The Return of The King: Introducing The 2017 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki


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Before going forward, let’s take a minute and look back at how we got here, shall we?

Just two years shy of the Kawasaki JetSki’s 40th anniversary, 2011 marked the last production year of the SX-R 800. The 370-pound (dry weight), 7-foot-long SX-R (which was considered large for the time), with its two-cylinder, two-stroke pumping out a respectable 80-horsepower, made the SX-R the most stable and powerful two-stroke standup available. Unfortunately, politically-connected environmentalists eventually outlawed the commercial sale of the SX-R 800 in California and other progressive States, wounding sales and deflating the company’s enthusiasm to continue the ski that had gone unchanged for several years.

Last October, The Watercraft Journal was informed via sources inside Kawasaki that a new hull was coming for 2017. That’s it, just “a new hull.”  Well that, and it would be “something to get people excited about jet skiing again.” That’s all we got. Then, in January of this year, we caught wind of a hush-hush meeting between Japanese brass and a major OE parts vendor where the first images of an all-new SX-R JetSki were shared. We already had a strong inclination that the SX-R was coming back, but this all but confirmed it.

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By late summer, rumors continued to fly – accelerating from just “swirling around” to a Category 5 hurricane. Then, we published the reveal video, and things went to DEFCON 1. It was official: Kawasaki was bringing back the SX-R. So what on earth spurred Kawasaki, with so much ground to make up in the PWC market, to make this play? Although unofficial, we have an idea:

Surprisingly, very little was needed to make the new SX-R a reality, particularly as it uses many off-of-the-shelf parts. Take the engine for example: Directly lifted from the STX-15F, the new SX-R is powered by same digitally fuel injected 1498cc four-stroke, four-cylinder engine already in use for the past 13 years. Even its 60mm throttle body employs a mechanical throttle cable – no fly-by-wire here, folks. The oil collector/separator and composite resin-type intake manifold (taken from the supercharged 310X) are existing factory bits too. The waterbox though, is a narrowed piece that runs inside of the tray’s left rail.

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Once inspired by the Ninja ZX-14R, the tried-and-true 1.5-liter weighs a spine-snapping 208-pounds when fully dressed, and accounts for much of the 2017 SX-R’s (unconfirmed) 550-pound heft. Inside information had it that hopes of the new 998-pound, 1,000cc four-cylinder, four-stroke from the new Ninja H2 could be re-engineered in time to meet the tight timeline imposed by Japan. Unfortunately, the SX-R was destined to be revealed at the 2016 IJSBA World Finals, and the new engine simply wouldn’t be ready in time.

Nevertheless, the new SX-R produces a blistering naturally-aspirated 160-horsepower, exactly double that of the previous SX-R, making it “the quickest and most agile personal watercraft in Kawasaki’s lineup,” not to mention the fastest factory-built JetSki to date with an unconfirmed top speed of 63mph. Processing all of that horsepower into thrust is a slightly reworked intake grate and direct drive axial-flow jet pump. The grate is based off of the previous SX-R design but lengthened. The oval-edge, stainless steel, three-blade 148mm impeller is also pulled from the STX-15F, and the steering nozzle increased from 76mm diameter to 87mm and a total 102mm nozzle length.

The 2017 SX-R was birthed in a surprisingly short amount of time. According to sources inside Kawasaki, the new SX-R is in some degree, based off of a prototype first developed by trusted Kawasaki standup designers Minoru Kanamori and Craig “Fuzzy” Boyd nearly a decade ago; stating, “one day the Japanese pulled [the prototype] off of the rack, crated it up and shipped it off to Japan.” Once there, a hull manufacturer was tapped to create a hull that could handle the weight and power, as well as be easy to ride, yet “capable of carving through a competition buoy course.”

What resulted was a massive 8-foot, 8-inch long (a full 20-inches over the previous SX-R), 30-inch wide craft with a V-shaped hull to both accommodate the massive engine and allow for deep, on-the-rail cornering. Close up studio photography and action photos reveal a ski that rides high on the water on a deeply-straked hull that displays far more STX-15F family resemblance than that of the outgoing SX-R. Shapers even incorporated Kawasaki Splash Deflector (KSD) tiers into the nose to cut down on bow spray, akin to the Ultra. Due to its bulk, the SX-R not only features molded-in “tubbies” but near full-sized runabout rear sponsons.

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The ski itself is incredibly buoyant, allowing IJSBA Hall-of-Famer Victor Sheldon to stand comfortably upright in the greatly enlarged 16″ x 34″ tray with the engine off, according eye witnesses. The tray itself has been modified somewhat, with a 5-degree downward slope, angling the rider forward towards the bars. Soft, rounded edges at the tray’s opening and deck fins have the same Hydro-Turf traction padding on the inside as the tray’s floor, making for softer, easier reboarding too.

Fuel capacity has been increased from 4.5 to 6-gallons, as the new engine is significantly more thirsty. Another carryover is the in-tank fuel pump and the voltage regulator being shared with Kawasaki’s Teryx SxS. According to Kawasaki, “the engine is mounted as low and aft as possible to help the hull penetrate swells and waves with less shock to the rider.” For newcomers to riding a standup, this level of stability, comfort and ability to soak up bumps and chop will be welcome. Although the large Jaguar-esque front fender flares bespeak that of a larger runabout, the Ebony/Jet White and iconic “Kawasaki Green” livery shouts “JetSki” from the rooftops.

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The final direct “parts shelf” carryover is the use of the same handle pole as the JetSki SX-R 800, but with what Kawasaki calls “additional reinforcements.” The handle pole chin pad incorporates amber and red fuel and engine warning lights (respectively) to “inform the rider when the vehicle is low on fuel or if there is a problem with the engine,” although there is no actual analog fuel gauge. The SX-R employs a pair of anti-corrosion motocross-style handlebars and a slim handlebar pad. In the tray, there is a keyed magnetic ignition switch allowing the rider to check the fuel warning light when turned to the “ON” position. It also serves as a handy theft deterrent.

Believe it or not, the 2017 SX-R also features non-waterproof storage located under the handle pole, attached to the hood. The rubberized netting is large enough to store a tow rope, GoPro camera, emergency flares, or other items. Further details such as the estimated MSRP (our guess of $10,995 was thankfully too high – so maybe $10,499) will be revealed after the 2017 dealer meeting scheduled for November 13, 2016; moreover, the media won’t be able to personally evaluate the machine until early next year, so until that time, we will have to wait and see if the resurrected 2017 Kawasaki SX-R JetSki is the returning king of jet skiing, or the emperor’s new clothes.

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Kevin Shaw

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.

51 comments

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  1. linkman 6 October, 2016 at 12:06 Reply

    “Inside information had it that hopes of the new 998-pound, 1,000cc four-cylinder, four-stroke from the new Ninja H2 could be re-engineered in time to meet the tight timeline imposed by Japan.”

    Something doesn’t sound right here…

    • linkman 10 October, 2016 at 06:55 Reply

      So Kevin, any update on this? A 998 pound 1000cc engine in a motorcycle would make for one hefty bike that probably would be no fun. Put that into a standup and it’s going straight to the bottom. That is, if you can get it off your trailer!

      • Kevin Shaw 10 October, 2016 at 19:22 Reply

        It’s 998cc, and just over 100-lbs. There was hope during the middle of development that the naturally-aspirated H2 engine could be adapted for the SX-R, which would effectively cut the engine weight in half (considering the current STX-15F motor is 208lbs.). Unfortunately, adapting the engine for marine use was 1. waaay too expensive, 2. not possible within the absurdly tight timeframe that Kawasaki was put under. The ski is packed to the gills with foam, so it’s ridiculously buoyant. She won’t sink unless you open up the two drain plugs.

  2. linkman 6 October, 2016 at 12:10 Reply

    “not to mention the fastest factory-built JetSki to date with an unconfirmed top speed of 63mph.”

    That top speed will still put it well below the Ultra 310 models.

  3. Kelly 6 October, 2016 at 14:02 Reply

    Wait and see approach here. It’s huge! Don’t get the I have to buy it feeling right of the rip. It’s replacing a damn good ski. Could have hit a homerun if it was similar in size to 800. Afraid they tried to get by on the cheap. I can’t say I blame them with the current status of the watercraft industry.

  4. Ryan 6 October, 2016 at 14:50 Reply

    I hope you guys are filming the demo ride on the course. The live stream is horrible. Did you guys film the presentation? Please post if you did. Thanks!

  5. Joe Alahverde 6 October, 2016 at 19:39 Reply

    Kevin, Thanks for all of the great information.

    We appreciate this coming out so quickly.

    Like all its giant, heavy and not the exact reason we ride standups.

    Maybe on the racecourse it will shine.
    I am going to go aftermarket and build my lightweight ski instead at this time. Most likely.

  6. Joe bob 6 October, 2016 at 20:49 Reply

    This journal attempts to be a player in the media but can’t even post up some video of the new ski in action????

    • Kevin Shaw 6 October, 2016 at 20:54 Reply

      LOL. Yet, here you are reading our content. FYI, video taken of today’s ride was TERRIBLE, both in quality and in representing the ski. We will have exclusive video not of today’s exhibition run, but an exclusive test ride that happened today. Stay tuned – that is, if we’re still a “player” or not.

  7. Ragged Edge 10 October, 2016 at 15:03 Reply

    The H2R motor is 998CC’s, not pounds and I couldn’t imagine 300hp in a standup. Anyway, I saw the ski first hand and saw Warner and Kanamori ride it. Not going to lie, it’s big in person. The days of lifting a ski in the back of the truck are over with this ski. I also am not a big fan of the Mazda front fender look as they aren’t needed for room inside. Lastly, going after new customers(not racers) with a price tag more than a 15F? Really?? I love my SXR1100 so for now I’m good. I will be interested to see what the Yami 4 stroke is going to look like as Watkins has been spotted riding one. Let’s stir the pot a little, lol…

    • Ted 28 March, 2017 at 09:05 Reply

      The front fender things are needed for either flotation or the larger fuel tank, so they are indeed needed. It is big, bu it is agile and handles tighter than the old 550. Yes, they are going after new buyers with a higher price tag; the challenge is getting people interested in the first place.

  8. Pat 16 October, 2016 at 11:33 Reply

    Wow, this is the sort of article my wife’s PR company writes for clients who submit them to publications that massage them to look like they aren’t written by product marketing divisions. First, “Lotsa” is indeed a word and anyone who argues it’s not has a failing understanding of basic English. But that’s redundant to anyone who looks at the grammar of this article.
    http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lotsa
    2nd, the third sentence is the sort of BS that any competent editor or marketing professional would fire a copy writer for. It’s a high school level mistake because all it does is offend. “politically-connected environmentalists eventually outlawed the commercial sale of the SX-R 800 in California and other progressive States…”
    I’ve seen the same argument from the same sort of hacks in the auto world about what killed muscle cars. It’s revisionism from infantile minds. Stand up jet skis died because no one bought them. No one bought them because they are difficult to ride and unstable thus have a very tiny market of athletic people. They also died for similar reasons to why muscle cars died in that their buyers, a group on the low socioeconomic spectrum, could no longer afford a machine that was difficult to insure, expensive to use relative to their income, and unfriendly to family sport. Moreover, low quality writing in articles like this only contribute to the stigma of “Jet Skis” in general.
    We have two stand up jet skis. We grew up going to Parker and know the guy who invented the stand up. One of ours is a 750 X2 and no one wants to ride these generally. Even our water ski racing friends have zero interest. Fat nonathletic people want something they only have to steer and push a throttle lever on.
    And on and on is the list of reasons stand ups died including the fact that the Japanese wouldn’t invest in them going forward to make them cleaner. I love my 750 X2 but I also love clean drinking water and am old enough to remember when some waterways were so polluted that boats sailing through were cleaned by the water.
    I came to this article via an email from Bike Bandit and was very excited to learn more about the news. Now that I am here I am really turned off by the author’s injection of his own petty politics and his low quality writing plus as a bonus his snarky replies about that which he doesn’t not know.
    So I think I’ll call Bike Bandit tomorrow as well as a friend at Kawi corporate and let them know about this crap. Why? Because I’d really like for stand ups to come back and this sort of drivel publishing not only works against that, it also chaps me professionally when the worst people are assigned to represent things important to me.
    As far as the new ski goes, primary to the fun of the original stand ups was their light weight and small size. This new behemoth works against all that. So why would I trade in my 107lb wife’s Superjet for what is essentially a stand up boat? I see no reason. There are Boston Whalers that are lighter than this thing.
    So thanks Kevin Shaw for somehow blowing this intro and muddling Kawi’s offer to the point where a guy who’s had stand ups for decades and always will cares not to look any farther into the news.

    • Kevin Shaw 16 October, 2016 at 13:35 Reply

      Pat, please accept my apologies for penning an article so upsetting as to cause you to lose your initially uninformed enthusiasm for a yet-to-be-released product by providing you with the actual size and dimensions.

      Moreover, I encourage you to alert your friend at Kawasaki corporate to how we produced an article that simultaneously appeared to be written by Kawasaki’s marketing firm and both an “offensive” and “infantile” rant by someone “on the low socioeconomic spectrum” in opposition of the new SX-R, which you yourself call a “behemoth” and “a stand up boat.”

      I am certain he’d be interested to hear that so many of his customers are “fat[,] nonathletic people want[ing] something they only have to steer and push a throttle lever on” for the past 25 years.

      PS. I’ve met Mr. Jacobson before too. He’s a lovely gentleman.

  9. Joe Alahverde 16 October, 2016 at 19:58 Reply

    Kevin,
    We love your weekly Free email newsletter! Keep doing a great job!!!

    As an owner of 2 standup watercraft I find the comments above completely unnecessary and insulting.

    It is time for a new SXR and my Dealer friend has received over 7 deposits already in the last week.

    I am not an early adopter but once the product is on the dealer showrooms I am sure that even more people with buy these new stand ups.

    At the press introduction last week in Lake Havasu the Kawasaki marketing Manager even mentioned that their Customers are way above average in terms of earnings.

    So much for the socioeconomic spectrum comments above!

    • Kevin Shaw 28 October, 2016 at 08:11 Reply

      Y’know what makes getting up and putting in 10-12 hour days delivering the best, industry-leading and frankly, expensive content, 5-days a week worth it? All of the kind words of gratitude I get from readers like you who don’t have to pay one red cent out of their own pocket.

      Expect something in November. We’re gonna string SX-R stuff out each month until it hits showrooms in April.

  10. Rick Wagstaff 5 December, 2016 at 12:59 Reply

    Good job Kevin I’ve been a rider and racer of jet ski stand ups forever and think that the ‘water couch’ riders took away from the pure sport of jet skis. But that’s how things go. Anyway I enjoyed article and eagerly await a few test rides prior to passing judgement. Been riding since 83 and never want to quit, ps this Pat dude is kind of an asshole.

    • Ted 30 June, 2017 at 14:59 Reply

      Fast…enough that throttle application out of a tight turn makes your arms feel like they will be ripped off. A friend with a 78 Kawi 440 rode my SXR last weekend and said his 440 was like a moped and my SXR was like a Hyabusa. This thing simply gets more fun to ride each time I go out.

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