2019 Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS vs. Z400 ABS

Entry-level sport motorcycles from Kawasaki that punch above their weight.

Kawasaki wants riders of any skill level to taste its sporting pedigree. And for new riders, or those who simply want something small, fun, and affordable, it offers this pair of sub-$5,300 sport motorcycles in the shape of the 2019 Ninja 400 and Z400 ABS. This green duo is designed for entry-level riders who want to have as much fun as possible while learning the ropes.

Ninja 400 and Z400
We compare two affordable lightweights from Kawasaki in the Ninja 400 and Z400.Jeff Allen

Both bikes are powered by Kawasaki's all-new liquid-cooled 399cc parallel-twin. Introduced for the 2018 model year, this compact engine delivers 43.6 hp at 9,940 rpm and 24.6 pound-feet at 8,270 revs. It puts power back to the chain final drive through a slick-shifting six-speed gearbox and manual cable-actuated clutch.

The duo offers a powerband that has the best of both worlds: soft off the bottom, making the engine well suited to a novice learning to find the balance between the clutch and throttle. Yet it has enough immediate torque to get you moving from a stop without having to wind out the engine like you did on the previous-generation 250/300 engine. Gentle clutch engagement further complements the experience making it easy to get rolling from a stop.

399cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Both motorcycles are powered by Kawasaki’s recently overhauled 399cc liquid-cooled parallel twin.Jeff Allen

"The engine in these two bikes is a new rider's dream come true," says our youngest, smallest, and most price-conscious 21-year-old tester, Evan Allen. "I like how smooth the power comes on initially. It just makes these bikes easy to ride."

Hard on the throttle both bikes deliver an exhilarating experience, that is, for entry-level bikes. Kawasaki motorcycles are known for punchy engine demeanor and menacing tone, so it’s nice to see the 400 duo incorporates this DNA. A hint of engine vibration is present above 7,000 rpm but we wouldn’t deem it excessive.

“The engine does vibrate a little bit at higher rpm,” Allen says. “But it sounds so good. I like the whine of the engine and the sound the bike makes as you upshift through the gearbox. It’s a fun bike to ride, regardless if you’re new to riding or have a couple years of seat time.”

While the powertrain on the green bikes feel identical, the chassis and the way the rider interacts with the machine is more diverse. Specifically, the Z400 benefits from a more traditional one-piece handlebar versus the Ninja 400’s above the top clamp clip-on-style bars.

Ninja 400
Kawasaki certainly made its mark on the entry-level sportbike class with the release of its fully redesigned Ninja 400 for 2018.Jeff Allen

The Z400 isn't necessarily more sporty feeling, but it does have a more natural bend, that's as well suited to city riding as it is hunting apexes around curves. One gripe: The Z400's side shrouds can dig into the inside of tall rider's knees. On the other hand the Ninja's hand controls aren't as agreeable, feeling almost tricycle-like, especially when compared to other fairing-equipped sportbikes.

“This is one of the major differences between the bikes. The Ninja 400’s clip-ons make for a more forward-biased riding position. It left me a little sore on surface streets,” tells the kid. “But it returns the favor in the twisties. The Z400 on the other hand was comfortable everywhere.”

Ninja 400 ABS (left) and Z400 ABS (right)
Kawasaki offers two distinct flavors of entry-level sport fun with its reasonable priced Ninja 400 ABS (left) and Z400 ABS (right).Jeff Allen

Although we favored the Z400’s handlebar, there’s no doubt the Ninja 400 is the superior machine when logging highway miles. The addition of the fairing and windscreen do an admirable job of shielding the rider from wind and road debris.

"On the freeway the Ninja certainly blocks more wind," Allen confirms. "But the Z400 is still more comfortable overall. For a naked bike, it is a pretty smooth ride. It didn't create excessive turbulent air that was disrupting."

handlebar setup of the Z400 ABS
With its more natural bend, we preferred the handlebar setup of the Z400 ABS versus the clip-on-style controls of the Ninja 400.Jeff Allen

A negative-lit (white numbers on black face) display keeps tabs on each machine’s vitals. Kawasaki opted to use separate faces on its Ninja and Z bikes. Both readouts relay the same information, including handy gear position indicators, fuel level, and mileage functions. But overall, we prefer the appearance of the Ninja’s more conventional-looking setup, with its large round face analog-style tachometer versus the Z’s all-digital readout with the tachometer integrated at the top of the face.

Fuel-mileage-wise, the Ninja 400 recorded a 45.9 mpg average while the Z400 registered slightly less at 45.4 mpg—a possible nod to the more slippery aero of the Ninja. This equates roughly to a 166-mile range based on the 3.7-gallon capacity of the fuel tank.

Ninja ride
Another key difference between the Ninja 400 and Z400 is the spring rate of the suspension. The Ninja’s stiffer springs will be appreciated by faster and/or heavier riders.Jeff Allen

On the scale, the Z weighs 7 pounds less than the 371-pound Ninja, mostly due to fewer body panels. You’ll be hard pressed to feel the difference though, at any speed.

In terms of handling, we were surprised by how adept either bike performed over bumpy surfaces. Handling is equally favorable on smooth twisty stretches of tarmac. Despite not offering adjustment, the fixed damping circuits control suspension movement well and offer a cushy, well-damping ride, in a similar vein to Kawasaki’s current-generation Ninja ZX-6R. Although the Z400’s suspension components employ softer springs, the difference is negligible. That is, until squeezing hard on the front brake lever. Still, it’s nice to know Kawasaki pays attention to subtle details.

fairing and windscreen
The addition of a fairing and windscreen make the Ninja 400 more accommodating to ride on the freeway. It also makes the baby Ninja look like its more expensive big brother, the Ninja ZX-6R.Jeff Allen

“Both bikes offer a plush ride. Yet the suspension holds up and performs well when ridden at a quick pace. Plus they are agile,” Allen says, smiling. “It feels weird saying this, but they felt like they were on rails.”

Both machines roll on Dunlop’s excellent GPR-300 rubber. Despite being a price-point tire, the performance is anything but, with the tires offering above average grip in the dry and a more rigid carcass construction that stiffens the ride slightly during fast-paced riding in the canyons.

oversize front brake disc
Both green bikes benefit from an oversize front brake disc that offers pleasing stopping power and brake feel at the lever. ABS is standard on the Z400 and available as a $300 up-charge on the Ninja 400.Jeff Allen

Braking hardware is also shared between machines. Both Kawasakis employ a large-diameter 310mm vented disc that’s pinched by an axial-mount twin-piston Nissin caliper. Another identical caliper squeezes a smaller 220mm disc at the rear. Aside from slightly squishier suspension feel up front during hard stops with the Z, the braking performance is identical with an above average level of feel and speed-shedding power when either pedal is pressed. ABS is standard on the $4,799 Z400, but offered as a $300 up-charge on the Ninja, elevating MSRP to $5,299.

Z400 ABS
The Z400 ABS impresses with its versatility both in the city and on back roads. Like the Ninja, it’s a motorcycle that punches well beyond its weight.Jeff Allen

Aside from price, the real question is whether to fairing or not. Riders who anticipate logging a fair amount of mileage on the freeway will appreciate the streamlined body panels and windscreen of the Ninja. They’ll also be pleased that their machine looks similar to the $9,999 Ninja ZX-6R. Still, the Z400 drives a hard bargain. It’s priced $500 less than the Ninja, and includes ABS as a standard feature. The traditional handlebar functions better overall, plus the Z400 is lighter—even if you can’t necessarily feel that when riding.

Ninja 400 clip-on-style handlebar
It’s no surprise the Ninja 400’s clip-on-style handlebar makes for a slightly more aggressive riding stance than the Z400 with its mild-mannered and conventional handlebar.Jeff Allen

“Both bikes performed great and truly impressed me, but again, if I was going to buy one, I would choose the Z400,” Allen sums.

Z400 ABS
Just like the Ninja 400, the Z400 ABS is a hoot to ride on tighter stretches of twisty pavement. Both bikes handle better than you’d expect for motorcycles that cost less than $5,300.Jeff Allen

Gear Box - Z400

399cc parallel-twin-powered sport motorcycles riding
You can’t go wrong with either of these 399cc parallel-twin-powered sport motorcycles from Kawasaki. If you’re new to riding or just looking for a motorcycle that’s as fun as it is affordable, you’re in for a real treat with this 400 duo.Jeff Allen

Gear Box

Z400 ABS
Both Kawasakis represent true sport value. However the Z400 ABS proves to be the best bang for the buck.Jeff Allen

2019 Kawasaki Ninja 400 ABS Specifications

PRICE $5,299 as tested
ENGINE 399cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled parallel-twin; 8-valve
BORE x STROKE 70.0 x 51.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1
FUEL DELIVERY Fuel injection w/ 32mm throttle bodies
CLUTCH Wet multi-plate slipper clutch; cable actuation
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 43.4 hp @ 9,900 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 24.7 lb.-ft. @ 8,300 rpm
FRAME Steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Hydraulic shock adjustable for spring preload; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Axial-mount 2-piston caliper, 310mm disc
REAR BRAKE 2-piston caliper, 220mm disc
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Die-cast aluminum; 17 x 3.0-in. / 17 x 4.0-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300; 110/70-17 / 150/60-17
RAKE/TRAIL 24.7°/3.6 in.
WHEELBASE 53.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.7 gal.
MEASURED WET WEIGHT 371 lb.
WARRANTY 12 months
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT kawasaki.com

2019 Kawasaki Z400 ABS Specifications

PRICE $4,799 as tested
ENGINE 399cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled parallel-twin; 8-valve
BORE x STROKE 70.0 x 51.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1
FUEL DELIVERY Fuel injection w/ 32mm throttle bodies
CLUTCH Wet multi-plate slipper clutch; cable actuation
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 44.1 hp @ 9,830 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 25.1 lb.-ft. @ 8,250 rpm
FRAME Steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Hydraulic shock adjustable for spring preload; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Axial-mount 2-piston caliper, 310mm disc
REAR BRAKE 2-piston caliper, 220mm disc
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Die-cast aluminum; 17 x 3.0-in. / 17 x 4.0-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR Dunlop Sportmax GPR-300; 110/70-17 / 150/60-17
RAKE/TRAIL 24.5°/3.6 in.
WHEELBASE 53.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.7 gal.
MEASURED WET WEIGHT 364 lb.
WARRANTY 12 months
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT kawasaki.com