New Look, Save Flavor: 2020 Kawasaki STX 160LX JetSki (Video)


It goes without saying that all of us at The Watercraft Journal were excited to learn that Kawasaki’s longest-running runabout – the STX-15F – was getting a much-needed fresh for 2020. Although much of the Recreation-segment JetSki would remain the same – most notably the hull and 148mm axial-flow jet pump – a larger portion of the machine would be new.

Upon its introduction, Kawasaki revealed that the STX-15F would make way for three different-optioned watercraft, the STX 160, the 160X and the 160LX. And that’s precisely the model that Kawasaki provided for us for testing today – the 2020 Kawasaki STX 160LX. Priced with an MSRP of $11,699, the STX 160LX brings with it a whole new design, greater ergonomics and plenty of punch to send the other guys running.

The Watercraft Journal was invited to put the new STX 160LX through its paces, so we flew out to sunny Southern California for two nights at the luxurious Paradise Point resort that occupies its own island in San Diego’s Mission Bay. But there was no time to sit on the beach, we had work to do!

As noted, the 2020 STX was redesigned from the bondline up, with a whole new deck design. The footwells are deeper and much wider, giving the rider plenty of room to move around. The progressive rear swim platform is wide, and steps down to a lower level; together with a thickly-padded folding swim step that integrates into the bumper rail and a two-rung reboarding ladder – makes reboarding the STX one of the easiest to do in the industry.

In fact, a great deal of detail has been put into the rear of the STX. Below the rear passenger seat is a rubberized pouch that stows a dock line or tow rope with ease. The stepped deck and footwells are covered in two-tone, CNC-cut Hydro-Turf traction matting as well. Of course, a key feature is Kawasaki’s new hinged rear seat that folds up to reveal a removable, deep well storage tub.

The rear seat simply unlatches, slides backward and then up, vertically. A small stainless steel kick stand keeps the seat upright. If you’re looking to access the engine compartment, the rear seat simply slides up and out – with its two arms slipping out of their tracks. For the 160LX, the seats are tiered and wrapped in grippy, two-tone cover using the same heat resistant material found on Kawasaki’s top-of-the-food chain Ultra 310LX.

Upfront is a generously-sized storage bin that together gives the STX its 35-gallon total storage capacity. It’s definitely nowhere near the neighborhood of being watertight as we learned during a grueling all day “victory at sea” excursion up and down the San Diego coastline, so be mindful when packing more sensitive items like cameras and video recorders.

On the plus-side, Kawasaki took a page from Sea-Doo and installed a waterproof lid to the inside of its glovebox. On the 160LX, there’s also a USB socket to charge your smart phone, which is appreciated. The Kawasaki retains its “Immobilizer” colored key anti-theft system, so the new glove box is a bit tighter than the models that preceded it. we did notice that the glovebox’s top lid has a wonky latch that won’t snap shut on its own; you’re going to have to manually secure it if you wish to keep anything from flying out.

To compensate for the lost room in the glovebox, two cup holders were molded into the top deck, just ahead of the dashboard. These are wide and deep enough for most standard cans or bottles, but could benefit from some padding at their base to absorb some shock and vibration that sent our water bottles flying this day.

The LCD dashboard is serviceable, slightly glare resistant and reads off the tachometer and speed in large, legible readouts. An “ECO” icon will appear with chime when operating in what Kawasaki engineers deem to be the engine’s optimal curve for maximum fuel consumption. After a while, the constant chirping of the ECO bell became bothersome as we throttled in and out of the preferred speed.

The STX’s redesigned handlebars are a shining feature. The neck is long and thin, with a sleek narrow pad. The bars are capped with color-matched pistol grip-style handgrips that are flat-sided and thin. With the addition of Kawasaki’s full fly-by-wire throttle management system – new to the STX for 2020 – the Recreation segment watercraft gets its first swing at Cruise Control and No Wake mode, both found on the driver’s right hand side. The buttons are identical to those used on today’s Yamahas (because they share the same supplier), so if you know one, you’ll know the other.

And sadly, the 2020 STX lineup returns with a manually-operated reverse lever. Eleven years since Sea-Doo first introduced on-the-water braking in 2009, Kawasaki has yet to adopt the technology that has saved lives and thousands of dollars in damage. The lever has been moved from the right to the left hand side, but its throw is so brief, that there is ZERO room to feather a neutral position. You’re either idling forward or reverse. It can be immensely frustrating while trying to dock or waiting to circle up with your friends.

And in a similar “love it or leave it” carryover, the STX 160LX comes in the ever present Ebony-and-Candy Lime Green color variant. The Candy Lime does pop nicely in the sun, but c’mon, Kawasakis don’t always have to be green, guys. Hopefully demand will open the way for future color options.

A key feature for the 160LX is the addition of Jetsounds. Previously exclusive to the Ultra 310LX, the Jetsounds audio system provides a pair of 30-watt waterproof speakers smartly mounted below the mirrors, powered by an amp rated at 20W (x2 channels, max 40W x2) which can play all of the MP3s your smartphone (or other digital music player) can carry. You’ll definitely hear your music at full speed – and so will your neighbors – and the integrated head unit lets you toggle through bass and treble settings as well.

But for us, the biggest additions to the STX lineup were beneath the seat. As mentioned, the 1,498cc, 4-stroke, dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-cylinder gets the same fly-by-wire throttle, 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 feeding the 1.5-liter is the massive 20.6-gallon fuel cell from the Ultras as well. This gives the STX the largest fuel capacity of any competitors’ entry into the Recreation segment (although fuel consumption is an entirely different matter, altogether). When loaded down with fuel and oil, the STX 160LX weighs in at 877 pounds – that’s 110 pounds over the Yamaha VX Cruiser HO, and 140-pounds over Sea-Doo’s GTI SE 170.

Fully loaded with fuel, gear and a 240-pound rider pounding over brutal Pacific Ocean chop, we never saw over 56 miles per hour during our testing. Certainly, smoother conditions, less fuel and a lighter rider will let the 160-horsepower on tap push it to a slightly higher speed. And while top speed is great in short bursts, we found the new STX’s handling over white caps and pounding through surf admirable, just like its predecessor. Equally, its progressive throttle control eliminated the jerky surging of previous cable-operated throttles, making for a more enjoyable ride.

In all, the new STX 160LX is a much overdue refresh of the otherwise staid Recreation-segment entry from Kawasaki. It’s fun for sure, and offers plenty of bells and whistles to make it competitive on the showroom floor…to a degree. The lack of an on-water braking system – or even a true neutral on the reverse lever – is disheartening, and will likely ward off the uninitiated or cautious buyer, particularly when such safety features are now standard on the competition. That’s not to say the new STX 160LX isn’t good, it really is, but its just this close from being great.

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Kevin Shaw

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.

15 comments

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  1. Avatar
    Noah 26 June, 2020 at 14:06 Reply

    Buyer be aware, purchased 2 of the 2020 stx160lx models.
    After breaking the engine in and starting to finally get to enjoy the skies I hit a small boat wake and watched the top plastic hood latch faulty and released the hood which allowed the hood to swing up snapping it around the 4 bolts that hold it to the bottom swing arm. The complete hood flew off and sank before I could get back to it. Only 3.5 hours on machine. Was very disappointed that it happened so quickly.
    I went to nearest Kawasaki dealer and asked about warranty info. Do to everything going on right now was told they can’t even look at it for about 3 weeks. So instead of having to deal with warranty runaround I decided to just order the parts to replace it a still enjoy the plans we have for July 4th weekend.
    All arts in total come to around $500.
    The next day was advised by arts department that most the items needed are backordered and they have no idea when they’ll be available, another letdown from Kawasaki parts. After inquiries to other issues with that models , I was advised that another owner of same model was in for same issue hood broke off after she capsized during the the turning over over the ski noticed hood was open and snapped of as they rolled it over.

    I’ve tried emailing kawasaki, but of course no response.
    Hopefully someone looks into this before someone else gets seriously hurt by the large heavy hood hitting them in the head.

    • Kevin Shaw
      Kevin Shaw 27 June, 2020 at 17:14 Reply

      Noah, we’ve broken the hood hinge on our long term test model too. The glove box latch NEVER stays closed, and we nearly had our phone and wallet bounce out of the “waterproof” cubby. Worse off, the folding rear seat ALWAYS tips over and off of the ski when we stand it vertically. We’re very disappointed with most of these features, so know that you’re not alone and all will be shared in our long term review of the unit.

    • Avatar
      Andy Cobaugh 20 July, 2020 at 14:24 Reply

      This happened to my 2020 stx 160x as well. We actually caught it on video and supplied it to Kawasaki. Mine is being covered under warranty but I have waited weeks for the replacement. Mine broke on June 12th I am hoping to get it soon. This is a real design flaw

  2. Avatar
    Edward Bowles 25 July, 2020 at 22:27 Reply

    Hate to hear that and hope all get repaired. I have an X and LX. Over 50 hours on each ski and no such issues. And we do quite a bit of wake jumping. Smartly and safely of course but definitely over big waves and some at higher speeds. Glovebox is odd to close but once you realize you have to pull back on the release latch to close it, it’s easy to close. Thats how you close the outer door. You cant just push it closed and make it latch.

  3. Avatar
    Noah Rael 9 August, 2020 at 11:47 Reply

    Update on my hood situation, still waiting for parts for front hood assembly.
    It’s been about 2 months now.
    I’ve tried contacting Kawasaki directly, but still getting the run around. I’ve ran into at least three more people in Denver area with same issues.
    I designed a plexiglass cover for front compartment just so we could still use it.
    I would advised not to use cup holders while riding unless going slow. My nephew took a full water bottle to the face this weekend breaking his glasses, and dazzing him for a second.
    Maybe Kawasaki should have put that money into better latches that actually work??

    • Kevin Shaw
      Kevin Shaw 9 August, 2020 at 21:10 Reply

      Wow, Noah. I’m super sorry to hear this. Yes, we’ve had bottles bounce out of the cup holders as well, just nowhere near as violently. Honestly, a little disc cut out of Hydro-Turf will soak up the bumps and let sodas and bottles sit easily. It’s such a simple fix (that Yamaha had on its previous FX models) that we can’t believe Kawi didn’t consider it.

  4. Avatar
    Ed Bowles 15 September, 2020 at 23:01 Reply

    How did a water bottle going the same speed as the ski and rider hit the rider hard enough to break glasses? That almost defies the laws of physics. I had a bottle or two bounce up out of the cupholder in rough water. It basically hangs right there as it is going the same speed as the ski and the bottle quickly decelerates. Put the bottle in a foam koozie and it stays in place in very rough water. Very simple. Hope the hood issue is resolved soon. Fast approaching 90 hours on LX and X with no issues.

  5. Avatar
    Noah Rael 20 September, 2020 at 09:01 Reply

    Received parts for hood this week only to find out dealer didn’t order seal or decals, another $200.

    Took skies out 1 more time for season here in Denver. Have about 50 hours on each ski.
    Needless to say the second hood snapped off the other ski while righting a capsizing :).

    Tried to review the skies on kawasaki website, but guess what’s not reviewabl ??

    Has options for motorcycle and side by sides, but no watercraft??

    Checked the recall list, and guess what’s there finally?? Kawasaki finally did the right thing and recalled all stx160’s. Now let’s see if I can get my $$650 in hood parts back???

    Just getting the word out

  6. Avatar
    Edward Bowles 3 November, 2020 at 23:41 Reply

    Did you say velocity is acting more erratically on the water bottle? How? The bottle is going the same speed as the ski and rider. Not faster. Not slower. If it bounces up, its forward velocity is still basically the same speed as the ski and the rider. You can stand by the hydroturf pad and it can help but jumping and bouncing over waves can still cause the bottle to pop up with the pad in bottom of cupholder. Tried it. Again not generally rocketing out of the holder but can bounce out. The koozie allows the bottle to fit snugly in the holder and prevents it from bouncing out. Even in ocean waves. Have had 0 exceptions with the koozies. The hoods are a big deal. Cupholders…not so much. Hope the hood issue is resolved satisfactorily. I really think it is more along the latch as you and Noah say than water getting under the lower lip as KSpeed is addressing. My latches seem to hold really well but I am sure with manufacturing differences some are not latching well enough. Pops open and hyperextends, snapping the thin plastic. Kawasaki dropped the ball on that and really has disappointed me on this. Not a good look when you are trying to right a sinking ship. Even more irritating that they have this black eye on the new skis but see fit to raise prices. $200 or more price drop would make them sell better. Probably trying to recoup losses they will have fixing the hoods this year. But that was their fault. They cut enough corners over the 15f to have lowered the price on these skis. Just the hardware and factory time on the 15f hood alone was a significant savings on the 160’s. I agree with your video on the Ultra LX getting the cruise and trim features. I would have bought one of those years ago if they did that. No idea who calls the shots at Kawasaki but I doubt it is Minoru or Fuzzy. It’s like when GM produced the Pontiac Aztec. How does something that terrible get through all those hurdles and make it to production? BTW, I was a long-time subscriber to Watercraft World and PWI. Waterscooter and others before those. Hated to see them go away. Appreciate you keeping the information and enthusiasm flowing.

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