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2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S | Bike Tests | Latest Tests

Four decades after Ducati considered scrapping motorcycle production for good, it goes and produces one of the most technologically advanced superbikes motorcycling has ever seen

Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo is a technical track, the current crop of production superbikes will spend a lot of the lap in second gear, snatching third a few times, and fourth gear as you round the arcing left-hander that leads onto the straight. Down the main chute, fifth gear and and a rapidly approaching 290km/h is what you’re going to get. While Ducati’s new 157.5kW (214hp) V4 engine wrapped in a 195kg (kerb) package may want for something of Phillip Island proportions, there is more to Ducati’s latest offering than just impressive power figures. The technical Valencia circuit is a place where a joyous smorgasbord of electronics and a sweet-handling chassis can be put to the sword – and the all-new Panigale V4 has both of those things in spades.

In the lead-up to the launch, I wondered whether this new era of Ducati superbike would feel the same as the outgoing V-twin, albeit with two additional cylinders. I liked the V-twin Panigale, but I found it hard work to ride in an everyday scenario and, on the track, I struggled to muster the level of aggression it demanded to get the most out of it.

Ducati’s catchphrase for its new 1103cc Desmosedici Stradale V4-powered Panigale is ‘A New Opera’, but when I thumbed the starter on the Öhlins-shod S model, the note from the 4-2-1-2 exhaust was less New Opera and more V-twin Encore!

You see, even though it’s an all-new design, the firing order for the new V4 engine, dubbed Twin Pulse, gives the bike an uncanny familiarity – think of it like each side of the V4 engine firing like a pair of V-twins (see breakout).

Despite the larger engine, the bike is still quite narrow across the shoulders with Ducati’s new Front Frame chassis at the heart of the slim lines (see breakout). The dual-layer fairing design is wide around the nose area where two large air intakes have swallowed the slim full-LED headlights and daytime running lights – making it the most aggressive-looking Panigale yet.

The fairing hugs close to the tank, which isn’t really the fuel tank at all – that’s located closer to the rider and extends underneath the seat – the area just behind the steering head is instead where the bike’s electronic brain is stored. The previous Panigale’s side-mounted shock is gone, replaced by a more conventional unit and the curvaceous rear-end is as Italian as you’re going to get.

A new five-inch TFT dash is super-bright and offers all the usual information at the press of a switch-block button, with a large circular rev-counter taking up most of the screen.

As the revs rise, a white trail travels around the circular display changing to orange, then to red as the engine reaches its 14,500rpm rev limiter. The selected riding modes of Street, Sport or Race as well as the programmable parameters for traction control (DTC EVO), wheelie control (DWC EVO), slide control (DSC), power launch (DPL EVO), engine braking (EBC EVO) and ABS Cornering EVO are all displayed full time. The term EVO refers to the latest generation of electronics which have been developed especially for the new V4. At the heart of the electronics is a powerful six-axis IMU – even the Ducati Quick Shift (DQS EVO) is now lean-angle sensitive.

Riding modes Street, Sport and Race (there’s also Track mode which displays a large GPS-enabled lap timer) all receive the full complement of power at 157.5kW (214hp) but in an increasingly less subdued manner as you work your way from Street through to Sport and onto Race. The default setting for the swathe of electronic ass-savers also decreases in sensitivity for each mode, with a few additional goodies reserved purely for Race mode.

A welcome addition to the new electronics packages is one button which allows quick and easy mode changes, and another for adjusting the intervention levels for the individual electronic nannies – even while on the move. Adjusting the electronics on the 1299 Panigale was a complicated affair, but Ducati has scored a bullseye with the new, more intuitive system. It’s quick, it’s easy to understand and everything is always displayed on the TFT screen.

Finally, it’s show time. A thumbs-up from the controller, and it was visor down, rising revs and clutch out. Exiting pitlane I pointed the big red nose of the Ducati at turn two and lit the wick – that’s when things got crazy. I now know what it feels like to use an aircraft-carrier slingshot; the engine delivers its power like a tidal surge. There wasn’t even a hint that a gear change would be required before I reached my braking marker. A light dab on the gear selector dropped the engine a cog with a lovely blip from the electronic quickshifter – no surprise that’s spot on – and I was already through turn two while my brain was still 200 metres behind.

Accelerating down the straight for the first time unleashed a meaty MotoGP Desmosedici-style growl from the exhaust. Tucked into the fairing I realised the tacho was no match for my long-sighted spectacles, the numbers too small to read, and I wasn’t going to afford the dash more than a cursory glance at those speeds. So I just kept feeding the engine gears which it happily devoured. The power delivery from the V4 is so thick and linear it makes the whole bike come alive, the head shakes with glee and the rev-limiter appears from nowhere. The overhead sign on the main straight signalled it was time to test Brembo’s latest Stylema Monobloc calipers, the newest evolution of the company’s famous M50 kit. The weight-saving claim of 70g per caliper meant little as I hit the braking zone at 280km/h, I squeezed the lever and hoped the four 30mm pistons gripping each of the 330mm discs up front would do their job. The fact that I had to get back on the power before the apex answered my question. Braking has never been an issue with the Panigale, and nothing has changed. I just wished I’d added push-ups to my training regime – bugger me, they bite hard and they stay bit.

I felt all elbows and knees in the opening session – I needed to get my shit together, because the bike was delivering on a level that was catching my brain by surprise. Adding to my frustration was the 10mm higher footpeg position. A single centimetre may not sound like much, but when the seat height is unchanged at 830mm, my long legs struggled to find enough room to allow my feet to move around on the ’pegs. The rest of the bike’s ergonomics, however, are superb; adjustable rearsets might be the answer for me.

Race Mode was selected, and the more direct throttle response was evident from the first corner when the front wheel began to lift. This mode also allows further exploration of the impressive electronics package.

Thanks to its new six-axis IMU, the V4 not only makes riding more fun, but it encourages you to try things you may never have had a crack at, including backing it into turns and power sliding out of them. Setting the ABS to level 1 or 2 disconnects the ABS on the rear. Level 2 allows a certain amount of sideways drift under braking – all controlled by a sophisticated algorithm best left to the boffins – but the idea is to encourage you to have a go. The IMU keeps an eye on brake pressure, lean angle, traction, yaw and the angle of the rear wheel in relation to the front. In ABS Level 2 you can simply smash the rear brake as hard as you like, let the rear slide out and the computer will look after the rest.

As your backing-in skills improve, you can begin to modulate the pressure in the rear brake for a better feel then, when you think you have mastered it, you can switch to ABS Level 1 which frees up the rear and leaves it all to you. Level-1 ABS also teaches you how to hold maximum front brake pressure right to the apex because the system gently releases the front brake pressure as the lean angle increases.

There’s also fun to be had on corner exit thanks to two-levels of slide control (DSC EVO). The system calculates the bike’s lean angle, rate of slip and available traction and then lets the rear wheel spin up and slide to the point that looks cool but remains controllable; Level 2 for beginners, Level 1 for the pros. The Panigale launch was the first I have attended where the host actively encouraged everyone to leave big blackies – and not a single bike was dropped.

The V4 S rides on Öhlins’ semi-active suspension with a NIX 30 fork, TTX 36 shock and Öhlins steering damper all under the control of the Smart EC 2.0 system. In Dynamic mode, the base settings of the suspension increase in stiffness between the three modes, or you can play with the virtual clickers and have the same freedom as a fully adjustable manual package, but with the added bonus of being able to save or reset to default.

The system also has a tricky thing called Objective-Based Tuning (OBTi). So instead of playing with compression and damping, you simply ask for a little less front stiffness under braking. The system will then work from the new base settings to provide the best suspension reactions for the way the bike is being ridden. It’s all based on calculations being made hundreds of times per second. It’s especially helpful for big guys like me who have a lot of weight shifting around the bike.

Braking into medium and slow corners is where I noticed the biggest difference between the new V4 and the 1299, which I rode on track two weeks earlier. The V4 doesn’t feel like it’s asking as much of the front tyre and the change of direction feels much faster. Despite a slight increase in weight, the V4 feels more nimble and the feedback from the front and rear is exceptional. It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that makes the bike a joy to ride; the new chassis, longer swingarm, new-profile tyres and the counter-rotating crankshaft all seem to be doing their bit for the V4’s handling.

For the last session of the day I set DWC Evo (wheelie control), DSC (slide control), DTC Evo (traction control) and ABS all to level 1. It was a run that revealed how easy the power is to control via the right hand, even though there is so much of it on tap.

As I passed the chequered flag, I realised there was still so much to test; one day is barely enough to fully evaluate a machine packed with so much new mechanical and electronic magic, but it left me enormously impressed.

The new Ducati Panigale V4 goes on sale in Australia from next month. The base model will carry an RRP of $28,990 (plus on-road costs), while stepping up to the S model – which adds lighter aluminium forged wheels and exchanges the Showa/Sachs fully adjustable suspension for the Smart EC 2.0 controlled Öhlins kit – will set you back $37,490 (plus on-road costs). There’s also a limited-edition Speciale model for $59,990.

At $28,990, the base model is $3300 more than the semi-active suspension kitted BMW S 1000 RR Race which won AMCN’s AUSTest last year, but the technology on the Ducati is now a step ahead – and it also has that glorious new V4 engine.

There’s a lot on offer by stepping up to the Öhlins-shod S model which I rode, but it’s an $8500 jump and, with the electronics package unchanged between the two, the base model looks like good buying, it’s MotoGP tech for under $30K.

The Panigale V4 already has tongues wagging and chops drooling across the sportsbike buying spectrum, and for a good reason – the performance is as impressive on track as it is on paper. The engine is a beast and the brilliant electronics make it child’s play to use, which allows mere mortals like me to push the bike closer to the edge than we would have previously dared. Many buyers will not want to risk taking the V4 to the track, but experiencing the pure adrenaline rush you get with the Panigale’s throttle pinned – its quick-shifter blipping and the speedo just a blur of numbers –should be a condition of sale.

There’s plenty of questions still to be answered about Ducati’s new Panigale V4; including how it will handle everyday road-riding duties. Looks like I’ll be forced to ride it again soon in a bid to find out and report back – it’s a tough gig.

At a glance

MotoGP know how

The 90° V4 engine has been derived directly from the Ducati’s MotoGP Desmosedici powerplant. There’s Desmodromic valve control, an 81mm bore (the maximum allowed in MotoGP), a counter-rotating crankshaft, and the 42° rearward banking mirrors the MotoGP bike.

Smarty springs

The Öhlins semi-active electronic suspension features second-gen Smart Electronic Control system (SmartEC 2.0). In dynamic mode, the system responds to the riding style of the pilot in real time. The level of intervention can also be adjusted.

In manual mode, compression, rebound, and damping can be manually set and saved via virtual clicks (32 clicks on the fork legs and 10 for the rear shock).

Sticky Bits

It’s the first time Pirelli’s new super-sticky Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres have been factory fitted to a production motorcycle. The 120/70ZR17 front features a new profile for a larger contact patch to match the new 200/60ZR17 at the rear. The new rear profile, which maximises the contact patch at extreme lean angles is, what Pirelli calls a ‘racing replica’ and mirrors the profile offered in WSBK. The dual-compound design also features Pirelli’s SC2 racing slick rubber on the shoulder area.

Better feeding

The Panigale V4 is the first Ducati to feature variable-length intake tracts designed to optimise cylinder intake across the rev range. The four 52mm (equivalent) oval-shaped trumpets are controlled by the ECU ride-by-wire system in two stages. A fixed trumpet on the throttle body is mated to a mobile extension that runs along steel guides, controlled by an electric motor. Each throttle body has two injectors; a main sub-butterfly nozzle, and a secondary nozzle located above the trumpet extension.

When called upon, the trumpet extensions lower onto the fixed trumpet and the secondary injectors come into play.

Three Italian flavours

All three models will be available in Australia
Panigale V4  $28,990 (+ORC)
  • Ducati Red with grey frame and black wheels
  • 43mm Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF), fully adjustable
  • Sachs monoshock, fully adjustable
  • Sachs steering damper
  • Six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (6D IMU): ABS Cornering Bosch EVO, Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO), Ducati Slide Control (DSC), Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO), Ducati Power Launch (DPL), Ducati Quick Shift up/down EVO (DQS EVO), Engine Brake Control EVO (EBC EVO) and Riding Modes (Race, Sport, Street)
  • Five-inch full-TFT dashboard
  • New Brembo Stylema Monobloc calipers
  • New Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres

Panigale V4 S $37,490 (+ORC)
  • Base model features, plus:
  • Semi-active electronic suspension and steering damper with Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 system (Smart EC Evo)
  • Öhlins NIX 30 fork
  • Öhlins TTX 36 shock absorber
  • Öhlins steering damper
  • Aluminium forged wheels
  • Lithium-ion batter
  • Cast magnesium alloy front subframe

Panigale V4 Speciale $59,990 (+ORC)

Panigale V4 S features, plus:

  • Speciale colour scheme with grey frame and black wheels
  • Carbon fibre front/rear mudguards
  • Machined-from-solid top yoke with identification number
  • Alcantara seat
  • Adjustable footpegs
  • Carbon-fibre heel guard
  • Carbon-fibre swingarm cover
  • Racing articulated levers
  • Racing fuel tank cap
  • Brake lever protection
  • Akrapovic titanium race exhaust system
  • Racing screen
  • Number-plate hanger removal kit
  • Machined-from solid mirror replacement plugs
  • Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA + GPS)
  • Bike cover