Italian passion for motorsport is synonymous with the stunning performance, soul-stirring sound and seductive, liquid-red styling inherent to a long bloodline of championship-winning Ducati sportbikes. Yesterday’s triumph, however, is just that, and the bigger the trophy, the more dust it tends to attract. Ongoing product evolution is what maintains a competitive edge, and the Bologna boys aim to kill in the hotly contested middleweight supersport category with the new 848 EVO recently rolled out as an early-release 2011 model.
The EVO treatment represents a midlife upgrade for the 848, now entering its fourth year of service. While the list of engine and chassis enhancements can fit on a sticky note, the performance gains are intended to benefit racers and street riders alike. This is an important point, because the 848 EVO replaces the current model and becomes the sole 848 offering for ’11. While periodic updates are to be expected among competition-based machines, the surprise here is that a red 848 EVO carries the same $13,995 MSRP as its predecessor, while the matte-black version here is $1000 less.
Enhancements to the liquid-cooled, 849cc 90-degree V-Twin include new Marelli throttle bodies with larger elliptical bores feeding revised cylinder heads with straighter intake ports and reshaped combustion chambers. This, along with a new piston-crown profile, has delivered a substantial increase in compression ratio, from 12.0:1 to 13.2:1. Intake-valve lift is up from 11.5 to 13.0mm with 4 degrees more duration. The 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust now uses twin lambda O2 sensors said to help achieve mandated emissions levels. Ducati claims a 6-hp increase, bringing output to 140 measured at the crank.
The 848 EVO is available in two colors: Ducati red for $13,995 or matte black for $12,995.
We obtained the very first EVO-spec bike to arrive stateside and promptly put it through our full street and track test regimen. Strapped to CW’s Dynojet dyno, the EVO produced 118.5 rear-wheel hp, a mere 1.5-pony increase over the 848 we tested this past year. While engine performance fell short of what we had anticipated, the EVO still outmuscles its closest middleweight-class rivals by nearly 10 peak horsepower. The tuning alteration has shifted peak output closer to the 11,000-rpm rev limiter while sacrificing a couple of ft.-lb. of torque throughout the middle of the rev range.
Torque builds quickly off idle before easing into a soft spot around 5000 rpm. While the mid-rpm lull is perceptible even at slight throttle settings, fueling remains good, allowing the bike to cruise dead-steady in the lull zone at freeway speeds. The sweet spot for smooth running spans from 4000 to 5000 rpm, yielding an indicated 70 to 87 mph in top gear with only modest engine vibration seeping through the handgrips. Strong power pulses quake the footpegs and frame while chugging along at basement revs or spinning the engine in its upper rpm range. There is little driveline lash, even when casually lugging along at 3500 rpm in a tall gear.
Leaving stops fluidly requires a bit of extra throttle and clutch slip to avoid a lean stumble around 2500 rpm. We have experienced similar issues with other recent Ducati models running EPA-certified fuel mapping. The stock 848 fueling is decent down low but could use some massaging.The meat of the engine’s power comes online just beyond 7000 rpm with a surge of grunt capable of inducing an effortless low-gear power wheelie when the throttle is held fully open. Keeping revs above 7K sees the 848 leaping out of corners with liter-bike tenacity, all while serving up uncanny tractability. The 848 chassis is essentially the same as that of the 1198 Superbike with minor differences in suspension calibration, front-brake rotor diameter and a narrower (5.5-inch) rear rim that’s better suited to the 180/55ZR17 Pirelli radial. Grip and stability at a swift street pace are exceptional, making for one of the more confidence-inspiring bikes you’ll find for backroad burning. Steering is precise and intuitive yet becomes somewhat heavy when working through side-to-side transitions at speeds greater than 75 mph.The street is no place to try to find the limits of a race-bred chassis such as this, so we headed to a track day at Buttonwillow Raceway hosted by Trackdaz.com. There, we could achieve much higher cornering loads and press the bike hard into and out of corners to put the EVO chassis to the test. As previously stated, changes were few, with the addition of Brembo Monobloc front calipers and a non-adjustable steering stabilizer, both of which were lifted from the 1198 parts bin.
The 2011 848 EVO becomes the sole version of the bike for sale in the U.S.
Hard acceleration out of Button-willow’s bumpier corners induced enough headshake to get our attention, yet the bike was also quick to regain its composure. The high level of feedback provided by the Showa fork gave a good sense of front grip, thus freeing attention to be focused more on the happenings out back. A few rear slides had us looking to slow the seemingly quick rebound at the back, but access to the Showa shock’s rebound-damping screw through a small hole in the swingarm proved ridiculously difficult as the hole is not centered over the screw!
The radial-mount calipers work as nicely as they look and proved to be a very good match for the 320mm rotors. The combo offers all the stopping power and consistency we could ask for along with excellent sensitivity through a quality radial-pump Brembo master cylinder with an adjustable lever.
Race-derived instrumentation is a feature-packed visual treat, but the all-LCD display’s bar-graph tachometer can be strangely difficult to read in certain lighting conditions, particularly on a bright day with the readout shadowed. Saving grace is its quartet of shift-indicator lights that illuminate sequentially beginning 800 rpm before redline and flash when the limiter is reached.
Our $13K flat-black budget EVO lists for 2-3 grand more than its middleweight European and Japanese competition—bikes that represent some of the best performance-per-dollar values on the market. In purely clinical terms, what’s offered here is additional power from the Ducati’s displacement advantage and better brakes. Less concrete but still tangible to the sportbike enthusiast are the distinct differences in the sound and riding experience, particularly the taut, racer-like chassis.
Does this Duc’s dark and menacing dress depict the sporting passion and Italian flair that enthusiasts have come to associate with Ducati? Perhaps not, but we like the raw look and generous cost savings it has afforded. And if racing is truly in your blood, think of the 848 EVO as the perfect primer palate for the graphics of your choice.
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