is a brilliant idea and enough accessories available to cover most needs. Lost a star because my year does not have a gear indicator.

Buying experience: Private buy, a little pricey but the original owner had added a lot of accessories that met my needs perfectly.

4 out of 5 Plastic fantastic
26 April 2019 by vpower

Version: cafe

Year: 2018

Annual servicing cost: £150

It's a great bike but the sum of the parts (except the engine) are at best cheap and poor quality. Most of the bike is plastic and, if you drop it, it will shatter. I would recommend but buy a second hand model.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

The front brake is good, despite having the cheaper disc fitted unlike the Z650. The back brake is poor to say the least.

Engine 5 out of 5

It's got a great engine although you have to rev it. There's quite a lot of torque and it's quite frugal if the revs are kept down.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Mine had a duff battery from new but otherwise good. The indicators wobble on the plastic mounts and will not tighten up.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Difficult to service as there's no main stand, and with the exhaust under the motor you can't lift there. You also need to remove the petrol tank to get to the plugs and air filter, and you need to bring it in for a 3500-mile service, at £140.

Equipment 5 out of 5

It has a great display with many functions on the speedo, great suspension and fab seat. It handles really well, It's not a V-twin cruiser it is dressed like one ten years ago.

Buying experience: The buying experience wasn't bad, the shop was pleasant and did what they do best, fairly good PX and hassle-free.

5 out of 5 Happy owner
20 April 2019 by Dean Jardine

Version: Vulcan s sport

Year: 2018

Annual servicing cost: £150

This is a great bike. I’ve had mine for a year, got it new with the full Arrows exhaust which sounds sweet. Think is one of the best motorcycles I’ve owned. It’s a great all rounder, a cruiser with sports bike performance. It handles great for a cruiser as it’s nice and light you can handle it easy at low speeds.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

The brakes are good with abs standard which is peace of mind if you need to stop quick in all weathers. The ride quality is good, the suspension is easy to adjust for soft or harder whichever you prefer. The forward controls making riding easy and comfortable.

Engine 5 out of 5

The 650 parallel twin from the 650 ninja which is tuned for more torque . It’s a quick cruiser putting out 60 bhp and light weight makes 0- 60 in 4 seconds and top speed over 120mph which is reasonable.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

As Kawasaki you can trust it to last. I have traveled 5000 miles on her with no issue. Everything looks quality and feels nice.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

As a basic type bike running cost are low. Service cost are about £150 annually. With a 14L an average 60mpg which is good and can take you around 160 - 170 miles in a full tank.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Buying experience: Got from a dealer with 0%apr for 3 years new at £7000 with Arrows exhaust.

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