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Review: 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400
So what exactly is the Ninja 400? It’s a slightly larger Ninja 300. Duh! But wait, that’s not entirely true. Because the Ninja 400 is quite different when compared to its smaller sibling.
The most obvious changes are easy to see. The 400 looks completely different from the smaller bike. The front end is new with an aggressive light cluster. The sides get a large 400 decal and the (new Dunlop Sportmax) tyres are fatter and run on new five-spoke wheels. Underneath that pretty fairing, there are even more changes. First off, the engine gets 103cc extra, taking it up to 399cc and 48bhp and 38Nm. It gets a longer swingarm, but the wheelbase is shorter, the cams are lighter, updated intake and exhaust, higher compression and other tech updates. It still gets ABS and a slip and assist clutch.
To ride, the biggest difference is the power update. The extra power and torque is evenly spread across the rev range. This does wonders for the rideability. If you remember, when the Ninja 300 replaced the 250R, the biggest takeaway was the meatier midrange. With the 400, Kawasaki has extended the power all the way down to the lower reaches of the rev band. This allows you to pull away cleanly from super low revs. The 400 pulls cleanly in sixth gear from as low as 30kph. It also accelerates with effortlessness. 100kph comes by in no time and the engine doesn’t feel tested even when accelerating hard. That said, a major chunk of the power still remains fairly high up. The difference now is that you aren’t suffering till you reach that spot.
One thing that needs to be noted here is how light the clutch is. In fact, it is so light that it takes getting used to. Initially, it is very difficult to get a feel of the bite point. But the lightness does come in handy when stuck in traffic. The engine is a parallel twin, so it isn’t going to be butter smooth anyway. But as far as twins go, the Ninja 400 is not bad at all. Sustained high speeds did not have any vibrations or buzzing creeping in, so that’s a win.
Like the engine, the chassis too has seen a lot of changes. The entire frame has been redesigned to become lighter and stiffer. It is a tubular steel unit with the engine as a stressed member. The suspension has become beefier and is now 41mm with a gas-charged Uni-Trak shocker at the rear. The setup is a nice balance of ride quality and handling. The Ninja goes over everything Indian roads can throw at it without a problem. Compared to the other bikes in the segment, the suspension is super pliant. But that is not to say that it loses out on dynamics. In fact, it can corner pretty hard despite the comfortable ride. It never gets wallow-y or unstable even when cornering hard. Even the brakes are quite good. The 300 runs the same size rotor as the ZX-14R at 310mm. Of course, this is a single rotor setup. The only complaint is that they lack a bit of feel. But since the bite is excellent, it can be overlooked.
For a motorcycle that looks aggressive the way the 400 does, the Ninja is surprisingly comfortable to ride. The position itself isn’t as aggressive as you would expect and you can easily spend extended periods of time in the saddle. It is roomy too. For my 5 foot 8 inch frame, there was enough space in the saddle that I could never once hit the bump stop even when fully stretched out. What adds to the accessibility of the Ninja is the low saddle height. It makes the already light motorcycle (173kg) a breeze to walk around and handle in stop and go traffic.
Overall, the Ninja 400 is a nice little motorcycle. It adds more usable power to the Ninja 300 while retaining the great neutral handling that its predecessors were known for. It is pricey, though. At Rs 4.69 lakh, it is over Rs 1.5 lakh more expensive than the Ninja 300 now that the 300 is locally assembled. You do get an excellent motorcycle for the price. But, there is some excitement that is lacking that some other, much cheaper motorcycles can give you. What it will get you is big-bike feel and pretty much the same amount of eyeballs. If that’s your thing…
Engine: 399cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin, 48bhp, 38Nm, 6M
Kerb weight: 173kg
Tank capacity: 14 litres
Verdict: The Ninja 400 makes for a wonderful small bike. It is fast, handles well and looks great. If only it wasn’t so pricey