Paradoxically, there’s nothing quite like a trio of power-laden machines to herald a state of calm. No prizes for guessing which would prove the hardest to tame…
Before you think that this was planned to settle the hoary “is a bike faster than a car?” argument, let me tell you straight up – it wasn’t. It was purely because Dhruv was smiling at the sight of the Z4 – a middle of the road sports car from BMW – and I thought I ought to have something to make that smile shrink just a little. I did.
You see, the Z4 is a convertible – so it sheds much of its skin to become somewhat of a naked at the press of a button. And that makes it the four-wheel equivalent of the Kawasaki Z800 – a middling street naked, which – well – is naked all the time. And, just to spice things up a little but more, we brought along another Kawasaki – one that made both the Z4 and the Z800 look tamer than the neighbours’ cocker spaniel.
But, back to the BMW for now – the Z4 we have here has been given a bit of a facelift. What’s changed? Not much really. Mechanically, it’s essentially the same but has been tarted up a little bit. BMW has an option on this car known as Design Pure Traction. What you get with this package is – and I’m not making this up – unique features like an exterior colour called Valencia Orange, BMW Individual headliner in anthracite, interior trim finishers in a metal weave and some orange alcantara / leather interior upholstery. I suppose this option is for those few who feel that a standard Z4 is overly subdued.
Never mind that, the fact remains that it’s a sharp looking car. And it comes with all the regular bells-and-whistles that you’ve come to expect from a modern expensive car – everything from cup holders to a safety net full of acronyms. The 300 odd horsepower that the Z4 cranks out is thanks to its very refined straight-six, 3-litre, twin-turbocharged engine. The twin-turbocharged tag comes because of the two low-pressure (they run at just shy of 9psi) turbos that help remove power lag at lower revs.
The Z4 is quite a neutral car – it exhibits a slight tendency to run wide in really fast corners, but give the loud pedal a bit of an exercise and you can instantly convert it into a hip-sliding hooligan, lighting up its rears at the mere suggestion of more throttle! The chassis and engine work very well together, but the other components in the drivetrain are a bit lacking in character. The steering, for one. Okay, it’s a really polished butler but it doesn’t quite have the compassion and emotion of Alfred from the Batman movie series. It’s just a butler – and it does its job fairly well, without becoming a member of the family. The handling is magnificent, as long as you’re going at a steady pace – allowing the car enough time to settle down. The moment you get a bit aggressive on the throttle and steering, the directional changes can startle the suspension – and it takes a little while to recover from the sudden compression, which does take away a bit of liveliness from the overall experience. The engine and gearbox are ace items though.
Right about now, I get out of the Z4 and hop on the Z800. No matter how much Kawasaki would want to have you believe that it’s an ‘all-new’ motorcycle, it isn’t. A lot of cycle parts are from the Z750R, with marginal changes in its dynamic package. Even the suspension is quite similar. This one develops about 111bhp and there’s 81Nm on tap from the 806cc in-line four that’s as creamy as they come. What didn’t quite catch my fancy, though, was its weight – at 231kgs, this one’s a hefty bit of metal, especially in an age when every other manufacturer is obsessed with shedding weight.
The first thing that you notice when you sit on the Z800 is the lack of absolutely any tangible element in front of you. The headlight is so low-set that you tend to climb off the bike and double-check if it’s still there. And the clocks are meaningless when you’re ducked down to cheat the wind. Never mind this initial odd feeling though – things start to get better as you carry on. I’m a tallish chap, and my hands rested on the wide bars with surprising ease. But the moment I tried leaning into a corner, the sight of just the tarmac going past me at an astonishing pace made me withdraw from the corner and I stopped to pick up the pieces of my deflated confidence.
It’s an unnerving feeling that I can’t really explain. It seemed to me – at the time – that my helmet would touch the tarmac much before my knee slider, and I definitely didn’t want that to happen! Nevertheless, I had to get a run in – so I picked up some pace, invested whatever little faith I had left in the bike, and braced to come out unscathed. One lap in, it didn’t seem too bad, so I pushed a bit more – and a bit more, and just a bit more. In the end, it’s all about seat-time – the more you ride, the more you get to know your wheels. And the Z800 started reflecting the wild and sharp character of its design. The engine, while being butter-smooth and not laying claim to a massive power figure, is very tractable and it doesn’t need you to work too hard on the throttle.
The steering is very quick and reactive, but the suspension was rather soft for focused track use – and around some really fast and flowing bends it did buckle a bit, which was a bit frightening to be honest. A more concentrated effort on tuning the suspension rebound will sort matters though. That said, the Z800 has massive street-cred, and, in some areas, has more character and is more rounded than some bigger capacity nakeds.
Speaking of bigger capacity motorcycles – the big daddy in the sports touring segment is, easily, the Kawasaki ZZR1400, or ZX-14R as it’s also called. I may be the only journo to say this, but I never could develop a special liking for the Suzuki Hayabusa as a touring machine. It was a bit too extreme for my liking – the seat was uncomfortably hard for the nature of the bike, the brakes were very odd in the way they reacted, and the entire package just looked odd somehow – it was a bit like asking Aretha Franklin to sing rap! It was more of a superbike with inflated proportions, rather than a proper sports tourer.
The ZZR1400 – okay, ZX-14R, for crying out loud! – isn’t anything like the Hayabusa. It’s got spot-on seating, brilliant seat-handlebar-pegs geometry, and can be a genuinely pleasing motorcycle for long hauls. But since we like taking things to the extreme, we just had to bring the 14 to the track – which went off well. Sort of... ok, not quite.
You see, the 14R is a lot of motorcycle, and has a lot of engine. Most importantly, however, I was a bit scared. It’s the most powerful, hardest accelerating regular production motorcycle in the world, and I’m not exactly Dwayne Johnson to match it in the muscles department. Official numbers claim that it’s got 200bhp, but I was reading some independent forums that have dyno tested the bike to indicate that it has as much as 207bhp on tap – that’s enough to counter-rotate the Earth, or at least it felt like it.
This is a heavy bike – and I mean really heavy – and flicking it from one corner to the next is a physically demanding task. It’s just not meant to go corner-attacking – a drag strip would be its natural habitat. This one is laden with tech. It has a 3-step traction control, two power modes, ABS, slipper clutch and god knows what else. The 1,441cc engine features oil injectors to keep the engine temperature in check – a first for Kawasaki – and I must say that it does seem to work. I was riding the bike on congested Delhi roads, and expected it to give out pelvis-melting heat like every other superbike. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad. The temperature didn’t go beyond 98-degrees, which is pretty commendable.
But, somehow, it just doesn’t come alive on the track. It’s mega powerful alright, but the agility is just not at par with traditional superbikes. Make no mistake, it is a very agile bike for a massive sports touring hyper machine – but it’s just not in the sports bike zone for nimbleness. I kept the traction at its minimum, as it allowed me to have some good fun, while being safe at the same time. But, in the end, this thing is just supremely powerful, supersonic fast, and a little ungainly to look at. But not my cup of tea – and this was reflected in the lap times.
It’s not surprising that the ZX-14R was the hardest to tame. The Z800, on the other hand, starts to make far more sense the more time you spend on it. The BMW feels like it needs to go on a quick diet. The Z4 is still rewarding, and it’s still the quickest, but in the end it was the Z800 that seemed most willing to indulge in a little play on the track – and you know how much we enjoy our time at play…
- BMW Z4 sDrive35i
- Kawaski Z800
- Kawasaki ZX-14R
Engine: 2,979cc / in-line 6-Cylinder / 24 valves / Twin Turbocharged
Transmission: 7-Speed Dual Clutch Automatic / Rear Wheel Drive
Power: 306bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1300-5000rpm
Price: Rs. 71.9 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: 806cc / in-line 4-Cylinder / liquid cooled / DOHC / 16 valves
Power: 111bhp @ 10200rpm
Torque: 83Nm @ 8000rpm
Price: Rs. 8.05 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: 1,441cc / in-line 4 cylinder / liquid-cooled / DOHC / 16 valves
Power: 200bhp @ 10500rpm
Torque: 153Nm @ 7600rpm
Price: Rs. 16.9 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi)