Testing the 2018 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR on Home Turf
There’s something truly special about Italy. The Italian flair for design beauty has been legendary since da Vinci and the Middle Ages; in contemporary times, everything from clothing to cuisine and architecture to art seems to have beauty in its DNA if it comes from Italy.
The countryside of course, is exceptional, and the Lombardy region of northern Italy is nestled into the foot of the Dolomites mountain range. It is home to several enormous lagos (lakes), including Como, Garda, and the largest of them all, Maggiore. This magnificent length of water is half-Italian and half-Swiss; if you want to ride all the way around it, you cross the border and back again.
The breathtaking scenery of this region of lush, rolling green hills is enhanced by the historic and very grand architecture of gorgeous gray- and brown-stone houses, magnificent estates, and opulent vineyards that overlook the lakes. I assume that people who live here realize how special it is—how could they not?
Close to Lago Maggiore is a smaller town, nestled on the shores of Lago di Varese. It is home to the old Aermacchi factory that was purchased by Cagiva in 1978, and it is now home to both Cagiva and MV Agusta.
True to its heritage, there is no doubt that MV Agusta makes beautiful motorcycles—arguably the most beautiful motorcycles in the world. Gorgeous, drop-dead-good-looking motorcycles. They always have done, and in true form-follows-function, the MV Agustas of the Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read glory days also worked incredibly well. Indeed, MVs dominated the top echelon of racing for at least a decade—those 37 World Championships weren’t just given to the bikes for their looks.
In later decades, MV saw troubled times. Yet, after the resurrection of the brand at the end of the 20th century with the Tamburini-designed F4, the legendary marque’s motorcycles were clearly back, and with all of their brand glamor and jaw-dropping good looks intact. However, they did lose a little capability. The MVs still worked just fine, but frankly they weren’t incredibly user-friendly due to super-stiff suspension and somewhat jerky throttle connections.
After the Harley-Davidson acquisition in 2008, the re-launched MV Agustas improved the way they worked, and the F4 and Brutale became easier to ride at normal speeds. However, there was still more progress to be made.
With the Castiglioni family’s re-purchase of MV Agusta in late 2010, the machines have continued to improve and multiple new models have been launched. However, with the company faltering once more a couple of years ago, development stagnated.
To his credit, Chief Executive Officer Giovanni Castiglioni (son of the legendary Claudio) admits now that things went wrong. The reasons are somewhat complex, but essentially it all comes down to an ill-adopted ‘push’ sales strategy. MV Agusta attempted to shed its boutique sales position and compete with the really big factories.
Manufacturing was ramped up, yet sales didn’t keep pace. On top of that, the Mercedes owned AMG brand partnership of 2015 turned out to be less than stellar, with differently held philosophies and ideas on how to move forward.
In 2017, Giovanni Castiglioni bought back the AMG-held shares and created MV Agusta Holding, selling 35 percent of the enterprise to Timur Sardarov, a wealthy Russian and personal friend of his. Sardarov wholly owns and controls Black Ocean Group, and that investment firm came to the rescue through its subsidiary ComSar Invest, a key player in the production of oil and gas in Eastern Europe.
To reach this point must have been a hard road for Castiglioni, who now readily admits where he went wrong. Fortunately, with MV Agusta now having strong capital backing, and the company back into positive cash flow generation for the past 12 months, the struggles of the past are behind them. Things are looking very good.
The factory built on the shore of Lago Varese has a tangibly hopeful atmosphere permeating through every part of it. As I pulled up in the parking lot, the light morning mist was rolling away across the lake in the warmth of the early spring sun, and it seemed to symbolize the reinvention of the beautiful, still iconic, MV Agusta. There’s a reason why Giovanni Castiglioni now has a spring in his step and a smile on his face.
With the gray mists blown away, and the successful return to boutique, prestige manufacturing, MV Agusta can focus on being the best in its market segment. It can be single-minded on technical excellence, quality craftsmanship, and an even stronger emphasis on the extraordinary good looks of the products. For example, the range of new, cutting-edge, hitherto unseen paint products that will appear on motorcycles later this year, are astonishing.
The MV categories of products are now clearly defined. Beyond entry-level models will come collectibles, followed by custom vehicle operations under the RVS label, and then very limited editions. Even one-off projects are anticipated and all in the plan. It seems MV Agusta once again knows exactly who it is, and where the company fits.
Ambitious ideas abound, starting with a completely revamped inline-4 range about to be announced later this year. As if that isn’t mouth-watering enough—and I’m not supposed to tell you—but keep your eyes peeled for a Cagiva-branded ‘alternate fuel’ motorcycle sometime next year. I saw the mock up, and yes, like every two-wheeler coming from this Varese plant, it is beautiful. Keep that between us.
Moving to this new demand-driven strategy—similar to Enzo Ferrari’s famous goal of always producing one less [machine] than the market wants—is slowly turning MV Agusta into a perpetual desire machine. Selling less, but selling better, and the quality of the sale is more important than the quantity of units moved.
Part of that goal is dealer support, and reliability. The factory has focused on identifying and fixing the root causes of the most frequent warranty claims. Those include upgrading items such as improved starter clutches, stronger shift sensors and throttle actuators, and having fewer turn signal and intake valve failures.
The engineering side of MV has invested heavily in new technologies and factory equipment that will also help improve the product, rather than simply help manufacture more of it.
New testing protocols and durability tests have been introduced, using an MTS Systems two-post dynamic test bench. Highly specialized audio testing equipment allows engineers to figure out exactly which components inside the engine make the various noises, and at what level, so that the sound of each MV can be either enhanced or reduced.
As enjoyable as hearing about the new strategy had been, I was in Varese to ride the new Brutale 800 RR—and I was anxious to get going. We had a day-long ride planned around Lago Maggiore on the beast, and I couldn’t wait to get going.
The 800cc triple range of models of course fits neatly into the entry-level part of MV’s plan and, indeed, we tested the base-level Brutale last year. However, the RR designation indicates a dramatically more powerful and refined machine. As good as the standard Brutale 800 was, I couldn’t wait to see how much better the RR would perform.
The inline-3’s considerable 140 peak horsepower output and RR designation might imply that the latest Brutale RR is likely to be a nervous, highly-strung beast. To be sure, the previous iterations had less than flawless fuel management, and highly inconsistent traction control. The handling could be described as a little nervous, and the gearbox was sadly less than stellar.
All that has gone. Credit where it’s due, the Brutale 800 RR has now been refined into not just a spectacular looking machine, but a really great performer too. The fueling is smooth, and the throttle connection is precise and predictable. The 800 RR has lost its nervousness, and the gearbox is now a joy. On my ride around Maggiore, I felt comfortable and at ease with the machine.
R&D Technical Director Brian Gillen and his team have put an enormous amount of effort into reworking the fuel management and traction control algorithms, among many other things. The Brutale 800 RR now encourages fast riding without needing the absolute commitment of the previous model before the best would emerge.
Most significantly, the Brutale 800 RR is now Euro 4 compliant, not an easy target to hit. Yet despite the tough new regulations—significant cuts to carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides—there is no reduction in power from the incredibly willing Brutale 800 RR motor.
The engine is rev-limited at 13,200 rpm, and builds revs very quickly; it feels as though power is produced all the way to the rev-limiter. That instant-access to revs makes for a highly responsive engine on the open road, and the excellent throttle-connection with instantly available power is intoxicating to use.
The downside, is that the lack of flywheel weight makes it possible to stall when moving off the line, and (embarrassingly) I managed to do that a couple of times in traffic.
Even with that minor shortcoming, I wouldn’t want to change the motor. I fell in love with the quick power that came in smoothly, without hesitation, whenever I asked.
The RR model produces a claimed 140 peak horsepower at 12,300 rpm, significant bump up from the standard Brutale’s 109 claimed peak horsepower at 11,500 rpm. This level of horsepower in a bike that weighs a mere 368 pounds (claimed wet) is not to be sniffed at.
As easy and tractable as the Brutale is at small throttle openings, if you get greedy with the throttle, you had better know what you’re doing because this bike is very fast and highly reactive to input. In Sport mode (and one of the less-intrusive traction control settings) it will power wheelie in the first three gears if you want it to. Things will happen quickly in first gear if you’re careless.
The powerplant has had several upgrades, and those include a new cylinder head with revised cam timing for more power and reduced combustion variation at low revs, new primary and oil pump gears to reduce noise and energy loss, and a new starter clutch for improved reliability. The Brutale now sports a smooth-operating hydraulic clutch, and that allowed a reduction in engine width by 20 mm.
The 50 mm throttle bodies with dual injectors per cylinder are fed using a revised MVICS system that has three preset maps (Rain/Normal/Sport). There is also a Custom map where personal settings can easily be chosen from Engine Response (Fast/Slow); Throttle Sensitivity (Rain/Normal/Sport); Engine Torque (Rain/Sport); Engine Braking (Sport [Light]/Normal), and a change to the RPM Limit (Normal/Sport).
Although peak horsepower is the same as before, torque production is up slightly to 62 ft/lbs at 10,100 rpm. More importantly, the Brutale’s new camshaft timing and a new exhaust collector and silencer help to significantly smooth out the torque curve compared to before. The fuel mapping and power delivery is so smooth and predictable that after a few miles of experimenting I ended up leaving the Brutale in Sport mode for the rest of the day.
Riding around Lago Maggiore there was, at times, a fair amount of traffic. Even at the forced sedate pace, the revised electronic twistgrip hardware and great fuel mapping kept the Brutale super-easy to ride. As potentially fast, loud, and adrenaline-inducing as the 800 RR can be, it is also quiet, composed, and predictable around town.
Arguably the most noticeable improvement to the 800 RR is to the gearbox. The previously slightly crunchy feel and occasional reluctance to shift at the rev-limit is completely gone. The Brutale 800 RR’s shifting is as smooth and seamless as any out there, and gearchanges are now a joy to execute.
The Brutale RR now comes with an electronic clutchless shifter, for both quick-up and blip-down shifts, and it works phenomenally well. These so-called quickshifter devices are constantly criticized as being a “waste of time” or “completely superfluous”, but believe me, once you’ve used one as good as the MV Agusta’s, there’s no going back.
Returning to Italy via the Tronzano section of Lago Maggiore the joy of being able to rapid-fire gearshifts and yet stay focused at speed on an unfamiliar road is not to be underestimated. A highly responsive, high-horsepower motorcycle with such an addictive intake roar and exhaust tone is the ultimate experience, and it had me tapping the gear lever like Gene Kelly as he twirled his umbrella. The Brutale 800 RR fulfills the dream very nicely, thank you.
The RR suffix on the Brutale denotes MV’s stated goal of maximum engine power, yet chassis settings are more suited for street use. Although the Brutale RR’s suspension remains unchanged, revised chassis dimensions result in the Brutale losing that slight nervousness associated with the previous model.
As with the new user-friendly engine management, likewise the 43mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs rear shock work very well on the street. The suspension feels firm, yet it’s also nicely compliant, so I had no complaints. The fork is now DLC coated for a smoother and faster action, and the now-aluminum inner stanchions and outer sliders save a whopping claimed 4.4 pounds on each side!
Chassis rigidity has increased a little for better handling, and that principally comes from an additional engine mounting point on the steel trellis frame. Still, the real credit for the Brutale’s greatly improved stability and user-friendly handling comes from the revised chassis dimensions, which have made a real improvement to the Brutale’s behavior.
Thanks to a three-quarters of an inch extension to the wheelbase to just over 55 inches, and lengthening of the trail to 4.1 inches from 3.7 inches, the Brutale 800 RR retains its amazing agility, yet the nervous bar-waggle of old has now disappeared.
The Brutale 800 RR is now completely stable, even when riding hard, yet it has lost none of its super-light feel and nimble agility. The motor has a contra-rotating crankshaft, so it always turned very quickly, but now it is also confidence inspiring. On fast sweeping corners, the chassis never wobbled or weaved. The motorcycle stayed planted and gave me excellent feedback through Pirelli’s awesome Diablo Rosso III tires.
A new steering damper now sits above the upper triple clamp. Thanks to a central knob across the top, it couldn’t be easier to adjust. Having said that, I found that increasing the damping level did little to nothing. Even on the maximum setting the handlebars could still be turned easily and it didn’t make any difference that I could discern.
The 800 RR is incredibly well behaved, and maybe some of that can be attributed to the damper; I doubt it. The Brutale 800 RR chassis is now so well sorted that the steering damper is superfluous anyway, although it does make a nice cosmetic touch.
The brakes are also unchanged, and continued use of the Nissin radial master pump biting down on Brembo radial calipers retain their superb feel and strong power. The brand mismatch strikes me as a little odd on an all-Italian bike, but hey, if the combination works—and it does, just fine—then I’m not going to complain.
New lightweight forged aluminum wheels with diamond machined cutouts look trick, especially on the opposite side of the single-sided swingarm. The triple organ-pipes exiting from under the motor are there, but don’t obscure the wheel.
Ergonomics on the 800 RR are also largely unchanged. They are lean-forward, with quite wide handlebars. The riding position is upright enough to be comfortable, and aggressive enough for when I’m riding hard.
The seat is now split between rider and passenger. That improves the looks a little; comfort-wise I had no complaints. Having said that, the Brutale is quite tall. I have a 33-inch inseam, and I was only just able to flatfoot when stopped. That’s not a big deal, but if your inseam is much shorter, you might worry. Fortunately, the bike is so light and well-balanced, I suspect it won’t be a problem for most.
Overall, the build quality of the Brutale 800 is of course exceptional. The paint is deep and lustrous, the fittings are nicely put together, and nothing looks shoddy.
The striking new paint and graphics of the Pearl Shock Red with Metallic Carbon Black, or the Pearl Ice White with Metallic Carbon Black, look the part. The Brutale 800 RR exudes quality and will attract the discerning aficionado for sure.
Even the seat with its contra-colored stitching is a small standout detail. Another nice touch is the remote fob ignition with built-in immobilizer system, and that should help keep your Brutale yours.
On my wish list for the future, is to dump (the admittedly easy to read) LCD instrument pod and go to a nice color-TFT display. Any premium-quality customer is going to suffer some instrument-envy with the Brutale’s peer-group machines, and even much lower-cost motorcycles.
Priced at $18,500, the Brutale 800 RR is very expensive, no doubt, and that price level will definitely keep the riff-raff (like me) away from purchasing this motorcycle. However, if you do have the funds, and you buy with your emotions, then the lure of this MV Agusta will be hard to resist.
I thoroughly enjoyed the 2018 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR, and I was exceedingly impressed. If you want a stunning looking, heritage-branded exotic that delivers an incredibly powerful, superlative riding experience, then this motorcycle will not disappoint.
This story is from the latest digital issue of Ultimate Motorcycling, hosted on an industry-leading interactive app. Subscribe to the Ultimate Motorcycling app today.
- Helmet: HJC RPHA Pro 11 Kylo Ren
- Communications: Sena 10C
- Jacket: Spidi Warrior Pro
- Gloves: Racer MultiTop 2 – Waterproof
- Pants: Spidi RR Pro Wind
- Boots: Alpinestars SMX Plus
2018 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR Specs
- Type: Inline-3
- Displacement: 798cc
- Bore x stroke: 79 x 54.3mm
- Compression ratio: 13.3:1
- Maximum power: 140 horsepower @ 12,300 rpm
- Maximum torque: 64 ft/lbs @ 10,100 rpm
- Maximum speed: 152 mph
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ quickshifter
- Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ hydraulic actuation
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Tubular steel trellis w/ aluminum swingarm
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 43mm inverted Marzocchi aluminum fork; 4.9 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Progressive Sachs shock; 4.9 inches
- Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 180/55 x 17
Wheels: Aluminum alloy
- Front wheel: 3.50 x 17
- Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17
- Front brakes: 320mm floating steel discs w/ 4-piston Brembo calipers
- Rear brake: 220mm steel disc w/ 2-piston Brembo caliper
- ABS: Standard w/ rear wheel lift mitigation
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 55.1 inches
- Seat height: 32.7 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 4.4 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 35 mpg
- Claimed dry weight: 386 pounds
2018 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR COLORS:
- Pearl Shock Red/Metallic Carbon Black
- Pearl Ice White/Metallic Carbon Black
2018 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR Price
- $18,500 MSRP