Supercharged Kawasaki Z Coming

Teaser video confirms big news on the supercharged bike front—but what will it be?

Kawsasaki Z
Could the upcoming supercharged Kawsasaki Z, be similar to the SC-02 Soul Charger shown in this 2015 sketch?Kawasaki

Supercharging has been part of Kawasaki's strategy for nearly a decade, first using a roots-type supercharger in the Ultra 250X Jet Ski in 2008. While it stands alone as the only major manufacturer using the technology, it's about to increase the number of supercharged motorcycles with a brand-new forced-induction machine.

Kawasaki first revealed its supercharged H2 engine at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2013 after several years of development and two years before it reached production. Now it looks like Tokyo will again be used as the stage for the unveiling of the next generation of supercharged machine. A teaser video released on Kawasaki’s official YouTube channel confirms that the next bike will be part of the firm’s Z range, showing the logo in front of a spinning supercharger compressor wheel.

The video's title—"Supercharged Breaking News: More Kawasaki major news arrives soon—Feel the Force!"—eliminates any lingering doubt that it's coming.

However, there’s still a mystery over precisely what the bike will be. The Z name suggests it will be an unfaired model; in various markets Kawasaki sells the Z1000, Z900, Z650, Z400, Z250, and Z125, all sharing similar naked styling, not to mention the retro-styled Z900RS. Only one bike, the Z1000SX, carries the Z name in Europe (Ninja 1000 here in the US) and has a full fairing, but the sport-touring role is already covered in Kawasaki’s supercharged range by the H2 SX so we can be confident the new machine won’t go down that route.

Naked Styling

Back in 2015, Kawasaki dropped two major hints about the direction it planned to take the supercharged range in the future. The SC-01 Spirit Charger and SC-02 Soul Charger were both only shown as sketches but depicted high-end supercharged four-cylinder bikes using derivatives of the existing H2 engine, single-sided swingarms, and H2-related details including a distinctive reverse-raked headlight. Of the two, the SC-02 Soul Charger is likely to be closer to the upcoming supercharged Z, since it was a true naked bike whereas the SC-01 featured a half fairing.

H2-Based Engine

While there’s speculation that Kawasaki might opt to make a smaller-capacity supercharged bike in the future, the chances are the new Z will feature a derivative of the existing H2’s 998cc inline-four. Why? Because new engines cost a fortune to develop and any cost saving found in manufacturing a smaller engine would, at this stage, likely be outweighed by the need to recoup its R&D costs.

Bear in mind that since the start of its supercharged project Kawasaki has taken the bold step of developing all of its technology in-house. Rather than turning to an existing supercharger manufacturer, the firm has designed and made its motorcycle-specific blowers unaided. As well as ensuring that the superchargers are well suited to motorcycle applications, the move means Kawasaki has an edge on any rival that decides to jump on the supercharging bandwagon later on. With tightening emissions rules emerging as a growing problem, particularly for firms making high-revving, normally aspirated superbike engines, Kawasaki’s supercharger gamble might well pay off over the next few years.

We’ve already seen a remarkable reduction in cost of the tech since the launch of the original H2. The H2 costs $29,000 in 228-hp base form and a massive $55,000 as the 305-hp H2R. In contrast, the H2 SX is a much more affordable $19,000, so by increasing the production of the same engine to cater for the new Z model this promises to further amortize the development costs and reduce the price to the consumer.

stripped down H2
It’s not likely, but possible, that the supercharged Z model Kawasaki has teased could be a stripped down H2, shown here without any body work.Kawasaki

How Much Performance Can We Expect?

If the analysis that the new Z model will bear a version of the existing H2 engine is correct, it should be safe to assume that something in the region of 200 hp should be an easy reach. The lowest-tuned version currently available, in the H2 SX, makes 197 hp. While other bikes can match that figure, Kawasaki’s supercharged engine has a huge torque advantage over similarly sized normally aspirated designs.

The most powerful naked bike currently available, MV Agusta’s 208-hp Brutale 1000 Serie Oro, makes a peak of 85 pound-feet of torque. Ducati has already promised that next year’s 1,103cc Streetfighter V4 will be more powerful still, suggesting it has the same engine specification as the 214-hp Panigale V4, but even then it will manage only around 91.5 pound-feet. The H2 SX easily beats both with 101 pound-feet at 9,500 rpm despite being the weakest of the supercharged Kawasaki engines. In H2R spec the boosted Kawasaki motor is good for 121.5 pound-feet.

So unless Kawasaki’s new supercharged Z is massively detuned, it’s got to stand a strong chance of being the highest-performing naked bike on the market.