The Gilded Missile: 2014 Kawasaki Ultra 310LX JetSki


Arguably, there are fewer skis more striking in design than the Ultra JetSki, even after seven years since its initial introduction.

Even now, four months after my first foray with the 2014 Kawasaki Ultra 310LX, I’m not sure where I stand. Albeit a short dalliance with the fully-equipped JetSki, my brief time spent with the machine left an indelible impression on my mind. Even my second time with it two weeks ago, which provided me significantly more seat time, still has me torn.

The new Kawasaki retails for well over $18,000, and the type of customers who typically purchase a personal watercraft within this price range trend in their sixties. They’re often retired and looking for safe, stable and comfortable excitement, all the while still maintaining a glimmer of the good spirited fun that has kept them young all of these years. They are the cool parents (or grandparents, depending on your age) you wish you had.

Now, don’t misunderstand my tone. The plush Ultra by no means falls short. But it does make one question what makes for a luxury personal watercraft.

Although bold racing colors aren’t par for the luxury course, Kawasaki’s Candy Lime Green and Ebony livery on the LX is undeniably striking.

The greatest distinguishing feature on the 310LX is the incorporation of a Garmin GPS mount and the Jensen-built Jetsound head unit.

Were it merely chrome accents, metallic paint, a bolstered seat, cruise control, tilt steering and gobs of storage, the new 310LX would qualify without debate. But where the LX meets the letter of the definition, somehow the spirit of a luxury personal watercraft is oddly absent.

That I believe is the blurred gray space wherein the 310LX resides. It’s a wolf wrapped in a golden fleece. It’s a sumptuously leather-wrapped punch to the face. It’s a gilded missile. Here’s something that I have probably never uttered before: The 310LX is too fast.

Yes, most luxury-level PWC aren’t capable of boiling water with this kind of speed. The 310LX is 100-percent identical in performance as the 310X and R models, which might be a little too much for the typical luxury PWC customer.

Supplying the Jetsound system with music is your choice of a USB data stick or an MP3 player, be it a smartphone, iPod or other device. The LX comes with water resistant cases for either that plug directly into the head unit.

Sharing all of the powertrain of the 310X and R, the LX’s revised engine benefits from a drastically improved oiling system – larger passages, a baffled pan, improved V-grooved lightweight pistons and two-per-piston underskirt oiling jets – as well as a redesigned crankcase that allows for greater cooling capacity thanks to thicker water jackets. A new heat-resistant polymer intake manifold features long intake runners, and a high capacity fuel pump and larger injectors (500cc) increase fuel flow.

By doubling down on improving engine longevity and efficiency, the 1,498cc Eaton Twin Vortices Series (TVS) supercharged-engine unleashed an extra 10 ponies, bringing the Kawasaki’s output up to a neck-snapping 310-horsepower. All of this is expressed through a 160mm axial-flow 8-vane pump producing a nearly ridiculous 1,890 pounds of thrust.

Kawasaki dedicated a great deal of time and effort to develop the LXury seat, which besides providing added support and comfort thanks to a newly reshaped and scalloped bolstering, is wrapped in heat resistant perforated matting that won’t cause singed skin on hot days.

Beneath the mirrors are a pair of 30-watt waterproof speakers powered by a 20W amp. These speakers won’t rattle your fillings, but even at 60mph, you’ll be able to hear pretty clearly.

Out of the gate, the LX – like all 310HP Ultras – leaps to speed hard, the staccato whistle of the blower shrieking over the water. Throttle response is razor sharp as the boost is always on demand. Through chop, glass or around a hairpin, the Ultra is continually pulling.

Only when you’re airborne or you reach the speedometer-limited 67mph does the fly-by-wire Electronic Throttle Valve (ETV) back off. Improvements made to the hull for the 300X three years ago amplified the Ultra’s handling, and the improved power of the 310 only magnifies it.

It’s hard not to love the new 310 Ultra as it delivers more wind-stretched smiles than any full-sized runabout before it.

At the end of the day, the Ultra 310LX didn’t feel like a luxury watercraft with extra horsepower, but a fully-loaded 310X. The aggressive behavior of the Ultra overshadowed its amenities, making the features almost superfluous.

The new Hydro-Turf mats are clearly marked, but we had wished the luxurious LX would feature two-toned mats similar to those found on similarly-optioned Yamahas.

Considering the age demographic of would-be buyers, I couldn’t help but feel that this might be a little too much. I pondered whether a more gradual “touring” tune might be needed. Sure employing Kawasaki’s “Learning Key” would do the trick, as much as the new SLO mode, but c’mon, no sexagenarian shines to the idea of riding with training wheels.

At a glance, the 310LX isn’t too distinct from the rest of its siblings. It’s slathered in a shade of Kawasaki’s iconic green. The heavily padded steering is tilt adjustable, its handlebars arrayed with multicolored switches and toggles.

Identical to the rest of the 310-horsepower Ultra JetSkis, the 310LX braves the open ocean with aplomb, chewing up chop without breaking a sweat. The Eaton TVS delivers a steady supply of 17 pounds of boost throughout the powerband.

The seat is a tiered and bolstered affair, two-tone in green and matte black, and the decorative graphics are subdued and classy.

In celebration of its 40-year anniversary, Kawasaki bathed the LX in a sumptuous Candy Lime Green hue – not quite Kawasaki Green, but close enough. It’s gorgeous and glistens under the sun. But again, older customers habitually prefer more staid colors – silver, champagne, charcoal, copper, gold, bronze. “Racing green” is not the first to come to mind for an $18,000 JetSki.

Kawasaki was very proud to introduce it’s new LXury seat. Contoured and scalloped, the three-passenger bench offers great support while sluicing through chop or simply cruising long-distances. Wrapped in the company’s all-new heat-resistant seat material, the fear of scorched legs on a hot summer day are now gone. Adding one last bit of traction is a new Hydro-Turf deck mat.

Although not immediately recognizable to the layman, the mirrors too have been reconfigured, with convex glass for better rear visibility as well as new mounting brackets.

The Ultra 310LX remains a stable and dry ride for the most part. Issues with low speed listing have been amended thanks to the addition of a second waterbox.

But it’s around the handlebars where the LX stands above its lineup siblings. Fixed between the digital trim controls, cruise control toggles, throttle and ignition switch is a padded mass that can house a portable Garmin GPS and Jensen head unit to control Kawasaki’s new Jetsound audio system display. A pair of 30-watt waterproof speakers are smartly mounted below the mirrors, powered by an amp rated at 20W (x2 channels, max 40W x2) which can play all of the MP3s your USB memory stick or iPhone/iPad/iPod (or other digital music player) can carry.

Inside of the glove compartment are two water-resistant storage cases, including a billet cylinder for the USB drive, and a sealable pouch for your phone or other device. Unfortunately, the head unit won’t be able to shuffle through your tunes if you’re using anything other than the USB drive.

The Ultra 310LX felt too aggressive for most persons willing to drop upwards to $20K on a PWC. Were Kawasaki to truly vie for the attention of elder boaters, we’d suggest retracting the claws and baring fewer fangs.

I got to play with the Jetsound for a few hours and was impressed with how loud it truly could get (when using my iPhone 5). Maxing out the volume on both my phone and the Jetsound unit carried the rhythmic beats of Bob Marley clear across the water. More than once, I found myself either scrolling through my playlist or fumbling inside of the glovebox to skip to another song – making me keenly aware that I was severely impairing my attention while clipping along at 65mph.

Kawasaki’s new Cruise Control, digital trim control, and SLO mode are welcome additions. We struggled with setting the cruise while underway, but found the button placement and feel intuitive and easy to reach.

Therein lies my greatest concern. Besides my fellow boaters not caring for my taste in music, I was noticeably distracted. And if I, a seasoned PWC rider, was so easily distracted, how much worse would the occasional rider be?

In understanding more of the Jetsound system, I asked Kawasaki’s Manager of Public Relations, Kevin Allen who explained, “[The 310LX] was aimed at elevating the riding experience in the same way the fully-loaded Vulcan Voyager might for the motorcyclist.”

All in all, apart from the Jetsound system that still has me guessing, the Ultra 310LX is a sublime machine that is rich with state-of-the-art technology, rife with creature comforts and yielding to no other personal watercraft on the water. But as a luxury watercraft, it’s deceptive. It’s not a refined uptown gentleman, but a trained killer in a tuxedo.

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – kevin.shaw@shawgroupmedia.com Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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