In all my years of testing, I've never chosen a favorite bike that finished at or near the bottom of my objective evaluation sheets. This year however, the almighty dollar is king. Considering that all these bikes are relatively close in most categories, it makes my decision all the more easy. The Z1000 may not have the outright performance of its Italian counterparts, but its turn-key simplicity brings a ton of value to the mix. The Kawi is a versatile bike that can handle most applications - though when pushed, it begins to show its flaws and puts the emphasis on "street" rather than "fighter".
The Z's suspension demonstrates the old adage, "you get what you pay for." It's a key reason why the Kawasaki ended up at the bottom of the tally, but realistically, none of these bikes are meant for the racetrack. The Ducati may have the styling department covered and a V-twin motor that delivers the typical strong and usable power, and the Brutale may sport powerful brakes, a strong chassis and a motor that begs to be spun up, but it's the Kawi that gets my cash.
Alright, I'll just get this out of the way, my pick in this group is the Ducati Streetfighter. This bike is a pissed off factory hot rod. It's got a powerful engine, seriously strong brakes, and well-sorted suspension, all in a stripped-down package. That's what a "streetfighter" should be. Not that the Brutale is a lesser bike than the Streetfighter, but I really enjoyed the experience and how the Ducati delivered its performance more so than the MV. The Streetfighter does "Brutale" a little better than the MV.
As for the Z1000, it was outclassed in this field, but not by much. What it lacked was the high-end bits that the Italian bikes were outfitted with. While this may detract for the well-heeled buyers, it shouldn't for the masses. No question, this is a great package Kawasaki has put together. It may not be the adjective Kawasaki was looking for when they released the Z1000, but comparing it to the Italian offerings,value is written all over the Z1000. The bike was never very far behind the Italians, and for a savings of $4500, I could easily live with its slight shortcomings.
Even though the European manufacturers have been able to take advantage of the Euro's exchange rate to either substantially drop prices or keep them at '09 levels, I still would balk at spending $15K for a naked bike. My needs are much too practical to be overly concerned with style or image, and if a bike ticks most of the right boxes while still retaining some good value, it'd get my vote.
The Z1000 may not have the outright speed and handling of the Italian thoroughbreds, but for the roles I would need it to play, the Kawasaki would be more than sufficient. I wouldn't be taking my naked bike to the track, so exacting compromises in the name of ultimate performance doesn't really score with me. Although it would be nice to see the Z1000 drop a little weight...
All that said, I certainly wouldn't reject serious performance if it were given to me. And both the Ducati and MV deliver in spades. Although the Streetfighter has slightly better outright speed, I love the Brutale's agile chassis, and its quick-revving engine feels much faster than it looks on the dyno graph.