Could Kawasaki re-ignite the 4-cylinder 400cc sports market with the ZX-4RR? Let’s hope so if it means we get more of this kind of thing
In the late 80s and early 90s, they were everywhere in Asian markets and trickling onto UK shores, many via the grey import route. We’re talking about the 400cc supersports machines, a class of bikes incredibly popular in Japan due to the licencing laws making them the easiest route to enjoying two-wheeled thrills. Because of that popularity, they were often equipped with many of the features of the bigger flagship models, and speedy enough to be referred to as “pocket rockets”. Honda had a full-size CBR900RR FireBlade, but they also had the 400cc model, affectionately known as the “Baby Blade” here in the UK. The same applied to the exotic VFR750R RC30 – the smaller 400cc NC30 was almost identical from afar, cashing in on the RC30s stunningly handsome features.
But the bike was more than just an aesthetic treat, it was an absolute riot to ride as well, with a howling V4 that had a hunger that could only be satiated with corners, as many as the rider could throw at it. And they were all like that; The CBR400RR in both gull-arm and tri-arm variants; the Suzuki GSX-R400RRs, the Yamaha FZR400R and of course the Kawasaki ZX-R 400R.
It’s the Kawasaki that has made a return in 2024. A Ninja 400 already exists in the Kawasaki line-up but being a twin it doesn’t hit that same nostalgic button – it certainy doesn’t scream as much as an inline four does. With Kawasaki’s 2024 ZX-4RR landing smack bang in a market dominated by mid-capacity 270-degree crank parallel twins it’s refreshing to see a return of a friendly motor that begs to be revved, and can be revved without too much fear of spitting the rider into the nearest hedge.
It’s fair to say the ZX-4RR has caught the attention of many people, still in mourning over the demise of the supersports 600cc market – ironically it’s Kawasaki alone who stand alone in that sector with a refreshed ZX-6R. Honda’s CBR600RR was, until 2024, only available in Japan and a few other select countries, and the R6 is a track-only machine. Suzuki’s GSX-R600 is – bizarrely – still available in some countries but it hasn’t had an update in over 15 years.
It’s interesting that Honda have decided to bring the CBR600RR back to UK shores too, quite likely due to the presence of the new ZX-6R. With that in mind, could we see a revived 400cc sportsbike market with stylish little machines pushing the buttons for people who don’t want to spend a fortune and are perfectly happy revving the life out of a 75bhp screamer?
If so, I know which bike I’d like to see make a comeback, and it has a V4 at it’s heart.