2012 BMW K1600GT vs. 2011 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS [Video]
Sport-Touring taken to the next level
2012 BMW K1600GT
$20,900 ($24,540 as tested)
When talking about the K1600GT, all discussions naturally center around its inline six-cylinder engine, and rightly so. By now, you may have read the countless accolades given to this powerplant from the international press, including from our own Editor Duke in his K16-GT review. After flogging the K16 myself, I’m inclined to believe every single one of them is true. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the company that has made a name out of its high-performance six-cylinder four-wheelers has found a way to make that joy available to two-wheelers as well.
With a 72 x 67.5mm bore and stroke, the 1649cc mill is relatively undersquare for a motorcycle engine (though still technically oversquare), though this helps keep overall dimensions narrow. Still, that didn’t stop our test bike from churning out 123.4 horsepower and 107.7 ft.-lb. of torque on the dyno at Gene Thomason Racing. Yes, only 123.4 horsepower. Dyno chart junkies might scoff at that number (especially compared to the Kawasaki’s 131.8 peak horsepower), but from the saddle the abundant amount of torque makes it easy to forget any horsepower disadvantage. What we didn’t expect, and what may be even more surprising, is just how smooth and well balanced the K16 engine really is. Propped up on the center stand and with the engine running, full-throttle blips produced no visual movement from the bike whatsoever. None.
That smoothness isn’t lost when the GT is in motion, either. In fact, the Beemer’s E-Gas ride-by-wire throttle is so deceptively smooth and vibration-free at low rpm that I stalled the bike the first time I tried to ride away on it. After adapting to the light clutch, two things become readily apparent. First is that the K16GT flat out hauls ass right from the moment you think about accelerating. Second is the induction noise from that six-cylinder under load is sheer music to the ears.
“The inline-Six blats out a sound that is nothing less than rapturous,” Duke gushes. “The GT’s exhaust has less baffling than the GTL, making its note even more delicious. I was constantly running the GT at least one gear low so my ears could inhale what is perhaps the most appealing engine sound in motorcycledom. And the perfect primary and secondary balance of an I-6 motor allows a rider to keep the revs up without undue vibration.”
But back to that first point. BMW claims the K16 (in both GT and GTL form) makes 70% of its available torque at just 1500 rpm. That’s quite a lot of power with the engine barely spinning. What that means in the real world is that no matter if you’re just leaving a stop or cruising on the highway in sixth gear at 80 mph, when the throttle is twisted, the Beemer moves. The virtual absence of vibration from this smooth-running engine is a genuine benefit to the rider. But the combination of this excellent vibration isolation and the slick ride-by-wire system had me wondering whether we were riding a motorcycle or playing a live video game, since at times I felt disconnected from the throttle. Duke, however, had no such impressions.
Compared to the Kawasaki Concours 14, the K16 simply blows the doors off its Japanese counterpart from the word “go.” It’s astounding to say that the ZX-14 engine is weak by any means, but when stacked against this competition, the Kawasaki simply feels, well, slow. One area the BMW lagged behind the Connie is in the transmission department. Shifts on the K16 felt clunky (especially clutchless upshifts), and unfortunately didn’t get better with miles, as some motorcycles do. The Kawasaki, meanwhile, was the exact opposite, shifting with buttery-smooth accuracy with each flick of the toe.
Handling from the big Beemer belies its hefty appearance. Only at ultra-low speeds does steering feel awkward, with Duke noting that it feels a bit unnatural. Once above 5 mph, the GT changes direction with absolute fluidity and grace, though the K16 won’t be mistaken for an S1000RR in the weight department. That said, its linear steering and sporty chassis were a hit among both our testers, especially compared to the heavy-steering Kawasaki. Our only complaint about the K’s handling is a lack of feedback from its Duolever front suspension that has regularly delivered muted front-end feel.
While some would argue Duolever technology is superior, ultimately, “with the limited feedback, a rider is forced to put faith in the good grip its tires have,” notes Duke. “However, that oddball front suspension also provides anti-dive geometry, which helps keep the GT nicely balanced even during hard braking.” The front Metzeler Z8 tire never gave us cause for concern, but because we’ve become accustomed to the feedback from a conventional telescopic fork, those same sensations are what we look for, especially while riding aggressively.
Our fully kitted test mule came equipped with BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA II) feature, part of the Standard Package trim level ($23,045). At the push of a button and twist of the ingenious Multi-Controller wheel (which we’ll get to in a bit) on the left bar, the rider commands ESA to electronically adjust suspension damping via three available settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. From there, preload settings are also electronically adjustable to suit a solo rider, a solo rider with full saddlebags, a two-up ride with no luggage, or two riders with the bags loaded.
ESA II, which Duke calls “fantastically convenient and useful,” isn’t just a gimmick, either. When cruising along the highway, Comfort mode dampens the ride to a nice, plush setting that practically absorbs all but the nastiest of road imperfections. As one would expect, when the road starts to twist, the looser damping settings of Comfort mode are insufficient. Switching to Normal mode provides noticeably tighter damping, while full Sport mode substantially stiffened the ride, making it more suitable for the abundance of turns on our way to Laguna Seca. A huge difference in suspension action is accomplished with the simple prod of a button, a real boon for the hugely varied conditions confronting a sport-tourer.
Stopping the K16GT from the massive speeds it’s able to attain (140-plus mph) are dual 320mm discs with fixed, four-piston calipers. BMW’s integral ABS – standard on all trim levels – is the linked variety, with application of the front brake inducing activation of the twin-piston rear caliper on a single 320mm disc (though it should be noted that the rear brake does not activate the front). The Connie 14 is also equipped with linked brakes and ABS, and in a straight line both vehicles come to a halt in a hurry as each system offers firm pressure at the lever and good feel. ABS intervention from the BMW felt much less intrusive than the Kawi, to the point where you almost forget it’s working. It’s truly a step above where ABS technology was just a few years ago. Where the BMW and Kawasaki systems start to show their differences is when the road bends but the brakes are still needed.
Simply put, BMW has nailed the ABS on the K16. By now it’s rather simple to engineer a linked-braking system that works well in a straight line, but the GT’s system also does a fine job of keeping the bike settled even while trailbraking. Contrarily, the Connie’s rear brake feels linked too much to the front, even in its least-linked two-position mode choice. When riding the GT, as long as inputs are delivered in a smooth manner (and even sometimes when they aren’t), it will stay settled and composed.
Our bike came in the Premium Package trim level ($24,540), which includes everything from the Base Package (ABS, Multi-Controller, cruise control, heated grips and seat) and Standard Package (ESA II, traction control, adaptive headlight, tire-pressure monitor) and adds an audio system with Bluetooth capabilities to transmit direct to a rider’s headset. The Premium Package also includes a central locking system and alarm. And they work in typical Teutonic fashion.
Much like the seamless ABS, BMW’s traction control (DTC) hardly interrupts the riding experience. While it isn’t as complex or adjustable as that seen on the S1000RR, the K16’s system politely and gently tames the power to the rear wheel upon detection of wheel slippage. When full traction is available again, power comes on equally as gentle. Which is more than what could be said for the Connie. Both can be switched off if desired.
Pete and Tom were giddy about BMW’s adaptive headlight in our recent battle between the K16GTL and Gold Wing, and our experience with it in the GT only added to the praise of this clever new feature.
“I was amazed at the active headlight during a night ride on a twisty road, as it magically peered into corners with a mind of its own,” Duke raves, even though he did discover the headlight’s weak spot: “Closely spaced corners reveal the system’s limitations, as the lamp’s mirror points to the corner exit instead of into the next turn.” A flaw some may think, but it’s tiny one in a system that genuinely enhances safety when riding at night.
Being familiar with BMW’s iDrive feature in its road cars will help you understand the Multi-Controller wheel on the K16s. Instead of pressing a myriad of buttons to reach a desired menu screen, the Multi-Controller lets you toggle through a host of different options by simply spinning the wheel with your left hand. Pushing or pulling the wheel inwards or outwards selects an option. The system does take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it really is an innovative device. Our one minor complaint is that in order to adjust the stereo volume with the wheel it must be in the audio menu.
There’s so much technology encompassing the K1600GT that it took nearly the entire ride to come to grips with its many features, whereas the Concours was relatively straightforward. Thankfully the C14 is a supremely comfortable machine. The rider triangle is more sport-oriented compared to the K16GTL, but when stacked against the Concours, both Duke and I commented on how similar the two felt in regards to seating position; the most notable difference being the wider handlebars on the BMW, which we preferred as it provided more leverage for turning all of its 751-plus pounds.
Despite the BMW seat being slightly narrower than the Concours, it was the saddle of choice for Duke, whereas I gave the nod, albeit slightly, to the Kawasaki. Seat padding density on both machines gives good support, but Duke felt the Connie’s seat gave up sooner. Despite the K16GT’s inline-Six, a rider’s legs aren’t splayed any more than a typical four-banger. The 1649cc mill is rather narrow for its size, and its 55-degree forward tilt prevents the widest portion of the engine from interfering with the GT’s ergonomic package. BMW also claims better air intake as well from this design. That said, this large machine is still slightly intimidating at a standstill, if for no other reason than its sheer size and weight.
A nice feature of the BMW is its adjustable seat height. At 5’8” and with average inseams, both Duke and I had no problems touching the ground with the K16 seat at its lowest setting of 32 inches, which is coincidentally the same as the Concours. Taller riders may appreciate the higher setting that raises seat height an entire inch. For you shorter sport-touring riders, a lower seat is an available option, dropping the saddle to a 30.0-inch height. The Kawasaki, meanwhile, doesn’t have the luxury of adjustable (or optional) seats.
The more we rode the K1600GT the more we were impressed by the fit, finish, and attention to detail that went into this motorcycle. For instance, its electric windscreen is efficient and was preferred by our testers. “The GT’s windscreen has a much greater range than the Connie’s, making it more adaptable to riders of varying heights.” Indeed, with the screen at its lowest setting I experienced some buffeting at higher speeds. Yet, after raising it just a smidge it felt like riding in a cocoon of still air. The memory function is a nice feature as well, as each time the GT starts the screen goes back to its previous position.
Another detail we really like is the pop-out wind deflectors just below the headlight – again, another shared feature on the GTL that ol’ T-Rod and Peteski raved about in their uber-tourer duel. Our journey to Laguna Seca took us through varying terrain and weather conditions, and when the heat picked up, simply flipping the deflectors outward channeled a significant amount of air directly towards the rider. Sometimes the drawback to having a raised windscreen to prevent helmet buffeting is a lack of airflow to the rest of the body. With the deflectors, even with the screen at its highest setting, plenty of air made its way in and around our testers, which was especially useful with our ventilated jackets. Before the K1600GT, this wasn’t a feature we even remotely considered. Now it’s something we can’t live without.
Of course, a sport-touring motorcycle is nothing without storage capacity, and the K16GT doesn’t lack here either. While it does without the top case seen on the GTL version, the two saddlebags had plenty of storage room for our voyage to and from Laguna Seca, augmented by a tail pack bungeed to its useful luggage rack behind the pillion seat. The hard bags are also easily removable, making it easy to transport items once at our hotel. There are also smaller storage compartments on the lower front fairing, with the right unit on our test bike pre-wired to accept an iPod. And should the safety of the items on the GT be of concern, all the bags and compartments are lockable by simply pressing a button on the key fob. Very car-like...
We’ll just say it right now: we’re in love with the K1600GT as it does everything a sport-touring motorcycle should do, and it does it incredibly well. The inline-Six has turned all four MO staffers into believers, and its aluminum chassis is more than capable of navigating tight bends with ease. Duke summed it up best in his notes, “The GT handles so well, and its engine is so fantastic, it made me think about taking it to a racetrack – it would be a blast to go howling past a poorly ridden sportbike on this grand-tourer.”
But at almost $25,000 for our fully-kitted test bike, that’s almost $10,000 more than a top-spec Concours 14. For that price we expect the BMW to cook us breakfast in the morning. Even the base model K1600GT is significantly more expensive than the Connie and would likely fare just as well. To be honest, we didn’t travel very far on our journey before we realized this wasn’t a fair fight. The question now, then, is simple...
Is the K1600GT $5,000-plus better than the Concours 14? You might be surprised what we think.