Kawasaki’s new Ninja 400 has a tough act to follow. Not because it conjures thoughts of the ace Supersport 400s of the ’90s but as it’s succeeding, mostly due to Euro4, the previous, brilliant, Ninja 300 twin. As such, Kawasaki’s newcomer promises to be an ‘entry-level’, A2-compliant sports bike but with ratched-up performance, features and versatility.
On paper, it makes a decent start: up on power and down on weight (+5bhp, -6.6kg), plus it also looks fantastic with styling cues from the H2 such as that aggressive, ‘shark-nose’ fairing and sculptured tail unit.
Being an entry-level sportster its riding position is naturally a little conservative: footpegs are further forward than you might expect and bars, while still low, are much higher than traditional clip-ons. The low, 785mm seat height, meanwhile, is unchanged and is good news for shorter or inexperienced riders. The result is a neutral riding position offering great visibility and decent comfort.
But it’s the new 399cc engine that is the Ninja’s real raison d’etre – and it’s a gem. Along with the extra cubes comes increased performance – 44.3bhp and 28ftlb of torque (from 39 and 19 respectively) and it all adds up to an eager, flexible mill with bags of character.
It’s perfectly happy bimbling around at 6000rpm but wind it up to its 10,000 peak and a playful side comes out accompanied by a fruity exhaust note that’s guaranteed to make you grin.
There’s no arm-wrenching rush of power, of course. But keep it spinning above 7000 and it’s pleasing, good fun, there’s just about enough grunt for overtaking and the Ninja can also hold its own on motorways with a top speed just over the ton. What’s more, despite the engine being rigidly mounted, there’s little vibration. In fact it’s so docile at tickover sometimes you need to blip the throttle to check it’s still running.
Naturally, due to its small capacity, you need to keep the gearbox busy to get the best out of it but Kawasaki have come up trumps here, too. The new, smaller clutch’s action is impressively light while the slipper kicks in on downshifts and makes life easier still.
Although the suspension is non- adjustable (barring rear preload) it’s no real loss as the set-up is spot-on. The forks have been beefed up from 37mm to 41mm and provide a firm, precise ride that verges on plush around town. Overall balance is superb thanks to the new trellis frame which uses the engine as a stressed member and has the swingarm mounted directly to it, so saving weight, much like the set up on Kawasaki’s flagship Ninja H2.
Updated brakes comprise a new, lightweight, Nissin caliper, more rigid master cylinder and 20mm bigger single disc (straight from the ZZR1400) which together provide more than enough stopping power with minimal lever effort without sacrificing feedback and shows off the new lightweight wheels a treat. The rear brake is as effective as needs be and ABS is of course standard.
Clocks are from the Ninja 650 and comprise an analogue tacho plus an LCD panel displaying speed, fuel, trip, mpg and a very useful gear indicator. Overall fit and finish is superb and on a par with more expensive models.
There are a couple of niggles: after 100 miles the seat is a tad unforgiving – not uncomfortable just a bit firm. While the proximity of the exhaust to your right heel – it has a shroud, so heat’s not a problem – means I found my size 11s resting on it when riding on my toes, restricting movement.
But the overall success of the new Ninja 400 is how intuitive it is to ride. It steers, goes and stops exactly how you want, inspiring confidence all the way. Add to that style and practicality and you’ve a package that has huge appeal both to new riders and also those wanting a good looking, unintimidating sportster. Job done.
The MCN verdict – Four out of five stars
The Ninja 400 is a genuine sportsbike in every way: it’s got character, great handling and a superb engine. It’s also light and comfy enough to be an all-rounder and is A2-friendly – but full-licence holders should still consider giving it a look.
Ninja 400 facts
- Price: £5249-£5399
- Engine: 399cc, DOHC, 8 valve, parallel twin
- Power: 44.3bhp/10,000rpm
- Torque: 28ftlb/8000rpm
- Weight: 168kg
- Tank capacity: 14litres
- Frame: High tensile steel trellis
- Seat height: 785mm
- Suspension: 41mm conventional forks, non-adjustable; Uni-Trak shock, adjustable preload
- Brakes: 310mm petal disc with twin-piston, Nissin caliper; 220mm petal disn with twin piston caliper
- Colours: Black, lime/black 'KRT'
- Available: Now
Optional Ninja extras
While the Ninja’s low seat will be a boon for many, fear not if you’re over six-foot tall as Kawasaki also offer a taller seat option that adds an extra 30 mm. Meanwhile, other optional extras include a tank bag, tall screen, 12v socket and rear seat cover. No Akrapovic end can is yet listed but we expect one soon.