By Byron Wilson, Associate Editor

The total entry-level package

Now to the winner of the 2015 Entry-Level Sportbike Shootout, the Yamaha R3. In its first production year, Yamaha has created a superb package that is amenable to the newer/inexperienced rider while still offering an enjoyable ride for the seasoned motorcyclist. Its engine performance nearly equals that of the more powerful KTM but surpasses the orange bike with a stable, responsive chassis, well-functioning braking system, great looks and more affordable MSRP.

Like the Kawi, Yamaha has employed a liquid-cooled Parallel Twin engine, but delivers more oomph thanks in part to a bigger piston drumming inside its 68mm bore compared to the Ninja’s 62mm. The R3’s 321cc displacement exceeds the Ninja’s by 25cc, and the difference is felt from the initial crack of the throttle to redline. The Yamaha pulls harder and longer from the outset before reaching its peak, with 37.32 ponies registered at 10,500 rpm and 20.24 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 rpm.

Though its redline is close to the high-revving Ninja, the Yamaha delivers more throughout the powerband, erasing the mellow feel the Kawi offers before the engine really gets spinning.

“The thing feels like an R6,” says Waheed. “It makes all the right noises, it has a lot of motor in the midrange and top-end, and it just makes the motorcycle more flexible and fun to ride.”

In terms of outright acceleration, the KTM smoked everybody and was nearly one second faster than the second-fastest Yamaha from 0-60, with the R3 closing the gap to half a second in the quarter-mile. But in terms of entry-level sportbikes, the KTM’s peppiness could be a bit too much in the hands of a rider who has yet to develop a subtle touch at the throttle. The Yamaha, on the other hand, is smooth and even, rewarding a heavy twist of the wrist with steadily increasing power.

The six-speed transmission transfers steady power to the rear, and lever pull is light – a no hassle system that makes keeping the R3 in its high-rev sweet spot a breeze. Downshifts require a blip to keep the back end from jumping around during aggressive riding, unlike the slipper-clutch-equipped Kawi, but this is a bike that rewards a rider for smooth, precise inputs rather than providing a crutch for mistakes.

The Yamaha’s chassis is dialed as well, making for a nimble, solid and responsive motorcycle when tackling the twisties. The R3 comes with a 41mm non-adjustable KYB fork and seven-position preload adjustable KYB shock, both of which soaked up bumps with ease while providing a respectable rapport with the road. Again, comparisons to the R6 were bandied about in conversation during photo stops and bike swaps.

The R3’s braking capabilities earned the highest subjective marks as well, the two-piston Akebono calipers providing instant feel at the lever when pinching the 298mm front disc. Out back, the single piston, 220mm disc setup worked just as well.

“The Honda front brake might have felt a little bit better down low, but overall the Yamaha had a better bite,” explains Abbott. “You want good stopping power from the front end, and the Yamaha R3 delivers.”

That seat-of-the-pants assessment was confirmed in the 60-0 mph braking tests as well, with the R3 beating out the entire field, coming to a stop in 131.5 feet and besting its nearest competitor, the Honda, by 7.4 feet.

The cockpit of the bike felt the most comfortable overall to testers, though some of the taller riders, those at or around six feet tall, felt a bit cramped at times. It didn’t prove enough of an issue to keep it from taking the top spot in this category across the board, however.

The instrument panel is a combination of analog and digital, like the bulk of the competition, providing speedometer, gear position indicator, fuel gauge and trip meter in an easy-to-read display. There’s also a nice, big red light at the top of the instrument cluster, which signals the rider to shift. Perhaps an irritating feature to the experienced rider but a nice reminder to newer motorcyclists gaining a feel for rev management.

The 2015 R3’s comfort and effective information display are coupled with styling that won the top vote of testers as well, the exterior borrowing enough from its older siblings to look the part of a full-sized sportbike. The KTM ended second in the subjective appearance category, the orange bike’s sharp angularity eliciting love-it-or-leave-it reactions.

The R3 did struggle in fuel economy, however, taking the second-to-last position with its average 48.1 mpg. Granted, the numbers in this regard may have been a bit skewed because testers were eager to crank the throttle wide during evaluations. A more reserved right hand could likely achieve better results. In our figuring, however, the 3.7 gallon capacity will take a rider an estimated 178 miles, fill-up to fill-up.

In terms of sound, Yamaha finished mid-pack, not too loud and not too quiet, hitting 89 decibels at its peak. Its $4,990 MSRP was also mid-pack, better than the more expensive KTM and Kawasaki but a bit heavier on the pocket book than the non-ABS equipped Honda and SYM.

What’s inescapable, however, after facing the challenge from the field of entry-level sportbikes, is that Yamaha is a fantastic value for the money.

“It’s fun to ride, it’s got a great engine, it handles well, it looks pretty cool and I think Yamaha has really perfected the formula for these new sportbikes,” says Waheed.

It’s a complete package that all testers picked as their bike of choice in this shootout.

Yamaha has provided a solution to the issues that affect the other machines in the test, providing plenty of pep down low and higher overall engine performance than the Honda, Kawi and SYM. It offers a friendlier entry-level delivery of power than the KTM with a chassis/braking package that proved to be the best of the bunch. We commend Yamaha on its first foray into the U.S. entry-level sportbike segment because the bar has now been set higher than before and will undoubtedly have the competition hard at work on ways to dethrone the R3.