In the world of four-wheels, they go by ‘halo cars’: the vehicle that represents the brand’s cream of the crop. An aspirational product designed to capture the imagination with bleeding edge performance, technology and style. And since it debuted with a jaw-dropping, supercharged 300 horsepower ‘R’ version in 2014, the H2 line has held the halo title for Kawasaki and, arguably, the entire motorcycle industry.
But where the H2R, and its de-tuned civilian counterpart H2, were built with a focus on speed above all else, the H2 SX has been completely reworked and refined for comfort and everyday rider friendliness. That translates to ergonomics revised for a less aggressive riding position, an added rear seat to share in the fun and 58 liters of luggage-carrying capacity for extended jaunts. Don’t let the civilities fool you, though. The supercharged, 998cc inline-four engine still spools up a titanic 200hp, supplemented with a whirl from the impeller that constantly coaxes you for more throttle.
The Good: In an entirely counterintuitive way, Kawasaki found a way to deliver more bike for less money. Priced at $19,000, The H2 SX is the entry-level model in the supercharged, hyperbike family. And yet it comes equipped with a chassis, suspension and electronics combination that works harmoniously with one of the most tractable and blisteringly quick engines I’ve had the chance to experience. There are at least 200 hp on tap along with 101 lbs-ft of torque from this all-new version of the H2 powerplant.
Who It’s For: Speed-obsessed riders who aren’t keen on cramped sports bike ergonomics, and touring riders looking to work the ‘sport’ quotient back into their multi-day, asphalt-heavy escapes.
Watch Out For: While the ergonomics aren’t as aggressive as a traditional sports bike, they’re not nearly as comfortable as on a conventional sport-touring bike. There’s nothing wrong with the stock setup for sprints between fill-ups, but after our 200-plus mile day in the saddle, I was a bit tender at the wrists and on the rear.
Alternatives: There’s not much direct competition for the Kawasaki H2 SX SE, as it’s the only supercharged motorcycle currently available aside from other H2 variants. The Suzuki Hayabusa is about to celebrate its twentieth birthday, so until the next-generation ‘Busa comes along, the Kawasaki is unopposed. However, within Kawasaki’s own lineup, there’s also the much more affordable Concours 14, which is down on power in comparison but offers more comfortable ergonomics.
Verdict: Credit to Kawasaki’s partnership and their Gas Turbine and Aerospace unit for their incredible in-house-designed and -fabricated supercharger. It is a different design from the one found whirring away in the H2R; the SX’s version will spin up to 110,400 rpm at the engine’s 12,000 rpm redline and deliver over 32 psi of boost. It spins so fast that the blades break the sound barrier inside the housing, inches from your kneecap.
The manner in which the H2 SX transforms explosions into speed needs to be felt to be properly understood — the engine operates more like a warp drive than a traditional mill. Rolling onto the throttle turns the digital speedometer into a mess of pixels as the supercharger spools up more and more thrust. If you need to pass slower moving vehicles, there is plenty of torque down low to squirt by just about anything. The transmission has six gears, but you only ever need second and third to get from A to B with an intact license. To ensure riders are reined in while learning the machine, Kawasaki equipped the SX with a full suite of rider aids — traction control, ABS, launch control, engine braking control and corner traction management — all of which operate seamlessly in concert with a Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit.
The Kawasaki H2 SX delivers one of the most unique riding experiences available today. Many bikes are fast, capable and composed but the SX, and especially the SE variant, is more than that. The new Kawasaki is a hyperbike that could pass as a commuter, blister a track day without breaking a sweat, take you (and a friend) away on a weekend escape and be the center of attention on any bike night.
What Others Are Saying:
• “It’s almost as if they’re a little bit worried some sports-tourer riders might be put off by the extremes of performance associated with supercharging.
No one should be put off. Supercharged doesn’t mean super-aggressive. For the Ninja H2 SX, it means super-powerful but also versatile and manageable.” — Steve Farrell, Visor Down
• “At the end of 200 miles, the motorcycle began to feel less ridiculous than it appears on paper. At first, it seems even more over the top than some of the historical absurdly powerful bikes, like the Suzuki Hayabusa, the Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird, or (I imagine) a ZX-14. But really, this is a big, fairly heavy bike that’s very well suited to its job — it just happens to be ridiculously fast.” — Lemmy, Revzilla Common Tread
• “There is no disappointment with the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE. More sport than tour, even with the hard bags, the Ninja H2 SX SE expands the definition of what a sport touring motorcycle can be.” — Arthur Coldwells, Ultimate Motorcycling
Engine: 998cc, supercharged, inline-four
Torque: 101 ft-lbs
Weight: 573.3 lbs