We take the new Kawasaki Ninja 300 for a spin to find out how much better it has really gotten compared to its predecessor
Always the one to banish trends or tradition, Kawasaki has been at the helm of motorcycle madness ever since the bike-maker came into being. The Japanese giant has handed us innumerable machines which have broken conventionalism and shattered conservative beliefs in the motorcycle business with the likes of the iconic H1 Mach III or then the much modern yet equally hooligan 636! Kawasaki is back at the game again this time with the all-new Kawasaki Ninja 300. As the world moves towards all-out street motorcycles like the Honda CBR250R, the Suzuki Inazuma, the KTM Duke to name a few and their styling too is more for the street than anything that has to do with race machines. And Kawasaki has cashed in on this very spot left open with the new Ninja 300 – bringing supersports-like aggressive styling disguising a potent street motorcycle.
Already an icon by itself, the Ninja 250R has long been holding the crown in the quarter litre class with its big-bike appeal matched with a strong motor, ease of riding and low ownership costs. With such strong credentials, it was indeed a dangerous task for Kawasaki to rebuild an all-new machine without losing the ethos of the Ninja 250R which have successfully stood the test of time. But then again it is probably only Kawasaki amongst the four Japanese biggies who can take this challenge and own up to it like no other and deliver a smashing new motorcycle like the Ninja 300, which not only uplifts the laidback spirit of its predecessor but takes a step ahead to show the rivals how it’s done.
Re-writing the code of conduct amongst quarter-litre brigade, the new Ninja 300 is loud and belligerent in its character unlike the sports-touring and comfort-oriented approach of the earlier Ninja 250R. The new machine borrows design cues straight from Kawasaki’s flagship Ninja machines the ZX-6R and the ZX-10R. Cool to the bone and charming in its poise, styling on the Ninja 300 is clearly a leap towards sports side of things in the 200-400cc market borrowing Kawasaki’s “mass-forward, minimalist-tail” design language from the bigger Ninja machines.
Flared bodywork with sharp edges is fancy yet functional. For instance, the aerodynamic bodywork not only helps in better top-speed gains but underneath the fairing there is a reworked radiator cowl which prevents the hot air away from reaching the rider’s legs. Similarly, the new dual multi-reflector headlights carry forward the Ninja’s race-bike design genes but at the same time provide extremely good illumination for street as well.
Swing a leg over the Ninja 300 and its hostile demeanour is even more apparent as the large tachometer upfront hogs all the attention with its 13,000rpm redline screaming ‘bring it on’ straight in your face. As one grasps the handlebars, it is easy to notice there is something strange about the ergonomics on the Ninja 300. No, not the addition of a ‘pass’ button (finally!). It is the riding posture. Neither is it fully committed as found in an all-out racing motorcycle nor does it feel utterly laidback and lazy as the Ninja 250R. The ergonomics on the Ninja 300 are somewhere in between the two and doesn’t feel quite right the first instance one mounts the saddle.
But it is only a matter of time before one cranks the fuel injected 296cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin cylinder DOHC motor of the Ninja and takes to the roads to understand how the riding position actually helps. Unlike the Ninja 250R, the 300 offers sportier seating posture but the raised two-piece handlebars make for a comfortable grip on the motorcycle without requiring the rider to be curled up in a race-bike riding stance. And that gives the Ninja 300 a very solid sports-touring advantage but without having to look dull or boring.
And make no mistake, for this little green mean monster has all the go to match the show. The Ninja 300 gets capacity hike from 249cc of the Ninja 250R to 296cc thanks to a longer stroke (62.0 x 49.0 mm as against the Ninja 250R’s 62.0 x 41.2 mm). The hike has helped in presenting the Ninja 300 with increased torque and stronger mid-range grunt and the new engine now makes 39PS of power at 11,000rpm and 27Nm of torque at 10,000rpm. The new motor boasts of sleeveless, plated, die-cast aluminium cylinder, a new cylinder head, new crankcases as well as lighter pistons. Use of improved materials within the engine has helped Kawasaki to keep the motorcycle weight under check despite the bigger engine size as the Ninja 300 weighs the same as the Ninja 250R tipping the scale at 172kg for the non-ABS model.
The 296cc motor has undergone a major revamp internally to improve its overall power and torque delivery. Employing lighter pistons helps in achieving higher maximum rpm quicker and hence the redline on the Ninja 300 resides at 13,000rpm as against the high-strung 13,250rpm of the Ninja 250R. The lighter pistons also get flatter piston crowns for better combustion efficiency while the compression ratio too has been dropped from 11.6:1 of the Ninja 250R to 10.6:1 on the Ninja 300, which results in lesser operating temperature for the pistons improving their longevity.
In simpler terms, the bigger engine complemented by liberal use of high-end lightweight engine components internally has helped Kawasaki build an all-new motorcycle with a significantly different character than its predecessor. And the performance only goes on to testify the above claims. Mated to a slick six-speed transmission, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 has hugely benefitted from the capacity hike and improved torque with regards to its initial and mid-range acceleration with the bike touching the 100km/h mark from standstill in just 6.88 seconds. And it would have posted an even better time was it not for the inappropriate chain tension that our test bike came with. But a late six second time for 0-100km/h is no less a feat for a quarter-litre motorcycle and once you factor in the top whack which can go in excess of 175km/h given the road, the Ninja 300 has all the meat of a serious performance machine.
And unlike the Ninja 250R’s lack of mid-range grunt eating into daily practicality on our traffic-filled Indian roads, the Ninja 300 packs in enough juice right from as low as 4,000rpm for comfortable commuting without having to keep shifting through the gears to keep the power handy. The chunky mid-range throw of torque present in the 300 gives it enormous functionality as was seen in our 30-70km/h roll-on test times with the Ninja 300 posting a time of 6.57 seconds in fifth gear – almost a whole three seconds quicker than the Ninja 250R’s time of 9.55 seconds in the same test. As aforementioned, Kawasaki’s ethos of syncing race design with street functionality are not simply limited to the aesthetics of the machine but are deep rooted in the very essence of the Ninja 300.
While the motor has been thoroughly revised and reworked encompassing best of both worlds, outright speed as well as real world sense, the chassis that holds the engine in place too has been reworked to adopt this same philosophy. Similar to its predecessor in its design, the tubular diamond-shaped frame now employs high tensile steel tubing for the main left and right beams and their form has been widened while being pushed under the fuel tank for better rigidity balance. What all this wizardry translates into is a sharp handling motorcycle that changes direction at the slightest indication yet inspiring oodles of confidence even when taken well above the tonne-mark.
Add to that, a boon for most sport tourers would be the partial rubber mounting of the engine onto the frame which has largely helped in reducing the engine vibrations from reaching the rider and improving overall comfort even when doing long hauls on the Ninja 300. Speaking of long hauling, the damping on the Ninja 300 is precise and aptly set up without being too stiff for Indian roads yet not too slouchy to play killjoy when one wants to do some spirited riding. The chunky 37mm telescopic front forks get softer spring rate to suit the revised chassis stiffness while on the rear is the Kawasaki-patented Uni-Trak link-equipped monoshock suspension with five-step adjustment that has been tuned for a fine balance between ride quality and handling.
And with increased rear tyre profile to 140/70-17, the comfort level is certainly better compared to the Ninja 250R. While the tyres do a decent job at providing traction once heated up properly, they fail to provide adequate feel and confidence under hard braking. Make no mistake the Ninja 300 comes with stupendous braking power with a 290mm petal disc with 2-piston caliper on the front and a 220mm petal disc rotor serving the rear. It is the tyres which fail to match the high demands of hard braking on the Ninja 300 and we are certain that a quick swap to better rubber is all one needs if he or she wants to really whoop it up astride the new baby Ninja. But under normal riding conditions and touring, the IRC tyres are more than enough and the touring junta would be pleased to know that they have incredible appetite for munching miles.
Kawasaki has finely merged its racing pedigree and street demands with the Ninja 300 to bring out a machine which does it all without losing out on the charm and exuberance of a supersports machine. Upgrades like stronger mid-range power and torque for better in-town rideability, comfortable yet sportier ergonomics and minor details such as addition of a pass switch – all hint at the thought put into turning one of the most iconic machines, the Ninja 250R into yet another success story with the Ninja 300.