What You Need to Know About the Ducati Panigale V4 S

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Is the Ducati Panigale V4 S the most anticipated motorcycle of 2018? If you are a diehard sport biker, the answer is probably yes, though a number of significant models are debuting this year, from several manufacturers.

Still, in terms of ground-changing machines, the Panigale V4 has to rank high up on the list, as it is Ducati’s first proper four-cylinder motorcycle to go into mainstream production.

Yes, the Apollo came before it – all ~1.9 models that were produced – and the Desmosedici RR was also a MotoGP-inspired V4 motorcycle, but those were only available to a select few, with a total of 1,500 units ever made.

The Ducati Panigale V4 and its progeny, however, are here for everyone…and Ducati has taken quite a gamble in producing this “New Opera” – as the tagline goes.

I am writing to you today from Valencia, Spain – where we just finished a day of riding at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, which is better known as the final stop on the MotoGP Championship calendar.

It is a new track for me to ride, and I have to give Ducati credit for picking a venue that doesn’t play just to the strengths of its new motorcycle. A short and technical course, the Valencian circuit is fun and rewarding to ride, but it is also a torture-rack test for a motorcycle’s handling prowess.

It would have been really easy for Ducati to take us somewhere, say like Mugello, where a fast and flowing circuit could hide any flaws in the Panigale V4 chassis design, while in-turn it could also hightlight the superbike’s claimed 214hp.

But here we are in Spain, getting to ride the first entry into this next chapter of Ducati superbike history, so let me tell you what you need to know about Ducati’s new flagship motorcycle, the Panigale V4 S. 

First, About That Cheater Motor Though…

From both a journalistic point-of-view, and as someone with tendencies that could be called generally OCD, we have to talk about the elephant in the room, namely that Ducati is a big fat cheater with its 1,103cc displacement. Cheater, cheater, cheater…

I was disappointed when I heard that Ducati would continue to be “different” from the rest of the segment, and would once again require a caveat every time its Panigale was compared to the rest of the liter-bike troupe. My opinion on this matter has not changed, but…I get it.

In terms of an on-road bike, or track day machine, the 10% advantage that Ducati is packing – which equates to 214hp and 91.5 lbs•ft of torque – makes a great deal of sense, and one does have to ask why manufacturers blindly follow WorldSBK rules, especially now that the series’ so heavily favors the creation of expensive homologation specials.

Ducati has really been the only brand to take advantage of this disparity (a nod to Kawasaki though, for its similar move in the supersport category), though I doubt it will be the last brand to do so. To the victor go the spoils, I suppose.

That said, the 1,103cc displacement eliminates apples-to-apples comparisons with the Panigale V4 to other superbike, and makes things more pear-shaped in their analysis, when trying to evaluate the segment landscape. This seems to be the way of things going forward, much to my complaint.

With its “twin pulse” crankshaft and firing order (the same as the Desmosedici RR and GP18), Ducati has created something unique for the market, and from the moment we heard the Panigale V4 S from pit lane at the track, that familiar sound echoed through Valencia.

This bike sounds a lot like the grand prix machine, which sounds a lot like a big v-twin. Audiophiles should be pleased.

Even in its Euro4 form, Ducati has extracted a good exhaust note from the Panigale V4, and if you have the coin to pay for the ridiculously expensive Akrapovic exhaust, your ears will be rewarded further (your neighbors’ however will not).

Linear feeling with its power, the Desmosedici Stradale is a motor that revs. Ducati quotes peak power is at 13,000 rpm, but the bike goes well up to 14,500 redline. Put on the race exhaust from the Ducati Performance catalog, and the rev limiter goes even higher, to 15,000 rpm.

Because of this, the Ducati Panigale V4 reminds me of the Ducati 1199 Panigale in a way, in that you have to keep the power on boil, and ride the bike like a peaky modern four-cylinder superbike.

That cheater displacement helps you though, and while the grunt of the Ducati 1299 Panigale isn’t there, the Panigale V4 has a nice fat torque curve that you can play with.

Quite honestly, this might be the best motor ever made by Ducati, as it plays a strong hand in its balance between peak power and mid-range torque; between raw delivery and smooth operation; and between winning the next Superbike Championship and remaining unique in the marketplace.

The power is tractable and smooth, though you definitely don’t want to ride it like its predecessor the 1299.

More importantly though, and what really sets the Panigale V4 apart from the 1299 Panigale, is that the Desmosedici Stradale engine doesn’t feel like the wound-up and stressed engine that was the Superquadro v-twin. Ducati has obviously left the full potential of this design untapped.

Violent when you want it to be, the V4 engine can also be quite docile too. It just depends how hard and fast you are willing to turn your wrist.

“Front Frame” > Monocoque

So if the engine gets high marks, the next item of worry is the “frameless” chassis design that continues to be a staple of Ducati’s superbike platform. The monocoque chassis is gone though, and the “front frame” chassis looks a lot more like the twin-spar designs that you will see elsewhere.

I’ll be blunt here: it works. The vagueness of the old design is replaced with something that gives much more feedback to the rider. The Ducati Panigale V4 S that we tested at the track was nimble on its feet, when in side-to-side transitions, and very planted when it was on the brakes.

Initially the bike was a handful for me on acceleration, prone to squat and headshake, but after some tinkering around on the very straightforward settings for the new Öhlins electronic suspension (more on that in a minute), I found a setup that eliminated my high-speed wobbles.

When the monocoque chassis first arrived, you could almost forgive Ducati for the imperfections of the design, because it saved so much weight when compared to other chassis philosophies.

But now with its second iteration of this idea, the Italian brand has really taken this concept to the next level – making it ready for primetime, and without excuses.

Throw in lightweight wheels (on our Panigale V4 S test bike), the latest and greatest brake calipers from Brembo, and of course the newest Swedish suspension, and the overall chassis package is quite robust.

Truly, it is hard to find faults in the design. The Ducati Panigale V4 S was stable on its side, through the high-speed sweeper that is Turn 14, and nimble on its fast transitions through Turns 9, 10, and 11. Equally good on rights and lefts, this bike is a true ambi-turner.

Though it is not the fastest bike on its feet in the class (that would be the Honda CBR1000RR SP), the Ducati Panigale V4 S still has some moves, which should both surprise and please Ducatisti and liter-bike riders, alike.

While the Desmosedici Stradale motor is the star of the new Ducati Panigale V4 lineup, the chassis is perhaps the part that most Panigale riders were eager to see improvements upon. No worries here. The Ducati abides.

Electronics, The Secret Ingredient

The real surprise for me though was the electronics suite on the Ducati Panigale V4 S, both in terms of features, but also in execution. I often lament the poor interface designs that plague modern motorcycles, and it seems someone in Bologna was listening.

It is so easy to get around in the attractive 5″ TFT dash that Ducati uses, which is complimented by intuitive and easy-to-maneuver hand controls on the handlebar.

Whether you are sitting in the pit lane, or giving it full gas down the straight, Ducati has made it simple to change basic electronic settings…of which, there are many.

I will admit, there is a bit of feature overload here, when it comes to the electronics on the Ducati Panigale V4: power modes, traction control, slide control, wheelie control, engine braking control, up-and-down quickshifter, launch control, cornering ABS, and dynamic electronic suspension…oh my.

However, it is all easy to see and setup, with most of the settings changeable on the fly with one or two clicks of a button.

Rather than laundry list the electronics, most of which are established and easy to use, I want to call out a couple notable features.

First up, the Bosch-powered cornering ABS setup. The ABS 1 setting should be familiar to most superbike riders, with cornering ABS on the front wheel, while the rear wheel can be locked-up with the right foot lever.

With Bosch’s new algorithm, this system can provide a modest safety net for riders who trail-brake to the apex, which is a great feature to have for hardcore track day enthusiasts. I highly recommend it.

More interesting though is the ABS 2 setting, which has a bit more front wheel intervention (Ducati says you can panic brake a full lean, and not tuck the front…I did not test this statement, however), but now also includes a rear wheel slide control (ABS actuated), when you hammer down on the rear brake.

You have to be going at a pretty good clip, and give the bike some lean angle for it to work properly, but the concept is that now you too can look like a MotoGP hero, as you back it in to your favorite turn.

I am not sure how practical the rear wheel slide control is, as I think most riders who are capable of making that braking style work on the race track are also riders who already know how to do it the old-fashioned way.

But for the uninitiated, it provides not only a good margin of safety when it comes to high-siding from a locked rear wheel, while also providing a fun-factor to explore the limits of the machine with. However, what I am really waiting for is Ducati to bring this package to the supermoto-styled Hypermotard 939.

Moving onwards, Öhlins’s new edition of its electronic suspension is also worth a mention, though perhaps not for the reasons you would expect. There are two basic modes to the electronic suspension, fixed and dynamic, with the latter also being customizable to suit your preferences.

With the fixed mode on, you can setup your suspension just as you would on standard suspension components.

With the dynamic setting on however, you can let Öhlins do the driving, but you can also tailor the setting to reflect more your tastes (or weight, as my case may be), and this is where Panigale V4 S really shines.

Instead of treating the rider like they have a pit crew, describing suspension settings in terms of rebound, compression, and preload, Ducati breaks the suspension first down into duties – e.g. braking, mid-corner, acceleration, etc – and then offers adjustments on a scale that describes riding behavior and goals – e.g. more grip vs. more stability.

The whole process is very intuitive, while also being very granular, and it is the way all electronic suspension interfaces should operate. Other manufacturers should take note of this feature and interface…because now itis the new standard by which you will be rated.

As for the rest of the electronics suite, it works as advertised, and should be familiar in operation to anyone who has ridden a modern superbike.

I should mention one complaint though, as the quickshifter operation was a touch sensitive, which can catch out a wayward boot, as it did fo me and several other riders.

Conversely though, I was particularly impressed with the refinements that have come to Ducati’s wheelie control system, which now sees meaningful differences in the setting levels, rather than just increasing amounts of nanny-like interference.

The DWC now feels like a package that is helping you gain laptime, and not holding you back. Clearly the engineers in Borgo Panigale have been busy.

Settle Down Ducatisti

To be honest, it is hard to find major faults with the Ducati Panigale V4 S, as a machine at least. The pricing in the US is insane, and reflects both a weak euro and Ducati’s ever-increasing price tag philosophy.

And, I still come back to the cheating displacement of the engine, as my OCD longs for a true 1,000cc track bike from this iconic Italian brand.

That all being said though, it is hard to find faults with the Panigale V4’s design and execution. For my tastes, I would need new rearsets, tank grips (something I never use), and perhaps a new seat, all in the name of being better connected to the machine.

My left foot was always battling some sort of physical impingement on the bike, and on more than one hard-braking occasion did I find the front of the fuel tank far too rapidly.

For most riders, minding the turbine-revs of the V4 engine is going to be a chore, but it is something that gets easier and easier the harder you push the Ducati Panigale V4 on the race track. This isn’t unlike the Ducati 1299 Panigale, which came into its own the more you demanded from it.

My last disappointment is a subjective one, and it is apparent in the photos you see here. One really has to know their Ducatis and their superbikes to recognize the V4 model from its v-twin counterparts.

For such an opus of a machine, the Ducati Panigale V4 S is incredibly demure in its stature. On its own, it is an attractive motorcycle, just like its predecessor, but for a motorcycle that is so much better than the one that came before it, it barely stands out – visually, that is.

This feels like a miss in execution, and missed opportunity. I think there was a genuine fear in Bologna that the V4 superbike would be a bridge-too-far for the Italian brand, and the powers-that-be took the conservative path (ever reticent of the trials and tribulations of the 999 experiment).

As I told a few colleagues, this doesn’t feel like the machine. It feels like the machine that gets us to the machine – an intermediate step to something bigger and better.

Ducati has an interesting path ahead of it, that is for certain, and the Panigale V4 is the first brick in that path. I just wish it was a larger step forward. I think the brand, and its loyal owners, were capable and ready for it.

So Would You Buy It? And What About That Other Italian V4?

So we come to the $27,495 question: would I buy one? That is a tough question, considering the price premium that Ducati is commanding for its middle-trim superbike.

At the end of our press launch, my fellow journalists were already making early predictions that the Ducati Panigale V4 would be the superbike of the year, and while I feel that is an early title to bestow, the trappings are certainly there.

The Panigale V4’s closest rival is perhaps the Aprilia RSV4, which ranks highly within the moto-scribing ranks. Looking at the machines side-by-side, weighing the pros and cons, the Ducati scores impressively. It turns better, the electronics are better, and it makes more power.

That being said, I don’t think motorcycle engines get much better than the 200hp, 65°, V4 engine that resides in the Aprilia RSV4’s chassis. It feels more connected to the rider, and rewards the butt-dyno in its power delivery. 

I won’t crown a winner right here and now, but I see the argument like this: the Ducati looks to be the better machine, it should be after all, as the Aprilia design is essentially 10 years old now. But, when it comes to performance (or grins) per dollar, the Aprilia is making the better argument. 

To settle the score, we will have to explore this idea further with a head-to-head comparison, and I expect the results to be interesting. One thing is for certain though, the Ducati Panigale V4 S is the real deal.

If you want a shorter review, I will simply say that the new Panigale V4 is the finest superbike ever to come from Borgo Panigale, and it sets a new benchmark for the superbike category.

Other manufacturers are now going to be playing a game of catch-up to Ducati, because the bar in the superbike category has been raised.

Photos: Milagro