Fire up the radial-valve 998cc 4-cylinder motor of the MV Agusta F4 Tamburini (MT4), and you will know that this masterpiece of design, bristling with technological innovation, must be Italian. An elegant appearance, beautifully proportioned styling, exquisite detailing and a bright splash of racing red paint layered across a dark carbon landscape of slash-cut bodywork all suggest the MT4′s country of origin.
But it is the sound the bike makes that is unmistakably Italian, a whispered prelude from the quartet of exhaust silencers that will soon sing as you play the gearbox and reach for the revs.
As you begin to enjoy the peerless handling of the MT4, another sound will grab your attention: the music emanating from the airbox housing—what MV Agusta refers to as Il Brevetto (The Patent), the bike’s unique, trademarked, variable-length intake system (TSS) that creates a muscular growl varying in intensity and volume depending on how hard you manipulate the throttle. You will catch yourself changing gears more often than strictly necessary simply as an excuse to hear that meaty murmur at its most intense.
The aural experience transforms again as you slow down, the MT4 changing its tune to a distinctive staccato stutter from the engine as the EBS digital antilock system makes its mark on the overrun from around 7,000 rpm, removing any rear wheel chatter. It works, too, even if its dynamics make themselves known by what they do not do rather than by what they do. So there is no rear wheel hop—even if you get overenthusiastic with the engine braking—and an absence of two-stroke style freewheeling into the apex; it creates the sense that the impressively mapped Marelli Electronic Computer Unit (ECU), rather than you, is riding the bike. The MT4 simply tells you what it is doing as the action unfolds. Very Latin.
The MT4 delivers the best of all possible worlds in a street bike context. Working in conjunction with the ECU, the TSS allows you to crack the throttle wide open at little more than idle speed without any transmission snatch and enjoy a completely linear and strong drive of power all the way to the 13,000 rpm rev limiter. In practice, though, you won’t go anywhere near that mark in real-world riding because, with the more radical cams now fitted to the engine, acceleration comes on in such a vivid rush that you will find yourself short-shifting around 10,000 rpm and riding the torque curve to maintain forward momentum in thrilling, irresistible style. And considering that at 6,500 rpm—halfway to redline—you’re already doing 100 mph, it becomes apparent that this is one fast motorcycle, one which has been speed-trapped in homologation tests at just over 190 mph.
The subtly significant change in the MV’s riding position, introduced on the F4 1000S, sees the MT4′s forged aluminum clip-on handlebars raised and re-angled to lift the grips, preventing you from trapping your thumbs on any degree of lock. In a more comfortable riding stance, you do not lean as far forward as before and have somewhat less weight on your arms and shoulders; there are also new adjustable one-piece footrests. A higher screen with an upswept lip prevents windblast in the more upright position, and gives better protection to taller riders.
The stance enables you to take full advantage of the awesome performance that can be extracted from this engine, with its appetite for revs and muscular power delivery. The MT4 not only has more power than the already-impressive F4 1000S, but more importantly its greater lowdown torque makes it effortless to ride hard and fast. This is a motorcycle that narrows horizons quite inexorably, and will lift the front wheel in the bottom three gears when you get hard on the throttle. But the engine is so flexible, so forgiving, that the sweet-shifting 6-speed gearbox does not require undue input. While Claudio Castiglioni, MV Agusta’s owner and president, insists that the F4′s radial-valve layout is a key factor in this quality, it surely comes about thanks to both the mechanical and the electronic aspects of the TSS/Marelli package. Even though the MT4′s claim of 173 bhp appears to be completely honest, power delivery is even more impressive than might be expected. For while the needle of the white-faced tachometer scoots round the dial with alacrity, the bike’s completely linear power delivery forces you to reprogram your perceptions so you understand just how quickly you are accelerating, and how far you have gone in so short a time. Of course, that satisfying intake growl from the airbox—as you accelerate wide open from just 3,500 rpm without any snatch or stutter—gives some clues, as does the great sound from that stack of organ pipes at higher revs.
The MV’s handling remains exceptional, with precise steering delivering an effortless turn-in that makes it easy to flick from side to side in a chicane or on a hillside road. It’s also stable under the fantastically hard braking delivered by the 6-piston Nissin calipers and 310mm discs. An added feature on the Sachs shock fitted to the magnesium single-sided swingarm is a special valve that increases high-speed rebound damping to prevent the back wheel from raising off the ground and backing the bike into turns when it does so. Repeatedly thundering down long straights and squeezing hard on the adjustable brake lever to stop hard for a tight bend at the end fails to reveal any chink in this system, as the front Metzeler tire digs into the tarmac and the rear stays firmly in contact. Delivering improved handling without compromising the MV’s excellent suspension response, the tire provides good ride quality by sportbike standards, even over broken surfaces.
A major plaudit goes to excellent communication of the Marzocchi forks—I could feel the front Metzeler tire through the ‘bars, almost as if I were holding the axle in my hands. The Tamburini’s patiently refined settings give you a great sense of control with excellent feedback from the tire telling you if you are about to go too far and need to back off. As I discovered, if you pay attention to the messages you are receiving, this forgiving, communicative bike is difficult to crash under normal road conditions. “We have a fine collaboration with Marzocchi, who are born-again as a company compared to even five years ago,” says Massimo Tamburini, the bike’s designer. “Their response time is outstanding and they’re very open to positive criticism.”
When you pause to admire the magnificent scenery inland from Tamburini’s headquarters in the hilltop republic of San Marino, the F4 Tamburini emanates an orchestral epilogue to your ride. Hop off the surprisingly comfortable suede leather seat pad, perhaps to stretch your legs and drink a coffee, and you are suddenly aware of Il Brevetto as air escapes gently from the pneumatic TSS system, rising and falling a couple of octaves in succession for several minutes as you sip your espresso and contemplate what could possibly be the best street bike in the world today.