Kawasaki’s little Ninja has always punched well above its perceived weight limit. The first baby Ninja, the 250, was the surprise of 2008 – so much so in fact that after huge sales success in America, Kawasaki Europe suddenly sat up and started to pay attention to this wonderful small capacity sportsbike that they had previously deemed unworthy of importation. Plans were hastily re-arranged and for 2009 the Ninja 250 arrived in Europe, where it topped the sales charts. The updated Ninja 300, which landed in 2012, continued to be a solid seller throughout Europe and was one of those ‘bread and butter’ bikes that kept cash in dealers’ tills. It was for this reason that the Ninja 300’s failure to meet Euro4 emissions laws last year, and the subsequent drying up of stocks, caused much distress in Kawasaki showrooms. Happily for fans of this bike, 2018 sees a new baby Ninja arrive in the shape of the Ninja 400.
Far from simply being a big-bored Ninja 300, the 400’s parallel twin engine is all-new and with its larger 399cc capacity comes a very welcome increase in both power and torque. Still dipping below the A2-legal threshold, the Ninja now makes a very spirited 44.4bhp with an equally impressive 38Nm of torque. The slip and assist clutch has been updated with a claimed 20% reduction in effort required at the lever and its economy also improved through a more advanced fuel-injection system and redesigned airbox and intake. And those are not the only changes.
While still retaining a wonderful Ninja silhouette, not to mention some very brash (and typically Kawasaki) paint schemes, the 400’s chassis has been revised. The trellis frame uses the engine as a stressed member, helping reduce overall weight, and features a new swingarm mounting plate, again to cut weight. Up front the 41mm forks (which are conventional and not inverted) are stiffer than before while ABS has been added to braking system. All in all, it adds up to far more than just a subtle styling tweak, this is a brand new Ninja model and one that having ridden I’m certain will replicate the success of its forbearers.
A huge part of the sales success of the previous small capacity Ninja models was their ease of use. They were just so charming and fun and while their parallel twin engines weren’t exactly fast, they delivered more than enough power to keep up with traffic and reach national speed limits. The Ninja 400 delivers all of this wonderfully relaxed sensation, but with even more power and a top speed of close to 100mph if required.
When you accelerate on the Ninja the airbox gives a lovely burble that makes you feel like you are riding a sporty machine, which I love, and the acceleration itself is also very impressive.
While still far from intimidating, the Ninja is surprisingly rapid off the mark. Its low weight of just 168kg certainly helps matters, but I was hugely impressed just how quick the 400 was to get up to speed while also having enough power to allow you to roll-on the throttle in top gear to overtake cars doing 60mph. It feels anything but a ‘baby’ sportsbike and where the 300 did feel like a bike newer riders may outgrow quite quickly, the 400’s extra performance makes is far more of a longterm prospect. Add to this a wonderfully light clutch, vibe-free engine, impressive economy figures and a slick gearbox and I’m struggling to criticise the 400’s motor at all. It’s really impressive and a definite class leader. And its chassis doesn’t let the side down either.
While Kawasaki do trade a bit on the Ninja’s track ability (there are a few one-make race series in the world, and the old Ninja 300 is a staple of the new World Supersport 300 championship), for my money they should instead focus on its road handling, which is very good. Once again, its light weight comes into play, making it effortless to flick from side to side while the improved suspension is impressively compliant and far from the bouncy budget items you expect on a bike in this class. Yes, it’s a touch on the softly sprung side if you are a larger rider, but that’s to be expected and in no way does it ruin the fun. But I’m not hugely impressed by the brakes…
The single two-piston sliding caliper does its job ok, but I reckon a bike with the Ninja 400’s performance now demands a second front disc. Or at least a slightly more powerful four-piston radial caliper. Yes, it’s as much show as anything else, but there were times that while the ABS system was excellent, I did find myself giving the lever a fair old tug. It’s better to have too much braking that is controlled by ABS than too little, especially on a bike aimed at newer riders. Although I may be being a little too critical here because in all honesty, I’m struggling to find anything else to complain about on this bike.
Looking down the checklist, the Ninja 400’s dash has a gear indicator and fuel gauge, the parallel twin motor is wonderful, the chassis is sporty without going over the top, the riding position roomy and relaxed and I love the aggressive new styling – I can’t see anything that Kawasaki have missed aside from an extra brake disc! If you are in the market for a ‘first big bike’ or just want a light, fun and cool sportsbike, try the Ninja 400 out for size, it really is a brilliant little bike.
Price: £5249 (KRT Edition £5399, Performance Edition £5749, KRT Performance Edition £5899)
Engine: 399cc liquid-cooled DOHC 8v parallel twin
Power: 44.4bhp @ 10,00rpm
Torque: 38Nm @ 8000rpm
Weight: 168kg (wet)
Claimed economy: 63mpg
Insure your bike through Carole Nash.