2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S Test | Velocity at Valencia
Major changes within any type of company can do one of two things—destroy the brand, or positively impact brand awareness.Think of the Apple iPhone and how it positively changed the mobile world. Then think of Coca-Cola releasing New Coke in 1985; the public quickly frowned upon it, and Coke was forced to re-launch its traditional cola recipe as Coca-Cola Classic.
When Ducati unveiled its V4 Stradale engine, I was completely skeptical about this change from V-twin to V4. Would this be innovation like the iPhone, or failure like New Coke?For a First Ride review, read Ducati Panigale V4 Review | 24 Fast FactsI headed to Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo, which hosts the final MotoGP round each year, to find out. Let me be blunt and report that there’s no hidden theme here—Ducati has created a monstrous powerplant that somehow sounds and feels like a V-twin down low, but when cranked past 10,000 rpm it has the feel of something new, something that power-hungry motorcycle junkies crave.Goodbye V-twin Ducati superbike era—the Ducati V4 era has arrived, and it’s impressive.Here’s what I found after five sessions on the 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S, which in tradition is the upgraded model with Öhlins electronic suspension (revamped for 2018) and forged aluminum Marchesini wheels. It may be an aggressively forward-looking statement, but so begins Ducati’s Golden Era.Okay, let’s reiterate. The V4 brings Ducati into a new era. Since Fabio Taglioni designed the first Ducati V-twin in 1970, the brand that began in 1926 as a parts company for radios and vacuums, has created thousands of fans worldwide due to the torque of its 90-degree V-Twin, which has garnered the name L-twin due to the engine’s front cylinder nearly parallel to the ground.The engine had to prove itself, and then the Superbike era began with the 1987 851 and its four-valve heads. Ducati followed up its 851 with the 888 (1991-1993), 916 (1994-1998), 996 (1999-2002), 998 (2002-2004), 999 (2003-2006), 1098/1998 (2007 – 2012), and 1199/1299 Panigale (2012-2017).Throughout Ducati history, you would only find a V4 in the prototype MotoGP bike, which claimed the 2007 title with Casey Stoner at the controls, and the limited edition 2007-2018 Desmosedici RR, which immediately garnered collector status due to only 1500 being produced.Now the V4 is here, and I may be bold for saying it, especially since I personally own three Ducati twins, but the Stradale V4 is the best engine Ducati has ever produced.Yes, it’s 1103cc, which means it can’t compete in the WorldSBK Championship, which limits twins to 1200cc, and V4s 1000cc, but expect a 999cc V4 R unveiling at EICMA this November.Ducati claims that the engine produces 214 horsepower at 13,000 rpm, and 96 ft/lbs of torque at 10,000 rpm. The Stradale is up 17 horsepower over the race-focused 1299 Panigale, but down 15 ft/lbs. However, when you’re in the saddle, you don’t notice the missing torque ever.The Desmodromic engine revs extremely quickly to the 14,500 redline, and requires total focus at speed. Though Valencia’s front straight is only a half-mile, the bike was topping out fifth gear at over 170 mph. I can only imagine what this would do on a faster track such as Circuit of the Americas where I’ve hit the maximum on every bike I’ve ridden there on the three-quarter mile back straight.Unlike the outgoing 1299, which was sluggish at lower rpm and arm-tearing lethal on top, the V4 has usable power throughout the rev range. When on the track, everywhere from 8000 rpm to the redline was best. The V4 should make for an ideal street-going superbike due to this useable power, something I would have never said about the 1299.The throttle response and feel at the throttle is much crispier and linear than the 1299. This is attributed to another first for Ducati—four oval-throttle bottles (52mm) that are connected to variable-height intake horns. The variable length helps optimize fueling throughout the rev range. I felt zero lag, which allowed for smooth lines and getting on full throttle on corner exits.Though the Stradale motor brings Ducati into the V4 era, the engine sounds and feels like a V-twin in lower rpms. This is attributed to the Twin Pulse ignition system that was also used on the Desmosedici RR V4. The concept is quite simple—the two left-hand cylinders fire close together, as do the two right-hand cylinders. For you motor geeks, this is a 0°, 90°, 290° and 360° firing order.The 90-degree nature of the Stradale V4 (15,000-mile service intervals!) naturally lends to balance, and the engine doesn’t require a balance shaft. One thing Ducati did include is the counter-rotating crankshaft, which reduces the gyroscopic affect that plagues the basic nature of motorcycle design.Used on the MotoGP prototype, the counter-rotating crankshaft helps reduce wheelies and rear-wheel lift under hard acceleration/deceleration, and aids in side-to-side transitions and turn-ins. The latter are absolutely effortless on the V4. This bike turns in easier than the latest Supersport 600 machines.The Panigale V4 also runs as cool as a Supersport, and it didn’t roast my behind or thighs. Sure, I wasn’t in traffic and the temps were in the mid-70s, but things are much hotter on the 1299. Even while idling in the pits the bike threw of minimum heat. This is due to the routing of the exhaust and specialized protection used to dissipate heat around the exhaust.The agile handling is further improved due to the Panigale V4’s revised weight distribution, which is now 45.5 front/54.5 rear. To put this into perspective, the 1299 Panigale had a distribution of 47/53, and the 1098/1198 50/50. Ducati’s goal with the V4 is perfect integration of chassis and engine setup, and this weight distribution, learned from MotoGP, is one of the largest factors.Ducati achieves this balance by banking the engine rearward 42 degrees, something it also does on its MotoGP prototypes. Also helping the V4’s unique, but proven, weight distribution is the new gas tank that continues under the rider seat—a setup similar to what’s used in MotoGP.The electronics derive from MotoGP, where in 2018 Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo will utilize basically the same electronics found on the V4. The heart of the system is a six-axis inertial platform that instantly detects the Panigale’s roll, yaw, and pitch angles.The following electronics are offered on the V4, and all are upgraded Evo versions over the 1299’s suite.
Cornering Bosch ABS
Ducati Traction Control Evo
Ducati Wheelie Control Evo
Ducati Quick Shift up/down Evo
Engine Brake Control Evo
Ducati Power Launch
Ducati Slide Control
Ducati Electric Suspension by Öhlins, with Smart EC 2.0 (S and Speciale only)
Newest to the electronics is the slide control and power launch. Both do exactly what they specify, and the slide control brings some serious safety when backing it in.Slide control works with ABS on levels 1 or 2; when on the latter, you basically smash the rear brake ahead of initiating a corner (at lean). This provides controlled sliding so you can line the bike up for the most optimal line through a corner. This is not typical of my riding style, but I attempted it a few times at Valencia’s Turn 2. It felt very controlled—almost like controlling a slide into a dirt corner on a big ADV bike.ABS is available in three settings—1 being for track duty and 3 for unsafe conditions. I basically remained on Level 1 throughout the day while in Race mode (other modes are Sport and Street), and never felt the system engage, even when repeatedly stabbing the front brake on the long, sweeping Turn 14 that dumps you onto the front straight. It’s magical—there’s no other way to say it.As for traction control, I relied on Level 2 for most of the day. The traction control is, I’ll use the term again, magical. Levels 1 and 2 now provide a spin-on-demand function that allows normal riders to feel like WorldSBK pilot Chaz Davies.While at full lean angle, you can throttle up for additional wheelspin. That allowed me to find a perfect line without losing traction by overcooking the rear wheel. Level 2 also allowed me to confidently crank the throttle wide open when picking the bike up from full lean at corner exit. The 1299 allowed this, but the V4 feels a touch more refined in the aspects of safety and electronics.Wheelie control was also set to Level 2 throughout the day. This setting allowed me to get hard on the throttle heading down the back straight. Not once did I worry about losing any time due to floating the front wheel. Level 1 is awesome for wheelies, but expect to lose some serious seconds (but it feels so good!).Other electronics include Engine Brake Control and the quick shifter for clutchless up and downshifts. EBC is all about feeling. I don’t prefer much engine braking, so kept it on Level 1 of 3 for the day. As for the quick shifter, I used the clutch twice during each session—once to exit the pits and then when returning to the pits to find neutral; the system performed flawlessly and I never had one botched shift.Ducati also includes a Power Launch system for quick starts, which is useless for me. But, like Slide Control, having it there is cool.The same Öhlins electronic suspension is featured on the S and Speciale models, but in version Smart EC 2.0. The first thing for me on non-electronic suspension bikes is typically setting up the bike for my riding style and weight, but I didn’t even think about the suspension until my third session—it’s that good. I experimented some custom settings during the end of the test in sunny Spain, but I felt faster with the suspension in the fully automatic dynamic mode. It is one less thing to worry about when speed is on the brain!Accessing and altering the suspension and other electronics has never been easier. A huge thank you to Ducati engineers for this one; it actually makes sense now. The settings aren’t hidden deep in a menu. Changes are mead easily through a simple adjustment pad on the left handlebar.The V4 features a new five-inch full-color TFT dash that features a high-resolution screen with data that’s easy to read and, a personal favorite, the analog-style tachometer. When scrolling through menu items with the new left control module, all data is simply displayed for easy digestion.The kickstand stands out like a sore thumb on an otherwise brilliant motorcycle. It was nearly impossible to engage it with my Alpinestars Supertech R boots, and I had to use my hand every single time in the pits.The new V4 era also brings in a new chassis design. The frame is not called a monocoque as on the other Panigales. The engine is still used as a load-bearing member, but it’s further refined to help with reading the chassis mid-corner. I was not a fan of the monocoque frame due to lack of feeling mid corner, and I say that as a lover of the trellis frame.This new setup, coined Front Frame, separates torsional rigidity and lateral rigidity to better read the road surface and provide input to the rider. It’s hard to tell if it’s the electronic suspension or the Front Frame, or (most likely) a combination of both. A ride on the base model will quickly provide a decision.The new frame uses the desmodromic engine as a stress member and weighs just 9.2 pounds. It is based on what’s used in MotoGP, and optimized for bending and torsional stiffness. The single-sided swingarm grows by 11mm over the 1299, but weighs the same—11.2 pounds.All this helps bring the Panigale wet weight 430 pounds, which is 10 pounds heavier than the 1299 Panigale S. Though a bit heavier, the Panigale V4—which shed some pounds from a magnesium headlamp and mirror support— feels easier to toss around than the 1299. I repeat–the Panigale V4 is like a 600 Supersport with 214 manageable horsepower.The weight savings and high horsepower give the V4 S a 1.10:1 (kg/hp) power-to-weight ratio. Though the 1299 feels more aggressive, its power to weight ratio is actually lower at 1.03:1.During my first few sessions I was under the impression that the all-new Brembo Stylema calipers were similar to the Brembo M50 calipers—my all-time favorite motorcycle brakes. During the latter part of the day, when speeds and fun picked up, the Stylema squeezing the front 330mm discs proved to be superior to the M50. Ducati works exclusively with Brembo, and the Stylema will only be found on the Panigale V4 for 2018. Afterwards, the Stylema calipers go to market for other brands.The Panigale V4 also has totally revised fairings. The lines are sharper and, though the bike looks much fatter in pictures, it still retains that slim V-twin style. I never once suffered from headshake, and my body felt much more protected than on the 1299. The gorgeous parts for me are the two huge intakes below the LED headlights, and the way the tailpiece flows. I’m still wondering exactly how a passenger will fit there with the optional passenger seat.During the pre-track press talk, Ducati said the ergonomics were very similar to the 1299, the only difference being 10mm-higher rearsets. I don’t like the feeling of the 1299, so I was ready to immediately discredit Ducati’s reasoning for not drastically altering the ergonomics.I was happily proven wrong. With its 32.6-inch seat height, the motorcycle provided all-day comfort for my nearly six-foot frame. And the best part for me is that I wasn’t limping after five sessions. Due to having a rod in my right femur, my leg typically goes numb mid-way through a track day. This is a distracting problem on my 1198, and also on the 1299, but not the Panigale V4. Kudos, Ducati.The S and upgraded Speciale both arrive with Marchesini aluminum forged wheels that are wrapped in a new Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires (200/60 rear; 120/70 front). These tires, specifically designed for the Panigale V4, provided endless grip throughout the Valencia test. They never suffered from cold tearing or lack of traction, even though sometimes the bikes were pitted for a bit without tire warmers. If they did get slippery, though, I’d simply crank up the traction control.There’s no denying my love for the V4. Throughout the test at Valencia I continuously asked myself what can possible get better. Then I rode the fully accessorized bike, which is highlighted by a full-titanium Akrapovic 4-2-1-2 exhaust that creates a true, aggressively loud Italian symphony. Oh, and it helps the bike make a claimed 226 horsepower—12 over the stock. The additional power is felt absolutely everywhere throughout the rev range, especially at top while WOT on Valencia’s front straight. The stock S model was no match for the accessorized bike. Zero.The base Panigale V4 runs $21,195, the S $27,495, and the Speciale $39,995. The Speciale model is an S with carbon mudguards, a unique top triple clamp, Alcantara-trimmed seat, adjustable footpads, Akrapovic exhaust system, license-plate removal kit, a race windscreen, license plate removal kit, machined mirror plugs, racing fuel tank cap, and the Ducati Data Analyzer system.This is $2000 over the prices of the base and S 1299 models, but worth every penny. If you can afford a $20k superbike, a matter of $2000 isn’t likely to present any issues. Don’t think just track—my speculation is that the Panigale V4 will also make an optimal superbike for the street. Sure, you don’t need 214 horsepower for the street, but due to the nature of the V4 and electronics, it has the ideal attributes for serious street riding.People will say I’m crazy and this thing only belongs on the track, but after riding the Panigale V4, it’s now the baseline for every superbike I’ll ride in the future. You will be able to save some money here and there with rivals, but the feeling of a Ducati V4 will be hard to replicate.It’s said that all good things come in threes, and this is true of the Ducati Panigale V4 S. The bike offers the best engine Ducati has ever produced, the best electronics Ducati has ever produced, and, for me, the most comfortable superbike Ducati has ever produced. This is the perfect trinity to bring Ducati into a new era. This bike is so good that Ducati may have just entered its Golden Age.Sometimes going against company norm and making significant changes can destroy a company. This is not the situation with Ducati taking its superbike to a V4 platform after creating countless raving V-twin fans, myself included. This is no New Coke. The Ducati V4 will do to the superbike world what the iPhone did to the mobile world. This will have the competition going crazy for sure.Photography by Alberto Cervetti and Rudy CarezzevoliFrom the latest digital issue of Ultimate Motorcycling, hosted on an industry-leading interactive app. Subscribe to the Ultimate Motorcycling app today.RIDING STYLE