KAWASAKI Z H2 SE (2021 - on) Review

Highlights

  • 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

Power: 197 bhp
Seat height: Medium (32.7 in / 830 mm)
Weight: High (529 lbs / 240 kg)

Prices

New £18,500
Used £18,400

Overall rating

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

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.

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE turning left

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE rear

Ride quality & brakes

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

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE Brembo front brake

Engine

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

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE supercharged engine

Reliability & build quality

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

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE River Mark badge

Value vs rivals

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

Eighteen-and-a-half bags of sand is a lot of money. It’s the same as Aprilia's exotic Tuono V4 Factory and nearly £3000 more than KTM’s benchmark super naked, the 1290 Super Duke R.

The same outlay could also get you Ducati’s fabulously capable Multistrada V4 all-rounder, or Suzuki’s new Hayabusa with two thousand left over to pay for speeding fines.

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE right side

Equipment

5 out of 5 (5/5)

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.

Kawasaki Z H2 SE dash

Specs

Engine size 998cc
Engine type Liquid cooled, DOHC, 16v inline four, forced induction
Frame type Steel tube trellis
Fuel capacity 19 litres
Seat height 830mm
Bike weight 240kg
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 -
New price £18,500
Used price £18,400
Insurance group -
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

Model history

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.

Other versions

Non-SE variant of the Z H2 has all the same features, only with manually adjusted suspenders and slightly lower-spec front brakes.

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