The New Big Small-Displacement Ninja

Kawasaki took the next step in the struggle to find that perfect balance between displacement, performance, and affordability with the new-in-2018 Ninja 400. This ride delivers the aggressive styling that you expect from the Ninja family with a host of improvements over the previous generation. More power, less weight, and a mature presentation should hold the new Ninja in good stead in the highly-competitive small-displacement sportbike market that serves as the main battlefield in the contest to instill some brand loyalty in the increasingly important new buyer base.

  • 2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
  • Year:
    2018- 2020
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel-Twin
  • Displacement:
    399 cc
  • Top Speed:
    105 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    4999
  • Price:

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Design

  • Aggressive Ninja styling
  • Design elements from the H2 and 10R
  • Twin LED headlights
  • Multifunction dash instrumentation
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767082
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767598

After a race to the bottom with the 250 and 300, it looks like Kawi has decided the sweet spot lies somewhere uphill for American riders.

By bumping the displacement up to 399 cc, the factory gave us enough power for both comfort and fun.

Bodywork on the Ninja 400 saw an improvement over its predecessors as it strikes more of a big-bike tone with elements from its H2 and 10R big brothers. A split headlight leads the way in an angular front fairing that mounts a vented bubble screen up top and a chin spoiler incorporated with the also-vented engine cowl. Recessed turn signals ride in the fairing as well for a super-clean look and good penetration.

The angular theme continues back through the tank and the rest of the body for a bit of unique style to go with the familiar flylines. In an effort to increase comfort, the handlebar has a bit of rise that makes a more-vertical riding position possible with plenty of room to tuck in and throw around some body English. A narrow waist and saddle-to-tank union leaves the pilot with an easy shot from hip to ground and a functional seat, but the passenger isn’t so lucky with a skinny “I’d really rather ride alone” p-pad out back.

As usual, the taillight comes tucked up under the tail with a hang-down turn-signal/tagholder assembly, and as usual, I think it would look better with a hugger and side-mount tag. I will confess to liking the paint packages this year, the Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray/Phantom Blue is sharp as a tack. Oh and of course, the green and black KRT livery, back again after a hiatus in 2019, rates an honorable mention as well.

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Chassis

  • Nimble and eager in the corners
  • 20 pounds lighter than the 300
  • Lightweight Trellis Frame
  • Uni-Trak® rear suspension
  • ABS
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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It wasn’t enough to simply tuck in some more cubes; the factory tweaked the frame on the Ninja 400 for an overall beefier appearance. I mean, just ’cause you are an entry-level rider doesn’t necessarily mean you have to look like one, right? The new Trellis frame is rigid in all the right places (no giggety) for a nimble nature that delivers the handling that fans of the marque expect, and that eagerness in the corners is due mainly to the 24.7-degree rake and short, 3.6-inch trail.

Even though the wheelbase has been shortened to 53.9-inches, the rectangular cross-section swingarm rocks a bit more length and helps reduce weight by connecting directly to the engine/transmission assembly. This eliminates a few of the frame components. It seems to have helped some since the 400 weighs almost 20-pounds less than the 300, which translates into more nimble handling, but the factory nickel-and-dimed the overall mass in a number of places to include the tripletree, wheels, and seat.

Surprisingly, standard forks float the front end. I suppose the factory opted for the non-adjustable, rwu front forks rather than going for inverted/adjustable stems to keep cost down, but I think the world is ready for tuneable suspension on the lower-tier bikes guys. Just sayin’.

The rear shock comes with nothing beyond the obligatory five-way preload adjustment, so it’s just as lick-a-windshield plain as the front. Disappointing, but really not all that surprising. At 362-pounds wet (366 for the ABS model) the single 310 mm front disc is adequate for the job with a 220 mm disc out back and twin-pot calipers all around. Cast- alloy, 17-inch five-spoke wheels keep unsprung weight down and mount a 110/70 up front and 150/70 out back to round out the rolling chassis.

Frame: Trellis, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail: 24.7°/3.6 in
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41 mm Telescopic fork/4.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Bottom-link Uni-Trak®, swingarm adjustable preload/5.1 in
Tires, Front /Rear: 110/70x17/ 150/70x17
Brakes, Front/Rear: 310 mm semi-floating single disc/ 220 mm single disc

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Drivetrain

  • Assist & Slipper Clutch
  • Smooth power delivery
  • 399 cc parallel-twin engine
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
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Kawasaki engineers went back to the drawing board for the Ninja 400’s parallel-twin powerplant. In spite of the fact that they weren’t exactly putting together what you might call a stupidfast engine, they paid due diligence to performance-enhancing details. It starts out with a 70 mm bore and 51.8 mm stroke that gives us the 399 cc displacement and flatter pistons that increase compression to 11.5-to-1 with less squish area. Oil jets cool the piston crowns from below which in turn allows them to survive with a lighter construction for less reciprocating mass. Staggered intake funnels smooth out torque generation with a larger air box that helps increase volumetric efficiency a tad with oval-shaped 32 mm throttle bodies to manage the fuel delivery.

What does all this give us? Well for starters, the mill turns in a predictable, user-friendly performance that should be manageable for the target group, those at the bottom of the experience pool. The full 28 pounds of torque comes on at 8 grand with a slip-and-assist clutch to help limit backtorque and prevent loss of rear traction during aggressive maneuvers. No TC or rider modes, but that’s to be expected at this pricing point.

Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
Displacement: 399 cc
Bore x Stroke: 70.0 mm x 51.8 mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel System: DFI® with 32 mm throttle bodies (2)
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed with Positive Neutral Finder
Final Drive: Sealed Chain

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Pricing

2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 876631
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767087
2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767086
MSRP starts at $5k for non-ABS up to $5.5k with KRT racing livery and ABS.

At the bottom of the list for 2020 is the base Ninja 400 in Pearl Blizzard White for $4,999 or $5,299 with ABS. Add $200 for the attractive tri-color Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray/Phantom Blue. The KRT Edition available again for 2020 runs $5,199 without ABS and $5,499 with ABS. Kawasaki covers your Ninja with a 12-month limited warranty that you can extend up to 48 months.

Model:Ninja 400Ninja 400 KRT Edition
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors:
└ 2018: Pearl Solar Yellow/Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Metallic Spark Black, Candy Plasma Blue Lime Green/Ebony
└ 2019: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Storm Gray/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray, Candy Persimmon Red/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray (non-ABS in Metallic Spark Black only)
└ 2020: Pearl Blizzard White, Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray/Phantom Blue Ebony/Lime Green
Price:
└ 2018: $4,999, ABS: $5,299 $5,499
└ 2019: $4,999, ABS: $5,299
└ 2020: $4,999, ABS: $5,299 $5,199, ABS: 5,499

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Competitors

2018 - 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767090
2019 - 2020 Yamaha YZF-R3
- image 801077
Yamaha finishes neck-and-neck at the checkout, but with less power against the Ninja.

Kawi is creeping up in the cubeage, but Yamaha sticks to its guns with its 321 cc YZF-R3 as its entry-level sportbike. The YZF carries itself with much the same sporty demeanor, and like the Ninja, it displays many of the same genetic markers as its bigger brothers and hits all the typical high points with a vented engine cowl, minimal windscreen, and I’d rather not-class pillion pad.

Honestly, the cosmetic differences are rather minimal and tend to come down to personal taste/brand loyalty anyway, though the Tuning Fork Company did brush up its plastic last year with details borrowed from its M1 racebike that add some curb appeal along with better penetration. A steel-tube skeleton supports the R3 with KYB suspension components all around, and much like its worthy adversary, has plain vanilla stems with adjustable preload in back as the only ride tweak. Yamaha falls behind just a tad in the brakes with a single, 298 mm disc up front, though it also offers both an ABS and non-ABS model to choose from.

At 321 cc, Yamaha surrenders some cubeage to Kawi with a concurrent reduction in power. The R3’s mill cranks out 21.8 pound-feet of torque versus 28 pounds o’ grunt from the Ninja, and that’s a difference that will register on even the most poorly-tuned heinie dyno. In spite of that power deficit, Yamaha finishes neck-and-neck at the checkout with a $5,299/$4,999 sticker on the ABS/non-ABS YZF-R3.

Read our full review of the Yamaha YZF-R3.

He Said

“Cool stuff, but I still have to wonder at the wisdom of jumping around so rapidly. I know they have marketing geniuses that figure all this stuff out, but what’s the point of having a small-displacement market if you keep bumping the displacement up? Yeah, it’s a rhetorical question, we’ll have our answer once the sales figures start rolling in.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “You know, those brakes should be quite adequate since it’s the same front brake as the Ninja ZX-14R. The 400 has more torque than the 300, which makes for a snappier ride. I didn’t get sucked into the ’which is faster, which has more hp-per-liter, which has the better torque-to-hp ratio’ debate. Who cares? It has more torque, which means it’ll pull harder when you twist the throttle. If you’re looking for a stupidfast top speed, why look at a small-displacement bike anyway? Get something with an ’RR’ in the model designation and be done with it. As for the Ninja 400, I’m a little disappointed with the plain-Jane suspension, but it is a decent bike for the price, let’s not lose sight of that. As a gutsy commuter, a sportbike trainer, or just a bike to have fun on, it is what it is.”

Kawasaki Ninja 400 Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, Water-Cooled
Displacement: 399 cc
Bore x Stroke: 70.0 mm x 51.8 mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel System: DFI® with 32 mm Throttle Bodies (2)
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed with Positive Neutral Finder
Final Drive: Sealed Chain
Chassis:
Frame: Trellis, High-Tensile Steel
Rake/Trail: 24.7°/3.6 in
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41 mm Telescopic fork/4.7 in
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Bottom-link Uni-Trak®, Swingarm Adjustable Preload/5.1 in
Front Tire: 110/70x17
Rear Tire: 150/70x17
Front Brakes: 310 mm Semi-Floating Disc, 2-Piston Balanced Actuation Caliper
Rear Brakes: 220 mm Single Petal Disc, 2-Piston Caliper
Dimensions & Capacities:
Overall Length: 78.3 in
Overall Width: 28.0 in
Overall Height: 44.1 in
Ground Clearance: 5.5 in
Seat Height: 30.9 in
Curb Weight: 362 lb (ABS: 366.0 lb)
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal
Wheelbase: 53.9 in
Top Speed: 105 mph (est)
Details:
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors:
└ 2018: Pearl Solar Yellow/Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Metallic Spark Black, Candy Plasma Blue (KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony)
└ 2019: Metallic Spark Black, Pearl Storm Gray/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray, Candy Persimmon Red/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray (non-ABS in Metallic Spark Black only)
└ 2020: Pearl Blizzard White, Metallic Spark Black/Metallic Magnetic Dark Gray/Phantom Blue (KRT Edition: Ebony/Lime Green)
Price:
└ 2018: $4,999, ABS: $5,299, KRT Edition: $5,499
└ 2019: $4,999, ABS: $5,299
└ 2020: $4,999, ABS: $5,299, KRT Edition: $5,199, ABS: 5,499

Further Reading

Kawasaki

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TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read More
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All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: kawasaki.com, yamaha-motor.com

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