Ducati’s breathtaking Panigale V4S redefines the sportsbike market. But what makes it so special? And why is it such a gamechanger? We got our hands on one to find out…
Ducati’s Panigale V4S is a real game changer for Ducati – it’s the Italian marque’s first mainstream four-cylinder machine to enter production. Yes, the Desmosedici RR was a V4, but that was a strictly-limited production bike and only 1,500 were ever made. It as much a marketing exercise in profiting from the company’s participation in MotoGP as it was an exercise in engineering excellence.
So how did we get here? What has made Ducati turn its back on the booming V-twins that have defined the brand? The answer is that Ducati had simply reached the limits of technology needed to build a twin that is both dynamic and useable.
The centrepiece of the new bike is undoubtedly the Desmosedici Stradale engine, complete with its ‘twin pulse’ crankshaft and firing order. The twin pulse firing order (1 – 0 degrees, 2 – 90 degrees, 3 – 290 degrees, 4 – 380 degrees) resembles the working cycle of a twin cylinder engine and provides the rider-friendly torque delivery which is at its peak from 9000 – 11,750rpm. This give the Desmosedici Stradale engine a really linear feeling with its power, and it’s a motor that revs. Ducati quotes peak power is at 13,000 rpm, but the bike goes well up to 14,500 redline. It’s sublime, and has the perfect balance between peak power and mid-range torque, between raw delivery and smooth operation.
It’s brutal, but so easy to use. It’s intimidating but still holds your hand when you want it to. The power is tractable and smooth, it can be brutally violent when you want it to be, but can also be quite docile too, if you choose. It just depends how brave or committed you are in twisting the throttle. As the revs rise, the engine spins freer and delivers a truly astonishing punch of acceleration. It’s addictive.
It’s very agile too, and this is down to another trick up the Ducati’s sleeve – its counter rotating crank, which is a direct result of the company’s years of campaigning in MotoGP. The theory is that by having the shaft rotating in the opposite direction to the wheels, the gyroscopic effect of the wheels is partially compensated by the crank. This in turn gives the bike more agility and makes it feel more nimble. The theory works. And then some. It tips in like a 600 and requires very little muscling, a feeling totally different to the Panigale 1199m and 1299, which were bikes which were very physical to ride.
It’s next trick is the Öhlins electronic suspension, which rips up the rulebook in an attempt to make the dark art of suspension tuning more accessible to mere mortal riders like me. Instead of having to get your head around suspension settings in terms of rebound, compression, and preload, Ducati has adopted a new approach which breaks the suspension first down into duties – e.g. braking, mid-corner, acceleration, etc – and then offers adjustments on a scale that describes riding behaviour and goals – e.g. more grip vs. more stability. The whole process is very intuitive, which makes it very quick, and easy, to get the bike handling exactly as you want it to. It’s the way all electronic suspension interfaces should operate.
Then there are the rider aids, including slide control, which allows you to drift through corners like a MotoGP god, ABS cornering for the front wheel, traction control, power launch and engine brake control. There are also three riding modes – Race, Sport and Track, and these are all adjustable by the stunning 5in TFT display.
All of this means the Panigale V4S has all the attributes to excel on track, but what’s it like on the road?
Admittedly, the potholed roads are covered in salt and grime, but it’s immediately clear that the bike is good. The temperatures may barely be hovering above freezing, but the bike is shining, and one of the first things you notice is that the front feels good. It feels very ‘weighty’ and provides a lot feedback, and this in turn inspires a lot of confidence.
The engine is phenomenal. Even on a constant throttle when drudging slowly through towns, the throttle feels smooth. Yes, it’s a bit lumpy really low down, a bit fluffy, but that’s as much down to the new Euro 4 emissions as anything, and it disappears quickly as the revs rise. It’s definitely not as noticeable as big Ducati V-Twins of old, but manages to feel very much like a twin. On the move the engine springs into life with explosive power. The 1103cc engine produces 198bhp at the back wheel, but it’s so useable, pulling cleanly from as low down the rev range as 4,000rpm. Acceleration is effortless, but brutal, and you can’t feed it the gears quickly enough. Yet despite this fierce shove forward there’s absolutely no hint of weave, and it feels very stable. And the noise from the exhaust is intoxicating.
It’s also very agile. The bike narrowness lets you feel in control, and this, when combined with the counter rotating crank really lets you tip into corners with ease. It feels proper fluid and is a lot more forgiving, and this makes it a lot easier to ride than the old Panigale too.
The ride feels less harsh than the outgoing model and the suspension feels very plush. The whole bike feels more cushioned without losing any off its edge, and it deals with the bumps and ruts with ease.
And it’s remarkably comfortable. Yes the pegs may be higher, but after a couple of hours riding I have no aches and pains. The tank feels grippy, the bars aren’t too low and the seat is comfortable, but that soon gets hot thanks to the sheer amount of heat the exhaust generates. This is a godsend today, but I can imagine it would get really hot in summer. Could I live with this fact? Good yeah…
The only thing I’m not sold on is the styling. It looks too much like the bike it replaces, and the front, complete with that funny snub nose, looks like an afterthought.