LAS VEGAS — Everybody gambles a little in Las Vegas, and Kawasaki is no exception. The Japanese manufacturer, riding a wave of success of late in the motorcycle industry, has now bet that the highest-horsepower production engine ever seen in the industry will drive Jet Ski sales.
The dealers in attendance at the company’s Vegas meeting obviously agreed, greeting the craft with much applause as it was lowered dramatically to hover over the stage.
Said Odeon Dy, Kawasaki’s market and product strategy director, as the craft gleamed in the spotlights: “With its awesome power, superior handling, and a host of technological innovations, Kawasaki will once again set the new standard by which all personal watercraft will be measured.”
The new Ultras will come in a more performance-oriented 300X, as well as a luxury/touring-branded 300LX.
Kawasaki has never made a secret of the fact that it enjoys the role of horsepower king. The previous Ultra 250, and subsequent Ultra 260, have played a game of one-upsmanship with Sea-Doo for years, as the two manufacturers continued to surpass each other in a bid for bragging rights with the consumer. Now, Kawasaki has pushed that limit far beyond 5 mph tweaks to take the clear lead in the horsepower wars.
The engine producing that power remains relatively the same. It’s the 1,498cc, inline-four, dual-overhead cam design from years past. The big upgrade comes in the form of a new supercharger, an Eaton Twin Vortices Series (TVS) model that features a pair of mirror-image, four-lobe rotors that are said to provide a significant increase in performance over the Roots design of the previous generation Ultra. Rather than deliver compressed air in waves like the previous system, the new supercharger promises more power, in a continuous fashion, and with smoother results.
Boost pressure is up substantially, now 17 psi compared to the previous 11 psi. The TVS unit is also said to be 30 percent more efficient than the previous design, and limit mechanical losses to almost that identical figure. Kawasaki’s large, liquid-cooled intercooler also prevents heat from limiting the system’s overall efficiency.
More power means more stress, so Kawasaki also beefed up several internal engine components. Pistons have been redesigned, the valve train features hardened nickel valves and thicker stems, the cam chain has been beefed up, and a new exhaust camshaft has been retooled with new lobe profiles for added durability. The crankcases also have been strengthened and a more efficient, dual-jacketed oil cooler added to help reduce engine temps.
How will that horsepower affect the craft’s speed? Word is top speed should remain similar, the added punch coming mostly in the low and mid-range of the powerband.
While Kawasaki is now leading the way in horsepower, they’re arguably playing catch-up in features. For the first time, a Jet Ski offers electronic throttle control, which allows the Ultras to offer both cruise control and one-button, no-wake modes. A gas-saving “economy” mode also debuts, in addition to a more conventional speed-governing mode for when a newbie or youngster takes the controls.
Also making its way onto the craft is electric trim. The Ultra’s nozzle can now be trimmed up or down within an eight-degree arc to provide a better ride in rough conditions, under a heavy load, or improve the boat’s cornering attitude. Kawi also says a redesigned impeller and horizontal, propulsion gate guide vanes further enhance the boat’s acceleration, as well as add a touch of stability.
The familiar Ultra hull is back, but sports a few subtle changes to accommodate the increased power. Significant weight (Kawi says 40 pounds) actually has been dropped from the craft, in part by thinning the hull thickness. The bow area, however, has been strengthened with additional reinforcements. There’s also a slight change in styling up front to give the craft a more aggressive look.
Kawasaki also has fine-tuned the boat’s rider ergonomics. A new LCD display promises to be more easily deciphered, as well as add info on the new modes. To port, a redesigned reverse lever, the company says, is both more comfortable and easier to use, and overall handlebar width has been increased by about an inch.
As in previous years, the LX model will add a list of touring/luxury-oriented features, including a richer paint scheme, comfortable touring saddle and chrome accents. A new addition to the LX is a cutout in the handlebar pad that can accommodate (with optional hardware) a variety of handheld GPS devices. In stock form, it’s covered by a removable rubber cap.
Dealer Financing Offers
Rounding out Kawasaki’s lineup will be the familiar STX-15F in an entry-level role, as well as the Ultra LX occupying the midrange. In its final curtain call is the 800 SX-R standup, now dressed up in a bold red-and-black accented color scheme.
Good news for dealers? Kawasaki reps announced the company would be stepping up its presence at boat shows and national events, offering plenty of co-op support, and showcasing a promotional arrangement with NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer. But perhaps the best announcement was the company would be offering interest-free flooring until October 2011 on the Jet Ski line and would defer interest payments on existing inventory for fall buy orders.
In fact, that last detail may have gotten as much applause as the initial 300hp announcement itself. PSB