Standing in Valencia’s pit lane, about to swing a leg over the 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S, I was apprehensive. I’ve never really gotten along with the Panigale platform. I’ve always thought the 1199 and 1299 were stylish, but the Superquadro engine was peaky and hard to manage, the electronics seemed a step behind, and the chassis flexed in a way I couldn’t control. Too often it was more like fighting the bike around a track, rather than having a partner in lap times. So sue me if I was nervous to ride an even more powerful Panigale.
But I was optimistic, too. There’s a frame now, for one—an aluminum twin-spar setup—cradling a whole new engine in the 1,103cc, twin-pulse V-4. Updated brakes and suspension too (not that the 1299 needed that), and all of the usual electronic-rider-aid suspects have been revised. Traction control, wheelie control, an up/down quickshifter, adjustable engine-braking, and cornering ABS, plus slide control adapted from the last Superleggera. The version I rode was the S, equipped with electronically controlled damping in the Öhlins fork and shock.
Read the full Tech Review of the Panigale V4 here:
The starter taps out a few quick rotations of the “Desmosedici Stradale” before it jumps to life, and behold the first surprise of the new V-4: It sounds like a twin. Really, it does. The cylinders on the left side of the engine fire 90 degrees apart, then there’s a long pause (200 degrees of rotation) before the right side of the vee fires, front then rear, at 290 and 380 degrees respectively. This is what Ducati means by “twin pulse” firing order, same as the MotoGP bike, and among other qualities it makes the engine sound unique.
Trundling down pit lane on my surprisingly “twinny” V-4, I was struck by how similar the riding position is to the 1299 Panigale. It’s nearly as narrow where the seat meets the tank, and there’s a familiar feel in the reach to the wide bars. The pegs are 10mm higher than on the 1299, and it’s an adjustment that makes the Panigale V4’s ergos feel slightly more conventional than the 1299. I say that’s a good thing. Getting up to speed on track took a few laps, but it was good to warm up to the engine too. It seems clear that power delivery is much more linear than the 1299 (not that hard to do) and, just like the idle note, it’s a new and interesting auditory experience. It grumbles a satisfying bass at low rpm and feels almost like a twin, but as the revs climb from the midrange into five-digit territory it wails like no other road-going V-4 I’ve ever heard.
A couple of sessions in and I felt like I could start to lean on the Pirelli Supercorsa rubber (which have also been updated, incidentally, with new compounds and a shape that is said to offer more contact patch when leaned over). I started to lift the rear wheel under braking and engage the traction control exiting corners. This is when the bike began to remind me of the 1299 because the more I pushed it, the more it wanted. But, unlike the 1299, the Panigale V4 didn’t start to feel feral at about 90 percent of my skill level. Instead, the V4 just provided more and more savage acceleration, deceleration, and direction changes until I couldn’t keep up.
Ducati claims the Panigale V4 S is 10 pounds heavier than the 1299 S (4.85 of that is the engine), but it feels much lighter changing direction. The rational explanation is the backward-rotating crankshaft, which is a major step to take in a superbike. Every MotoGP team uses this technique of engine design, which theoretically negates some of the inertia of the rotating wheels, making the bike easier to turn. As far as I can tell, it worked. It turns quickly and with less effort than you would expect, and holds a line beautifully.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt the power output of the V4, which is staggering (Ducati claims 214 hp). Then again, in some ways I feel like it should be staggering, considering the size of the engine. It’s 10 percent bigger, so it should make 10 percent more power, right? It might feel like a petty gripe, but I’m looking forward to next year’s Panigale V4 R, which will have a 999cc powerplant homologated for racing. A fair fight, in other words. Whatever the number is for this bike, just know it’s very fast, especially for an engine with 15,000-mile valve intervals. In typical Ducati fashion, the brakes are equally powerful. Brembo’s evolution of the M50 Monoblock calipers are called the Stylema—2.5 ounces lighter, I’m told, with the same stiffness. I never got a whiff of brake fade, despite mashing the lever to shed more than 100 mph for turn one.
As I got more comfortable, I turned down traction control from setting 3 (of a possible 8) to 1, and did the same with slide control. Next thing I knew I was torturing the rear tire on corner exits and had every bit of confidence to keep pushing. I turned wheelie control down from setting 4 to 2—but I decided it wasn’t quite enough control so I compromised with setting 3, and soon I was carrying MotoGP-style wheelies away from every corner. I was tuning the bike to help me and it was working. Read slowly here, because this is a big deal. Ducati’s electronics have moved from a pile of individual protocols that could save you from catastrophic mistakes, to a network of programs that work together to help you ride faster. I believe the Panigale V4 now joins the likes of Yamaha’s R1, BMW’s S1000RR, and Aprilia’s RSV4 in the top rung of helpful, not frustrating, performance rider aids.
I played with more settings throughout the day, some more gimmicky than others. In setting 2 (of 3) in the ABS structure, Ducati has engineered the system to allow riders to apply the rear brake and slide the rear tire into corners, just like its favorite racers do. I tried it, and it works, but as usual I would say “backing it in” is best left to the pros. More to the point, without any rear ABS (setting 1) I found this Panigale V4 to have impeccable corner-entry manners; as crazy or disciplined as you like. I also adjusted engine-braking (three available settings), which is noticeable but probably only stands to benefit a few riders who really feel they need more or less.
The electronic suspension adjustment offered by Öhlins has taken a big step too. Not necessarily in functionality—the system still monitors damping, reading and adjusting as many as 100 times per second—but in the way that the rider interacts with it. In the dash menu, rather than tailoring specific parameters like compression damping in the fork or rebound in the shock, the rider selects settings based on more tangible actions. The engineers call it OBTi (for Objective-Based Tuning interface), and it means asking the suspension settings to change for, say, stability under braking or slightly more supple mid-corner.
It’s cool technology, even if as a roadracer it makes me want to put on my “git off my lawn” hat and whine about people not knowing how to tune their own bike. But maybe that’s just me. At the end of the day the system’s worst enemy is itself because the Öhlins components are so good that only the best riders will feel the need to go outside the bounds of the ECU’s capability to stabilize the bike. Exhibit A: I shut off the “dynamic” function and rode with fixed settings, and guess what, the bike still works great.
In my last few laps, fatigued from the forces of riding a superbike as fast as I could, it became perfectly clear what makes the Panigale V4 a major step for Ducati superbikes: it’s easy to ride. The steering is lighter, the electronics are less intrusive but more helpful, and the chassis is so much more calm at speed. It’s viciously fast, and hugely capable, but instead of being a wild steed bleeding passion with every wheelie, it’s a collected and focused partner ready for a track attack. I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the overall package of the Panigale V4.
Aside from the 1,100cc engine in the 1,000cc class, I’ve just got one last complaint about this machine of which, let me reiterate, I feel I misjudged and underestimated the capabilities. And that’s the price: A 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S like I rode at Valencia will wear a price tag of 27,495 United States dollars. That’s the middle of the range. If you snag one of the 1,500 Speciale versions, with tricolore paint and an Akrapovic exhaust (which bumps claimed horsepower to 226) the price will be $39,995. The base Panigale V4, with a Showa fork, Sachs shock, and heavier wheels, starts at $21,195. I’m keen to try to the base bike, actually, because I suspect the non-electronic suspension is good enough for most riders, even fast trackday attendees. Time will tell, I hope.
I could write a whole op/ed on how I think Ducati calculates these prices based on things we don’t understand, and it’s a company that knows what it’s doing (because I do think that). I don’t want to make a federal case out of it, but it still makes me a little sad. Not because I don’t think the bike is worth the money, but because I don’t like to see the barrier of entry to the machine set that high. I rode it, and it was great fun, and I want other people to ride it too. (On the subject of dollars and cents, Ducati does have in-house financing now, which means that S version could live in your garage for $350/month instead of the five-figure MSRP. Fair enough.)
The upshot is that I feel a sense of relief. I don’t have to find a way to delicately say, “This bike is pretty but it doesn’t work very well and it’s expensive.” Yes, it costs more than other bikes in the class. But it’s also not just a pretty face anymore. It’s a legitimate contender for the best showroom superbike for sale today.
|PRICE AS TESTED||$27,495 (S version)|
|ENGINE||1103cc liquid-cooled V-4|
|CLAIMED HORSEPOWER||214 hp @ 13,000 rpm|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||91.5 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||43mm Öhlins NIX30 fork, with electronic compression and rebound damping, manual preload adjustment|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Öhlins TTX36 shock, with electronic compression and rebound damping, manual preload adjustment|
|FRONT BRAKE||Brembo Stylema Monoblock calipers, 330mm discs; ABS standard|
|REAR BRAKE||Brembo two-piston caliper, 220mm rotor; ABS standard|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.7 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.2 gal.|
|CLAIMED WEIGHT||430 lb.|