No question, Honda hit a home run with the 2011 CBR250R, a compact, fully modern interpretation of the quarter-liter commuter/sportbike. The Honda entered a market segment that had been dominated by Kawasaki’s twin-cylinder 250R ever since the little Ninja’s introduction in 1986. The Kawasaki hadn’t seen many updates over the years, simply because there wasn’t much competition, although it did undergo a significant refresh in 2008. But in a Cycle World comparison test last year, those tweaks weren’t enough to let the Ninja match the refinement and build quality of the fuel-injected, ABS-equipped, single-cylinder CBR.
Hard financial times can provide great growth opportunities in this economical, entry-level category. So, when Honda priced its 2012 CBR250R ABS at $4599, which is just $400 more than the MSRP for the current non-ABS Ninja, Kawasaki was forced to react.
Rumors of an updated 250 Ninja (even the possibility of a displacement increase to 300cc) have been circulating for months, but information and photos of the 2013 model finally surfaced on Kawasaki Japan’s home-market website—much to the dismay of the U.S. arm of the company, which evidently had not yet been provided with this same material.
According to that website, the engine, frame and suspension are all-new. The liquid-cooled, dohc, eight-valve, 249cc parallel-Twin will almost certainly be fuel-injected, despite the disclaimer that EFI will not be available in all markets. (If competing against the rival Honda is the Ninja’s intent, injection would seem to be mandatory: In back-to-back testing for our comparison, the carbureted 2011 Kawasaki was not able to fuel as crisply as the injected Honda.) In an effort to endow the new Ninja with more-precise fueling, give it better throttle response, improve what is already excellent fuel economy (we averaged 60 mpg on our 2011 testbike) and reduce emissions, the engineers have fitted it with dual-butterfly throttle bodies.
Other engine changes include new cases with a larger oil sump, die-cast aluminum sleeveless cylinders treated with an anti-friction coating, anodized crankshaft journals also for reduced friction, new pistons and increased engine-cooling performance. All of it adds up to a powerplant that should be more efficient and that Kawasaki claims has more bottom-end and midrange power.
As for the chassis, the Ninja’s new high-tensile steel frame is more rigid to improve stability and handling. Additionally, the engine is rubber-mounted to reduce vibration. Revised suspension front and rear works in concert with wider tires (no sizing is listed) for a better performing chassis.
With the very real possibility of ABS becoming mandatory in some markets, Kawasaki has included it as an option. Weight for the standard model is listed as 379 pounds; add four pounds for the ABS model. These would seem to be accurate curb weights, given that the last Ninja we tested tipped the scales at 352 pounds dry.
Styling-wise, the new 250 evidently was inspired by the current ZX-10R and ZX-14R. The crisp, angular upper fairing incorporates headlights reminiscent of those on Kawasaki’s flagship liter-class sportbike, and new side fairings with ZX-14R-like vents are part of an effort to better manage heat and keep it away from the rider. An all-new tailsection is more in line with Kawasaki’s current design trends. Ten-spoke wheels and a more modern-looking exhaust silencer (incorporating a new heat shield) also freshen up the visuals, while a hybrid analog/digital dash gives the new Ninja a more polished appearance.
Further details will have to wait until we get official confirmation from Kawasaki’s U.S. distributor. Expect the Ninja 250R’s pricing to be competitive with that of the Honda CBR250R.