2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300 Review
We did not think a displacement boost of just 47cc would make much of a difference to anything, and we were wrong. Kawasaki stroked its Ninja 250R engine by just 7.8 mm, increasing engine size to a grand total of 296cc for this new Ninja 300. In the process, the machine has been transformed into something almost entirely different.
And something a whole lot better. From just a 19-percent displacement bump, Kawasaki extracted a power increase of eight horsepower—now totaling 39 compared with the 250’s 31. A power graph shows significantly more power and torque across the engine’s operating zone. While the torque curve describes a similar profile to that of the previous engine (just higher up the gradient), the new power curve diverges at the top, indicating an even larger improvement.
And that’s great out on the open road, where you can use most of the tachometer’s 13,000-rpm spectrum for sporty riding. But what impresses even more is the ‘round-town throttle response, rideability and sophistication of the new bike. Clearly, not all of the new engine’s handy responsiveness is from the increased displacement bump alone. In fact, about 50-percent of the engine components are new.
There are larger, wider intake ports, larger intake valves, and a new open-deck-design cylinder block with improved cooling and plated bores. Lighter pistons (with a new anodized coating and a ridged underside for better cooling) hook to shorter, lighter rods. Although the crankcase design was not changed (a key cost-control issue), the crankshaft itself had to be revised to provide the longer stroke, and it features a new web design to cope with its new crankpin offsets.
With the larger capacity and longer stroke, the engine required a new balancer shaft, and got one that is four-percent heavier and 1.8-mm thicker. Combined with rubber-insulated front engine mounts, the new Ninja 300’s balance shaft provides significantly smoother and more sophisticated operation than the machine it replaces.
Some of the welcome refinement comes from a new digital fuel-injection system found on the new bike. Two 30mm Keihin throttle bodies with dual throttle plates and 8-hole injector nozzles endow the Ninja 300 with instant start up and smooth response at any operating temperature. Riding the bike around town is a revelation in terms of smooth response and civilized ridability.
A new, chunky looking muffler updates the look of the bike as much as its revised fuel tank profile and its thoroughly updated fairing design. The fitment of 17-inch Y-spoked alloy wheels with a new, bigger 140/70-17 rear tire also helps give the Ninja 300 a big-bike look, yet the machine remains a 380-pound lightweight on the street; easy to wheel around and quick to respond to steering inputs.
There are so many revisions to the bike that you could write a book detailing them all, but important upgrades include a new low-effort slipper clutch from global clutch specialists F.C.C. Ingeniously designed ramps on the mating surfaces of the two main clutch components either increase or decrease clamping pressure depending on the load direction. Thus, the clutch basket increases pressure on the plates during acceleration, and backs off on overrun or during downshifts to reduce rear-wheel lockup.
Transmission gears were beefed up for the higher output, and a new shift drum was employed. The rear sprocket carries three fewer teeth to make the overall gearing taller, and that’s something we noticed immediately on the highway, where the old bike always felt and sounded busy and frenetic.
And before we forget, the bike has a wholly new frame, with 150-percent stronger high-tensile-steel main frame tubes and new gussets for improved longitudinal rigidity. Suspension components are also new, with fork calibrations that are softer than before to match the stiffer frame, and there’s a new, more adjustable rear shock with stiffer spring and damping values.
Perhaps the best improvement of all, from the rider’s point of view, is a new instrumentation module with a large 15,000-rpm tachometer flanked by a clear LCD display panel with speed, clock, fuel gauge, odometer, dual tripmeters, and an ECO display that pops on (resembling a little pure-new-wool logo) to congratulate frugal riding styles.
New levers are fitted to help riders with shorter hands, while aluminum footpegs and an integrated rear wheel hugger and chain guard complete the transition to fully fledged Ninja appearance. Wait and see, many people are going to mistake this little bike for one of its bigger Ninja brethren .
From the rider’s standpoint, the Ninja 300 is deserving of that association. Where he 250 was a highly-strung little bike with a serious jones for high revs, the 300 is now a much better integrated piece—able to be ridden at moderate speeds and revs in a way that completely transcends its former persona.
While still a fabulous beginner bike (assuming beginners actually liked the obligatory zinging engine speeds on the old bike), this one has the enduring charm of a middleweight that will encourage owners to hang onto it longer, and may well attract experienced riders looking to downsize.
We rode the bikes out of Northern California’s wine country on Skaggs Springs Road, which may be one of the world’s greatest motorcycle roads, and the little Ninja did not disappoint. Even with just 296cc under you, it’s likely that the rider will still be the determining factor as to how fast you can traverse this road.
Certainly, the chassis and tires were up to the job, and the engine did a fine job of maintaining a fast riding rhythm so long as you remembered to pop down a gear after a long-braking corner entry. Not that the new 300 feels quite as flat as the 250 when you’re in a gear too high, just that fast riding needs all the bike’s got.
New ABS availability is a real boon to this model, offering all of the safety benefits the system provides to beginners and experts alike. The single front disc seems to have plenty of stopping power, but there is a slight tendency to fade when used at the extreme pace we occasionally adopted. Inevitable with the limited thermal capacity of a single-disc setup.
And the only other beefs we can find about this little jewel is the fairly hard character of its seat on long rides (soon to be addressed by gel seats available as accessories), and an occasional harshness from the fork on badly rippled surfaces. That infrequent fork shudder we can live with, particularly at the price.
The Kawasaki Ninja 300 starts at $4,799 in black or white, with green or black Special Edition models listed at $4,999. ABS is available only on SE models at a price of $5,499.
The big bonus that accompanies the purchase of a Ninja 300 is its fuel efficiency. It handily outperforms the 250 in this regard, and in an economy run staged by Kawasaki for attending journalists, the winning figures were well over 100 mpg. But that was while adopting extreme hyper-miling techniques. We chose to ride slowly along the route, as if touring in a very relaxed manner, but not to stay in a tuck, or plod along at 25 mph.
The result was fuel economy in the mid-80s mpg. That would give you well over 200 miles on a tankful, and reduce fuel costs to a fraction of what even hybrid car owners enjoy. And now, with the bike’s newfound power and responsiveness, the fun quotient is about as high as the fuel mileage.
Who should consider this bike?
The new little Ninja is suitable for beginners, intermediates and experts alike. The light weight and easy handling should prove no real challenge to beginners, and the relatively modest power and new-found flexibility make the powertrain entirely appropriate. Riders with some experience will be able to use the bike’s respectable power output at higher revs and its well-sorted chassis and grippy tires to hone their skills, while experts will simply have a blast wringing the last few ergs of energy from the machine.
Bottom line: just about everybody wants one of these, including journalists at the launch.
The obvious marketplace rival (and likely provocation for this upgrade) is Honda’s CBR250R. The availability of ABS at only an overall cost of about $4,500 provides an advantage over the Ninja 300 (which retails for $5,499 with ABS), but its single cylinder engine and significantly lower power output help negate that advantage. Other than the two aforementioned companies, nobody else has a model that fits into the sport quarter-liter category, although Suzuki does have a retro-style 250 standard model called the TU250X.