Now that we’ve swooned over the new Kawasaki ZX-6R so much that you’d think the rest of the “600” class has ceased to exist, it’s time to pit it against our favorite “outlier,” the Triumph Daytona 675. We know that the Daytona 675 and up-spec 675R prove that a little extra displacement yields big gains in terms of midrange power and real-world rideability. The D-675 has already vanquished the Suzuki GSX-R750 and the Ducati 848 Evo in our “Middle Ground” comparison (MC, Sept. 2011), and it pummeled the new 675cc MV Agusta F3 in the “Triple Punch” feature (MC, Dec. 2012).
Numerically, the biggest difference between the 636 and the 675R has to do with price. The $12,699 R-model Triumph rings in at a grand more than the Kawasaki, and while it doesn’t come with KTRC traction control, it has an electronic quickshifter that’s immediately beneficial and immensely satisfying to use. It also comes with $4000 worth of Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, and a bounty of carbon fiber. Whether you compare it to the 600 Supersport class in general or the base-model Daytona, the R is an undeniably good value.
The Kawasaki is quicker down the quarter mile by about a tenth of a second, and smokes the Triumph while gunning from 60-80 in top gear. The bikes’ weights are comparable, with the 420-pound Triumph undercutting the Ninja by 2 lbs. Peak horsepower numbers are also close, with the Ninja making 3.5 bhp more than the Triumph’s 108.5 bhp output. The torque discussion goes the other way. Triumph’s triple puts down 40 lb.-ft. of torque from just 3500 rpm. The Ninja doesn’t break 40 lb.-ft. until 7250 rpm, and while its 46.4 lb.-ft. peak is only 2.4 lb.-ft. down on the Triumph’s maximum output, it arrives more than 1000 rpm later.
Both bikes have excellent fueling and seamless throttle response, but the Triumph’s motor comes out ahead of the Ninja’s thanks to better flexibility—simply, its spread of power is broader and easier to use. That’s the objective side. Subjectively, the Triumph wins on character. While the Ninja hums along with an uninspiringly muffled exhaust note, the Triumph’s three-cylinder engine and undertail exhaust produce a thrilling symphony of sound. And while it’s not a seamlessly smooth runner like the Kawasaki, the Triumph’s motor is a gruffer mechanism, with a low-frequency vibration that emanates from deep within the crankcase any time you hoss on the throttle. It’s the same sensation we’ve experienced and praised on Yamaha’s crossplane R1. Yes, we’ve also been called suckers for a three-cylinder’s song.
The Triumph has a more committed riding position, with a higher, harder seat and lower, narrower clip-ons. A low windscreen and ultra-narrow fairing offer little in the way of wind protection, while the Ninja’s broad fairing and tall screen cut a sizeable hole in the air. The Triumph’s suspension follows that hard-core theme: It’s firmly sprung and uses much less of the travel during street riding than the Ninja’s, yet is surprisingly compliant.
Although the Triumph’s Brembo radial-mount calipers come straight from the Italian manufacturer’s race catalog, the Ninja’s Nissins have a stronger bite and are every bit as powerful. If you want ABS, you’ll have to buy the Kawasaki and fork over another $1000. Or wait for the 2013 Daytonas to arrive.
Both the ZX-6R and 675R are at the top of the class, with the kind of flexible performance that keeps expert riders entertained but treats less-experienced pilots kindly. As a tool to cut laps or carve canyons, the Kawasaki is one of the best machines available. The Triumph functions just as well—though it demands a bit more commitment to enjoy it as your only streetbike—and also offers its rider a certain amount of emotional satisfaction thanks to its rich character.
If passion is a must-have, it’s the Daytona 675R. For the win.