2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F Review

Long-running model still tops class in horsepower

Kawasaki’s STX-15F may be the longest-running model in personal watercraft history. Some will view that as a negative, perhaps argue that Kawasaki is milking the hull-and-engine combo and neglecting to update. Others, however, will see beyond that conclusion, and note this proven model still offers the best horsepower available in its class, a hull long-ago proven on the race course, and a longstanding reputation for reliability.

Better-than-Average Power

The 15F has long held a horsepower advantage over its introductory-level competition. Kawasaki’s 1,498cc dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine produces a legitimate 160 horses, delivered through a 148mm axial-flow pump to the tune of 957 pounds of torque. Top speed is a class-topping 62 mph, while acceleration time to 30 mph is as quick as two seconds. That’s abundant power for this category, and all delivered without a supercharger. Pull the throttle, crank the bars and the STX powers in and out of turns with authority or nips at flagship craft’s heels in a friendly drag race. That power delivery is also more than enough for virtually any towing duties, whether you’re pulling kids on a tube or hauling a heavyweight adult up on skis. With power comes versatility, and the STX-15F offers it in spades.

2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F StudioThe Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F returns unchanged for 2016, though it remains the most powerful entry level craft in the industry.

Does the entry-level buyer need that kind of speed and acceleration? No, likely not…or at least, not at first. But introductory buyers gain in skill level and many frequently move on to bigger and better craft. By allowing some breathing room for the buyer to grow into, rather than outgrow the craft, Kawasaki makes the most of a buyer’s investment.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Yamaha V1 Sport Review

As to how the manufacturer tames that power when required, credit the longstanding STX hull design. A deep-V originally featured on the race course, it offers exceptional stability in a variety of waters and tracks straight and true. That gives newbies the confidence to learn, and take family members along for the journey. Opt for a family-friendly cruise and the subtly bolstered saddle increases long-distance comfort, while avoiding forcing passengers uncomfortably close. Choose to put the craft to its original task and it thrills in ways other entry-level models do not, carving aggressive, precision corners that will please even seasoned PWC enthusiasts.

2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F CorneringKawasaki’s Deep-V hull has its roots in racing, so it helps the STX-15F carve a corner like no other entry level craft (2015 model shown).

Old-School Style And Features

Like the boat’s exterior styling, the STX’s ergonomics are somewhat old-school. You sit lower to the water than most modern designs, a fact that may cramp overly tall riders but will also position aggressive pilots closer to the water. That low-slung position feels fast and sleek when you’re carving pretend buoy turns or straight-line speeding. The tradeoff, of course, is that a rider is not always able to get their legs fully under them to absorb rough water. Try before you buy, ideally, and see if the craft’s ergonomics are a good match to your size and style.

2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F FrontThe STX-15F keeps the rider lower to the water than most modern PWC (2015 model shown).

As to features, it’s the basics. The most notable absence in today’s era of electronic reverse concepts like Sea-Doo’s iBR and Yamaha’s RiDE is that the STX reverse is manual. The lever sits to the port side of the console and is linked via cable to the reverse bucket. You can approximate the settings of neutral and reverse, but it’s not a match to the technology the competition offers. You also don’t get the competition’s braking abilities while underway.

COMPARISON: Read our review of the 2015 Sea-Doo GTI 130 Review

Beyond reverse, Kawi offers theft protection via a magnetic ignition key. A second key can be substituted to activate Kawasaki’s SLO (Smart Learning Operation) mode and limit the boat’s top speed until rider’s skills improve. The instrumentation at the dash is clean and easy to read in sunlight, a spring-loaded boarding step is ready to help you aboard after a spill or swim, and capacities are good. The bow tub, glovebox and small compartment below the tail end of the saddle total 23.5 gallons. Fuel capacity checks in at 16.4 gallons.

2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F KeysKawasaki’s yellow SLO key tames the power of the STX-15F for novice riders.

One last nod to beginners is Kawasaki Smart Steering. A collision-avoidance method, KSS delivers thrust at the pump when the throttle is released in conjunction with a hardover turn at the handlebars. The nudge in thrust is just enough to begin a turn, and compensate for a driver who may have released the throttle in a panic and lost directional control.

2016 Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F Info Display

Is It A Fit?

Certainly the competition has leveled the playing field in many ways, and in some areas far exceeded the 15F. iBR and RiDE immediately come to mind as high-end features the 15F lacks. Kawasaki still holds onto its horsepower advantage, however, and for the right buyer that will make a significant difference. This is a craft with power and speed, two things that can not only make the ride more fun solo, but will have obvious benefit when hauling passengers or towing a watersports lover in your wake.

In short, don’t be overly quick to judge this particular book by its cover. The contents within can still make a difference.

2016 Kawasaki STX-15F Specs
Length 122.8 inches
Beam 46.5 inches
Curb Weight 844.5 lbs
Engine Four-cylinder DOHC EFI
Displacement 1,498 cc
Bore and Stroke 83mm x 69.2mm
Compression Ratio 10.6:1
Rated Horsepower 160
Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal.
Combined Stowage Capacity 23.5 gal.
Colors Ebony/Lime Green
Price $9,699