2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

The second coming of the Bologna Superbike.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S track action shot

For all its technical innovation and cutting-edge style, Ducati's Panigale superbike may have been too much of a departure for many of the Ducati faithful. If a Duc without a trademark trellis frame came across as odd, a Superquadro desmo powerplant lacking robust midrange torque bordered on heresy.

The new 2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale seeks redemption by righting the wrongs, perceived or otherwise, of the past couple years. If you think I’m being a bit melodramatic, here’s what Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali had to say: “When we first made the Panigale, we changed completely the concept of the frame, the engine and how they work together. And we change how you build a twin as it is not normal to have a twin with a 112mm bore.” Domenicali, who believes that a technical departure outside one’s comfort zone is required to achieve significant progress, added: “We did it so radical because...we wanted to have a tool that was for us a platform to be competitive with the four-cylinder bikes.”

The fix? An even larger 116mm piston resulting in an even more oversquare configuration displacing 1285cc. This, along with new rods, steel liners and crankshaft (with precision steel balancing inserts) all fit within unaltered outer engine dimensions. Twin injectors fuel the same elliptical 67mm equivalent throttle bodies with spent gas exiting through an all-new stainless steel exhaust with larger diameter tubes.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S engine

The result is an impressive 205 claimed horsepower (10 more than the 1199). Of even greater significance is the increased torque. Ducati says there’s it’s increased across the entire range, with a 15-percent boost between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. The chassis gets a half-degree reduction in rake (now 24 degrees) and a 4mm lower swingarm pivot. The restyled tail section carries a more comfortable seat, while new grippier machined foot pegs and a wider fairing with a 20mm taller screen all aim to improve rider comfort.

Of course, there has been further refinement of the electronics suite, which incorporates Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit that monitors chassis motion in three axes. This has enabled a sophisticated Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) feature as well as Cornering ABS. Another new feature is clutchless auto-blip downshifting.

The Ducati 1299 Panigale S model is equipped with Öhlins Smart EC suspension components featuring semi-active dynamic damping adjustment. Domenicali best describes the event-based suspension. “The funny thing about this is the system knows what you are doing. When you are braking, it’s the best suspension for braking; when you are cornering, then it’s the best suspension for cornering. The image in my mind is that it’s like having an Öhlins guy in your backpack continuously making changes with a screwdriver while you are riding on the racetrack.”

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S rear suspension close-up

Ducati staged a press test of the new machine at the Autodromo International do Algarve Circuit, which is located in sunny southern Portugal. I spent the first of our five, 15-minute riding sessions getting reacquainted with the challenging 2.9-mile, 14-turn course, which is characterized by blind crests and abundant elevation change. The Sport ride mode proved ideal for this, allowing me to quickly and safely get up to speed following an out lap scrubbing in the fresh Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 race tires.

The default settings for DTC and DWC (both at level 5) witnessed very frequent electronic intervention indicated by a yellow light on the top center of the dash. The effect was seamless without feeling invasive as I finished the session riding at a pace I would imagine is typical of a B Group track day rider. The chassis felt nicely composed at this pace, even with the Öhlins DES Smart EC settings at the Sport mode baseline, a street-oriented algorithm said to take overall ride comfort into consideration.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S action photo

Although I kept it in Sport mode for the second session, I delved into the suspension menu while parked on pit lane and increased the fork and shock to a setting labeled “Hardest” of the five available options. I also reduced DTC and DWC to level 2 prior to entering the track. These settings unshackled the big twin, resulting in strengthened drive off apexes, even if revs dipped below 5,000 rpm mid-corner. Wheelies felt uninhibited as well, the front coming up while the bike was still partially leaned over exiting an uphill second-gear right! The hilltop that follows provided a few butt-pucker moments while I gained trust in DWC, the front pawing the sky and continuing upward as the road drops sharply away down the backside of the hill. The experience was reminiscent of my earliest encounters with ABS and traction control systems. Soon enough, my right wrist was undeterred.

The firmed up suspension proved more to my liking, offering a significant improvement in feedback along with added resistance to fork dive under braking, the latter particularly appreciated in the downhill braking zone at the end of the fast main straight. The DQS auto-blip function eases rider workload when charging into such corners, producing silky smooth downshifts as the ride-by-wire system matches engine revs with each toe of the shift lever.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S static 3/4 view

With myriad setup possibilities and limited time to experiment, I spent the remaining track time in Race mode, which most notably provides track-based suspension algorithms and also makes use of the Superleggera-style Up/Down paddle switch on the left handlebar for on-the-fly adjustment of DTC, DWC or EBC (engine braking control) level. Aside from the paddle only functioning in race mode, it’s also limited to controlling one parameter at a time; selecting a different parameter requires the bike to be stopped. Having determined DWC 2 and EBC 2 settings to be to my liking, I left DTC assigned to the paddle.

Throughout the day I ran ABS level-2, which provides the new Cornering ABS function along with rear anti-lock/anti-lift control. ABS Level-1 is a track mode that disables the cornering and rear ABS features. I didn’t get around to trying Level-1 because quite honestly, I never once felt the front brake cycle either in a straight line or while trail-braking. Perhaps when we have a test bike back home I will muster the courage to explore the system’s deep lean capabilities...or convince a co-worker to do it.

Just as BMW has applied performance technology first offered exclusively on the HP4 to the new 2015 S1000RR, so too has Ducati taken Superleggera bits and applied them to the 1299 Panigale. Should Superleggera owners start weeping in their vino? No. And they won't be getting an apology from Ducati's CEO, who added: "We see that the 1299 is the final refinement of this project."

Just goes to show that blessings do come to those who wait.

SPECIFICATIONS
|2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S
PRICE|$24,995
ENGINE|liquid-cooled V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, Desmodromic
DISPLACEMENT|1285cc
BORE x STROKE|116 x 60.8 mm
COMPRESSION RATIO|12.6:1
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER|205 hp
CLAIMED TORQUE|106.7 lb-ft @ 8,750 rpm
FUEL INJECTION|Mitsubishi electronic with twin injectors per cylinder. Ride-by-wire, elliptical throttle bodies
EXHAUST|2-1-2 system with catalytic converter
GEARBOX|6-speed with Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down
CHAIN|525; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 39
CLUTCH|Slipper, wet multiplate, hydraulic control
FRAME|Monocoque aluminum
WHEELBASE|56.6 in.
RAKE|24°
TRAIL|3.78 in.
STEERING LOCK|48°
FRONT SUSPENSION|Öhlins NIX30 43mm fully adjustable fork. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL|4.72 in.
FRONT WHEEL|3-spoke forged light alloy 3.50 x 17 in.
FRONT TIRE|120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
REAR SUSPENSION|Fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 unit. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode. Adjustable linkage: Progressive/flat. Aluminum single-sided swingarm
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL|5.12 in.
REAR WHEEL|3-spoke forged light alloy 6.00 x 17 in.
REAR TIRE|200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
FRONT BRAKE|2 x 330mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc EVO M50 4-piston calipers with Cornering ABS
REAR BRAKE|245mm disc, 2-piston caliper with Cornering ABS
FUEL TANK CAPACITY|4.5 gal.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT|367 lb.
WET WEIGHT|420 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT|32.7 in.
MAX LENGTH|81.1 in.
DUCATI ELECTRONICS|DTC, DQS up/down, DES, EBC, Riding Modes, DWC, R-b-W, Cornering ABS, auto tire and final ratio calibration

Press launch photo #1

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Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali.

Action shot #1

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Action shot #4

Static shot #1

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Studio shot #1

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Details: instruments

Details: rear suspension

Details: engine