“Hope springs eternal.” At least so says essayist Alexander Pope. But it would seem never more so than for those loyal to Kawasaki. The brand has possibly one of the most devout followings in the realm of personal watercraft. Many wear their “Team Green” colors with pride, happily going to the defense against haters and naysayers. Even as Kawasaki’s presence in the sport has dwindled, those who bleed green continue to do so with aplomb.
Last year, their loyalty was rewarded with two new Ultra models (the 310X Special Edition and the offshore-specific 310R), as well as a completely reworked powertrain, which radically reduced internal engine temperatures by improving semi-dry sump oiling, cooling and fuel consumption, all of which freed up an additional 10 horsepower over the previous model’s 300 ponies. Comically, the 310-horsepower number is almost superfluous, as no other manufacturer nears such a colossal power output.
Of course, the Kawasaki’s Ultra lineup is much more than the powerplant beneath its seat. Of which, two new seats were introduced last year that continue for 2014; a narrowed, high traction race seat on the 310R and 310X SE, and a heavily bolstered, scalloped LXury bench with the industry’s first heat-resistant covering.
These attributes helped Kawasaki pick up a bit of market share in 2014, as the brand witnessed a much-needed uptick in sales alongside rivals Yamaha and Sea-Doo who saw percentages climb into the double digits.
The brand has been nothing but enthusiastic about the offshore racing community’s adoption of the Ultra. This past July’s Long Beach-to-Catalina Offshore Championship witnessed a 9-out-of-10 sweep of the Top 10, with Kawasaki Ultra 310Xs comprising the top podium spots there as well as in Guadalupe Island’s KaruJet Championship and Russia’s Russki JetRacer Offshore event.
For the Ultra, Kawasaki’s flagship, it’s been a slow evolution: 2007 introduced the Ultra 250X hull and supercharged 1.5L powerhouse; 2011 ushered Kawasaki into the modern age of digital throttle control, electronic trim, fuel economy software and cruise control, as well as some improvements to hull design; and 2014 gave us a stronger, more efficient powerplant. Unfortunately, 2015 won’t be bringing us anything too new apart from a few new colors and some new decals.
Thankfully retail prices also remain untouched for the new year, after 2014’s across-the-board increase. Last year, unofficial production numbers had Kawasaki producing limited runs of the 310R, SE and LX models at just over 500 units. No word has yet to be said in regards to increasing these numbers for the new year, but knowing that dealers are thankfully free of flooring, more this year than in years past, we extrapolate that the Lincoln, Nebraska plant will maintain the status quo.
Carryovers from the previous year include the same paint for the 310R, with only new “bold new graphics” (or BNG) and an odd addition of iridescent green sponsons for the 310R model only. The sponsons are otherwise identical to all other 310 models apart from their eye-scorching hue. The 310R also keeps its two-tone hood and cowling paint scheme with a silver belt-line replacing last year’s blue. The KX motocross-style electro-polished stainless steel handlebars mated to an adjustable solid handlebar mount remain unchanged as well.
As for the opulent $17,999 310LX, it too retains its Ebony and Candy Lime Green livery and popular Jetsounds system as well. We hoped for a more luxurious (read: sedate) hue for the new year, but given last year’s limited run, its understandable that many of the plastics and seat covers would carry over. The aforementioned LXury seat is both thickly bolstered and a wide and supple saddle that staves off heat thanks to its proprietary heat resistant material.
The remaining four units received entirely new color arrangements for 2015, namely the 310X, 310X Special Edition, LX and STX-15F. Revealed early last week in some spy photos, the all-new Ebony and Metallic Phantom Silver scheme for the 310X is very attractive, but it’s the Ebony and Candy Burnt Orange paint on the 310X Special Edition that drew our attention most.
Literally unchanged since 2011’s revision, the Ultra LX shares the same Phantom Silver paint as the 310X, and even features the same shape of the LXury seat (without the heat resistant material), but carries none of the powertrain upgrades introduced last year. Even electronic throttle control, trim, ECO mode, and cruise control are absent.
And of course, the once flagship STX-15F is now slogging through its twelfth year completely unchanged apart from new colors and decals, this year returning to Lime Green. The STX surprised many with a spike in sales in 2014, but many attributed this to heavy discounts and rebates being offered on the one-time World Finals contender.
This year is a testament to Kawasaki’s policy of producing a solid product and playing it safe, letting the word of mouth do most of the talking. There are few who will contend the Ultra’s prowess in the rough, and none will protest Kawasaki’s claim to the throne as King of Horsepower. But, what lacks in this year’s lineup is palpable: optimism. While Kawasaki keeps its head low, Yamaha and Sea-Doo are the ones charging the bunkers on the hill, introducing a wide swathe of new products, innovations and technology.
We look forward to another year of increased sales and growth for 2015, and can’t help but hope for what new innovations and models 2016 will bring. Because that’s what us Kawi fans do.