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

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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