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Kawasaki’s lineup is heavy with models containing the number 310. It’s the engine horsepower rating, a rating that – at least on paper – currently trumps any other competitor on the market. The letters that follow, however, give you the insight into what sets each model apart. And in the case of the Ultra 310R, that R stands for something performance enthusiasts will truly appreciate…RACE.
We’ll cut right to the chase and explain what that R gets you. First, a saddle more conducive to performance riding. It’s narrower than the norm, a welcome change that allows the driver to get more of their leg muscles into the equation in turns and take a little of the load off the upper body. That narrowness is also, frankly, just more comfortable, especially for shorter riders as it doesn’t force the legs so wide. The saddle material itself continues the nod to racing with a tacky, aftermarket-style feel that will anchor your butt in place rather than allow it to unexpectedly slide around in those hard corners. Bolsters are pronounced and cradle the lower back, but they’re not so rigid that you can’t sit atop them when necessary. Genuine Hydro-Turf mats in the footwells further the rider’s secure contact with the boat.
Where the R’s racer looks are most evident, however, is at the handlebars. Forget the sleek cover you find on other Ultras; this is minimalist, aftermarket-style at its most extreme. The barebones stainless steel bars are reminiscent of a motocross bike, with only a simple pad at the crossbar for protection. Bar angle can be dialed in to fit the rider, then secured. Once set, they feel extremely solid, and feature minimal play.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Kawasaki Ultra 310LX
R also means Kawasaki’s bold lime green accents, found everywhere from the graphics to the seat, to even the bond rail and – perhaps the coolest touch – the boat’s sponsons.
Beyond those race-inspired tweaks, however, this is still the familiar Ultra 310, already quite possibly the most performance-minded three-seater currently on the market.
This is a hull that has carried many an offshore racer to victory. Its deep 22.5-degree deadrise cleaves through the chop and waves with knife-like precision, inspiring a lot of confidence in the rider above and allowing that rider to push the boat even in the roughest conditions. Yet it’s also a relatively dry, always stable ride that will rarely, if ever, overpower the more novice rider.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2014 Yamaha FX SVHO
Unlike previous-generation Ultras, the latest hull continues to excel even when it hits calmer conditions. Thanks to electric trim, the driver can now put more of the bow in the water for aggressive cornering manners. Trim down, lean into the turn, and you’ll feel like you’re at the controls of a far smaller craft, snapping off turns with a crispness far removed from the sweeping personality of old. Trim up and top-end speed benefits as the bow lifts and the hull reduces contact. Electric trim controls are located within easy reach on the left handlebar. The lone downside is that you do have to take your eyes off the water to sight the trim position, at least until you get a better feel for the craft in general.
Making every second of that handling more thrilling, of course, are those 310 horses rumbling below the seat. Kawasaki starts with a 1,498cc inline four-cylinder engine, an engine that received a multitude of not-so-subtle improvements last year aimed at providing even greater reliability and performance. To that engine the company adds an Eaton constant-displacement supercharger and liquid-cooled intercooler. The resulting power delivery hits immediately the moment you touch the throttle and the smooth, aggressive powerband doesn’t let off until the craft peaks at full speed. Low-end punch is awesome, with a deep-throated whirr that will delight the senses. Top speed, with my relatively light 150-pound weight and a minimal load of fuel, topped out just shy of 67 mph.
Though the 310R is clearly aimed at the Type-A performance enthusiast, it still features the extras that will also make the boat a winner for touring or family fun. That crisp electronic throttle also makes possible cruise control, as well as a no-wake mode. Choose your speed, push a button, and you can then simply squeeze the throttle fully and cruise at your desired speed for the former. Hit another button and take your finger completely off the trigger for the latter. Cruise is also a great way to deliver the best ride to a skier or wakeboarder behind the boat, as it takes away the tendency to surge that is common with a human hand on the throttle. Minimal speed adjustments on the fly are easy via up/down buttons adjacent to the cruise button itself.
Electronic throttle also makes possible Kawasaki’s ECO mode, which tames the engine response to save fuel and increase range. Tip? ECO mode’s also a great way to get a smoother ride in lengthy ocean or rough-water runs, especially for less-experienced riders, as it smooths out the engine’s hair-trigger response.
No, Kawasaki hasn’t jumped on the “intelligent” reverse bandwagon. That means you’ll still have to take care when starting and play with the reverse lever to keep a steady position at the dock or ramp. The reverse works well, however, and the portside lever location doesn’t interfere with simultaneously working the throttle.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Sea-Doo RXP-X 260
R or not, Ultras also offer class-leading capacities. Should you want to take lots of gear along for the ride you’ll find plenty of space for it in the R’s 56-gallons of stowage, split between the huge front tub and smaller nooks in the glovebox and below the aft portion of the split seat. Fuel capacity is also larger than average at 20.6 gallons.
Clearly there’s a lot in common between the Ultra 310 siblings. The beastly, big-water hull design and the potent 310hp engine are a proven combination, and make for a machine that will thrill the solo performance enthusiast, as well as haul their friends and family. But the R’s aftermarket-style tweaks make it an even better match for the truly hardcore rider who can not only appreciate their form…but also their function.
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