My journey back to Paul Ricard this past February for the press launch of the new MV Agusta F3 675 was special. This enchanting high-speed circuit is perched above the French Riviera in the arid mountains of Southern France. When I was in my early 20s, Paul Ricard was a place of “firsts”: my first race on European soil; my first team endurance race; my first time speeding at 180 mph through dense campfire smoke in the black of night; and my first 130-plus-mph crash. It took half of a French fire brigade to knock down the flames and bring the melted bike to its final resting place.
In stark contrast to the ambitious youngster who arrived here 13 years ago, I am sitting calmly in the media center enjoying an espresso that’s as smooth as the lines on the beautiful MV Agusta resting on the stand before me. With the pressure of professional racing behind me, my job today is to simply enjoy this little firecracker for all she is worth.
Incredibly, just four engineers are behind the new F3. Technical Director Marco Cassinelli, who was recruited from Lamborghini, tells me this small group is very efficient, that it directs all of its energy toward what it believes to be the future of the brand. Upholding MV Agusta’s heritage of beauty and performance is critical, says Cassinelli, but attracting mainstream consumers is also important.
While the engineers dive proudly into the many features incorporated into the electronic dash, my jet-lagged attention span goes no deeper than the panel’s elegant exterior. The display is spartan, its clean, simple design unencumbered by gadgetry. In fact, it’s more like the simple analog clocks on older racebikes than the bulky dashes that are so common today. Same goes for the rest of the bike; there are no flashy badges or logos, just the raw beauty of metal and performance.
I glance around the briefing room and am distracted by a tiny engine that looks like it belongs in a dirtbike. That little thing is the F3’s powerplant? While one of the engineers talks about fuel maps and torque curves, I sneak over for a better look at this compact engine. Yep, it would fit easily in my gearbag.
I’m still in a bit of a haze when I suit up and climb aboard the 675 for my first track session. My senses are confused straight away. The F3 is far too narrow to be an inline-Four, yet it feels curiously similar to a Yamaha YZF-R6. Pressing the Start button evokes different emotions; this Triple is grumbly like a Twin, but it’s too highly strung to be one. I accelerate down pit lane with the front wheel hovering above the pavement. This little torque monster revs out!
Reacquainting myself with Paul Ricard is anti-climactic. The lean 675 quickly finds its way from apex to apex with ease. Balanced ergonomics and a low seating position promote aggressive riding while keeping weight transfer to a minimum. The throaty exhaust note is solid gold, and the F3 seems to beg for more throttle, inviting its most remarkable feature, the engine, to come alive.
Capitalizing on six perfectly spaced transmission ratios and an excellent, full-throttle EAS (Electronic Assisted Shift) auto-shift feature, I busily hustle from first through sixth down the long front straight. The six-injector, 12-valve, dohc, 79.0 x 45.9mm motor is phenomenal, with a wide range of power and the ability to overrev. Strong torque is delivered linearly and right on time in relation to throttle position, with the potent power curve giving an extra pull on the bars between 10,000 and 14,000 rpm. MV claims 126 horsepower at 14,400 rpm and 52 foot-pounds of torque at 10,600 rpm. Redline is 15,000 rpm.
Now that I am fully awake, I’m ready for a second explanation about the many electronic functions. Engineer Mauro Marelli begins by saying the system is new from the ground up. It starts with a ride-by-wire throttle using a standard open-and-close potentiometer. This is augmented by a “safety closing” default to eliminate any surprises.
Moving on, Marelli says a new ECU was designed specifically for the traction control, torque maps and quick-shift functions on the F3. I watch as he scrolls through the well-lit display. The F3 boasts four map settings. The first three—Rain, Normaland Sport—are self-explanatory and preset for user ease. The fourth mode is called “Corono,” which allows on-the-fly customization using thumb switches located, MotoGP-style, adjacent to the left handgrip. Within Corono are five different parameters ranging from eight levels of traction control to torque delivery. Leaving no request unsatisfied, there is even an adjustable highway speed limiter to keep you out of trouble with Smokey. Okay, there are enough options to hang myself. Impressive.
Just how much do I trust the 675’s electronics? Getting to full throttle early on cold tires is never a good idea; but it’s my only opportunity to test the rain mapping, and, thus far, the engineers have not steered me wrong, so I’m willing to roll the dice. Riding out of the pit box, I scroll through to level eight on the TC selector, which is intended for wet conditions. At the apex of hairpin Turn 1, I aggressively pin the throttle in first gear. The familiar safety-net sound of the engine misfiring to limit wheel slip is music to my ears. As the tires reach optimum temperature, I methodically work my way from level eight down to zero. Each selection performs as it was designed, allowing for more wheel slip in a consistent progression. Although the traction control is well-sorted, the engine delivers such steady Twin-like torque delivery that TC is rarely in demand.
Speed is crucial in the evaluation of chassis. Lapping the track at a pretty good clip, I find it difficult to point out any major faults. Even in street trim on one ofEurope’s fastest circuits, the 675 with its hybrid aluminum/steel frame rolling on a 54.2-inch wheelbase carves up the track. Racing speeds, however, ask a lot of the stock suspension. The fully adjustable Sachs shock holds up remarkably well, but the 43mm Marzocchi fork is a little soft at maximum load, diving quickly under hard braking, making the rear end loose on entry and creating some pumping mid-corner. But that I find myself evaluating the F3 as if it were a racebike is the biggest compliment I could pay a stock motorcycle. The 320mm Brembo front brakes are exceptional, as well, offering phenomenal stopping power and feel.
Sitting directly behind the F3’s greatest strength lurks its biggest weakness: the transmission. Though solid in feel, the cassette-type gearbox is fickle; having to take a second stab at third and fourth gears gives away the generous gift that the potent engine delivers on corner exits. EAS helps, but considering the many other great choices in this displacement category, the F3 needs to be a complete package.
Can a small European brand like MV Agusta keep up with the big boys in development costs and still deliver an affordable product? Contrary to the popular notion that you buy a racy Italian motorcycle with your heart, the 675 F3 has an attractive price tag: $13,498. Couple that with incredible performance and elegant looks, and you have an amazing machine. Hopefully, MV Agusta will be able to maintain its newfound momentum.