KAWASAKI Z H2 (2020 - on) Review

Highlights

  • A 197bhp supercharged super naked
  • Futuristic styling and frantic performance
  • One of the best of the breed

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £300
Power: 197 bhp
Seat height: Medium (32.7 in / 830 mm)
Weight: High (527 lbs / 239 kg)

Prices

New £15,149
Used £13,300 - £15,200

Overall rating

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

So, what is it like to light the fuse on a 197bhp supercharged super naked? Mental, is the obvious answer, but then you’d probably guessed that because the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 is the most powerful naked we’ve ever swung a leg over…for now.

It’s fearsomely fast and overflowing with chirpy, elasticated grunt, but it’s also incredibly smooth, friendly and accessible, thanks to clever mapping and electronics that let you squeeze out every last drop out of performance in complete safety.

It’s lither in real life than it looks on paper and its extra kilos give it a sense of grown-up-ness and a solid connection with the road. It isn’t as razor sharp as a pure super naked or as plush as some, but the Z H2 still impresses in the bends while being comfortable, well equipped and packed full of supercharged charm.

Additional words from MCN Contributor, John McAvoy who managed to squeeze in a test on UK roads before the lockdown

Kawasaki Z H2 on UK roads

Many motorbikes feel like the sum of a collection of parts that somehow combine to make a perfectly decent end result, but every now and then one comes along that just feels like one single, meant-to-be product. 

Kawasaki’s Z H2 isn’t just a ‘Z’, ‘H2’ or a super-naked as we know it; rather it’s a properly sorted machine in its own right. It’s surprisingly easy to live with despite being so quick, its electronics are smooth, effective and despite having little in the way of wind protection its riding position isn’t too extreme making it easy to live with on the road. If you need any convincing Kawasaki are serious about supercharging, this is it. 

Super naked group test video: KTM 1290 Superduke R vs Kawasaki Z H2 vs Ducati Streetfighter V4 vs Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory vs Yamaha MT-10 SP

Ride quality & brakes

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

In a straight line the Z H2 is a super naked in every sense of the word, but where its rivals, like the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory, KTM’s new 1290 Super Duke R, Yamaha MT-10SP and BMW S1000R are pared to the bone for the track and obsessed with lap times, the Kawasaki has some bulk to it.

It stomps on the scales at a claimed 239kg, full of fuel, but don’t get too hung up on that seemingly stodgy figure. The Z H2 doesn’t feel clumsy or ponderous and instead it nudges easily into corners with the lightest touch on the bars and anyway, for the road, a bit of weight isn’t a bad thing. It gives the Kawasaki a reassuring feeling of solidity and the ride quality is all the better for its ability to waft over bumps, like a tourer.

Up the ante and the Z H2 remains balanced and predictable with lots of mechanical grip and feel built into its new trellis frame (the engine is a stressed member) and double-sided swingarm (all other H2s have a single-sider). There’s enough control and feedback from the suspension and stickiness from the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres (special stiff-carcass versions to take the extra weight and power) to take liberties with the front into corners and scrape the pegs at full lean. And with traction control up there with the best road-going superbike systems, you can take unimaginable liberties with 197bhp in complete safety.

New monobloc Brembo M4.32 four piston radial calipers (and Nissin master cylinder combo) aren’t lacking in feel or reassuring power, but on track it’s easy to get the ABS to chime in under very heavy braking. But on the road it’s hard to fault its poise and handling, but push the Z H2 to the extreme and a race-tastic super naked will dance through a corner, but who cares when you can whoosh right back past it down the next straight?

Like all big Kawasakis it’s unflappable at high speed and although top whack is around 175mph, its minimal bodywork and tiny clock screen offers so little wind protection you won’t be visiting those naughty numbers for long.

It might be drafty, but it’s roomy and all-day comfy. The high and wide 19-litre fuel tank gives the Z H2 a satisfying sense of solidity, the seat is plush, 'fat' bars are canted naturally towards you and low pegs give knees an easy time.

On track aboard the Kawasaki Z H2

Cruise control is standard, which not only keeps a check on your speed on the boring bits, it takes the strain off your arms and wrists. Pillions get a generous amount of legroom, too…if you’re mad enough to perch yourself on the back.

What's it like on UK roads?

John McAvoy rides the Kawasaki Z H2

Carrying its weight fairly low down, the Z H2 has close to 50/50 weight distribution front to back, which gives it superb road manners and the whole thing is packaged in such a way that Kawasaki have actually used its bulk to make all that power relatively easy to deploy.

Add in its long-ish wheelbase and superbly sprung and damped suspension, and it effectively flattens bumps in the road. The big Zed certainly isn’t what you’d call flickable, but it steers into and out of corners neatly and precisely.

Kawasaki have made the Z H2 so well-suited to road riding, it’s easy to forget it’s so powerful, but being a naked, wind protection is nonexistent and I’m sure that even if I were a foot shorter, motorway riding and sustained high speeds would still wear me down.


Engine

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

Why a super naked needs to have quite so much power is unclear, but we salute Kawasaki for giving us so much of it. Making just 3bhp less than its ZX-10R sister, the Z H2 force-feeds your senses with unrelenting, genuine superbike levels of acceleration when you hammer its monstrous motor through the gears.

Addictive and something you never quite acclimatise to, the Kawasaki howls like a tuned racer on the throttle and off it the supercharger chirps like a deranged budgie.

But the biggest surprise isn’t the Z H2’s elegantly ballistic performance, but how easy all that supercharged thrust is to dive headlong into and that’s all down to the boffins. Kawasaki engineers have immaculately crafted the 998cc inline four’s power curve and programmed its new six-axis IMU-controlled electronics to cleverly pin the front wheel to the floor, without you ever feeling its silicone leash pulling you back. Crack the throttle and it just goes - your only job is to try and hang on.

Riding the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2

For a motor so potent that Kawasaki test riders said it twisted the Z H2’s chassis in the early stages of development, it’s unbelievably civilised and predictable. Think Z900 with a wheelbarrow to carry its big kahunas and you won’t be far off the mark.

For normal riding the Kawasaki is as docile as a roadster with half the power. Its controls are light as a commuter’s, its MotoGP-derived ‘dog ring’ gearbox crisp, the up/down quickshifter precise and with 101ftlb or torque to play with there’s never a shortage of instant shove when you need it.

There’s a slight jerk picking up a closed throttle at low speed, but from there the supercharged delivery is gentle at low revs, making it easy to manage for slow speed work. Power builds gently through the midrange, before the supercharger gets into its stride and the next thing you know the Z H2 has grabbed you by the lapel and pinned you to its 12,000rpm redline.

Track riding on the Kawasaki Z H2

How Kawasaki’s boosted the Zed’s power curve

Kawasaki has pulled off the neat trick of making the Z H2’s 998cc inline four as powerful as a superbike, but with the kind of torque figures you’d only ever expect see in an engine with much larger capacity. It’s ZX-10R-meets-ZZR1400.

The secret is to go down the forced air induction route. An exhaust-driven turbo has too much lag, so Kawasaki went for a supercharger and their 2015 Ninja H2 was the first production motorcycle to use one. Chain driven from the crank it’s geared to run at 9.2 times the crank speed, forcing-feeding the motor with air to boost power.

Packaging the supercharger small and light enough to suit a motorcycle engine was always the clever bit and Kawasaki has proved it has worked reliably in the original H2 and H2 SX sports tourer. But for a naked roadster with a top speed limited by neck muscles, you need midrange grunt.

A balancing act between engine’s compression ratio and boost pressure the Z H2’s motor not only makes a formidable 197bhp it produces the same 101ftlb of torque as the SX, but it’s delivered 1000rpm lower in the revs. It shares the SX’s 'balanced' supercharger – a 69mm diameter, 5-axis CNC machined forged aluminium impeller, featuring six full height and six half height blades, which maximises power lower in the revs and improves fuel economy. The system is so efficient it doesn’t need a clunky intercooler.

Clever use of electronics also bolsters the big Zed’s midrange and not only does ride-by-wire facilitate goodies like traction and cruise control it also let Kawasaki’s engineers carefully manipulate the throttle valves to map the fuelling to give the smoothest possible power curve. Longer exhaust headers, shorter final gearing, stronger cast pistons and a straight air duct all contribute towards more acceleration when you twist the throttle.

What's it like on UK roads?

Kawasaki Z H2 UK corner

The Zed might shrink straights like they don’t exist, but it’s pretty handy at all the everyday stuff, too. It whispers through villages without so much as a suggestion of what it’s capable of. Staying on a practical note, the riding position is very conservative for a naked bike with low footpegs, a wide seat and narrow handlebars that aren’t too far away. That’s good for low-speed control and for masking its weight.

Reliability & build quality

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

The Kawasaki is in the super naked league when it comes to cost, but it’s neatly finished, well screwed together and judging by H2 owner reviews its supercharger technology is robust.

Value vs rivals

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

To run the Z H2 will be on par with any big bhp machine. You’ll need to keep it fed with hot and cold running fuel, tyres and insurance won’t cheap, but there isn’t anything about its supercharger that will make it any different to live with than a normally aspirated machine. Engine service intervals are generous at every 7500 miles.

The 2020 Kawasaki Z H2

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

Of all the H2 family the Z H2 comes with the most feelgood factor and not only is it rapid, friendly and spacious, it’s well equipped, too - as you’d expect from a naked that isn’t exactly cheap.

It’s lack of a fully adjustable rear shock, or semi-active suspension is a bit of a disappointment and ride quality isn’t the last word in plushness as a result, but the Kawasaki has plenty of other toys to shout about.

There’s the supercharger, of course, Brembos, Pirellis, LEDs all round, that beautifully crafted tubular steel frame, deep paint finishes and a whole raft of electronics: lean sensitive traction control and ABS, anti-wheelie, launch control, cruise control, quickshifter and autoblipper.

Riding the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 on the road

Kawasaki’s latest generation TFT colour dash is crisp, uncluttered and bursting with information from speed, to gear position, revs and boost pressure. It links to your phone to log trips, view vital statistics and set the riding modes.

It also has three rider modes (Sport, Road and Rain) with varying levels of engine power and traction control intervention. An extra Rider mode lets you mix and match settings, including turning off the TC for wheelies and shedding rear Pirelli rubber.

Ninjas are faired and Zeds are nakeds in Kawasaki’s model range, but their divisive Sugomi styling still rules the roost. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that and the design must be popular, or else Kawasaki wouldn’t do it. But, like a Yamaha MT-10, it’s is nicer to sit on the Z H2 than to look at.

What's it like on UK roads?

Kawasaki Z H2 rear

What matters most on a supercharged naked bike is that the anti-wheelie and traction control are silky smooth. The electronics are especially good when the front wheel inevitably lifts and has a ‘cut/hold/release’ that doesn’t sap the fun or dumb down the way the big Kwak launches itself from one corner to the next.   

On the throttle there’s so much power that its Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres inevitably need some help from time to time and the super-smooth traction control obliges. It means that even during those moments of panic, the electronics always instil a sense of calm and control, despite the absolute monster of an engine.

Its brakes deserve special mention for the way they deliver feedback through the lever, too. It would be easy for Kawasaki to forgo feel and just bolt on the most powerful set-up they can get, given the Zed’s weight and potential for going really fast, really quickly.

Instead, they’ve gone to the trouble of breaking convention and mixed a Nissin master cylinder with Brembo calipers. They respond to the tiniest tickle on the lever at low speed, but are also strong enough to haul-up the Zed’s mass in short order.

Specs

Engine size 998cc
Engine type 16v inline four with supercharger
Frame type Steel trellis
Fuel capacity 19 litres
Seat height 830mm
Bike weight 239kg
Front suspension Showa 43mm forks, fully adjustable
Rear suspension Showa shock, fully adjustable
Front brake 2 x 320mm discs with four-piston Brembo monobloc radial calipers. Cornering ABS
Rear brake 260mm rear disc with twin piston caliper. Cornering ABS
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 190/55 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax £93
Annual service cost £300
New price £15,149
Used price £13,300 - £15,200
Insurance group 17 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term 2

Top speed & performance

Max power 197 bhp
Max torque 101 ft-lb
Top speed 175 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 2020 – New from the ground up supercharged Z H2. 197bhp, 239kg, full electronics package.

Other versions

None

MCN Long term test reports

MCN Fleet: Kawasaki Z H2 ready to spice up the commute

MCN Fleet: Kawasaki Z H2 ready to spice up the commute

This Kawasaki Z H2 will be the most powerful bike I’ve ever had in the garage, producing 197bhp married to 101ftlb of torque. I’m looking forward to experiencing the re-worked engine which, according to Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves, I will 'thoroughly enjoy.' Should spice up my commute! The ride

Read the latest report

Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI Z H2 (2020 - on)

2 owners have reviewed their KAWASAKI Z H2 (2020 - 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 Z H2 (2020 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Engine: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Value vs rivals: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Equipment: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £300
4 out of 5 Kawasaki zh2 you won’t regret it
02 July 2020 by Gavin

Year: 2020

Annual servicing cost: £300

The best Z

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Absolutely amazing if you like riding fast and the brakes are perfect. Riding in town and slow the seat is a bit unpadded and the suspension is hard but for me is perfect

Engine 5 out of 5

It is the best bike I have ever owned because of this engine and the sounds... wow

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

So far never missed a beat I have used it to commute to work long rides. Everything looks perfect on the bike. Only niggle is paint is a little thin. Done nearly 1000 miles and I caught something on my rear panel like a stone...

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

As you may imagine it’s a juicy bike and you will pay more fuel for more bhp the supercharger though is worth the fuel!

Equipment 5 out of 5

Buying experience: Bought mine from Orwell Motorcycles in Ipswich was looking at KTM so glad the guy showed me this bike.

5 out of 5 Z H2 performance review
01 June 2020 by Johnnyoneye

Version: Performance black and green

Year: 2020

Annual servicing cost: £300

I loved my ZZR1400, but wrote it off. This is a great replacement. Power, handling, looks. The quick shifter/auto blipper is fantastic too, and the fastest accelerating bike I've ever ridden, it wheelies from 4th into 5th!! Very glad it has all the electronic aids, otherwise I would be on my arse again!!! Could have a longer seat (I'm tall), and rear shock is good but not perfect. The screen that comes on the performance version takes a lot of the wind pressure off you chest, and will make touring a possibility. An unbelievably fun, exciting bike. So glad Kawasaki were mad enough to make it!!

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Front forks are fantastic, manage the trick of being plush where you need it on out shit roads, whilst supporting you under heavy braking. Rear shock is good, but I will upgrade at some point, it wallows slightly on fast long bumps....brakes are progressive and strong, and the rear brake for once has some bite too.

Engine 5 out of 5

Oh my God, I came from a ZZR1400 so was used to power and torque, but because of lower gearing on the Z this experience is utterly mindblowing. Smooth when picking up the throttle too. The supercharger chirp is extremely entertaining!!! How they've managed to make a supercharged bike so smooth at every speed, and so mid wateringly fast is beyond me.....

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

It looks and feels like a quality machine. Paint is great, especially the chrome paint on the main air intake.

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

It's got everything you need on the performance version, and I added integrated heated grips and frame sliders.

Buying experience: Lockdown purchase from Colchester Kawasaki, they couldn't have been more helpful, and I got a good deal!!!

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