The New Big Small-Displacement Ninja

Kawasaki takes the next step in the struggle to find that perfect balance between displacement, performance and affordability with the new-for-2018 Ninja 400. This all-new ride delivers the aggressive styling that one expects 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 Millennial buyer base. It appears that the Ninja 300 is going by the wayside as the factory tries to unload the 2017 300s with a discounted price tag, so it’s probably safe to say the 400 is the replacement ride; at least in the U.S. market. After a race to the bottom, it looks like Kawi has decided the sweet spot lies somewhere uphill for American riders.

Continue reading for my review of the Kawasaki Ninja 400.

  • 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
  • Year:
    2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Parallel-Twin
  • Displacement:
    399 cc
  • Price:
    4999
  • Price:

Design

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767594
By bumping the displacement up to 399 cc, the factory gave us enough power for both comfort and fun.

The new 400 raised some eyebrows, to be sure. Did Kawi dip too far down in the cubeage? Are the new kids on the block not as keen on “smaller is bigger” as was originally thought? Do fans of the Ninja line expect something more than scooter-sized mill? The speculation does go on and on, but I prefer to think that the 250 and 300 just didn’t have enough balls to be safe on U.S. interstates. Sure, they could get up to speed, but with little reserve, so you’re boned if you need power to evade a bad situation. By bumping the displacement up to 399 cc, the factory gave us enough power for both comfort and fun.

Bodywork sees 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 Pearl Solar Yellow/Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony is sharp as a tack, as is the Candy Plasma Blue with the Metallic Spark Black as my least favorite. Oh and of course, the green and black KRT livery rates an honorable mention as well.

Chassis

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767599
In an effort to keep weight down, the factory nickel-and-dimed the overall mass in a number of places to include the tripletree, wheels and seat.

It wasn’t enough to simply tuck in some more cubes; the factory tweaked the frame as well 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 to eliminate a few of the frame components. It seems to have helped some since the 400 weighs almost 20-pounds less than the 300, 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: 41mm 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: 310mm semi-floating single disc/ 220mm single disc

Drivetrain

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767079
The mill turns in a predictable, user-friendly performance that should be manageable for the target buyers.

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, due diligence was paid 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 in the system 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 x 51.8mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel System: DFI® with 32mm throttle bodies (2)
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed, return shift

Pricing

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767086
MSRP starts at $5k for non-ABS up to $5.5k with colors and ABS.

At the bottom of the barrel is the base Ninja 400 in Metallic Spark Black or Candy Plasma Blue for $4,999. The same black theme can be had on the ABS model for $5,299, but much like Harley-Davidson, Kawi makes you pay if you want that Pearl Solar Yellow/ Pearl Storm Grey/Ebony finish or the Lime Green/Ebony KRT version, to the tune of $5,499. Buyers have a choice of warranty packages from which to choose.

Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Colors: Pearl Solar Yellow/Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Metallic Spark Black, Candy Plasma Blue (KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony)
Price: $4,999, ABS: $5,299, KRT Edition:$5,499

Competitors

2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
- image 767090
2015 - 2018 Yamaha YZF-R3
- image 750527
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. 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, and it 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.

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, “The 400 has more torque than the 300, which should make 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 topspeed, why are you looking at 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.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, DOHC, water-cooled
Displacement: 399 cc
Bore x Stroke: 70.0 x 51.8mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel System: DFI® with 32mm throttle bodies (2)
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Transmission: 6-speed, return shift
Final Drive: Sealed Chain
Electronic Rider Aids: ABS
Chassis:
Frame: Trellis, high-tensile steel
Rake/Trail: 24.7°/3.6 in
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41mm 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: 310mm semi-floating single disc
Rear Brakes: 220mm single disc
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: 366.0 lb (368.2 CA model)
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal
Wheelbase: 53.9 in
Details:
Warranty: 12 Month Limited Warranty (optional Kawasaki Protection Plus™ 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
Color Choices: Pearl Solar Yellow/Pearl Storm Gray/Ebony, Metallic Spark Black, Candy Plasma Blue (KRT Edition: Lime Green/Ebony)
Price: $4,999, ABS: $5,299, KRT Edition:$5,499

References

Yamaha YZF-R3

2015 - 2018 Yamaha YZF-R3
- image 683625

See our review on the Yamaha YZF-R3.

Kawasaki Ninja 300

2015 - 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 300
- image 716643

See our review of the Kawasaki Ninja 300.

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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