It’s already been three years since I tested the first Ducati 848. The midde-weight Ducati is an attractive motorcycle in a highly competitive segment.Ducati’s great trick with the 848 is to overwhelm the 600 supersport class with what’s essentially a superbike. Since it can’t race in World Supersport, Ducati simply use its World Superbike technology. It’s worth the premium.Ducati calls the 2011 848 “EVO” because a heavily upgraded engine package is in place, which delivers six additional horsepower. We also find some gorgeous and serious looking Brembo Monoblocks at the front and a steering damper. We got to put it all to test when Ducati invited a lucky few to test it at Imola.Imola is sacred ground to any motorsport enthusiast, including me. If Italy were a motorcycle, Imola would be its engine, its heart.And what better test ground to test a brand-new Ducati? Added to all this excitement and nerves ready to metamorphose into pure adrenaline was the sun providing us with nearly perfect track conditions.It was a chilly but sunny morning when I set out on a few warm up laps on the Ducati 848 EVO. The delicious dangers of Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari lay ahead. The run up from Tosa to Piratella favors horsepower and a strong midrange to boost you up the gearbox.The 848 EVO handles beautifully through Tosa, with a little headshake achieved at the end of second gear. The new steering damper takes care of such things as the new 140-horsepower Ducati engine now liven up things a little more in the top end. Imola is quite bumpy in a couple of acceleration areas, so the steering-damper is a welcome and useful addition to the 848 chassis.Aque Minerali is a place for people with guts. In the morning it was still damp patches present that could be avoided if going a little wider than the racing line. It took me a little while to work it out, but at the end of the day it was my favorite place on the circuit.I could really let the 848 EVO stretch its legs through the sweeping blind left hander down the hill before the heavy braking area leading into the Aque Minerali corners. “What would Colin Edwards have done,” I thought to myself as Ducati World Superbike rider Carlos Checa passed me at crazy speed.Oh yes, Carlos Checa, the Spaniard who owned Imola in the 2010 WSBK races, was present circulating with us mortals. After showing us the perfect lines in the morning, I quickly forgot all about them.Braking hard into the Tamburello corners, the 848 EVO tail wagged a little bit during downshift. We tested the new 1198 SP on the same day with the race-derived slipper clutch, which is a lot better than the one on the 848 EVO.But there has got to be some compromise when offering a mid-sized superbike. The fully adjustable suspension works satisfactory, but isn’t of the same high class as Ducati’s Ohlin’s spec offerings. For the road I suspect the suspension will be more than up for the job.Throwing the 370 lbs. Ducati 848 EVO in to the corners is child’s play, and you’ve always got that Ducatiesque super stable mid-corner feel. That feel along with a beautiful L-twin power surge allows you to get on the throttle very early despite the lack of traction control.A Ducati superbike isn’t quite as flickable as a 600 supersport, but it more than makes up for it in corner speed, deep entry (Brembo Monoblocks) and exit.Also news for 2011 is the super sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. We tested with a very soft 180/55-ZR17 rear tire and a medium/hard front 120/70-ZR17. The compound used on the Supercorsa SP is the same available to the World Supersport teams basically so sticky stuff indeed.The Brembo monoblocks brakes are 20-percent more efficient for the same leverage from your right fingers compared to the older spec 848. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are 20-percent better, but they sure do stop really well.It’s in the engine department the major evoluzione has taken place. The 848 EVO is the most highly tuned Ducati since the Desmosedici RR.Its 13.2:1 compression ratio is higher than the 1198R and only slightly lower than the D16RR. That really is something and new high spec pistons enable it all. The combustion chambers have been revised and the inlet ports redesigned. The camshafts are new and there’s more valve lift than before.The throttle bodies have grown from 56mm to a full 60mm. All this has resulted in a grown up 72 ft. lbs. at 9,750 rpm and 140 hp @ 10,500 rpm. The rev limit is at 11.300 rpm, where I found myself several times in between corners.You can feel the six extra horsepower particularly at around 10,000 rpm. There’s a new life to the top end acceleration.Just around 6,500 rpm, there’s a slight drop in the torque curve compared to the previous model, but it’s all regained at 7,000. This can’t be felt at all whilst riding.If anything, the 848 EVO feels stronger overall, which the graphs confirm. The 848 EVO slides controllably out of first gear corners and willingly lift the front when asked.
The exhaust note is that of a big bike and revving up both the 848 and the 1198 next to each other they both sound very grown up. The 1198 throttles up faster and more aggressively, but not a lot deeper in the decibel scales.This is good news when you want to scare off your mates on Japanese sowing machines. Along with the engine upgrades Ducati have added its most recent electronics package as well, which now enables the DDA (Ducati Data Analyzer).We presume this will also make it easier for people that want to add further rider aids such as a quick shifter or other goodies.The ergonomics and chassis geometry is identical to the 1198. The riding position is a hardcore sport riding style that suits the racetrack best. The overall finish is of a high standard and despite attracting the same young riders as the Monster 696 this is no budget bike.Ducati are offering the 848 EVO in three different colours of which the Dark Stealth one is slightly cheaper. The other two are red and white.Compared to the 1198Compared to the 1198 SP the 848 EVO is a lot less aggressive. The 848 EVO can carry the same corner speed, but in and out of the corners the Ohlins suspension, traction control and the powerful 1198 L-twin engine is capable of murder.If you’re not that experienced you are not going to be able to use those extra “race” features anyway so saving a few dollars is the sensible and right thing to do. A 848 EVO with full Termignonis will give plenty of pleasure even if you’re downgrading from a Japanese litre bike. Going up from a Japanese 600 will be an eye opener.In that respect the 848 EVO is a wolf amongst the sheep, but not in a sheep’s clothing.ConclusionDucati has done just the right thing with the new 848 EVO to keep it more than relevant. The engine upgrades are extensive and the higher state of tune makes the EVO a tad more aggressive on top which is good for track days.After a while on the bike, the most eager track day fans might start dreaming about traction control, quick shifter and Ohlins suspension.I think it’s better to then look at the 1198 rather than upgrading the 848 EVO. The new Brembo Monoblocks are phenomenal and reassuring on the race circuit. Look out for race replica’s next year with the number 46 on the front…2011 Ducati 848EVO Positives:
- Bigger engine upgrade than you think
- Fantastic Brembo brakes
- Great chassis with brilliant stock tires from Pirelli
- Goes slightly out of shape under hard downshifts
- Small 15.5 litre fuel tank. If we shout loud enough Ducati might add the 18-liter, lightweight tank on the next crossroad