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Personal watercraft in the $10,000 range hit a psychological sweet spot for many buyers. They’re typically a solid step up from the entry-level Rec Lite class, boast decent top speeds, handle a variety of water conditions, and — unlike their supercharged brethren up the line — boast pretty solid fuel economy.
Engine: Four-cylinder, 1,498cc
Fuel Capacity: 20.6 gal.
Storage Capacity: 35 gal.
Seating Capacity: 3
But while both Sea-Doo and Yamaha pay this segment plenty of attention, Kawasaki has historically left it to the aging STX-15F, a craft that, while impressive in its own way, was showing some serious signs of age.
Last year, the introduction of the Kawasaki STX 160 line put the conservative manufacturer back into the game with a craft that sported fresh looks, good overall ergonomics and solid performance.
Though the STX 15F admirably carried the load a surprising number of years, in most consumer’s minds Kawasaki was long overdue for a fresh recreational model.
A top deck makeover started the process. The top deck has a familiar Kawasaki look, but ergonomics are greatly improved compared to the retired 15F. Noticeably, the riding position is higher. Though still retaining Kawasaki’s familiar, close-to-the-water feel underway, riders should greatly appreciate the improved leg room. Taller riders in particular will no longer feel like they’re riding the kid’s version of a watercraft, with additional room also added around the knees and just an overall more comfortable feel in the saddle.
The two-piece, scalloped saddle also gives the driver their own cradled perch, with a raised tail aft that offers both good support and provides a locked-in feeling whether solo or with passengers. Meanwhile, the raised aft section of the saddle provides crew with an improved view forward and similarly improved vertical legroom.
A new handlebar setup nicely complements the saddle ergonomics. Bars are wider than before and the base stylishly tapers. On the dash, a large, digital display is easy to read and includes functional additions to the status quo speed/rpm/fuel level like real-time fuel consumption.
The 2021 Kawasaki STX 160 also impresses with generous cargo space, useful for a rec-minded craft that will be used in many different ways. The front tub accounts for 30 of the 35-gallon total, a compartment easily accessed by a clever slide-and-pivot aft seat tacks on 4.5 gallons more, the slim, waterproof glovebox adds enough room for a cellphone and small personal items, and a half-gallon rubber “pouch” below the aft end of the saddle rounds out the total. The latter is a simple, but welcome addition as it’s a good spot to keep dock lines or a towrope accessible without having to lift the hood or move passengers.
One additional feature is a pair of cupholders just in front of the handlebars. Use them for drinks when cruising but stow bottles before getting into rough conditions or you’ll likely eject them.
The STX’s carryover features are most apparent when it comes to speed and handling.
Most notably the engine remains the same as that which powered the craft’s predecessor, a naturally aspirated version of Kawasaki’s 1,498cc, dual-overhead cam four cylinder. In fact, the hull, ride plate, intake grate, sponsons and pump are also carried over from the previous model and give the craft handling that is best described as a little more spirited than a true “recreational” model but definitely still tame enough to please the novice rider.
Peg the drive-by-wire throttle and you’ll note enough low-end acceleration to handle most all towing duties, from tubes to skis to boards. Keep it fully squeezed and the craft tops out at about 58-59 mph, in typical Kawasaki fashion just slightly ahead of the recreational pack.
Doing away with a mechanical throttle cable allows the 2021 Kawasaki STX 160 to feature cruise control, which comes in handy not just for holding speed over longer distance rides but also for maintaining a set speed when towing. There’s also a no-wake mode for those lengthy slow-speed zones. Both are non-adjustable on the base model 160, meaning you can’t adjust your cruise speed in small increments on the fly and no-wake has one setting — five miles per hour.
As you may have guessed, the one notable omission is some form of electronic reverse/deceleration like those from both Sea-Doo and Yamaha. For the moment Kawasaki continues to go the mechanical route. Though the portside location of the lever allows for simultaneous manipulation of throttle and forward/reverse, mechanical systems aren’t as simple or intuitive to use as their electronic counterparts and you can’t safely lower the reverse bucket to rapidly slow or “brake” the craft. Given the positive response to more modern alternatives from the competition we keep waiting for Kawasaki to jump on this bandwagon but it hasn’t happened yet.
The craft does, however, offer a two-key system, one that can limit speed and save fuel. The removable keys also function as a theft-deterrent.
With a competitive retail price of $9,799, the base 2021 Kawasaki STX 160 compares best to the Sea-Doo GTI 130 ($10,099) and the Yamaha VX ($10,049).
At approximately 160hp, Kawasaki holds the definite edge in horsepower and will peak at the highest top speed of the trio. Handling will likely come down to rider preference, as each boat has a characteristic ride.
The big differentiator will likely be features. As mentioned, both Sea-Doo and Yamaha offer electronic reverse/deceleration systems that make close-quarters, low-speed handling simpler and more intuitive. Kawasaki has the greatest fuel capacity, Sea-Doo the most onboard storage space. Sea-Doo offers the versatile LinQ accessory system but accessories are on the pricy side. Yamaha offers a glovebox big enough to stow water bottles and two “multi-mounts” to attach speakers, GoPro or GPS.
The takeaway, however, is that the 2021 Kawasaki STX 160 is a viable competitor in the game, one that boasts familiar strong power and handling, but looks completely new and modern…
…and that’s what was desperately needed.
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