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Meet Ducati’s mouth-watering Black Star, the new top-spec XDiavel for 2021

Test Adam Child Photography Tim Keeton

How stunning is Ducati’s new Black Star, its new flagship XDiavel power cruiser? It’s Euro-5 compliant and produces even more power and torque, and delivers it more smoothly than before. For 2021 there are three models to choose from: the standard XDiavel Dark, the sporty S version and then this range-topping Black Star.

The XDiavel range meets the strict new emission regulations with a new exhaust and revised fuelling. We’re told the Black Star is inspired by the world of sports cars, which explains the eye-catching livery. The glimpses of red are a lovely touch – be sure to check out the red DVT cylinder heads.

Apart from these aesthetic touches and an increase in power for the 1262cc Testastretta engine, the Black Star features lightweight forged wheels, saving two kilograms. Other highlights are improved Brembo M50 calipers, a DLC coated adjustable fork as found on the S version, and a so-called high-grip suede fabric seat with dedicated upholstery.

The all-new XDiavel Black Star is certainly attention-grabbing and couldn’t be any further away from a traditional air-cooled feet-forward cruiser. Ducati launched the Diavel in 2011 to widespread ovation from the press, and then went feet-forward in 2016 with the XDiavel. Ducati’s new cruiser promptly kicked sand in the face of the traditional V-twin cruiser market with sporty handling and impressive power, brakes, and technology.

For 2021 Ducati move the goalposts even further with even more power, torque and refined sportiness. And then those looks. The new Black Star is one of those bikes you can just sit back and admire – its finish is outstanding. It’s a bike you’ll take your time polishing and cleaning.

To be honest it took me a while to appreciate the detail. You have to get down on your hands and knees to find the red front cylinder head. The exhaust is all-new, with its dual-outlets now exiting rearward, rather than protruding outwards as on the previous model. Feet-forward cruising has never looked so stylish – or fast.

Where some manufacturers have struggled to meet Euro-5 regulations, losing power in the process, Ducati has actually increased peak power and torque for 2021 and made the XDiavel’s torque curve much flatter. Peak power now stands at a mighty 118kW (158hp) @ 9500rpm, which is 6kW up on the previous Euro-4 model. Peak torque has also increased, although not as drastically, to 127Nm @5000rpm, up 2Nn. Tellingly, Ducati’s dyno charts comparing the new and older bikes’ outputs reveal much smoother power and torque curves, with fewer peaks and troughs, especially in the mid-range.

The new sportier looking silencer hugs the huge 240-section rear tyre. That humongous Pirelli sends out an unmistakable message about the intent of this feet-forward cruiser: this isn’t a slow-revving, laid-back American V-twin but a thoroughbred Italian – and all those horses want to run.

Almost 160 horsepower from a V-twin was race-winning power in World Superbike a couple of decades ago. And it’s not all about peak power, either, because torque is vast, producing around 100Nm at just over 2000rpm. In fact, the XDiavel produces more torque at 2000rpm than Ducati’s legendary 916. Just think about that.

In the tricky test conditions, I sensibly opted for the safe Urban mode, which reduces power to 74.5kw, and increases the intervention of the rider aids such as traction control and cornering ABS. But even in Urban mode, the Ducati has more power than most Harleys, so you still need to be cautious. Once I was feeling courageous, I opted for the not-so sensible Touring mode, which gives full power and reduces the rider aid intervention.

Full power is hugely impressive from the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) motor, sending the traction control into overtime to steady the rear. Torque hits you like a tidal wave in almost any gear. You don’t really need to rev the XDiavel; just sit in the grippy suede seat and try to hold on as you stretch that belt final drive.

I spent the majority of the test treating each intersection or set of traffic lights like a mini drag race. That butt-clenching power really gets to you – it’s great fun. There is even a dedicated Ducati Power Launch (DPL) if you want to be particularly childish. In Sports mode, when the rear tyre eventually hooks up, it even has enough grunt to lift the front, something I wasn’t expecting from a long and low feet-forward cruiser. This is a fast bike, and I know from previous experience that the XDiavel feels planted and solid at high speeds, but that at 225km/h-plus it’s hard work keeping your feet on the pegs.

But, away from tearing up the rear tyre, all that torque makes the variable-valved engine incredibly versatile. It potters around in any gear and accelerates hard out of 50km/h zones, even in top.

I spent the majority of the test flicking between modes, controlling the power and torque with a button as much as the throttle. I tapped into the Urban mode when grip levels became tricky and lent on the electronic aids. This did highlight one issue: the small 3.5-inch dash. Yes, it is full-colour and TFT, but I’d like something larger, more obvious, and not hidden away under the wide bars. In today’s world, we are used to generous iPad-size screens that are easy to read – the XDiavel clocks are not.

Its handling shouldn’t be successful. A long wheelbase, relaxed rake and trail and a huge rear 240-section rear Pirelli – all the ingredients add up to a bike that should just want to go in a straight line. But the XDiavel handles and goes around corners far better than its spec sheets suggests and would humiliate any traditional V-twin cruiser.

Light forged-alloy wheels on the Black Star make a considerable difference as they save on un-sprung weight, which allows the XDiavel to steer with more fluidity, especially at speed. The suspension is composed, it controls the bike’s weight well, which, at 221kg dry, is significantly lighter than the competition. The handling is emphatically market-leading for a feet-forward cruiser. It’s firm, yet still doesn’t jolt you out of the seat over imperfections.

At slow speeds, however, the XDiavel at first doesn’t want to turn, then with some input slowly rolls over its large rear Pirelli. Around town, where you will inevitably spend some time posing, the Black Star is okay, but only in the way a plastic fork is okay for an occasional backyard barbecue. Better to leave the town behind and enjoy the fast-flowing open road, which the new XDiavel loves.

The new Black Star features the improved Brembo M50 set up, the same as the sporty S model (as opposed to the M4.32 items on the Dark model). Braking is also accompanied by the Bosch-Brembo 9.1MP cornering ABS system, which is linked to the IMU. This set-up gives you vast confidence, and again the stopping power is class leading. Some cruisers can feel a little vague on the brakes, with lots of weight driving forward and the raked-out steering reducing feel, but this isn’t the case with the XDiavel. However, I was thankful for the cornering ABS in the slippery conditions.

Embarking on some serious miles shouldn’t be an issue, just forget about a pillion – they would have to be miniature and brave. The riding position is adjustable, and I opted to have the pegs closer to the seat, while taller riders may prefer the pegs further forward. Ducati claims 5.5L/100km, whereas I managed 6L/100km. I know from familiarity that can soon drop with some intense throttle action, but most riders are going to average closer to Ducati’s claim, with a theoretical tank range of around 270km before panic sets in. Again, it would be nice to have a larger clock and display…

The Black Star has the full complement of rider aides and three riding modes: Sport, Touring and Urban. There is Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Power Launch (DPL) plus the aforementioned cornering ABS. Cruise control, keyless ignition (annoyingly not the fuel cap), DRL headlight, backlit switchgear and Bluetooth connectivity add to the practicality of the XDiavel Black Star.

If you are feeling flush, accessories are plentiful; from racing silencers through to centrally mounted pegs and a host of carbon goodies, most of them expensive. Start ticking some accessories boxes, not to mention some clothing boxes and your final bill could go much higher than $37,590 (ride away). Ah, did I not mention the price?

Yes, $37,590 is a huge amount of money to spend on a motorcycle, no matter how desirable. But for the average XDiavel customer, possibly not. The standard, XDiavel Dark is $29,390 (ride away), the S version is $36,100 (ride away), and the Black Star is $37,590.

When comparing the XDiavel Dark with the competition, its price is certainly in the right ballpark. Triumph’s recently updated Rocket 3 starts at nearly $32,000 and Harley-Davidson’s basic Fat Boy is $33,995. The Harley may be considerably cheaper but it can’t match the Ducati’s power, handling or technology, and it’s all-too-easy to add a few accessories to either bike which will quickly bring the price closer to the XDiavel’s. When you look at the competition, the XDiavel is reasonably priced.

The new Black Star iteration looks stunning in the flesh – pictures don’t do it justice. It feels special, looks special and I felt guilty getting it dirty.

Ducati didn’t need to give the XDiavel 1262cc Testastretta more power or improve its handling with lighter wheels, but they have, top work. Performance is impressive from tickover, while handling, stopping and electronic rider aids are class-leading – and did I mention the looks?

This is a stunning feet-forward cruiser, albeit one that might be a little too extreme for some. Forget about the lack of pillion seat and that the dash is not really up to 2021 spec because the Black Star just about delivers on its price. Is there a more desirable cruiser out there?