When it debuted four years ago, the YZF-R3 quickly became a very popular model in Yamaha's USA catalog. And why not? A smooth, quick-revving 321cc parallel twin-cylinder engine supported by a very capable chassis and wrapped in supersport-style bodywork while selling for under $5K was a sure recipe for swift sales off the showroom floor. The R3 soon stood atop Yamaha USA's motorcycle sales charts and has been one of the company's best sellers ever since.

Intent on maintaining that success, Yamaha instilled a good number of upgrades to the 2019 model R3, the most obvious being swoopy new bodywork that follows the styling cues of its R6 and R1 brethren. The new fairing not only provides better wind protection for the rider, but it's also claimed to reduce aerodynamic drag by about 7 percent, resulting in a claimed 5-mph top-speed increase. There's a central air intake like the R1 and R6, but instead of forcing ram-air into the airbox, the R3's airflow is routed down toward the radiator. A pair of slimmer and sharper-looking LED headlights replace the previous model's halogen units.

New bodywork
New bodywork hints at the refined character and better handling of the 2019 Yamaha YZF-R3.Brian J. Nelson
better aerodynamics
Now sharing the same styling cues as the R1 and R6, the R3 has better aerodynamics and a more aggressive look.Brian J. Nelson

Behind that sleeker fairing sits an LCD instrument panel that closely resembles the R1 dashboard, with bar graphs for the tachometer, coolant temp, and fuel gauge, digital speedometer, and gear position indicator, and a host of other readouts. Another nod to the R1 is the hollowed-out cast aluminum top triple clamp that mimics the same piece found on Yamaha’s MotoGP M1 racebike, with the clip-on bars now mounting below the triple clamp 22mm lower than before for a more sporty riding position than the previous-generation R3. More ergonomic changes include a reshaped fuel tank that sits 20mm lower at the fuel cap to allow the rider to tuck in easier, while widening 31.4mm above the knees for improved leverage and grip with the knees and legs when cornering; capacity remains the same at 3.7 gallons.

LCD instrument panel
An LCD instrument panel resembles the unit from the R1, though it is a lower-tech example.Brian J. Nelson

Don’t think it was all just styling and ergo changes with the new R3 though. A new, more rigid 37mm inverted KYB fork boasting a 20-percent stiffer spring rate along with increases in rebound and compression damping now graces the front, while the single rear KYB shock also gets revised spring and damping rates. The spring rate is 11-percent stiffer along with 10mm more preload, and the rebound damping is increased while the compression damping is slightly reduced. These suspension upgrades address one of the few complaints that some had with the original R3; while adequate for average street riding, the soft spring/damping rates of the previous model would begin letting the chassis come unglued when the pace ramped up in the turns. The fork is still nonadjustable, and the shock only features seven-step spring preload adjustability, but that helps keep the 2019 R3’s sticker price exactly the same as last year, with the standard model retailing for $4,999 and the ABS version at $5,299.

Yamaha YZF-R3
A stiffer spring rate, revised damping, and more preload give the YZF-R3 better handling for 2019.Brian J. Nelson

Another performance upgrade is the fitment of Dunlop’s excellent Sportmax GPR-300 tires as standard equipment. The previous older-generation Michelin Pilot Street rubber was okay for average street riding, but the tires had definite performance limits and made sure you knew about them. Any aggressive riding would cause the tires to skip across the pavement rather than slide, making for some wide-eyed moments before you realized where those limits were. The Dunlops are light-years ahead in overall performance, with vastly superior grip and handling that’s good enough for club racers and racetrack use.

Yamaha USA gave the American press the opportunity to spend a day with the new R3 up in the mountains surrounding San Diego to see whether the changes have a made a difference. When I heard the bars were 22mm lower on the new R3, I assumed that while the lower position would be great for sport riding, it would be a little uncomfortable on extended highway runs. But even after more than an hour of traversing the superslab, I never felt pretzeled or experienced any excess pressure on my wrists. The counterbalanced parallel-twin powerplant also helped in this area, with minimal vibes to keep my hands free from numbness and the mirror images clear. And although the suspension has been stiffened up, the ride was still comfortably smooth and compliant.

2019 YZF-R3
The 2019 YZF-R3 has a novice-friendly character that still is entertaining to expert riders.Brian J. Nelson

The new R3 still has that novice-friendly character that helped make it such a sales success, with a low-effort clutch and positive-shifting transmission working with the engine’s smooth throttle response making the power easy to control. The low 30.7-inch seat height, narrow midsection, and light weight (claimed curb weight is unchanged from the previous model at 368 pounds for the standard R3 and 375 pounds for the ABS version, 379 pounds on the CW scales) ensure the Yamaha is unintimidating at lower speeds, and the brakes are responsive without being too progressive in a way that could overwhelm less-experienced hands.

And yet once I got into the mountains, it quickly became apparent the new R3 will continue to satisfy the experienced rider; the performance upgrades have definitely transformed the R3 into a much more capable sportbike. Corner entries that would have the previous model tying itself into knots were drama-free on the 2019 version, and the stiffer spring and damping rates do a better job of keeping the pegs and hard parts off the deck, meaning you can carry more speed into and through the turns. Aiding these antics are the vastly increased grip and excellent handling characteristics of the Dunlop GPR-300s that inspire even more confidence in the rider.

Yamaha’s 2019 YZF-R3
Yamaha’s 2019 YZF-R3 is a more capable sportbike.Brian J. Nelson

I wasn’t really a fan of the previous R3 brakes that felt wooden and dull in their response and power, though now it’s pretty easy to see that those brake pads were chosen to not overwhelm the previous stock tires’ capabilities. The new R3 brakes have much better feel, power, and responsiveness, and since the hardware is exactly the same as the previous model, it’s more than likely that a simple pad change is the culprit here. It’s amazing how much good tires affect the rest of a motorcycle’s components.

A day spent with the 2019 YZF-R3 showed me that Yamaha isn’t going to just ride on the bike’s sales success, and that’s obviously a good thing. The styling updates have made it even more appealing to the average consumer, while the chassis and ergonomic upgrades make it more satisfying for the experienced rider without compromising that novice-friendly character. It’s pretty easy to see why the R3 has sold so well, and with the changes for 2019, the new model looks certain to continue that trend.

YZF-R3 sportbike
It’s clear to see the YZF-R3 will continue to be a favorite in the Yamaha sportbike line for beginners and experienced riders alike.Brian J. Nelson

2019 Yamaha YZF-R3 Technical Specs

Price: $4,999 (standard); $5,299 (ABS)
Engine: 321cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, parallel twin, 4 valves/cylinder
Transmission/final drive: 6-speed/chain
Horsepower: 36 hp @ 10,700 rpm
Claimed torque: 19.8 lb.-ft. @ 9,000 rpm
Frame: Tubular mild steel, trellis space frame
Front suspension: 37mm inverted KYB fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, 4.9 in. travel
Front brake: Twin-piston caliper, 298mm disc; optional ABS
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 220mm petal disc
Rake/trail: 25°/3.7 in.
Wheelbase: 54.3 in.
Seat height: 30.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.
Curb weight: 379 lb. (ABS)
Contact: yamahamotorsports.com