Up until recently, if you wanted a Kawasaki Z street bike you were going to spend well over 10 grand. Not anymore. Kawasaki’s importing its $8400 Z800 ABS in every state, except California. So it’s a good thing we came to southern Oregon to test it.
Kawasaki takes pride in the heritage and history of its Z muscle bike line-up. And the 800 fits into the middle of the modern family, spaced between the fun and affordable $2999 Z125 Pro and the high-tech looking Z1000 ($11,999). Slightly more modest looking than its praying mantis and LED headlight-equipped liter-sized brother (maybe a good thing), the Z8 remains menacing. It’s got a powerful presence, and we appreciate designers’ attention to subtle details like the perfectly symmetrical exhaust headers and sleek tail section with double ‘Z’ LED taillight. Subtle styling touches like this that make it stand out.
A digital panel keeps tabs on the engine’s vitals, however the vertical bar graph-style tach isn’t the easiest to interpret. It could use a gear position indicator too. On the other hand, the speedometer is large and easy to read. We also appreciate the fuel meter and handy average economy and distance to empty features.
Spec sheet mavens are quick to point out the Z800’s flaws, at least on paper. A 500-pound plus curb weight and older style engine and chassis architecture. But lift the kickstand and try to be unimpressed. In reality, the middleweight Z is a machine capable of checking most of the boxes a sport-oriented rider seeks in a new street bike.
Starting with the engine, the 806cc Inline Four engine is a model of smoothness. But don’t just take our word for it, look at the dyno chart. From just over 4000 rpm the water-cooled mill generates upwards of 50 lb-ft of thrust — and it stays that way delivering an exceptionally flat torque curve from bottom to top.
Equally sublime is the engine’s fueling and throttle response, both feeling crisp and responsive, but not overly so. The experience gets even punchier and more playful with the fitment of an aftermarket slip-on, like Yoshimura’s Alpha series muffler. More on that in a following installment.
Even with the stock muffler, wind up the engine and you’ll dig the roaring track of the Kawi’s four rapid power pulses. Although we’ve heard it a million times before, it’s hard not to adore the classic sound of a four-cylinder engine screaming at 10 grand. Like a properly grilled steak, it never gets old. While it sounds rambunctious and lively behind the handlebar, the exhaust note isn’t so thunderous to peeve neighbors, registering a very reasonable sound level both at idle (84 dB), and at a cruise setting (94 dB at half maximum rpm ).
Peak horsepower arrives at just over 10,000 rpm with almost 97 ponies dished out to the 180-series Dunlop Sportmax D214 tire. Power tapers off quickly, but smoothly as the rev-limiter softly chimes in at 11,900 rpm. Here short shifting helps mitigate top end power fall off.
This propels the 509-pound Z through the quarter-mile in 11.44 seconds at 117.1 mph — not bad for a quarter-ton motorcycle. No doubt the properly ratioed six-speed transmission helps it get there, as does the final drive gearing (15/45), which is good balance between acceleration and low revs in sixth gear. We also like the properly weighted clutch lever feel making it feel like a quality, sport machine.
At 75 mph in top gear, the Z8 turns 6000 revs. At this speed, the cockpit gets a bit buzzy, but nothing we’d deem excessive. Those that log the majority of their miles commuting might want to think about lowering the final drive ratio in effort to squeeze more fuel mileage than the 39.3 mpg that we averaged. It’ll also help reduce vibration at faster highway speeds. Still, considering the sporty nature of the engine that’s a respectable figure.
In traditional Kawasaki theme, the middleweight Z is equipped with visually appealing petal-style brake rotors front and rear. Standard ABS means you can apply brakes hard, without worrying about locking up wheels and skidding. Though on the flip side, how fun would it be if you could disable the ABS when you feel like playing. Although budget-minded, the conventionally mounted, two-piece Nissan calipers have enough stopping power with surprisingly pleasing lever feel. Another plus is the brake lever’s five-way position adjustment to accommodate rider’s with different hand sizes. The singe-piston equipped rear brake gets the job done but could be a little sharper feeling.
Ergonomics are upright and traditional, yet the footpeg position is more aligned with the sport crowd, however it isn’t as extreme as a Ninja sportbike. The handlebar has a more conservative rearward bend lending itself to extended saddle stints. It can also be easily swapped out with your favorite aftermarket 7/8-inch bar setup.
Visually, the rider’s seat has a ‘Z’ embossing giving it a quality look, it’s also fairly comfy to boot. Seat height is a little taller than class competitors (32.8 inches), but considering the narrow junction where the seat and fuel tank meet, it isn’t a deal breaker. However, it would be nice if the seat pan was a little longer, as things get cramped for taller riders, especially when your swinging your body from left to right, and vice-versa carving across twisties.
Still, the Kawi amuses when hustled through turns. In spite of its extra heft the chassis is athletic, carving corners with ease and requiring less input than you’d assume considering its weight. The inverted fork rewards sport riding to a certain point, following the road well and giving ample pitch control. Rebound damping adjustment helps calm the shock during full-on blitzkrieg missions, without compromising ride quality on the freeway. Overall, it’s hard to find serious fault with handling manners. We would however recommend replacing the so-so Sportmax D214 rubber with something more grippy and durable – Dunlop’s Q3 or Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso III both come to mind.
Even in stock form, there’s not a whole lot not to like about Kawasaki’s Z800. From the styling to that authentic Z signature engine roar, the 800 makes you want to never put the kickstand down. If you put this bike in your garage – you’re going to be happy.