Does the new Z650 manage to be more exciting while retaining the user-friendly traits of its predecessor?
Words by Benjamin Gracias
Photography by Vikrant Date
Kawasaki’s 650cc platform has been quite popular amongst those looking to fuel their big bike dreams. Even though the faired Ninja was the first bike from this platform to arrive on our shores, it is the Z650 that really drove in the affordability and value-for-money proposition. It has been a motorcycle that provides sufficient thrills for newbie riders without overwhelming them. The problem with this versatile middleweight naked was that it did not feel like you were riding a premium big-bike and missed out on the desirability factor. Something you do not expect from a Rs 5 lakh motorcycle. With the new updates, like a LED headlight, TFT dash and a more exciting engine, does the new Kawasaki Z650 BS6 manage to be desirable without losing its versatility?
Also read: Kawasaki Ninja 650 BS6: Road Test Review
- New Sugomi-inspired LED headlight adds an animalistic face.
- Bassy exhaust note sounds quite good.
- Feels agile in corners.
- Low city fuel efficiency is a letdown.
- Stiff ride quality.
- Heavy ABS intrusion leads to poor braking
- Smartphone connectivity turns out to be more of a gimmick than actually a useful feature.
- Large colour TFT screen is well laid out.
- LED headlamp offers brilliant intensity and spread.
The new generation Z650 follows Kawasaki’s Sugomi styling and feels at home with Kawasaki’s naked motorcycle lineup that includes the Z400, Z900 and Z1000. It now features a new sharper headlamp unit, fuel tank extensions, blacked-out tail lamp accents and an aggressive paint scheme that gives the Z650 a meaner look. The only sore bits about the design are the grab rails and the barbeque grill sized saree guard, both mandatory homologation requirements.
As expected, fit and finish levels are impressive with tight and even panel gaps. The large switchgear buttons have a quality feel but looks dated. Does the Z650 feel more premium now? Definitely!
There’s just a slight hint of aggression with the way one sits on the Z650. The seat is spacious enough to accommodate heavy set riders and not too tall to cause shorter riders discomfort when flatfooting the bike. The wide handlebar makes you lean a bit forward to get to it but it is not too hard to reach for riders of all sizes. The rider’s footpegs are raised and slightly rear-set completing this sporty streetfighter stance.
One grouse that we have with the handlebar is that its ends aren’t flat but rather inwards. This puts your upper body in an awkward constricted form, making cornering a bit tedious. Its lower ground clearance is another issue and will have you grazing the exhausts on bumps; more often with a pillion onboard.
The wide seat has a slightly soft cushioning that feels comfortable during short city commutes or while munching some miles on the highway. While the pillion seat is set high, it offers a wide perch with an upright position. And though those grab rails look ugly, they are quite usable.
Technology & Features:
The new LED headlamp array works well in lighting up the road and impresses with its intensity, focus and spread. Even the tail lamp impresses with its unique Z-shaped LED layout. It is surprising that the Z650 does not get LED turn indicators and continues to use chunky bulb units. That's a miss in our books, especially considering most motorcycles in the segment below offer LED blinkers.
Kawasaki Ninja 650 BS6 instrument console used for representation
Another major highlight on the Z650 BS6 is the switch to a large colour TFT unit from the previous digital LCD console. The new 4.3-inch unit feels premium. The lack of multiple display layouts shouldn’t be disheartening as it gets a clean interface with large fonts. The screen is bright enough to be easily readable even under the brightest sunlight. Also included is Bluetooth connectivity which allows you to pair your phone to the screen via Kawasaki’s Rideology app.
Kawasaki Ninja 650 BS6 instrument console used for representation
We have two grouses with the new instrument console setup. The entire menu can be navigated only via two buttons beneath the dash. We would have preferred navigation buttons on the switchgear like other premium motorcycles or even the KTM 390 Duke or TVS Apache RR 310. It would make navigating through the lovely console menu more user friendly. Lastly, the Rideology app shows you basic information such as parked bike location, ride logs and call notifications. It does not allow you to receive or decline a call via the switchgear or even show navigation guidance on the screen. During our stint with the motorcycle, the app failed to display call and SMS alerts on the bike’s console.
Overall the feature updates add to the premium quotient but have quite a few quirks that need to be addressed.
Engine & Performance:
The Kawasaki Z650 continues to use its predecessor’s 649cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin motor but with the necessary changes in place to make it Euro 5-/BS6-compliant. There is no loss of power but torque is down by 1.7Nm. Weight is also up by a kilo. On paper, these minimal changes result in the new bike being 0.3 seconds slower to 100kmph than its BS4 predecessor. In the real world though you will hardly notice any difference. In fact, it feels a lot sportier and engaging than before thanks to an improved throatier intake and exhaust soundtrack. In fact, the raspy exhaust note makes the Z650 feel quicker than it actually is.
The parallel twin motor continues to be as tractable as before. It pulls cleanly from 2000rpm and offers a steady buildup of thrust all the way to 9000rpm post which it tapers off to its 10,000rpm rev limit. The meat of the powerband lies around 3500 to 6500rpm which makes the Z650 a quick motorcycle to ride in city traffic. Out on the highway too, the motor has enough reserves to sit at 120kmph all day and overtake that slow-moving truck with just a twist of the throttle.
This engaging driving capability come at the expense of low city fuel efficiency. Out on the open road, the fuel efficiency improves and with the larger 15-litre fuel tank should offer a range of around 400km. It is a refined motor with just a bit of buzziness felt around the seat and foot pegs at 6000rpm. This harshness clears out once you climb up the revs. In the city the heat from the cylinders can be felt but it isn't that bothersome and is something you learn to live with.
The Z650’s six-speed gearbox features clunky but precise shifts. While trading engine refinement for an engaging soundtrack seemed like a good deal, the missing slickness of the gear shifts a bit dissapointing especially if you have ridden the older generation models. Its slip and assist clutch offers light clutch actuation that makes light work of city traffic.
Ride & Handling:
The Z650 continues to use the same underpinnings as its predecessor, though the suspension tune has been revised. The middleweight naked now feels vastly different in the way it rides and handles. While the BS4 Z650 offered a pliant ride, the BS6 bike feels stiff at low speeds with sharp bumps and potholes felt all throughout. Even the pillion rider is bound to moan or give the rider a bit of grief about the stiff ride. The ride quality improves slightly at high speed but not enough to redeem itself. A simple dialling down of the preload settings on the monoshock should make matters better. However, changing the setting is a bit of a task, as one cannot easily get through to the notches without opening up a bit of the bodywork.
The tradeoff is better handling. While the BS4 Z650 felt soft and wallowy in corners, the new Z650 is quite eager to gobble up some corners without getting flustered. Thanks to the extra leverage offered by the single-piece handlebar, the steering feels quick and requires minimal effort. Its long wheelbase offers good high speed cornering stability too. Kawasaki now offers slightly premium Dunlop Sportmax Roadsport 2 radials on the Z650. While these work fairly well on dry surfaces, they do not feel as planted over wet road or concrete patches.
The tyres also seem to have an adverse effect on the way the Z650 BS6 brakes. Despite the large disc brakes, the over intrusive ABS significantly affects braking distances. Under hard braking, the ABS kicks in quite early on the front wheel, freewheeling you into the path of the very obstacle that you want to avoid under panic braking situation. A switch to more premium and stickier tyres should solve some of the Z650’s braking woes.
The Kawasaki Z650 BS6 is currently available in just one variant priced at Rs 5.94 lakh (ex-showroom) and arrives in a single metallic Spark Black colour option.
The previous-generation Kawasaki Z650 was a user-friendly motorcycle and a good step up for riders upgrading from sub-400cc motorcycles. Its Achilles heel was that it didn’t come with the desirability associated with a big bike. The new Z650 BS6 changes that to a small extent. It now looks meaner and offers premium features to justify the extra price over its BS4 predecessor. The powertrain now feels more engaging as does handling. Overall, the new Z650 BS6 feels significantly sportier than before and definitely more desirable. The tradeoff though is the firm ride that makes living with the new bike bit challenging but nevertheless an exciting affair. If you are up for it, the Z650 should be your perfect stepping stone to bigger motorcycles in the future.