Kawasaki Ninja 400: Road Test Review
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With a bigger 400cc heart, the Ninja 400 feels like an ideal successor to the 300. But, with an outrageous price tag in India, is it the right choice for you?
Beginner bikes are fun. They let us twist the throttle without threatening to throw us off, and give us the confidence of getting our body off in the corners a bit more every time. But now, Kawasaki has dialled up this 'beginner ' game with the small Ninja’s two cylinders now displacing 399cc. Has the Ninja 400 become a little too big for its own good?
It’s evolved. One look at the Kawasaki Ninja 400 and you would know that it's an all-new bike. The nose now seems to be inspired by the H2. It now gets sharper edges rather than a flowing design like the Ninja 300. From the side too, it gives the impression of a larger motorcycle with a slightly larger fairing. And while the headlamp performance is average, it looks good after dark as both the twin-headlight setup stay on regardless of the beam.
From the side is where you immediately see the difference from the 300. That long, sleek look of the 300 is gone, and this 400 appears to be a bit taller too. That said, it sure does look imposing. The taillight seems to be a little too high compared to the overall design of the bike and from the rear three quarters. The tank, even though distinctly taller when compared to the 300’s, has had its capacity dropped to 14 litres from the earlier 17-litre volume.
The tail section has been reworked as well and now looks sharper. If you look at the bike from the rear three quarters, the rear section looks much larger compared to the rest of the bike, courtesy of the wide 150-section rear tyre and the wide tail. But here in India, we get ugly looking grab rails to go with it, which spoils the look. Luckily, our shoot bike did not have them on.
Even though the Ninja 400 appears to be stubbier than the 300, it’s actually marginally longer. But its slightly more compact feel is down to the wheelbase which has been shortened to help with the 400's flickability, but we will get to that later.
The instrument cluster has a clear negative digital display next to an analogue tachometer, which gives you the pleasure of watching the rev needle hit the 13,000 mark before hitting the limiter. You also get a clock, gear position indicator, two trip metres and an average fuel consumption display.
This is where the Kawasaki Ninja 400 will either make or break the deal for you. The 400 has let go of the 300's aggressive riding posture and opted for one that’s very friendly for touring. The seat height has remained the same at 785mm, but the seat is now a lot flatter than before. Further complementing this are the taller handlebars and the more mid-set footpegs, making for an almost upright, and rather comfortable stance. If you plan to commute or tour on the Ninja 400, this posture will be a boon for clocking those long miles in the saddle.
But, if you are one of those who often likes to hit the track or twisty roads, the Ninja 400's relaxed posture would take away from the experience a bit. Moving on to the rider height, the Ninja's saddle would easily suit riders ranging from 5'5" to 5’8”. Even riders upto 6-feet tall will still be able to manage with a bit of adjustment. If you’re any taller than that though, the bike’s seating posture will definitely feel cramped.
Engine and performance
The Kawasaki Ninja 400 gets an updated engine which now displaces 399cc within two cylinders. Not just that, even the compression ratio has been given a bump from 10.6:1 to 11.5:1. The result? The bike now makes a good 49PS of power at 10,000rpm. That’s 10 more horses than the 300 at a 1000rpm less.
And with the 400 now weighing less - 173kg -, which is 6kg less than the 300, it’s pretty damn quick too. 0-100kmph is achieved in 5.40 seconds, which is the best in its segment. With a little less pull at the bottom end, it’s a little down in in-gear acceleration, with 30-70kmph in third gear taking 4.27 seconds. The 38Nm torque peaks at 8,000rpm and that's where the motorcycle feels the most alive. But what's impressive about this motor is the usable torque in the mid-range. Unlike the Ninja 300, which needed to be revved hard for the bike to really get going, the Ninja 400 has a much better torque spread and feels more grunty in the middle portion of the rev band. Hence, it's that much more fun to ride in the daily commutes with acceleration feeling more effortless.
That said, if you have ridden the Ninja 300, the 400's engine feels a tab bit less refined. It simply doesn’t sound as smooth and you do get a buzz in the footpegs after 8000rpm, though it's not something that will bother you too much. One of the things that really made us fall in love with the Ninja 400 though was the effortlessness with which it accelerates at triple-digit speeds. The bike comes alive around the 8000rpm mark and if you pin the throttle open, you will soon be doing close to 150kmph, without even realising it. The Ninja 400 is unexpectedly fast in the way it climbs up the speedo and you better keep a close eye to stay under the legal limit. Plus the sound that the parallel-twin makes from 8000rpm to its 13,500rpm redline is addictive, to say the least. But there is a very good reason why you should be mindful of not doing that too often.
You see, in terms of fuel efficiency, the bigger displacement and more horses mean that you will be opening your wallet more often. In our test, where we ride the bikes at an average speed close to 30kmph in the city and 75kmph on the highway, the Ninja 400 returned 24.5kmpl and 30.41kmpl respectively.
Luckily though, with all that power, Kawasaki has given the Ninja 400 some serious stopping power. You get a 310mm petal disc at the front with dual-piston caliper and a 220 mm petal disc at the rear also with a dual-piston calliper. In sync with a very well calibrated ABS, the bike comes to a stop from 100kmph in just 45.50 metres, which is very impressive. Also, the ABS here lets the rear wheel lock just a very tiny bit, to ensure that you are indeed getting good stopping force.
Ride and handling
The Ninja 400 gets beefy 41mm telescopic forks up front and a preload adjustable linked monoshock at the rear. And while the front does feel a little softly sprung, the rear is well damped, especially for our road conditions. The overall effect is that the Ninja 400 falls somewhere in between the KTM RC 390 and the Yamaha R3, which is the ideal scenario. Over bumps, the Ninja 400 remains stable and while you will feel the bumps, it won't be unsettling. Just make sure you watch your speeds going over them to avoid a jolt from the rear.
Kawasaki has also given the Ninja 400 a sharper rake (24.7 degrees) than the 300, along with a shorter wheelbase (1370mm). Also, even with larger looks, the bike has actually lost weight. All of these factors come together to make the bike feel lively. It’s quick to lean into corners but remains confident and not twitchy. In fact, the bikes feels so stable that even beginner riders can carry some speed on corners. And because of the shorter wheelbase and the sharper rake, the bike is quick to change directions as well.
Thankfully, Kawasaki has chosen to swap the IRC tyres on the Ninja 300 with Dunlop SportMax for the 400. The 110/70 R17 front and 150/60 R17 rear offer plenty of grip for daily commuting as well as enthusiastic riding. In fact, they would also be fun on track days. Speaking of which, we really feel that the Ninja 400 would be faster around a track than the Yamaha R3 and might even leave the RC390. But we’ll reserve that judgement for a proper track comparison.
Rs 4.69 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). That's the price Kawasaki India is asking for the Ninja 400. And quite frankly, it's outrageous. At this price, the Ninja 400 commands a premium of Rs 1.6 lakh over the 300 after the latter’s price was reduced recently. In fact, it’s the most expensive motorcycle in its segment. So even though Kawasaki has finally made the entry-level Ninja what it was always supposed to be - an ideal beginner’s bike which is as suited for city use as it is for the track, it’s going to be out of reach for most enthusiasts. As lovable as the motorcycle is, good value it is not. And that's the sad verdict. It's the best small Ninja yet, but we really cannot recommend it at that price.