2020 Kawasaki STX 160X Review

Kawasaki’s affordable STX gets a refresh

Fast Facts

Engine: Four-cylinder, 1,498cc

Fuel Capacity: 20.6 gal.

Storage Capacity: 35 gal.

Seating Capacity: 3

MSRP: $9,999

Early season scheduling followed by a healthy dose of coronavirus quarantines scuttled our initial plans to get a ride on Kawasaki’s new STX 160 models. When an opportunity to try a production 2020 Kawasaki STX 160X unexpectedly fell into our laps just as summer was kicking off, however, we took it. Impression? The 160 series retains most everything consumers loved about the now departed STX-15F, but ditched almost everything those same consumers didn’t care for.

In short, Kawasaki’s entry-level offering is now just as powerful and responsive as its predecessor, but boasts much more modern styling and a very welcome ergonomic refresh up top.

2020 Kawasaki STX 160X 5

2020 Kawasaki STX 160X Studio

While refreshing in appearance, much of the Kawasaki STX 160X remains familiar behind the scenes. The engine, Kawasaki’s proven 160hp, 1,498cc naturally aspirated four-stroke, provides the horses. The originally race-developed STX-15F hull design still provides the aggressive bite and handling that made that craft not only acceptable for beginners, but also ready to grow and continue to thrill as riders skill levels increased or more aggressive riders took the controls. Aiding the latter are the same ride plate, intake grate and sponsons of the craft’s predecessor.

This is all good news. For starters, that power remains impressive for a manufacturer’s entry-level model and boasts an edge over the competition, with solid punch off the low end and a top speed that will edge over the 60 mph mark. The hull features also allow the Kawasaki STX 160X to hold its own in rough water, carry three passengers better than smaller craft, and carve more aggressive turns than other boats in its price range. Though the ergonomics above have changed, overall the center of gravity still remains low, continuing the 15F’s sporty, low to the water feel.

2020 Kawasaki STX 160X 5

That new top deck, however, makes a big difference. For starters, though the center of gravity remains low, it is taller than before, significantly easing the crunched feeling many riders (particularly those that are taller) felt on the 15F. Riders will appreciate the added “knee” room and overall improvement in comfort. Handlebars are also new, wider, and sport a more modern shaping than the 15F. Passengers will also appreciate the added visibility and comfort provided by the tiered saddle.

In short, the Kawasaki STX 160X is just a more comfortable, modern feeling craft.

The Details

2020 Kawasaki STX 160X Display

Less obvious additions complete the user experience. The info display is large and easy-to-read, with practical conveniences like real-time fuel consumption. Mode buttons are large, prominent and easy to trigger with gloved hands. Thanks to the long-awaited inclusion of modern, “fly-by-wire” throttle technology, features like cruise control, no wake mode and ECO mode have also finally made their way down to Kawasaki’s entry-level craft. Cruise control is perfect for long rides, but also setting a speed when towing skiers, wakeboarder and tubers; no-wake takes the throttle fatigue out of extended slow-speed zones; and ECO stretches your fuel economy. An ECO light on the info display will also alert you to when you’re operating in the most fuel-efficient range of the powerband.

The new top deck incorporates increased, and more usable storage options. A total of 35-plus gallons is split between the bow tub (30 gallons), the handy new “slide and lift” under-seat compartment in the stern (about 4.5), and two smaller compartments, a waterproof glovebox with integrated phone compartment and small wet storage nook adjacent to the swim platform. Fuel capacity is the same as Kawasaki’s flagship models at 20.6 gallons; given the greater fuel efficiency of the engine, that should translate into impressive range between fill-ups. Owners will also note the fuel fill has been relocated to a dryer location, above the storage compartment under the front hood. A raised lip eases concerns about minor spills.

The lone item truly missing from the 2020 modernization of Kawasaki’s entry-level model? An electronic reverse/deceleration system akin to that offered by Sea-Doo and Yamaha. The Kawasaki STX 160X’s mechanical reverse works quite well, we like the new handle shape and the location on the port (left) side, but it’s still mechanical reverse. In today’s market, that just seems a little too old-school and it’s the one detail we clearly miss compared to competitive models.

As to what separates the 160X from the entry-level 160 ($9,599), you’re looking at a premium top deck paint job, improved pistol-style grip shape, and cruise control that is adjustable in small increments on the fly.

Competitive Models

2020 Kawasaki STX 160X 4

While the STX 160X may be Kawasaki’s entry-level model, it competes in a higher segment overall. That means competitive models will not be craft like Yamaha’s EX or Sea-Doo’s SPARK, but instead the brand’s respective VX ($9,899) and GTI 130 ($9,999). While Kawasaki retains a performance advantage with greater power and arguably more aggressive handling, both competitive craft feature electronic reverse/deceleration systems that provide stopping power at speed and dramatically improve low-speed handling in tight confines. All three have subtly different rides as well, meaning you should ideally take a test ride to find the style that fits your personality best.

The takeaway, however, is that Kawasaki finally has a modern, stylish, ergonomically friendly craft below the $10,000 price threshold. It may lack that modern reverse system, but it counters with an additional performance punch. Consumers will have to decide what traits they value more.