Remember standup personal watercraft? You know, those narrow, single-passenger, highly maneuverable models that actually had a learning curve and required some skill, coordination, and commitment to ride? An acquaintance recently asked if they even make them anymore. That’s how far the mighty have fallen. And the situation Kawasaki finds itself in as it attempts to reintroduce the standup Jet Ski.
Yes, a new standup is available for 2017, but before we get into the review, a brief history lesson is worth the read. Kawasaki unveiled the first standup model in 1973; the first mass-produced version followed in 1976. As the craft gained notoriety, the personal watercraft market gained traction. At the standup era’s peak, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Polaris, and a host of smaller companies all produced standup models.
And then came the runabouts, the “couches” that required far less balance, far less skill, and didn’t dunk you in the water as you tried to learn the riding technique. Runabouts were pretty much just hop on and go — and the industry hopped on the bandwagon and went. Runabout sales soon eclipsed standup models, factories got involved in racing and pushed riders to race the craft that were selling in bigger numbers, and the standup began to fade away. Emissions laws put the final knife in the coffin, targeting the craft’s two-stroke powerplants. Kawasaki dropped out in 2011, while only Yamaha hung on, selling a limited number of models to racers only.
Bigger and Better
Those expecting a simple reboot of the last standup Jet Ski but with a four-stroke engine were in for a surprise when Kawasaki revealed the SXR. Yes, the craft looks similar to prior models in appearance, but look closer and the differences quickly jump out. For starters, the new SXR is big. Really big. At 8’ 9” in length, it’s 1’ 3” longer than the last model Kawasaki produced and 1’ 5” longer than the current two-stroke Yamaha SuperJet. View the craft out of the water and the depth of the hull below the bond line is dramatic. Even more so is the new wide, flared bow, that almost seems to engulf the previous design and create a lot of fiberglass forward of the handle pole hinge. It’s like the former standup on steroids.
That handle pole is actually borrowed from the previous model, beefed up to handle the new size and outfitted with engine and fuel-warning lights recessed into the sleek end cushion. Handlebars are motocross style, right down to the cylindrical vinyl-wrapped foam pad that cushions the crossbar. The rider tray is still covered in Hydro Turf, a popular EVA traction mat. Kawasaki’s familiar magnetic key theft-prevention system, borrowed from runabout models, is mounted just below the hood cover seam.
But while the above sounds familiar, subtle differences abound. That rider tray is now significantly larger and actually slopes forward to place the rider in a more aggressive position. The “deck fins” that flank the tray are far more streamlined for both looks and to encourage riders to brace their legs against the sides of the tray for leverage and support. Conspicuously absent? Padding atop those fins. While it adds to the sleek exterior, that padding is missed when propping your elbows atop the fins during a deepwater start. A minor nod to stowage is a rubbery panel covering a shallow recessed tray atop the hood cover.
The four-stroke engine that allowed the standup to meet current emissions laws isn’t new, but instead is borrowed directly from Kawasaki’s entry-level runabout, the STX-15F. A 1,498cc four-cylinder rated at 160 HP, it produces double the horsepower of the last standup model, with 957 pounds of thrust. Kawasaki notes the engine was positioned as low as possible in the hull, as well as to the rear as much as possible, to help the hull penetrate waves and deliver a softer ride. The position also balances out the six-gallon fuel tank, positioned toward the bow. The impeller, enclosed within a 148mm pump, likewise follows from the STX-15F. The muffler is slimmer, a necessary modification to fit within the confines of the standup hull.
As to that engine’s performance, expect a lot more power than the standup market has offered in the past. The acceleration allows the SXR to beat Kawasaki’s 310 HP Ultra 310R musclecraft out of the hole; on the top end, it reached 60 MPH during our April test session in California’s Long Beach Marine Stadium. Kawasaki notes the craft will beat the previous standup in a 50-meter drag race by a full 19 meters. What I found most impressive about the acceleration, however, was that it comes on with none of the porpoising typical of prior standup models. Credit part of this to the fact that the SXR floats quite level in the water at idle speed, even with a passenger’s weight. Previous models would notably dip at the stern. (Random observation: I missed that “dip” when boarding after a fall. The SXR’s level attitude means a rider now has to haul themselves up and into the tray, rather than simply sliding forward.
Shorter Learning Curve, Sharper Handling
As to handling, the learning curve has definitely been shortened. While the SXR still requires balance, overall stability is far superior to previous models from any manufacturer. The hull powers through corners with an obvious runabout influence, holding tight as runabout-style sponsons aft help grip the water and anchor the stern. I noted I could lean the craft quite far over at speed, without fear of the hull sliding out, and venture into rougher waters with far less concern. My confidence soared within the first five minutes of riding. In a twist, I found the hull could also corner well when ridden flat. In fact, while the SXR is clearly faster and more aggressive than previous models, it’s also quite beginner-friendly. Larger, heavier riders that were previously excluded from tippy standups can also now ride confidently and in control.
Still, like the standups of old, the SXR can still occasionally make the careless or over-confident pilot pay, at least during the initial learning curve. I powered into a fast turn without leaning far enough over and soon found myself unceremoniously pitched to the high side as the hull cornered like a slot car beneath me. And with the speeds the SXR is now capable of, those falls require a little more of a swim to retrieve the craft than I remember.
Memory Lane Revisited
The primary drawback of the reborn standup Jet Ski? The SXR has definitely lost some of the playfulness of early standup models, sacrificing light weight and freestyle agility for that precision handling and newfound power. Needless to say I won’t be resurrecting my former PWC freestyle career any time soon aboard the 551-pound SXR. But Kawasaki is charting new ground here, not just putting a fresh face on the past.
And as I mentioned, it also opens up the target market. You don’t have to be a size medium anymore to ride one; XL types can finally enjoy a standup, too.
It’s doubtful the SXR will reestablish the standup as king. That ship has already sailed, and it has a saddle. But with its broad appeal, the SXR definitely has the potential to reinvigorate a stagnant segment of the personal watercraft market. Just don’t expect to throw this one in the back of a pickup truck like we used to in the early days.
This is, and isn’t, the standup you remember.
For more information, visit Kawasaki.
See Kawasaki Jet Ski SXR listings.
|Fuel capacity||6.1 gal.|