Malaysia’s quarter-litre sports bike segment is extremely competitive, notably for young men with hot blood who are getting on their first “real” motorcycle. Updated and revised is the 2019 Kawasaki Ninja 250, priced at RM23,071 – we were informed by Kawasaki the rise in price is due to foregin exchange issues – which goes head-to-head with the Yamaha YZF-R25, retailing at RM19,643.

Kawasaki Motors Malaysia does offer the full-fairing Ninja in both single and two-cylinder flavours, the former being the SL, which is getting long in the tooth now. But the one we’re here to talk about is the new Ninja 250, with its two cylinder engine and redesigned bodywork.

At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking the new baby Ninja is merely a facelift with upgraded lighting and graphics, but this is not so. We checked with the ever helpful gentlemen in the Kawasaki Malaysia service centre and it was remarked the previous generation Ninja 250 engine swallowed some two-plus litres of lubricant, while the new mill needs 1.93-litres of the slippery stuff.

This is aside from the looks of the new Ninja 250, which bear more than a passing resemblance to the Kawasaki H2 and somewhat by extension, it sort of, kind of, looks like its competitor. Well, maybe if the light is poor and you’ve been drinking a lot.

So, the engine internals are different, the bodywork is quite different, the handling behaviour is, well, that’s why you’re here and that’s why we’re writing this. Here’s what we found out about Kawasaki’s latest 250.

Now, Kawasaki has a good history with its parallel-twins in Malaysia, going back to the ZZR250 in the 90s. One thing Kawasaki does do well is squeezing suitable amounts of power from quarter-litre engines.

In the case of the 249 cc Ninja 250, it seems to be more of the same, with 39 PS coming from 12,500 rpm and 23.5 Nm of torque at 10,000 rpm. These are not shabby numbers, but it does mean the little liquid-cooled parallel-twin needs to be caned mercilessly in the upper regions of the power band.

Getting on the little Ninja, the rider is struck by how visually large it is. The tank is a tall, humped affair, and indeed, stood taller than the author’s track bike when parked side-by-side. Width on the Ninja 250 is further accentuated by the front cowl and fairing, adding more bulk to the bike.

This is, of course, done on purpose. The rider purchasing a Ninja 250 wants value for the money he or she is spending, and this means what they want is a bike that looks the part. For many riders, especially in ASEAN, the Ninja 250 is that aspirational step up into the world of proper motorbikes and image plays an important part in this.

We were given both flavours of the Ninja 250 sold locally, in grey with orange graphics and black with red graphics. Visually the Ninja 250 takes cues from the bigger bikes in Kawasaki’s range, notably the supercharged H2 and the ZX-10R superbike.

Getting into the 795 mm tall saddle, the rider is settled into a pocket between the tank and tailpiece, which comes with a separate pillion seat pad. It should be noted that while the two review Ninja 250s we got are identical, visual cues play a big part with the red Ninja 250 appearing taller than the grey.

The illusion was visual though, and when sitting in either machine, the rider is actually at the same height. Settling in behind the cockpit, the screen on the Ninja 250 is set low, with the wind blast coming in straight to the rider’s chest.

Tucking into the Ninja 250, plus-size riders would likely find things a little tight, with the distance from the rear of the tank to the seat cowl being a little short for the author. Arm reach to the handlebars was similar, the Ninja 250 really being intended for the young rider who’s young, dumb and full of… never mind, let’s not go there.

Setting off on the baby Ninja, clutch pull was very light and minimal effort was needed at the steering, the six-speed box snapping into gear fairly precisely. We tried rushing the gearbox to induce a false neutral, something often found on the lower cost end of the motorcycle spectrum, but were unable to do so.

While we cannot make any comments on the longevity of the gearbox and clutch on the Ninja 250, the transmission handled the abuse of the engine being wound up to the edge of redline and dumped to get the maximum drive fairly well. Take off on the Ninja was quick but you must not hesitate in winding the throttle open.

Acceleration can best be described as adequate and, provided the rider is in the right gear, there is enough get up and go for overtaking. Do note that torque on the Ninja 250 is somewhat low, as it is a proper quarter-litre and proper usage of the gearbox is paramount with nothing much happening in the engine room below 8,000 rpm.

Out on the highway, the Ninja 250 would get to well beyond highway speeds in quick fashion. Then, it was perfectly content to sit there for at least a couple of hours, with the rider having enough room to at least move around a little to relieve fatigue, even if the space is limited.

At those speeds, wind blast around the fairing is a factor and tucking down with chin to the tank was good enough to get another four or five km/h. Folding the mirrors back gave a few more kilometres at the top end.

The Ninja 250 does get a little flighty at those speeds though, a function of its all-up weight of 164 kg. There is enough weight on the Ninja to keep it stable when passing the backwash of large trucks and buses, but not quite enough to keep the suspension planted.

At the front of the Ninja 250, you can find a pair of 41 mm diameter non-adjustable telescopic forks with a preload-adjustable monoshock at the back. In terms of suspension performance, rebound and compression damping was good at highway speeds.

Pushing the suspension hard in corners would let the Ninja 250 exhibit some wallowing and through certain corners, there was a slightly unsettling tendency to understeer, with the front wheel pushing rapidly to the outside. We put this down to a combination of the budget suspension and OEM tyres supplied, which did not give a lot of feedback when ridden hard.

There was a tendency for a slightly vague feeling and we started messing around with tyre pressures. We finally settled on a combination of 31 PSI in front and 36 PSI in the rear, but we would strongly recommend a change to premium rubber when the opportunity presents itself.

If your pottering around town and just doing the daily commute, the stock rubber will serve well and for a long time but if you’re a corner carver and want the best from the Ninja 250, get sticky rubber. Braking, however, was quite good with nice feedback coming through the lever.

If you’re charging hard, then both the front 310 mm disc and rear 220 mm disc will have to be brought into play with a very hard squeeze to get the dual-piston calipers to grab. There was no tendency to fade but when taken for the usual mountain run, the lever did come back to the bar a little – something to be aware of when taking a set of point and shoot corners.

On the whole, the Ninja 250 does acquit itself for a quarter-litre sports bike, with the looks to suit. Handling within the envelope is fine and if you’re the kind of rider who likes pushing bikes hard, you would already have a list of mods you need to implement.

A word about ABS, or the lack thereof on the Ninja 250. During the launch we were advised by a source inside Kawasaki there will be an ABS option for the Ninja 250, which will enter the market by the end of the year, though no word was given as to what the price impact might be.

Comfort over short distances is fine, but heading into slightly longer stints in the saddle, we noted the cut of the seat was a little uncomfortable. This is a function of the seat shape and the rider will have to shuffle around a bit to relieve the pressure points just under the gluteus maximus.

Cruising around on the Ninja 250 fuel consumption was close to amazing, with an average of 26 km/litre recorded from the 14-litre tank. At least it was compared to what the author normally rides and having a race bred V-twin recently entering the stable didn’t improve the monthly fuel bill any.

As for the instrumentation on the Ninja 250, a combination monochrome LCD/analogue instrument cluster taken from the Ninja 650 is found inside the cockpit. Readout was legible, though the tachometer did look a little busy with the numbers clustered close together.

Lighting for the headlamps is now done with LEDs, with twin element beams as well as LED position lamps. In the back, an LED tail light is mounted into the rear seat cowl.

So, who needs a Kawasaki Ninja 250? Primary competition for the Ninja 250 is of course the Yamaha YZF-R25, and to a lesser extent, the KTM RC250 (which does come standard with ABS) and the Honda CBR250R – both being singles versus the two-cylinder of the Ninja and R25.

If you’re a young rider with a fresh license and want a proper quarter-litre motorcycle, the Ninja 250 will serve well till the time comes to upgrade. As for the author, the Ninja 250 was found to be a nice daily run-about, light and easy to handle, and would serve well in that role.