The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.2
The original ER6n was a great novice roadster and five generations on the now Z650 gives the same mix of perky twin cylinder performance, easy manners and decent handling. This new version has plenty of classy touches, too, such as the new colour TFT dash.
Reasons to buy
- Uprated, quality touches
- Eager, 65bhp parallel twin engine
- Secure, novice-friendly proportions and handling
At a glance
The original ER6n, from which the Zed has evolved, was a nifty, if a little basic, design. Now in its fifth generation it remains a great, accessible, entertaining and affordable middleweight twin. This latest incarnation adds extra style and classy touches which belie its budget price tag. Novice types moving up to a ‘first big bike’ won’t be disappointed but it can’t match the roomy versatility and more punchy performance of its chief rival, Yamaha’s best-selling MT-07.
One of the slight updates for this incarnation is the Zed’s revised styling and new seat. Ergonomics are natural, upright and easy helping make the Zed a doddle to ride and the new seat is comfortable, although the sharp pillion step acts as a ‘bum stop’ and is a little restrictive. It’s also, overall, a little on the ‘cute’, compact side, which novices or shorter riders may welcome but could be a little cramped for taller riders.
Even when first launched as the ER6n way back in 2005 Kawasaki’s middleweight roadster twin had a faired sibling, the ER6f. The same is true today with the Ninja 650, which is both slightly sportier and offers more weather protection so is better over distance so you were never going to get everything with the latest Zed. That said, Kawasaki’s newcomer does make an easy, manageable street bike, is great around town, fun of A-roads and it’s tolerable over reasonable distances, too – but we wouldn’t fancy it two-up with luggage over many motorway miles!
Performance & braking
Kawasaki’s perky, free-revving and rorty-sounding 650 parallel twin has always been well-regarded and remains the motor of choice for (much modified) TT Junior/SuperTwin racers, so we’ve no real complaints. That said, Euro5 has forced its peak power down from 70 to 65bhp, it is starting to show its age and it lacks the punch and flexibility of Yamaha’s newer (and slightly larger) MT-07. Braking, however, is beyond criticism, with great feel and power from the twin 300mm wavy front discs, despite only being grasped by twin-piston calipers.
Ride & handling
Although a budget-orientated bike, the Z650 has more than its fair share of quality touches (as have all recent Kawasakis). As such, although the 41mm telescopic forks and rear monoshock have only minimal adjustment the set-up is good out of the crate and delivers a fairly plush, refined ride rare on bikes of this type (are you listening Suzuki and Yamaha?). As the Zed’s aimed at inexperienced novice types the steering geometry is set fairly slow for stability and security’s sake but is still engaging and entertaining through the twisties.
The Z650, like its predecessor (all three ER6n variants before that) has always been a fairly simply, lightweight and novice-orientated machine with accessible and usable rather than extreme performance, all of which has a bearing on keeping its running costs low. As such, its 65bhp and relatively light weight won’t give consumables such as tyres, chain and brake pads too much of a hard time, fuel consumption above 60mpg is fairly easy to achieve while, on top of that the initial purchase price is tempting, as a popular bike residuals are good and insurance and other running costs should be easily affordable as well.
While there have been some reports of Kawasaki’s 650 twin occasionally having top end problems when thrashed and abused, the basic unit has now been in production for 15 years with plenty of refinements, updates and happy customers along the way. So, if buying used, as long as its service schedule has been adhered to, you should have no concerns. What’s more, with this latest incarnation, the quality of its finishes and components is better than ever and certainly more durable than some of its budget rivals in this category.
Warranty & servicing
As with all larger Kawasakis, and as is now the norm across the major manufacturers, the Z650 comes new with a standard, manufacturer-backed, two-year/unlimited mileage warranty covering all parts and labour so new and even recent used buyers should have little to fear. As far as servicing goes, main intervals are a decent 7500miles apart with expensive valve checks only required at around 20K. What’s more, being a naked roadster makes the Zed easy and straightforward to work on, so servicing bills should be less expensive than most, too.
You’d rightly not expect too much luxury on a budget-orientated roadster such as this – after all, Yamaha’s rival MT-07 is about as basic as they come. But the Z650 is a pleasant surprise. A classy new addition for 2020 is its fancy, full-colour new TFT dash, finishes and detailing are top notch and it also even has neat clutch and front brake lever span adjusters, useful for such a novice-orientated bike. There may not be any fancy modes or electronic rider aids, but it wants for nothing and everything it has is quality.
If you’re in the market for a ‘first big bike’ after moving up from a 125 or A2 class machine, the new Z650 has a lot going for it: easy manners, fun performance, a refined ride and lots of nice details. That said, taller riders may feel cramped, it lacks the weather protection of its faired Ninja 650 sibling and nor does it have the breadth of appeal of Yamaha’s roomier, punchier and sharper steering MT-07. As a step up into full-blown biking, though, it’s brilliant.