It’s no surprise that the Panigale V4 S feels stunningly powerful, deliciously light and thrillingly fast as it thunders round the Valencia circuit in a riot of high-revving, late-braking and hard-cornering adrenaline production.
After all, the standard V4 S that I’ve been riding earlier produces a phenomenal 211bhp and weighs just 195kg with a full tank. And the highlight of the day is a final session on a slick-tyred, Akrapovic-piped special that makes 223bhp and is 7kg lighter.
Those figures are pretty outrageous, especially because I can’t help recalling that back in 2002, I was lucky enough to get a few laps of Valencia on the Honda RC211V on which Valentino Rossi had just won the first MotoGP world championship. That hand-built factory weapon made 220bhp and weighed just over 160kg ready to race.
So you’ve only got to put an accessory pipe on Ducati’s latest MotoGP replica to get so close to the statistics of an all-conquering works racer of not so long ago. In fact, it’s likely that most riders would lap Valencia quicker and more safely on the Panigale V4 S, with its sophisticated traction control, two-way shifter, cornering ABS and host of other rider aids, than on the even lighter but relatively basic RC211V.
Ducati’s own MotoGP experience inspired the creation of this dramatically different Panigale, and prompted the Italian firm’s much-discussed switch from its traditional desmo V-twins to the V4. That decision is easily understood when boss-man Claudio Domenicali – still in his leathers, having spent the morning thrashing round the track – explains that the new roadster’s 90-degree, desmo V4 powerplant shares its 81mm bore size, combustion chamber design and reversed crankshaft layout with the Desmosedici racer.
All that MotoGP engine development and hard-earned expertise is now being used by the production Panigale (and will benefit Ducati’s world superbike too, from 2019), rather than largely wasted as it would otherwise have been. And the same is true of the chassis, where the aluminium “front frame” is different to the Desmosedici’s, but the stiffness levels of the chassis, vital for supplying feedback at extreme angles of lean, closely follow the race bike.
The Panigale V4’s engine and chassis layout are totally different to the 1299’s but its styling is a clear evolution. Its dual-layered fairing has similar shark-like shapes, incorporating twin layers in the mid-section to help with air-flow and also minimise width, as the V4 engine is broader, while gaining by being shorter and less tall.
Up front, the triangular intake nostrils house LED lights. Bodywork extends smoothly back towards the fuel tank, which curves down and under the seat. Riding position is unchanged from the 1299’s, apart from footrests that are 10mm higher. Sharp tail-pieces make the launch bikes look purposefully single-seat; the pillion seat and pegs are easily removable.
At least, that’s true of the V4 S, which costs £23,895, and also the standard V4, which is £19,250. (The exotic, £34,995 V4 Speciale is single seat only, and comes with Akrapovic race pipe, rearsets, data-logging and cosmetic mods including tricolore paintwork.) The S-model justifies its higher price with forged Marchesinis instead of cast aluminium wheels, a lighter lithium-ion battery, and Öhlins Smart EC semi-active suspension and electronic steering damper, rather than conventional Showa forks plus Sachs shock and damper.
I’ll blame the S-model’s wired-up Öhlins fork-tops for making it seem so futuristic that after climbing aboard, I take several seconds of fiddling with the starter button before realising that I need to turn the old-fashioned ignition key to illuminate the new TFT dashboard. This comes to life showing a big, round analogue-style tacho, with gear indicator in its middle.
That indicator spends a fair bit of time showing a figure two for the next 20 minutes, as the Panigale slices through the circuit’s switchback-like infield before eating up the two straights. The shorter of these has a thrilling, flat-out-in-fourth-gear kink just before I have to brake hard, flick down two gears and pitch the bike into a long left-hander. The V4 S is brilliant here, and in the almost-as-long right shortly afterwards (although, being very tall, I sometimes struggle to get my feet set on the pegs for the quick change of direction in between).
Panigales haven’t always been the easiest bikes to turn, but the V4 S is outstanding in the way that it can be flicked onto its side with a nudge of the bars, then steered towards the apex of the turn with a closed throttle, seeming to go where I want it to almost by thought transfer. In reality it’s because its chassis (which puts 54.5% of its weight over the front wheel, compared to the 1299’s 53%, and has slightly less steep steering geometry) is beautifully balanced, and provides wonderfully precise feedback, assisted by superb suspension and sticky Supercorsa SP rubber.
The quality of the Öhlins suspension is a major factor too. The Smart EC system continually adjusts damping levels depending on the bike’s acceleration and lean angle. The push-button adjustability allows fine-tuning for when braking, in mid-turn or exiting a bend. It’s a very intuitive system and helps me calm the Ducati’s initial head-shake (doubtless also triggered by my over-sized body) when coming onto the main straight.
The Ducati’s throttle response is excellent, too; and its punch out of turns is aided both by its flexible torque delivery and the fact that its high rev limit – 14,500rpm in most gears, and 500rpm higher in top – means it never has to drop too low. Exiting the slowest bends, the tacho is indicating just over 6000rpm in second gear and the V4 still grunts forward with thrilling urgency, finding traction with the help of the irregular firing order (another MotoGP development) that gives a deep, almost V-twin-like exhaust note.
Then it breathes even harder and storms forward while I click through the box, holding on tight as the Ducati almost revs out in fifth (at an indicated 170mph-plus) on the pit straight before I have to sit up and make use of the stunningly powerful Brembo Stylema calipers – and the two-way shifter, which is even more useful when going back down through the box – to make the Turn One left-hander.
So the V4 S is awesomely fast, handles and stops outstandingly well, and perhaps equally importantly it feels like a natural evolution of the 1299. Any concern that the change from V-twin to V4 would mean losing Ducati’s traditional character can be forgotten. The Panigale V4 brings a magical taste of MotoGP blood and thunder to the street, and it looks, sounds and feels like a machine that could only have been built in Bologna.
Words: Roland Brown
|Ducati Panigale V4 S|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled 90-degree V4|
|Bore x stroke||81 x 53.5mm|
|Maximum power||211bhp (214PS) @ 13,000rpm|
|Maximum torque||124N.m @ 10,000rpm|
|Front suspension||43mm Öhlins NIX30, 120mm travel, Smart EC 2.0 semi-active|
|Rear suspension||Öhlins TTX36 shock, 130mm wheel travel, Smart EC 2.0 semi-active|
|Fuel tank||14 litres|