It’s difficult to adequately verbalize the sensation of manhandling a personal watercraft that simply does not want just anybody to ride it. Like the untamed, free-roaming American mustang, the unbridled power and wild spirit resonating from within the bowels, reverberating up through the seat and out of the handlebars of the 2015 Kawasaki Ultra 310X SE (Special Edition) is not unlike to those ancient Iberian horses first introduced to this continent by Spanish explorers.
When left to its base setting and operated under the newly-minted, mint-green operation key (previous Immobilizer keys were either orange for normal operation or yellow for SLO mode), the Ultra 310X SE – as with all 310-powered supercharged Ultras – is an exhilarating ride for an experienced rider. For those a little more unseasoned, the brutish onset of a true 310-horsepower can be a white-knuckle drain-the-blood-from-your-face outing, if not a totally overwhelming exercise.
This runabout comes on hard, and will continue to pull harder and higher through the 201-ft. lbs. of torque curve until the fatigue building up in your quivering index finger finally wins. Last year, the Ultra’s four-lobe Eaton TVS (Twin Vortices Supercharger) blown 1,498cc four-stroke was wholly untethered, receiving top-level improvements to engine oiling through larger oil passages for quicker oil return to the redesigned baffled pan that reduces oil windage and sloshing, and twin under-piston cooling oil jets (an improvement over the outgoing 300X’s one jet per piston).
Appropriately, the new Ultra 310 engine received redesigned lightweight cast pistons with additional ring land V-grooves. Likewise, the liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder plant thicker water jackets, increasing capacity and flow, as well as improved intake charge cooling thanks to a separate coolant loop. Last year also saw the addition of a larger capacity fuel pump for improved fuel flow volume and 500cc injectors mounted to a new long-runner intake manifold made from heat-resistant plastic, improving low-to-mid range power.
This equates for a truly competition-capable craft from the showroom. And this is not a superfluous statement: In the year since it’s introduction, the 310X-powered JetSkis have dominated all endurance events across the planet. A completely untouched 310R nearly clenched the second podium spot for the 2014 Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore Championship. The American AquaX series’ 300 Class was almost exclusive Kawasaki territory. Were the Ultra 310X’s top speed not hindered by a GPS limited cap, the 310X would – and has been documented doing so – regularly reach low 70’s.
Truly, Kawasaki left nothing on the table when it came to creating the 310X series, but what exactly makes the Special Edition special? The SE bridges the gap between the race-equipped 310R and respectively-plain 310X, as well as introduces a little flavoring worthy of the luxurious 310LX. Swathed in an incredibly photogenic Burnt Orange, the metallic umber is almost more fetching than the glittering green of the aforementioned LX. The racier mats of the 310X and R are replaced by the LX’s hexagonal pattern too.
Yet, the SE retains the 310R’s narrowed and scalloped two-tone saddle, although the SE forgoes the gripper material exclusive to the R. The SE also keeps the basic five-point tilt steering found on the naturally-aspirated Ultra LX and base 310X. Apart from these characteristics, the SE is almost indistinguishable from other models. All 310-powered Ultras share identical fly-by-wire controls, replete with Cruise Control, 5mph No Wake mode, ECO mode and electronic trim toggles. A folding swimstep hangs above the massive 160mm 8-vane pump and new-in-2014 3-blade, long-cone prop.
One final notch in the Special Edition’s belt is its exclusivity. International availability is almost nil, making the amber-hued Kawasaki an all the more desirable craft for Australian enthusiasts (and other nationalities). Holdovers from the 2011 improvements (bringing the previous 260X to the 300X) include the hull’s deep-V 22.5-degree deadrise, giving the Ultra it’s characteristic offshore aptitude; it’s voluminous storage (56-gallons worth) and fuel capacity (20.6-gallons), and stellar information display.
A mentionable quibble that materialized over the time we had with the SE was the slow responsiveness of the unusually stiff trim and Cruise Control toggles. We also longed for even the faintest of chimes to confirm the engagement of the big Kawasaki’s ECO mode, but cheered the immediacy and ease of the ski’s No Wake setting. And although the Ultra’s reverse handle design has never been better, it seems antiquated in a world where both Sea-Doo and Yamaha tout handlebar-mounted reverse levers.
Unlike that of its competitors, its ECO setting is the most spirited we’ve encountered. Using the yellow Learning Key bridles the big 310X’s output to a more comparable level with Sea-Doo’s Eco Mode. Unfortunately, switching riding preferences requires switching keys (and thereby killing and restarting the ignition) where the Sea-Doo asks only a press of a single button.
Again, the Ultra’s massive industry-leading performance might be too polarizing for some. Throttle response is scalpel-sharp and power comes on as hard as a blacksmith’s anvil. With the trim set low, the 310X bites down and cuts sharp turns without unloading the pump at wide-open speeds. Slinking an inside knee low in the footwell, resting almost flat in the saddle practically spurs the Ultra to take the turn faster, its thoroughbred plant at full sprint.
All of that said, we still can’t help but favor the Ultra 310X SE among so many other PWC. Whether galloping across calm bayshore waters or frolicking in foamy Pacific surf, the Ultra is incredibly stable, surefooted and predictable. In The Watercraft Journal’s experience, no ski in its class is less prone to searching or seeking, regardless of sea state. It’s handsome, clean design, measured contoured seat, handlebar placement and variety of power delivery makes the 310X a terribly desirable watercraft. Coating it in candied orange only makes us want it more.