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4/16/13

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R Test Drive



On Sale Date: Now

Price: $14,699—$14,899

Competitors: Suzuki Hayabusa

Powertrain: 1.4-liter I-4; 200 hp, 120 lb-ft (est.), six-speed manual, RWD

EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy): N/A
What’s New: The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R defends its hyperbike status by embracing excess. The mill is up to 1.44 liters, a 0.89 liter increase (or roughly a scooter’s worth) over the outgoing ZX-14. Engine improvements include lighter and stronger pistons, a more aggressive camshaft profile, and revised intake and exhaust ports. To manage all this power, the ZX-14R comes with a two-setting power mode and three-stage traction control system that can be switched off, while a new slipper clutch promises reduced rear-wheel hop during aggressive downshifts. Change wasn’t limited to the powertrain; more than 50 percent of the ZX-14R’s aluminum frame has been modified for rigidity, while a longer (and therefore more stable) swingarm is countered with stiffer springs and lighter wheels. Finally, restyled body panels feature a cleaner look with hidden fasteners, and also improve the Kawasaki’s heat management.

Tech Tidbit: Much to the relief of moto hooligans everywhere, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R’s new traction control system can, in fact, be turned off. But as we discovered at the dragstrip, the electronics are smart enough to know when you’re doing a burnout. Thanks to an override in the system, vaporizing the rear tire at a standstill is perfectly permissible, which says to us that Kawasaki knows how to keep its core constituents happy.


Favorite Detail: The price. Its sub-$15,000 cost of entry makes the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R a staggering bang-for-buck performance bargain, offering Porsche 911 Turbo S-like acceleration for the price of a Nissan Versa.

Driver’s Grievance: Though this bike is capable of securely warping you into hyperspace with traction control, stopping is another matter. Although ABS is now available on many motorcycles, the obscenely fast Ninja ZX-14R doesn’t offer it, despite its bombastic claims for blistering speed.

Bottom Line: Kawasaki achieves astounding levels of performance with the 2012 Ninja ZX-14R. This is a motorcycle with brute power that’s (finally) tamed by an appropriately responsive and instantaneous traction control system. But while Kawi keeps its bragging rights for building the world’s quickest and most powerful mass-produced bike, the title comes with a caveat, because the ZX-14R isn’t available with ABS for the U.S. market. So buyer beware: While bikers with many miles under their belts will be able to enjoy this engineering achievement while also keeping it under control, newer riders may easily overstep this bike’s braking limits. As deliciously tempting as the ZX-14R’s outrageous performance may be, this land rocket can just as easily nip you in the rear.

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