I could be out a lot of money right now. If someone wagered that Ducati could and would build a superbike that was more focused and easier to ride I would have taken that bet. A motorcycle being fast, passionate, and feisty is what everyone has come to expect from Ducati. I would have lost, though, because the 2018 Panigale V4 is amazingly easy to ride. If you’re interested in the riding impressions from my day burning around the Ricardo Tormo MotoGP circuit in Valencia, Spain, [click here to read the first ride report.] But to fully appreciate this spiciest of superbike meatballs, it’s really worth taking a look at the recipe.
A new Ducati superbike is already a rare occurrence, but a new Ducati superbike with four cylinders is unprecedented—nearly as seismic as the bike being sold in sky blue. Ducati is a two-cylinder company through and through, with only a couple of exceptions. The most obvious of those being the company’s Desmosedici GP racing machine. It uses lots of technology not available to the motorcycling public, including a 1,000cc, 90-degree V-4 powerplant. When Ducati announced it would build a V-4 superbike, many of us naturally assumed it would be in the mold of the MotoGP engine and displace 1 liter.
Instead, Ducati engineers used the same bore of 81mm from the MotoGP spec but increased stroke (to achieve better midrange and low-end power) for an end result of 1,103cc, and a package 2.2 kilos (4.85 pounds) heavier than the 1299 engine. Probably even more interesting is that the new engine hangs in a frame. Historically (since 2012), Panigales have been “frameless,” using an aluminum monocoque that essentially held the steering head to the front of the engine, which was in turn bolted to the swingarm.
Now, a dainty aluminum twin-spar frame reaches around the engine from the steering head, grabbing both the front and rear cylinders as well as connecting to the rear subframe. In this case “dainty” means 9.2 pounds of aluminum, which is put into perspective slightly by considering the swingarm weighs 11.2 pounds. That’s the same weight as the 1199 swingarm, incidentally, but it’s more than 3 inches (!) longer. The fuel tank runs back under the seat, keeping mass low and making room for the variable-length intake stacks and the rest of the V4’s lungs to cram into the notch of the vee.
I know it seems like I’m talking about the chassis now, but it all still relates to the engine because all of these expansive changes to the Panigale’s architecture have taken place not in spite of the new powerplant but as a result of it. The 90-degree vee has been canted back 42 degrees, allowing the rear subframe to essentially connect to the rear cylinder in the same place as the top spar of the main frame. The engine is also 1.5 inches shorter front to back than the 1299 V-twin, which leaves room for the longer swingarm as well as general mass centralization. Not to mention (and this is important) the crankshaft spins backward, opposite the rotation of the wheels, mimicking every MotoGP race bike and negating some of the inertia of the rotating wheels, leading to easier directional changes for the motorcycle.
At a glance, the Panigale V4’s stretched swingarm contributes to a 32mm (1.25-inch) longer wheelbase but also 54.5 percent of its weight on the front wheel—up from 53 percent on the 1299. The bike is stretching out and leaning forward more and more. To what purpose, you ask? I’m not a fortune-teller, but my money is on the 214 claimed horsepower rushing out of the Desmosedici Stradale and through the massive 200/60 rear Pirelli. It makes a lot of power, and along with it a need to lean forward. Plus all of the other pieces helping to control the engine as it fires the bike around a racetrack.
The S-model I rode comes with up-spec suspension—specifically, an Öhlins NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock in place of the 43mm Showa fork and Sachs shock on the base bike. As with the 1299 S, the Öhlins setup uses electronic damping adjustment. The hardware, I was told by the Öhlins representative at the launch, is similar to what was used on the 1299 S or is used on the Honda CBR1000RR SP1. The software design and calibration takes a step in a different direction for the Panigale V4 with OBTi (for Objective-Based Tuning interface). Basically, it lets the rider tune the suspension damping via relatable actions, rather than specific parameters. Instead of dialing in more compression damping in the fork you tell the bike to be stiffer under braking, and the system keeps that in mind while monitoring your inputs 100 times every second.
Connected to that same system, by the way, is an Öhlins steering damper that adapts to the amount of trouble you’ve put yourself in and adjusts accordingly. Considering I never felt it, I’d say they put just the right amount of cilantro in the guacamole—I’d miss it if it weren’t there, but if it’s noticeable, it’s probably too much. What I definitely did notice were the massive suite of electronics keeping my 100 hp of talent rubber-side down on a bike with double that on tap. The term “traction control” used to mean only one thing, but now it feels like it encompasses so much more than eight settings (more on that later).
Ride modes in the Ducati ecosystem have evolved into so much more than throttle maps. Yes, when you select Street or Sport or Race you can expect a different feeling from the bike, but it’s not just the engine that will change. Depending on the scenario and mode, the electronic suspension will adjust, the ABS functionality will change, and traction control will make certain assumptions about your intentions. The good news is that each facet of each mode can be tuned to suit your style. So even though the suspension might be more aggressive in Race, the mode is tunable to have more or less intervention from any and all of the other systems. And yes, you can change the throttle map too.
Other electronic tricks that the Panigale does: slide control (adapted from the last generation of Superleggera), Bosch cornering ABS, an up/down quickshifter, a launch-control mode, and wheelie control that has been updated significantly. By that I mean it works really well—setting 4 was lame, but setting 2 allowed too-tall wheelies. Setting 3 was perfect for me. You might be different, but the fact that the settings were linear is great news coming from Ducati. The bidirectional quickshifter has an extra layer of complexity in that it reads lean-angle data and tailors—between three settings—the amount of time and blipping between gears to make sure the shift is smooth, while you ride (the adjustable engine-braking uses the same data). It worked great as far as I could tell in my many, many shifts.
All of the information about the bike is displayed in a very new way too. A 5-inch TFT screen features a prominent analog-style tachometer on the right half of the screen, with all of the other info available surrounding it. Two scrolling menus—at the bottom left and right of the screen—show trip data and rider-aid settings, respectively. They can be flipped through while riding via two separate up/down rocker switches on the left bar, or adjusted by holding one of the switches and opening the main menu while stopped. As with any state-of-the-art motorcycle in this day and age, the menu systems are vast and complicated. With this dash and set of controls (similar to the Multistrada 1260), Ducati has made a clear step forward in ease of use. There’s still a lot going on, but it’s better than any previous user experience from the Bologna factory.
Lastly, wheels and brakes, which come in typical Ducati fashion. The base Panigale V4 gets five-spoke alloy rims, while the S version and top-spec Speciale are fitted with forged-aluminum Marchesini hoops. Instead of the Brembo M50 Monoblock calipers we’ve come to know and love on Ducati superbikes, the Panigale V4 uses an evolution of the M50 called the Stylema. Ducati says the new calipers are 70 grams (2.5 ounces) lighter than the M50 units but are just as stiff.
All of this technology, engineering, and pedigree makes for a terrifically advanced machine, capable of reaching almost any speed you’re willing to attempt and calculate controlling itself at that speed faster than you can. For more information and impressions on how the bike actually feels from the saddle, [read the First Ride Report here].
|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.|