Shootout – KTM Duke 390 vs Kawasaki Ninja 300
Both the Duke 390 and Ninja 300 offer borderline savage performance.
Orange vs Green. A battle which isn’t that obvious because the only thing common between both these motorcycles is the showroom space which they share. The KTM Duke 390 vs Kawasaki Ninja 300 might not look like a sensible fight but believe you me, it is. On one side you have the Japanese samurai (the Ninja 300 evolves from the Ninja 250) which has dominated the entry level performance segment for 20-years on a trot. On the other side we have a product which is the result of an Indo-Austrian joint venture. The common connection between KTM and Kawasaki is Bajaj Auto, making this a sibling rivalry (in India at least). Globally the KTM Duke 390 and Kawasaki Ninja 300 fall in a similar price range and battle it out with each other but in India the price difference between both is quite a lot. Price aside, which is the better motorcycle? This is a shootout between single vs twin, naked vs faired, Austria vs Japan and so on and so forth. Let’s get rolling.
Styling - Looks are subjective but most will agree that the Kawasaki Ninja 300 is the more attractive vehicle. Both bikes take heavy styling inspiration from their elder siblings (the Ninja 300 from the ZX-6R, ZX-10R and the Duke 390 from the Duke 690, 990). The KTM Duke 390 does end up looking a bit small considering it’s a 375cc machine. Being identical to the Duke 200 in styling removes the wow factor although the colour scheme does make it stand apart from its younger sibling. The KTM Duke 390 uses LEDs even for the indicators which shows the attention to detail. While the Duke 390 flexes all it’s muscles with the naked styling, the Ninja 300’s full faired design makes it look bigger than it actually is, with the motorcycle being longer and wider than the Duke 390, thereby appearing more substantial. Everything from the twin headlights to the unique wheels make the Kawasaki Ninja 300 the winner in the styling department and you simply can’t miss it on the roads, specially when it’s painted in Kawasaki signature candy lime green.
While the KTM Duke 390 is very well put together, the exposed wiring robs away full marks in the fit and finish section. Some parts come from the Pulsar which might not be appreciated by everyone. The Kawasaki Ninja 300 is almost faultless when it comes to built quality with fit and finish levels being truly top notch in every way. There is no grab rail on the Ninja 300 but a recess is hidden below the seat, a neat touch.
Ergonomics - You sit upright on the Duke 390 piloting a wide handle bar. The bike is a comfortable tourer but the seat is hard and the mirrors are a bit small. The Ninja 300 has a dedicated steering with clip-ons. You sit lower and the foot pegs are set high. Even though the Ninja 300 has a slightly aggressive riding position, the bike is extremely comfortable. Both these motorcycles are suitable for tall and short riders alike but the Ninja 300 offers better overall ergonomics.
Instrument Cluster and Switch Gear - While the KTM Duke 390 employs a completely digital console, the Kawasaki Ninja 300 uses an analogue tachometer with almost everything else being digital. The Ninja’s console is bigger and is much easier to read at all speeds. The Duke displays an array of information but the tachometer is too small and when you consider redline comes in early and the 390 revs quickly you realise you can’t really see the tacho clearly when you give this KTM the beans. The Ninja 300’s console boasts of bigger fonts and the big tachometer is right in the line of vision, which makes it win in this department as well. Switch gear on both bikes is good but the Ninja edges ahead with its piano black finishing on the switches. The mirrors on the Ninja 300 are positioned more outwards than the Duke 390 and offer better rear visibility. Both bikes offer good illumination in the night but the Ninja 300’s twin headlights are better as they light up the entire road. The Ninja also comes with a daytime running light.
Performance - Till now the Ninja 300 seems to be justifying its premium but does it hold a candle to the Duke 390 which not only produces more power and torque (44 PS vs 39 PS and 35 Nm vs 27 Nm) but is lighter too (by 18 kgs). This results in the Duke 390 having a higher power to weight ratio of more than 300 PS per tonne vs 226 PS per tonne on the Ninja 300. Well, we won’t spill the beans just yet but remember both bikes have the best tech in their engines from these manufacturers. Have a look at the drag race below.
As you can see the Duke 390 is faster than the Ninja 300 right from the word go and is very quick off the line, only to be caught up post 130 km/hr, where the Kawasaki comes in its own and pulls strongly to 160 km/hr. But what this quarter mile result doesn’t show you is how quickly the Ninja 300 pulls at high speeds. Even though the Duke 390 has higher displacement, it’s only a single cylinder unit which has its flaws. The Ninja 300’s parallel twin power plant is terrifically refined and vibrations are completely missing. The Duke 390 vibrates quite a bit when you thump the starter and while it isn’t unbearable, it simply can’t match the Ninja 300 when it comes to refinement. Running a higher compression ratio than the Ninja 300, the Duke 390 tends to knock a bit when you use lower octane fuel.
Although the KTM Duke 390 has more torque, we prefer the Kawasaki Ninja 300 in the city even though it feels a bit heavy to manoeuvre in traffic. We choose the Ninja for city duties because Kawasaki has done a fantastic job of directing away heat from the rider. The air flow through the fairing dissipates heat away from the rider and the Ninja 300 doesn’t heat at all, no matter how many times you redline it. The Duke 390 heats a lot in city conditions and riding in stop go traffic can give your legs a heat massage. The higher ground clearance (by 30 mm) on the Duke 390 is a boon and one needs to be careful in the Ninja 300 over large speed-breakers.
So what is more fun? Both these motorcycles are fast, the Duke 390 boasts of faster 0-60 and 0-100 km/hr times while the Ninja 300 has a higher top speed. The Duke and the Ninja are both tall geared but the 390 has a narrow power band to play with, hence it’s faster in the city and the highway because you need to change gears less often, thereby requiring lesser throttle inputs. The KTM has a tendency to power wheelie in first gear, such is the amount of thrust it packs. The Ninja 300’s power is delivered in a linear fashion. The Kawasaki really comes alive after 6000 RPM and redlines at a stratospheric 13,000 RPM. The madness in the Duke 390 starts after 5000 RPM and redline comes in quickly at 10,500 RPM. Both engines are undoubtedly terrific but the Ninja’s motor is somewhat better and the fuelling is spot on with absolutely no jerkiness right from 2000 RPM all the way up to 13,000 RPM. The parallel twin heart sounds really pleasing to the aural senses. The Duke 390 roars but doesn’t sound anywhere as sweet as the Kwacker, which sounds like a jet fighter when on full steam.
Both these motorcycles use a 6-speed gearbox, offering smooth shifts but the Ninja 300 is better with slightly slicker shifts. What really sets the Ninja 300 apart is the slipper clutch which lets you downshift aggressively and comes in handy when you are riding aggressively on the twisties. Both these machines are equally frugal and will return a mileage between 25-30 km/l, which is not that a big deal as a person buying a performance bike isn’t as sensitive to mileage. However the Kawasaki has a bigger tank (6-litres bigger) which plays a vital role when you plan to ride on long journeys. The Ninja 300 also has an ECO indicator which helps you the stretch the mileage further when not in the mood for fun and games.
Riding Dynamics - On the hardware front, the KTM Duke 390 seems richer than the Kawasaki Ninja 300. The KTM uses a trellis frame along with upside down forks. The Ninja settles for conventional telescopic forks with a twin spar type frame. What really plays a vital difference between both bikes are the tyres. The Duke 390 uses super awesome Metzelers which offer terrific grip in both dry and wet conditions alike. The Ninja 300 doesn’t offer the same levels of grip as the Duke 390 because of the inferior tyres. The super sticky rubber aids in pushing the Duke 390 more aggressively around corners as it feels very nimble and agile compared to the Ninja 300. That said, the Ninja 300 is the more confidence inspiring bike thanks to lower suspension travel and a chassis which sits a lot lower then the Duke’s. However the difference is not a world apart and both are well accomplished in terms of dynamics in their own way. A rider can thoroughly enjoy pushing both of them through a set of twistes, with a wide grin on his face.
The Duke 390’s suspension is very stiffly sprung which makes it very difficult to ride on bad roads, you either slow down considerably or your back takes the toll. The suspension on the Ninja 300 is very well tuned and absorbs most of the bumps without transferring anything to the rider. So the Ninja 300 has better ride quality, bigger tank, hooks under seat (to tie luggage) and a more comfortable seat than the Duke, which all results in the Ninja 300 being a very good bike to tour on, without getting tired. The aerodynamic design and large front screen means wind blast is well contained at high speeds, where the Duke 390 is severely affected (too much wind blast post 130 km/hr). The Ninja 300 is the more stable bike and stays firmly planted at even 150 km/hr, which means you can hold high speeds for longer with ease.
It’s a shame Kawasaki does not offer ABS on the Ninja 300 in India, a feature KTM offers as standard on the Duke 390. The brakes on this baby Ninja are simply not up to the mark and tend to wear out very quickly. It uses petal discs and ABS is offered in global markets. The Duke 390 uses four pot radial callipers at the front, single pot calliper at the rear, ABS and sticky tyres, all of which ensures shedding high speeds is effortless and confidence inspiring. KTM has gone the full monty and even given the Duke steel braided brake lines!
Cost of Ownership - Both these performance bikes are serviced at the same place but the Duke 390 is cheaper to live with. The KTM being heavily localised means parts are cheaper and so are the service costs. The average service cost of the Kawasaki Ninja 300 are much higher than the KTM Duke 390 (almost double) but quality of service should be more or less the same between the two.
Verdict - and the winner is… the Kawasaki Ninja 300. Who saw that coming? Yes the Duke 390 has better hardware, far better brakes and is tremendous bang for the buck but the Ninja 300 is an almost faultless bike (save for the lack of ABS and price there isn’t much going wrong with the Kwacker). The Duke 390 is a terrific product, it’s fast, nimble and surefooted but it somehow doesn’t tingle the emotional senses like the Ninja 300 manages to do. However the Kawasaki Ninja 300 costs a whooping Rs. 3.94 lakhs, while the KTM Duke 390 costs Rs. 2.07 lakhs (all prices on-road, Mumbai) and for sheer value alone, the Duke 390 wins our vote.
The Kawasaki Ninja 300 edges ahead of the KTM Duke 390 as a better engineered product but the Duke 390’s value for money quotient simply can’t be ignored. At Rs. 1.87 lakhs less than the Ninja 300, the Duke 390 is terrific value and a real pocket-rocket for Indian bikers.
Further Reading –