Having spent over a year on a 2009 1700 Classic outfitted with a windshield, lowers, slim bags, air kit, throttle mod, FI2000r, slip on mufflers, and other bits, I had my first real chance at riding a Vaquero. (2012, Blue) Here is a perspective of the differences.
When I got on the bike and pulled out the first thing I noticed was how easy this thing is to move around. Much more so than the classic. The Vaquero has a slightly different frame and steering geometry than the Classic. It also has 1.25" handlebars that are not as far apart at the grips as the Classic. This, combined with the differences in geometry, was really pronounced when I got back on my Classic it felt like I had extra wide "beach bars." This has always been a gripe of mine as moving around at really low speeds with wider bars is always harder. The frame mounted fairing made steering a non issue and sliced through the wind at speeds in the upper 90's no problem.
The transmission is loud as ever. The transmissions got reworked in later years and I could tell during shift points. I was getting more out of gears than I can on the Classic. However, the clunk is still there.
The power was great and I really think a fairing makes all the difference when cutting through higher speeds. My big windshield cannot cut through the wind like this bike could. I felt NO throttle lag in this bike. Having Ray's mod I was expecting to feel it and did not for the 1/2 hour I rode it. HOWEVER, this bike was by far the worst stock bike ever to pop on decel and downshift. It was so bad I could hear it popping like crazy with the radio up loud. I thought of intake leaks and bet this bike had a very bad one. It did not translate to a loss of performance and I experienced no hesitation. More time would reveal that problem. I've discussed (complained) about my Classic popping but it never behaved like this at all when it was stock.
Speakers are useless. Bike does not turn down volume as you slow like a Street Glide which leads to messing with the controls as you come to a light. The shorty windscreen would need to be changed with a Cee Baily's 13" right of the bat.
Overall I enjoyed the bike and instrumentation. I was surprised at the performance for a stock bike which I'm sure has something to do with the more wind friendly fairing and transmission rework. When I got back on the Classic it felt like I was getting on a Concours or something with the difference in feel and steering out of the lot. The Classic is not as well balanced. I rode the bike for 1/2 hour, slow speed, traffic lights, and freeway.
I may consider one of these as I could use the bag space and like the instrumentation and styling. The price needs to be right and I'm in no rush. You don't see any blue ones. I'm not sure what to think of the color or why Kawasaki chose muddy 4-wheeler and Ninja sportbike colors to compete with other baggers like HD. There are literally thousands of color combos/colors that would like great on this bike. The blue started to grow on me though. At least it's different. I like the blacked out components. I want NO CHROME on my Vaquero. The more stuff that's blacked out the better!