2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS First Ride Review

MotorcycleUSA Staff | November 9, 2015

Fun, flashy and affordable – those are the buzzwords Kawasaki uses to seduce riders with its new Z800 ABS ($8399). A fresh arrival to American streets (with the exception of California) as a 2016 model, the Z800 slots into the mid-size sport segment that’s currently dominated by Yamaha’s FZ-09.

*Editor’s Note: The Z800 ABS has yet to be certified by the California Air Resources Board, but Kawasaki intends on achieving homologation in the Golden State for 2017.

Imported straight from Europe, the Z800 is powered by larger (806cc) bore version of Kawasaki’s original Z750 (introduced in 2003), which in turn is a derivate of its Ninja ZX-9R – a high-end sportbike popular in the mid to late ‘90s. Although the mechanical architecture is classic, the 2016 machine benefits from all the modern conveniences you’d expect, including fuel-injection, a digital dash, ABS and the sharp, modern styling for which Team Green’s ‘Z’ bikes are renowned.

The Z800 ABS sports an all-digital dash. It certainly looks cool, but the vertical bar-graph style tachometer can be tricky to decipher.

The Z800 ABS sports an all-digital dash. It certainly looks cool, but the vertical bar-graph style tachometer can be tricky to decipher. 

Narrow and petite, we appreciate the well-proportioned cockpit and exterior dimensions of the new Z. The riding position is upright and focused, yet there is a fair amount of leg room even for taller pilots. The rider’s seat is a tad short from front-to-back however, which may make it less comfortable for riders over six-feet tall.

A trapezoid-shaped instrument panel is positioned front and center. It displays standard motorcycle vitals as well as a handy fuel gauge, MPG and range functions. The display is easy to read, but we would prefer a larger speedometer and a gear position indicator would be handy, too. The vertical bar-graph style tachometer is also quirky, at least compared to more conventional swept tach gauges, but it’s still nice Kawasaki is trying something different.

Although a little porky on the spec sheet with a claimed 509-pound curb weight, you’ll be hard pressed to feel it – even at parking lot speeds. Whether a newbie or seasoned pro, all riders want smooth, crisp power. And that’s one area where the Z800 shines. There’s so much torque off idle that you can launch the bike from a stop in third gear. Sure, the Z800 lacks adjustable engine power modes, but the throttle calibration, powerband dynamic, clutch and gearbox are all so dialed-in and Honda-like, you’ll never miss it.

Z800 ABS Settings
Preload: Standard / 9mm
Rebound: 10
Preload: Standard, minus one turn
Rebound: 1.25

A motor that smooth should give up some character and sporty appeal, but the Z800 doesn’t. Hit the throttle hard and the Z ignites the senses with a signature Kawasaki engine wail reminiscent of Team Green’s Ninja sportbike line, as well as its big brother the Z1000. Yet the exhaust note isn’t so flamboyant as to attract undue attention. Power builds progressively all the way to its indicated 12,000 rpm redline, with a soft rev-limiter signaling it’s time to upshift. Overall power output certainly can’t be classified as brutal, but is peppy enough to put a smile on your face, as well as pass traffic with a quick downshift.

Attention to detail. The Z800 has lots of cool styling points, including this Z-themed LED tail light.

Attention to detail. The Z800 has lots of cool styling points, including this Z-themed LED tail light.

Speaking of shifts, we’re impressed with how effortlessly the transmission moves between each of its six cogs. In fact, the gearbox is so slick (in a good way) that the rider can downshift and upshift without working the clutch. But for the times you do squeeze the left lever, it has a progressive and properly weighted feel. Probably the only gripe we have in the powertrain department is how buzzy the engine gets above 6000 rpm. It’s not enough to disrupt the experience, but riding at freeway speeds delivers vibration from the handlebar, seat and footpegs.

Through turns the Z800 gobbles up road with its athletic chassis and more sport-oriented suspension. It changes direction transparently with minimal input through the controls. Another plus is its above-average road holding, especially for the mid-size segment. True, it may not be the most adept over pot-hole-laden city streets, but based on how planted the chassis felt in the twisties, it’s a worthwhile compromise.

The Z800 is proportioned well even for a tall rider. We especially like how narrow it is between the legs.

The Z800 is proportioned well even for a tall rider. We especially like how narrow it is between the legs.

Despite employing lower-spec and non-radial mount front brake calipers paired to small diameter (at least compared a sportbike) petal-style discs, in the stopping department the Z800’s hardware performed flawlessly. We especially valued the accurate, but not overly sharp sensation from the double disc front brake set-up. The calibration of the ABS also performed as advertised, however we wish Kawasaki allowed it to be disengaged for fun, say if you wanted to slide in to turns. Of course, there might be a work around… (see paragraph 10 of our latest Z1000 ABS First Ride).

Within its class, the Z800 certainly brings something unique to the table. It has heaps of the sporty charisma that is at the heart of Kawasaki, yet blends it together with the refinement and polish you expect from a premium motorcycle, only without the hefty price tag.

Z800 ABS Highs & Lows
  • Slick-shifting six-speed transmission
  • Authentic Kawasaki sport appeal
  • Flashy, modern styling
  • Lots of engine vibration above 6000 rpm
  • Can’t manually disable ABS model
  • Vertical bar-graph tachometer can be hard to read
2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS Specs
Engine: 806cc liquid-cooled Inline Four,
16-valve, DOHC
Bore x Stroke: 71.0 x 50.9mm
Compression Ratio: 11.9:1
Fueling: Fuel-injection
Transmission: Six-speed
Clutch: Wet multi-plate; cable actuation
Final Drive: Chain; 15/45 gearing
Frame: High-tensile steel backbone
Front Suspension: KYB 41mm inverted fork with spring preload and rebound damping adjustment; 4.7 inch travel
Rear Suspension: KYB gas-charged shock with spring preload and rebound damping adjustment; 5.4 inch travel
Front Brakes: 277mm petal-style discs with Nissin four-piston calipers w/ ABS Rear Brake: 216mm disc with single-piston caliper and ABS
Tires: Dunlop Sportmax D214 120/70-17, 180/55-17
Curb Weight: 509 pounds (claimed, ready to ride)
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.0 degrees / 3.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.8 in.
Fuel Tank: 4.5 gallon
MSRP: $8399
Warranty: One year, unlimited mileage

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