2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Review

The 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is one of the last two remaining stand-up PWC left on the market and the only one with a modern four-stroke engine.

Fast Facts

Engine: Three-cylinder 1,498cc

Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gal.

Curb Weight: 551.3 lbs

MSRP: Starting at $9,999

Stand-up models arguably gave birth to the modern personal watercraft market, but they’ve mostly been left in the wake of sit-down models over the last 20 years. Kawasaki surprisingly breathed new life into the segment in 2017, combining familiar four-stroke power with a familiar, yet at the same time very different, new hull and deck. The late-arrival craft proved popular during a shortened first year on the market. Here’s why that popularity may continue into 2018.

Borrowed Power, Supersized Hull

The current 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is similar to previous models, and yet at the same time, dramatically different. One obvious change is the inclusion of a four-stroke engine that can meet modern-day emissions laws. The 1,498cc four-cylinder is taken directly from the STX-15F, Kawasaki’s long-running model that has gone from one-time flagship to the brand’s lowest-priced introductory model. It weighs substantially more than the last two-stroke to be found in a standup, but it also offers twice the power, more than compensating for the craft’s now 551-pound weight. The impeller, housed within a 148mm pump, also comes directly from the 15F.

2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Action 2

The most talked about aspect of the new model, however, will continue to be its physical size. To put it in the simplest terms, the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is big, really big. At 8’ 9” in length, the craft is 1’ 3” longer than the former model and measures in at 30” in width. Put the craft next to the original 400/440/550 standup Jet Ski and the new craft literally dwarfs the original design. There’s a lot of hull below the bond line, and a lot of real estate forward of the handlepole hinge. The nose appears aggressively pointy in profile, but closer inspection reveals a wide flare forward that likely enhances stability, increases ending compartment room and adds to the edgy design. Splash deflectors molded into the hull keep the ride drier. Runabout-style sponsons aft enhance the craft’s cornering ability and keep the stern from sliding in turns.

The engine is placed low and aft in the hull, reportedly to deliver less jolt to the rider while allowing the craft to more easily penetrate waves in rougher water. The handlepole is taken directly from the previous model (how’s that for good use of resources), but enhanced with motocross-style handlebars with crossbar pad and a handle pole cushion that now incorporates both low fuel and engine warning lights. The rider tray is larger (34” x 16”), sloped gently forward, and features Hydro-Turf padding on both bottom and sides but not tops or deck fins. The latter are left sleek which looks great, but is missed by the elbows when deepwater boarding.

2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Deck
Hydro-Turf padding on the tops of the deck fins would make boarding in deep water more comfortable.

Impressive Handling

The ride experience is likewise similar…yet different. An average rider will likely be able to start on their knees without the stern sinking down or tipping to the side like previous models. Once up and standing, the stable feeling continues, making the SX-R simultaneously the most powerful stock stand-up model ever produced and yet arguably also the most beginner-friendly.

2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Action 4

Squeeze the throttle and the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R simply takes off, accelerating directly forward without the bow rise or porpoising typical of earlier models. Acceleration is actually superior to Kawasaki’s Ultra 310-R right out of the hole, and the SX-R beats the previous 800 SX-R by a full 19 meters in a 50-meter drag race. Top speed peaked at 60 mph for me, but riders with more time in the tray indicate top speed edges closer to 62 mph. That speed can feel surprisingly comfortable, as the hull slices through waves with confidence and impressively stays glued to the water in high-speed slalom turns. Most riders will prefer an inside lean and discover the hull rarely slides or threatens to spin out. Others will find you can also ride the hull quite flat, like early Yamaha SuperJets, albeit at slower speeds. Most all will find their confidence on the craft quickly soars, but be warned. As impressive as it is, this is still a standup. Get out of shape in a turn and you can get pitched pretty hard.

While I would argue the 2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is probably the best cornering stock standup ever, it’s not exactly a freestyle machine. That solid hookup prevents the boat from slipping and sliding when you want it to, and the craft’s size and weight aren’t exactly conducive to typical freestyle tricks or aerials. Racers and aggressive riders, however, will likely not miss the playfulness as they lean the craft over into a turn at 60 mph. Beginning riders will also appreciate the predictable nature and find a shorter learning curve.

Final Words

Amenities are few, as they should be on a performance-oriented standup model. The craft does get the magnetic key of other Kawasaki craft to prevent theft. For storage, a perforated rubber panel clips down atop the hood under the handlepole in a shallow indentation. It’s best for a dock line or perhaps a small dry bag. Other items worth noting? You’ll likely need a trailer…or some friends. A craft this heavy isn’t easy to toss in the bed of a pickup truck old-school style. With the craft’s floatation, it can also be harder to deepwater reboard, as you’ll have to muscle yourself back into the tray rather than have the stern submerge beneath you. That four-stroke engine, however, is powerful and clean, and the ride is fast and responsive. Most inconveniences will be minor.

2018 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Handle Pole

Other models to consider remain just one in stock form, the Yamaha SuperJet ($8,499). Technically it’s reserved for competition-use only as the craft uses a two-stroke engine that does not meet modern emissions standards, but it’s relatively easy to get a competition license. The SuperJet is clearly more light and playful, but it’s now seriously outgunned by the Kawasaki in terms of power and speed. I’d suggest letting your personality and riding style (and maybe even average water conditions) make the final choice.

Either way, you’ll be standing on your own two feet.