Admittedly, it would be a little misleading to call the 2020 Kawasaki STX 160LX a completely designed JetSki. It’s not that it’s not radically different than its predecessor (which survived nearly unchanged for 15 years, besides rotating paint and decals) – well, because it is.
It’s just that the newest entry in Kawasaki’s lineup retains the same hull design (first shaped nearly two decades ago) as well as the same 148mm axial-flow jet pump – and to a lesser extent, a slightly altered version of the tried-and-true 1.5L 4-cylinder four-stroke that has powered the STX since 2004.
Yet, in spite of these carryovers, Kawasaki found a way to eke new life into a slowly staling platform and from it, create a whole new line of entries into the Recreation segment for Kawasaki. Yes, from the outgoing STX-15F we got the STX 160, STX 160X and STX 160LX.
For much of last year, The Watercraft Journal was gifted the lanyard to a fully-optioned STX 160LX. Earning the JetSki the coveted “LX” designation was most notably the presence of Kawasaki’s Jetsounds audio system. Made from a pair of 30-watt waterproof speakers and twin 20-watt amps (x2 channels, max 40W x2), Jetsounds can play all of the MP3s your Bluetooth-capable smartphone or other digital music player can carry.
A small control pod is fixed beneath the handle bar pad, with a digital LCD screen reading off track numbers, volume and even allows for optimizing the bass and treble settings. The power on/off button is found at the top but be warned, it’s so tiny that you might miss it if you’re not looking closely.
And to stow your smartphone, Kawasaki has split the glove box to accommodate a snap-closed water-resistant lid. This eats up the vast majority of the previous STX’s glove box capacity, but knowing how many folks bring their phones and wallets with them, it’s a smart addition. The main glove box door closes down over that.
Equal to the full-sized Ultra 310LX, the STX 160LX is coated in the same Candy Lime Green and Ebony paint livery and features the same two-tone, high bolstered seat covered in heat-resistant black textured vinyl. An added feature new for the 2020 STX redesign was the slide-and-fold rear seat, which has the rear seat sliding on a plastic track, allowing for rear storage access without removing the cushion.
The last portion of the STX’s 35-galllon overall storage is a rubberized pouch on the back for docklines or a tow rope. It’s fixed to the deck between the two-rung reboarding handles behind the rear passenger. Being an LX, there’s also a folding swim step that snaps closed against the two-tier swim platform; and it and the footwells are covered in two-tone CNC-cut Hydro-Turf traction matting.
For the driver, the redesigned cockpit features the same LCD dash found on the naturally-aspirated Ultra LX’s with two cup holders molded into the fairings on either side of the narrow handlebar neck. The throttle is no longer cable operated but fly-by-wire, with enough spring tension to feel natural. To the driver’s left is the trigger-released manual reverse lever, which we dearly anticipate its impending retirement.
Beneath the seat is Kawasaki’s 1,498cc, 4-stroke, dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-cylinder as found in previous STX’s but now equipped with the same ignition and engine management system as the larger Ultras, thus giving it the ability to operate in Cruise Control or No Wake mode. No Wake mode is permanently set at 5 miles per hour. No toggling up or down here. Cruise Control does permit for upwards adjustment of 5 miles per hour from the set speed though.
And most exciting is the addition of Kawasaki’s massive 20.6-gallon fuel cell from the Ultras; giving the STX the largest fuel capacity of any competitors’ entry into the Recreation segment. At nearly 600-feet above sea level, a 240-pound rider, a half tank of fuel, perfectly glass water and cool low-70º air temps, we squeaked out a maximum 58mph on GPS (the speedometer said 64mph, FYI) and a best mpg of 5.5 at wide-open-throttle.
All of that is pretty respectable given the STX 160LX’s curb weight (meaning when loaded down with fuel and oil), comes in at 877 pounds – that’s 110 pounds over the Yamaha VX Cruiser HO, and 140-pounds over Sea-Doo’s GTI SE 170. It’s also worth noting that early in the production run, Kawasaki found that the hood bases were cracking, resulting in several hoods breaking free. Thankfully, Kawasaki addressed this and it’s no longer an issue.
In redesigning the deck, Kawasaki elevated the rider’s height, which in turn, altered the JetSki’s center of gravity. While tracking straight, this means very little. But in leaning into a corner, the ski rolls heavily on its centerline, giving the sensation of being the bob weight at the end of a metronome. It also means that at speeds below 40mph, the ski tends to teeter-totter left to right (the behavior evens out with more throttle).
The watertight phone compartment is helpful, but we bemoan giving up usable storage for sunscreen or bottled water. The cup holders upfront intend to resolve this, but our bottles would rattle and bounce out in anything other than glass conditions. We cut out a pair of pucks from spare Hydro-Turf we had in the garage which helped absorb most of the vibrations. It’s a small quibble but after losing a can of sunscreen in the lake, it was worth noting.
We were happy to have options in how to operate Jetsounds – either via Bluetooth or the head unit in the handlebar. We do warn that it will immediately begin playing whatever you have queued up on your phone if the system isn’t manually deactivated, so be aware that folks at the launch ramp might be unwittingly listening to your favorite podcast while you go park the truck.
In light of these small issues, we found the 2020 Kawasaski STX 160LX JetSki to be quite enjoyable. While lacking some of the versatility of its Sea-Doo competitor or racy handling of the VX Cruiser HO, the STX 160LX is a strong entry into this hyper-competitive cut-throat market segment. Priced with an MSRP of $11,699, the STX 160LX benefits from a low entry price with comparable features – and in today’s high demand environment, is gonna be a winner no matter what.