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Engine: Four-cylinder 1,498cc
Fuel Capacity: 20.6 gallons
Storage Capacity: 56 gallons
Seating Capacity: 3
As a whole, Kawasaki’s Ultra 310s are absolute beasts but some add a touch of luxury while others aim squarely at the performance crowd. Care to guess on which side of the line the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R falls? Let’s just say that R isn’t in the name by chance.
It may seem obvious to many, but the R has racing in mind, and not just in its name. Look the craft over and you’ll notice a major departure from the other models in the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R’s handlebar setup. Rather than plushly padded, they’re bare bones, skeletal stainless steel with a motocross-style padded crossbar. That polished silver not only looks all business, it feels it, too. You’ll find little play in the steering setup. Part of the reason is that the steering column lacks on-the-fly adjustability. Rather than an often loose tilt mechanism, Kawasaki snugs things down tight yet offers more adjustability. Up to 12 positions are available through the stock height and mount positions; add accessory clamps and you can expand that range to 18. You’ll have to dial them in before you ride and then live with the consequences, but that’s kind of the point. Everything feels solid, secure, and ready to transport your input instantly at the handlebars to the directional nozzle waiting at the opposite end of the steering cable.
The saddle also differs from the norm. For one, it’s narrower, allowing riders to bring their legs more into the action, whether that’s bracing for a tight turn or grasping the saddle during straight-ahead rides in rough water. It’s also not as slick as the standard saddle, employing a grippy vinyl to anchor the rider in the seat. There’s just one primary bolster to offer back support. Beyond, the saddle simply slopes upward at a gentle angle; never interfering with the driver as he shifts his weight around atop the craft. That bolster is also soft enough that you can sit/squat atop it in rough water to take a little strain off your thighs and back, but still feel in contact with the craft.
Is that enough? For the right consumer, yes. Expansive bells and whistles aren’t the goal here, but flags with checkerboard patterns (real or imagined) definitely are.
And Ultras have seen a lot of them, particularly in offshore environments. The hull plays a role. It’s a deep-V, with 22.5 degrees of deadrise forward to cleave through waves without a jolt, bounce, or waver in course. That makes the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R one of the absolute best for rough water, but head to the calm and you’ll note surprising agility. Toggle down the electric trim to plant the bow and the Ultra rails through a turn like a much smaller craft. Raise that trim upon exit and watch the speedo race upwards in short order.
How quickly? Consider the engine – a 1,494cc inline four-cylinder with a potent supercharger/intercooler combo – produces an industry-topping 310 horsepower and 1,890 pounds of thrust. It rockets away from a dead stop like a fighter jet, and with its trademark whirr, often sounds like one, too. It peaks at a governed 67 mph theoretically, but yes, given the right conditions I’ve seen numbers extend to 70 mph. That the craft does it with such a smooth feel is impressive, but don’t be fooled. You need to be an experienced rider to handle that kind of speed. With no mechanism for slowing the craft at speed (like Sea-Doo’s iBR or Yamaha’s RiDE system), you’ll travel a fair distance once you release the throttle.
Beyond The Basics
Kawasaki may not yet embrace electronic reverse/deceleration, but the R isn’t without some bells and whistles. There’s certainly nothing extraneous to interfere with the craft’s mission, but it does get cruise control, as well as a no-wake mode and an ECO mode to save fuel. As you might expect, Kawasaki’s ECO continues to feel a little more potent than its competitors. I continue to suggest users also activate cruise control for tow sports duties as well as those extended rides, as it calms the twitchy response of the high-horsepower engine to deliver a smoother response.
Storage is impressive at 56 gallons, fuel capacity equally so at over 20. And though I think the time has come to embrace some form of electronic reverse, the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 310R’s mechanical reverse still gets the job done. You can even play with the position of the handle to get close to forward, neutral and reverse modes.
As to the competition, they’ve drawn even with the Ultras in recent years. Sea-Doo’s new RXT-X ($15,699) offers similar power and a better-than-ever offshore ride and calm-water handling ability. You can also remove part of the saddle to further lighten the craft, add external items like cooler, gas caddy, or storage bag for longer trips, and access the front storage without ever getting out of the saddle. Yamaha’s FX SVHO ($15,299) features the potent Super Vortex High Output engine, aggressive handling and, like Sea-Doo, the benefits of an electronic reverse/deceleration system. Both craft are worthy of attention, as are their two-seat counterparts, the RXP-X and GP1800. All also retail for hundreds less than the Ultra 310R’s $16,299 price tag.
Kawasaki, however, doesn’t seem to be sweating that competition, at least for the time being. The beast may now have company…but it’s still a beast.
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