The Ninja H2 SX’s split personality is summed up by the two pairs of digits in its name. H2 symbolises the supercharged sports-tourer’s crazy side, dating back to the 750cc H2 triple that helped establish Kawasaki’s reputation for speed and excitement in the early Seventies. That H2 designation was revived three years ago for the equally barking Ninja H2, which brought a new level of supercharged performance to the street.
By contrast, the letters SX have come to represent common sense and practicality since being used for the Z1000SX in 2011. The sports-touring four has since become a top seller in markets including the UK. Now Kawasaki aims to bring supercharging to a wider audience – hence the Ninja H2 SX.
The new bike retains the Ninja H2’s format of supercharged, 998cc four-cylinder engine and steel trellis frame, but it’s built for comfort as well as speed, with a more protective full fairing instead of a half-fairing. Its bars are higher and its screen taller, though there’s no Z1000SX-style adjustability. Paintwork is of high quality but can’t match the Ninja H2’s stunning mirror finish.
That supercharged, 16-valve motor produces 197bhp despite being detuned slightly from Ninja H2 spec, and reworked to be more fuel-efficient and cooler-running. Chassis parts including the frame are strengthened to cope with the weight of a pillion and luggage. Alongside the standard Ninja H2 SX is an upmarket SE variant, as tested, which adds heated grips, cornering headlights, a two-way quick-shifter and other extras.
One twist of the throttle reveals a key difference between Ninja H2 and H2 SX: the sports-tourer responds in a much smoother and more controllable fashion. It’s less brutal but still breathtakingly rapid. It pulls strongly from low revs, kicks harder as boost pressure rises, and by 8000rpm is accelerating at a ballistic rate, heading towards a top speed of over 180mph.
Handling is stable and reasonably agile, though at 260kg with fuel the H2 SX is no lightweight and there’s some pitching when closing the throttle. Ride quality is excellent; braking reliably strong. The Kawasaki can’t match the wind protection or range of some sports-tourers, and gulps fuel when ridden hard. But its roomy riding position and broad seat mean it’s respectably comfortable. A pillion gets solid grab-handles; the accessory panniers each hold a full-face helmet.
There is something special about a bike that allows its rider to choose between sensible sports-touring or outrageous supercharged speed, and switch between the two in an instant. For restrained riding there’s little advantage over the normally aspirated Z1000SX, which is practical, excellent value for money, and for most riders quite quick enough.
But that SX doesn’t attempt to dislocate its rider’s shoulders when its throttle is tweaked, or make a distinctive fluttering sound with its supercharger on shutting-off, as the blade-tips decelerate through the sound barrier. The Ninja H2 SX is too hardcore to deliver the best of both worlds, but its blend of common-sense and craziness is unique and utterly addictive.
Price tag of our bike: £18,835.75 (Ninja H2 SX SE costs £18,099, plus panniers £736.75. The standard Ninja H2 SX is £15,099)