2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R Review

The industry's only four-stroke standup PWC

The 2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is the only four-stroke standup PWC in the industry, so we figured it was worth taking a deep dive on this craft.

Fast Facts

Engine: Three-cylinder 1,498cc

Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gal.

Curb Weight: 551.3 lbs

MSRP: Starting at $9,999

Once king, standup sales dwindled rapidly as two and three-seaters emerged on the scene. When four-stroke engines became the norm, the agile solo craft became almost a footnote. Kawasaki eventually bowed out, leaving Yamaha’s lone two-stroke SuperJet to carry the banner. Kawasaki returned in 2017, however, with that long-awaited, four-stroke standup from a major player. To date, no one has followed, allowing Kawasaki to corner the four-stroke market.

How does the craft fare three years down the road? Let’s revisit this reborn icon.

Go Big(ger)

The 2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R standup is bigger and badder than previous Kawasaki models in almost every way, not the least of which is physical size. For those that love to rail around the buoy course or handle the ocean chop, the 8’ 9” long, 2’ 6” wide girth is likely welcome. It gives the craft a dominant, more stable presence on the water. At first glance, however, it does take some getting used to. Aside from literally dwarfing an original JS 440 or 550, there’s notably a lot of craft forward of the handle pole hinge, a feeling exaggerated by the fact that the handle pole itself is carried over from Kawasaki’s last two-stroke craft. The bow area also bulges outward far more then the pointy bows of past models, but does serve a purpose beyond style. That forward expansion adds stability, not to mention additional space for the engine compartment.

2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R 2

The larger dimensions continue aft. The rider tray is now a 2’ 10” x 1’ 4” rectangle, covered in Hydro-Turf padding and sloped slightly forward to position the rider in a more aggressive attitude. There’s also a lot of hull area below the bond line, resulting in a deeper appearance in profile but also more bouyancy. Runabout sponsons keep the stern from sliding out in turns and increase the craft’s cornering prowess. Splash deflectors molded into the hull knock down spray.

Get Faster

That four-stroke engine, borrowed along with the 148mm pump directly from the STX-15F, more than compensates for the craft’s larger size and 550-plus pound weight. At 1,498cc and 160hp, it’s twice as powerful as any previous Kawi standup model. Squeeze the throttle and the craft literally screams out of the hole, besting the beastly Ultra 310R in a head-to-head matchup. Top speed peaks in the neighborhood of 62 mph, and is eerily comfortable. With the craft’s excellent stability and resistance to sliding in the turns, the craft is quite confidence-inspiring right out of the gate.

Interestingly, the 2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R also responds well to being ridden flat or with an inside lean. Like any high-powered standup, however, it can still bite. Lose your concentration at speed and you’ll end up with a surprisingly long swim.

2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R 3

The tradeoff, however, is that the Kawi standup’s days of being a freestyle machine may be over. That locked-in stern doesn’t like to slide out, making basic freestyle spins a challenge. The craft’s size and weight also don’t provide a lot of aerial potential. Riders also won’t have a lot of body English influence over the hull. But clearly that’s not the crowd the manufacturer is courting.

And in a weird way, that stable, predictable nature also actually makes the modern 2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R a far more beginner-friendly machine. Progression will be far more rapid and falls less frequent. I was even able to kneel in the tray with the engine off and not sink the stern or get tippy. Imagine that.

Targeted Extras

2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R 1

As to amenities, standup craft are about as bare bones as they come. The SX-R nevertheless does get Kawasaki’s magnetic ignition key to prevent theft, a recessed, rubber-panel-covered nook below the handle pole to store small items, and both low fuel and engine-warning lights visible on the handlebar pad. Complaints? The tray area padding doesn’t wrap over the top of the gunwales. It’s sleek, but padding in that area is welcome when reboarding, especially when the stern buoyancy will make you muscle your way back aboard more than before. I’m also not sure what I’d entrust to that rubber-matted storage area. On my initial test ride it was the key, but that came loose on one high-speed fall.

Of course, railing around the buoys at 60 mph I doubt I’d care about items like storage. The 2020 Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R is a machine designed to make you feel like a racer, a craft that will power through a hairpin turn and leap forward down the straightaway. And in that regard, it’s right on target.