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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.