KAWASAKI Z H2 SE (2021 - on) Review
- Ballistic supercharged Z H2 gets the suspension it deserves
- Luxurious super-naked for the road, rather than the track
- Proof wildly powerfully bikes can also be usable and friendly
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
This is the Kawasaki Z H2 SE and it’s quite possibly the best bike in Kawasaki’s range. It’s also positive proof that you can have a bike with the performance to turn your brain into scrambled egg without having to tolerate a track-focused chassis or unfriendly ergonomics.
- Latest news: Kawasaki Z H2 SE unveiled
Any bike fitted with a supercharger is clearly A Very Good Thing Indeed. You can keep all your adjustable riding modes, pretty colour screens and light-up whatnots. For me, nothing equals the thrill of forced induction, from the chirping, whistling and whooshing Star Wars soundtrack to the phenomenal throttle response and unparalleled midrange drive.
Anyone who’s sampled Kawasaki’s supercharged Z H2 will know exactly where I’m coming from; the boosted 197bhp inline four stuffs your belly with butterflies from the moment the garage door swings open.
At £16,050 on the road the standard Z H2 is not flawless, though. Despite being eerily smooth, a doddle to ride, nicely screwed together and bristling with of-the-moment tech, the big naked is let down by its suspension. Or to be precise, the rear shock. Things are tickety-boo in normal riding, but tramp on and the shock stands out as the weak link in Kawasaki’s otherwise high-class chain.
Which is why the SE version features electronic semi-active suspension. Also boasting one-piece Brembo brake calipers swiped off the faired H2, it’s available only in wondrously sparkly Golden Blazed Green and Metallic Diablo Black, and it sets you back £18,500 ready to play.
I already rate the regular Z H2; I’ll take proper engineering over gizmos any day, and its supercharged engine is a modern marvel. And in SE form it’s better still. With improved suspension action, ride quality and, crucially, handling prowess when pushed, Kawasaki have fixed the only real flaw with their blown naked.
What the Z H2 SE isn’t is a ‘pure’ super naked like a Ducati Streetfighter V4 S or Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory. It isn’t based on a superbike, doesn’t have a hard focus and still hasn’t the outright handling potential of these racier rivals.
But what these rivals don’t do is offer the Kawasaki’s sense of luxury, day-to-day usability or, of course, it’s astonishing and addictive supercharged engine. The SE is a road bike for road riders, and the way it delivers smooth, comfy progress punctuated by hilarious spurts of shocking acceleration is of far more use than chassis feel around Misano. And when I do want to crack on it has as much handling as I’ll ever use on the road.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
Like the cooking version, the Z H2 SE is easy to ride and accommodating. Its chassis rolls and turns with fluidity (once the front tyre is up to temperature, before which the steering drops in a touch like an old Z1000SX), and it’s friendly and pleasingly usable.
The SE retains the secure and inspiring feel of the less expensive version on wide, fast A-roads too, sweeping cleanly through turns. Where it differs is in ride quality. While not quite as plush as the sports touring H2 SX SE, the semi-active Showa forks and shock give the upgraded naked a slightly more supple ride; you sense the superior damping.
And the difference is pronounced on dancing B-roads and bumpy backlanes, the SE dealing with imperfections and retaining its poise and steering accuracy where the regular Z H2’s rear end becomes crashy and the handling a little vague.
They call it KECS, or Kawasaki Electronic Control Suspension. It’s a Skyhook system with chassis position continually referenced to an imaginary point above the bike. Damping changes are made using data on wheel travel, road speed, acceleration and braking.
Suspension settings are tied to three riding modes – Sport, Road and Rain. The SE is noticeably firmer in Sport, the chassis gathering itself ready to get down for business, while Rain mode puts it at its softest. Road, predictably, is where the handling has the best all-round feel and behaviour.
Any difference from the uprated front brake calipers is harder to detect, but this doesn’t matter as there’s certainly no shortage of bite or stopping power.
EngineNext up: Reliability
The merest hint of gas and, seemingly in any gear and at any revs, the supercharged 998cc inline four instantly turns your surroundings into a smeared blur. Its midrange response and dimension-shifting thrust are unequalled, the Zed wasting everything with each whoop-inducing taste of forced induction torque. The rush is so addictive…
Yet despite this nuclear potential the blown motor is super-smooth and extremely well-mannered. The abrupt fuelling step that plagued the first H2 is nothing but a fading memory, the twistgrip on the Z H2 SE delivery predictable response, and the engine is a pussy cat in town and whirrs soothingly on a motorway.
Dawdling gets decent economy, but normal use sees consumption in the low 30s to a gallon – but you’ll forgive iffy fuel figures every time the blower supplies boost.
The gearbox is light and features ratios that extract the most from the engine in road conditions, rather than being configured for hot laps of a track you’re never going to visit. A two-way quickshifter gives clutchless upshifts and downshifts anywhere above 2500rpm.
It’s not the slickest system – the action is fine, but unless you’re riding briskly the shift feels a tad too long in the lower half of the revs. Doesn’t stop you using it all the time, though.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
It’s quite a classy thing, the Z H2. And it feels more sumptuous in SE form with its spangly green paint and suspension with wires dangling out. Switchgear feels good quality and works well, the colour dash is easy to read and loaded with data, and the finish gives a sense of quality, especially with the Kawasaki River Mark badge proudly sat on the nose. Ooh, special.
There are one or two cheap looking fasteners, and owners of Z H2s report that some chassis parts are prone to corrosion if not smothered in ACF-50 or similar. One or two riders reckon the paint is a bit thin too, but the overriding opinion is that the Zed is well made. No concerns over the dependability of the supercharged motor, either.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
The Kawasaki is up there on value, though. First, it’s got just as many whizzbang trinkets and glimmering features, and quality is on the money. Second, this green torquemonster is every bit as exciting as the super-naked opposition but also friendly, easy to use and practical in a way that others aren’t. And third, despite other Kawasakis being a little prone to depreciation the H2 models have pleasing residuals.
But fourth, and most importantly, the Z H2 SE is fitted with a supercharger – and so wins hands-down every time.
Every widget, toy and gizmo box has a big, fat, green tick in it. As well as the new semi-active suspension, the SE is adorned with cornering ABS and traction control, cruise, a two-way quickshifter, colour TFT display showing a myriad of data, phone connectivity, LED lighting… oh, and of course a supercharger.
There’s also a high-quality two-tone perch, that deep sparkly metallic paint, and a neat ‘Z’ shape to the front brake caliper mounts. This last feature might be purely accidental, but it looks cool all the same.
|Engine type||Liquid cooled, DOHC, 16v inline four, forced induction|
|Frame type||Steel tube trellis|
|Fuel capacity||19 litres|
|Front suspension||43mm telescopic fork, semi-active damping|
|Rear suspension||monoshock, semi-active damping|
|Front brake||2 x 320mm disc with four-piston calipers. ABS|
|Rear brake||260mm disc, two-piston caliper. ABS|
|Front tyre size||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear tyre size||190/55 ZR17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||34 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||-|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||197 bhp|
|Max torque||101 ft-lb|
|Top speed||166 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||10.7 secs|
|Tank range||142 miles|
Model history & versions
2020: Z H2 comes chirping, whistling and fluttering out of showrooms. The burly naked uses the supercharged inline four from the H2 and H2 SX but with a revised tune giving 197bhp and delivering maximum torque 1000rpm earlier in the revs. The steel tube frame is specific to the model with a double-sided swingarm, rather than the faired H2’s single-sider.
2021: Spangly SE version released, with semi-active Showa suspension and uprated front brake calipers. Offered in glittering green and black only.
Non-SE variant of the Z H2 has all the same features, only with manually adjusted suspenders and slightly lower-spec front brakes.
Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI Z H2 SE (2021 - on)
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