My first proper introduction to the Ducati Panigale V4 S happened in Spain, almost  four years go. Testing Ducati’s first proper four-cylinder superbike around the Valencia circuit was like witnessing a moment in history.

The Italian brand had slaughtered the last of its sacred cows, and laid them as tribute on the alter of speed – Ducati was serious about winning in WorldSBK, and had built a machine designed for that specific duty, with a whatever it takes attitude.

Our first outing with the Panigale V4 S showed that Ducati was on the right track. The bike was potent, not perfect, but potent.

Now here we are again, testing the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S at another Spanish race track, and I have to revisit those thoughts from my first meeting.

Potent? Yes, certainly. The 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S only hones the formula further in terms of on-track potency for the Italian brand’s superbike package.

But how close does this new Panigale V4 come to perfection? That is why we were in Jerez de la Frontera, to look for the unobtainable dream.

Our conclusion? For those who can afford to put one in their garage, the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S is two-wheeled nirvana. Let me explain.

But First, A Four-Minute Ducati Superbike History Lesson

I hate to tease out a review unnecessarily, but understanding a bike like the Panigale V4 requires the machine to be framed in the history that surrounds it, and Ducati has quite a history when it comes to superbikes.

While hardcore Ducatisti will probably disagree with what I am about to say, for me, the Ducati superbike story starts with the 916.

Massimo Tamburini’s design is an icon on two wheels, and it is as much two-wheeled art as it is a functional sporting machine. Most motorcycle enthusiasts can agree on this as an objective fact.

Subjectively in my opinion though, the 916 is the Ducati that made Ducati – Ducati.

The single-sided swingarm, trellis frame, undertail exhaust, dry clutch, and evocative styling moved Ducati from just another Italian motorcycle manufacturer into something more, and that is why we are starting here for this review.

With the Ducati 916 Superbike, you were no longer just buying a motorcycle – you were buying something more, and it was that “something more” that made little kids like myself put posters of Tamburini’s opus on their bedroom walls, staring with wonder.

Not wanting to lose the momentum found in this regard, the 916 gave way to the 996, and then the 998 machine. All masterpieces of form, and mostly function as well.

Along the way, a history of dominating the Superbike World Championship was also fostered, due to big name riders, strong machinery, and very favorable rules.

Bolstering Ducati’s racing pedigree in the modern age, the Ducati 999 Superbike was a technical masterpiece for the Italian brand, but it lost that “something more” quality that had defined Borgo Panigale’s efforts earlier.

I think the 999 is aging remarkably well, and there is a sort of “not appreciated during his time” element to Pierre Terblanche’s work that is starting to emerge, but the vocal backlash about the 999 from Ducatisti was palpable when the superbike first debuted. Motorcyclists, despite the image, are conservative in nature.

History will have the final say on the Ducati 999 Superbike, but the story about its successor has already been written. What came next was the Ducati 1098 Superbike, which was a rolling greatest hits album from the Italian brand.

Priced aggressively in the United States, the 1098 helped drive the US market as the leader in Ducati’s sales figures, and the Ducati 1098 Superbike restored whatever shaky faith there might have been in the Italian brand’s ability to make rolling pieces of art.

The 1098 grew to an 1198 with the changing WorldSBK regulations, which continued to attempt to balance the performance differences between v-twin and four-cylinder machines.

On the track, the 1098/1198 was a marvelous machine, full of character and speed, but any objective observer could tell that the Testastretta v-twin platform was always going to be a step behind its four-cylinder counterparts.

As a response, it was with the Ducati 1199 Panigale that we first saw the real effects of Ducati’s MotoGP program trickling into its production models.

If the 1098 was the “safe” bike for Ducati to create, in order to appease the ire of its loyal fans, then the 1199 was the trust-fall that came after that rebuilt relationship.

The iconic trellis frame gave way to a “frameless” chassis design that was riffed straight from Ducati’s MotoGP program. 

With a headstock mounted directly onto the front and rear cylinders, a subframe mounting to the rear cylinder, and a swingarm pivot built right into the engine casings, the Superquadro engine was as much a motor as it was a part of the chassis. 

Its frame-mounting design wasn’t the only radical departure from the past as well, as the Superquadro lived up to its “over-square” name, and was a true spinner.

In the 1199 iteration of the Superquadro motor, Ducati lost the down-low grunt that had made its v-twin motorcycles such a joy to ride, instead hoping to trade torque for revs and outright power.

It worked, the Ducati 1199 Panigale was a 195hp machine built for the race track, and in many ways it mimicked the inline-four machines it was trying to beat.

Peaky, with a narrow powerband, riding the Ducati 1199 Panigale took effort, both on and off the track.

Its next incarnation attempted to right this wrong, adding 1,285cc in displacement via a bigger bore (116mm), and in many ways this helped return the character of the v-twin power plant.

The Ducati 1299 Panigale was still a tough bike to ride though, at least, to ride slowly. But, the harder you pushed the Ducati 1299 Panigale, the better it got.

The only problem here was that you had to push it fairly hard to go from okay, to good, to great – which made the machine more an acquired taste than outright favorite.

While the Superquadro engine will probably go down in history as the greatest v-twin engine ever produced (it’s hard to imagine anyone else coaxing nearly 200hp / liter from a twin-cylinder motor ever again as we fade into an electric age), it was a racer’s engine through and through.

The debut of the Ducati Panigale V4 changed that though. The four-cylinder bike was tame (if that can be said about a 200hp motorcycle) at slower paces, but still potent and powerful when you turned up the wick. It was the best of both worlds.

The “forward frame” chassis, as it is now called, gave more feedback from the front-end as well, and of course Ducati continued to iterate on its electronics package. The Italians eventually included aerodynamic winglets as well, and the Pandora’s box that comes with them.

It is in this pursuit of perfection, the Italian factory has evolved the Panigale V4 to the machine we test today, which boasts a new aero package, MotoGP-inspired electronics, and a number of refinements meant to meld man and machine.

The 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S, By the Numbers

The superbike market is incredibly competitive and close – you can throw a blanket over just about all the entries from all the manufacturers, and find reasons to put them in your garage.

Divergences between Euro5 homologation and the EPA’s noise requirements are causing some interesting effects right now though, especially in the US market, in terms of what arrives versus what is touted on the spec-sheet at the press launch.

I suspect some fuss will be made about the Ducati Panigale V4 S making less horsepower in the 2022 model year 213hp (158.5 kW), compared to its 2021 counterpart, or the fact that the US-spec machine doesn’t get the full pop that is advertised.

But then again, it is hard to find a superbike manufacturer that isn’t having to bend the EPA’s will. The contest is now about how effective they are at making those choices, and playing to two different rulebooks.

As such, bikes like the Suzuki GSX-R1000 and BMW S1000RR are ruined in their US-spec. The Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP loses close to 40hp after it crosses the Pacific Ocean, as well, though Honda has done a better job of fooling the butt dyno than say BMW Motorrad.

So in that frame work, the (207hp / 154.5 kW) now quoted for the USA-bound Ducati Panigale V4 S in 2022 seems like a very modest concession, one that I doubt many riders will truly notice.

The rest of the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S is as advertised for the US market though, and for those owners who install the Akrapovic exhaust from the Ducati Performance catalog, an unrestricted 225hp and 11 lbs lighter machine awaits you with its 105 dB sound rating (102 dB if you install the dB killers).

At the curb, the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S weighs 438 lbs wet, which makes it one of the lightest non-carbon superbikes on the market, beat only by the Ducati Panigale V4 R (425 lbs)…and the earlier Panigale V4 S model years, which were 2 lbs lighter.

With a bevy of chassis changes coming to the 2022 model year, it is a death by a thousand cuts where that extra 2 lbs finds itself now on the Ducati Panigale V4 S, but this is where spec-sheet racers need a lesson in reality.

Bologna’s focus for the Ducati Panigale V4 S is on the total package, with an emphasis on making the red machine easier for riders to handle on the race track.

The fuel tanks is wider through the legs, and the rear of the seat is flatter and made from a grippier cover – both done in the name of helping the rider grip the bike during braking, and finding it easier to tuck when twisting the throttle all the way to the stop.

The gearbox has been changed, again for less work on the race track, with first, second, and sixth gear all made taller.

The result is a first gear that you can actually use on a race track, a second gear that is closer to third (making for smoothing shifts), and a sixth gear that gives a higher top speed.

The swingarm pivot has been raised 4mm, for more anti-squat on the gas, which helps the Panigale V4 stay on-line when accelerating out of a corner.

The front forks have an extra 5mm of suspension travel (125mm in total), and now include a softer spring. The result is more front-end feel, a shorter rake angle when the forks are fully compressed, and more grip to the front tire.

The aerodynamic winglets have been modified into a two-element wing design, which produces the same amount of downforce (30kg at 270 km/h), with less drag effect.

The bellypan has also been modified, with dual gill slits on each side, which flow 6% more air through the oil-cooler.

There are also a number of slits on the bottom of the bellypan, to help heat escape the bellypan and aid in aerodynamic flow, which includes some cooling effect for the bike’s quickshift sensor.

On the Panigale V4 S model, the semi-active Öhlins suspension gets an upgrade, with pressurized fork cartridges featuring in the NPX25/30 forks, which reduces hydraulic cavitation.

The Panigale V4 S also benefits from forged aluminum wheels from Marchesini, while both trims levels get Brembo Stylema calipers at the front.

While every country will see the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 with a new engine calibration, our European readers can expect to see the machine with a few more changes.

As such, the European edition of the new Ducati Panigale V4 sees its exhaust outlets increased by 18% for less exhaust back pressure. Also, the oil pump and oil circuits have also been changed for reduced power loss.

All lighting is LED, including the signature daylight running lights, while the TFT dash measures five inches diagonally.

Going Slow, And Intangible Thoughts

For as much as spec-sheet comparisons dominate the conversation when it comes to new motorcycles, the litmus test for me always comes down to whether a bike beckons from the garage for me to ride it. 

I am talking about a subjective quality that involves an inanimate object injecting a visceral feeling into one’s psyche. That’s a long-winded description for what can more aptly be called “product lust”.

However you want to call it, the connection between human and machine is perhaps the most important element when it comes to motorcycle ownership, even if it is one of the less-talked-about qualities. 

But let’s look at the tangible things that create these feelings, because after all there has to be a physical property that allows an object to have non-physical effects on us.

Long-time A&R readers will know that I have a strange fixation with dash layouts and switchgear actuation. These fall into the category of user experience (UX), which is what creates these connections between man and machine. 

It is refreshing to see that my words haven’t been blowing in the wind, as Ducati has taken the concept to heart, and spent a considerable amount of time working on the connection between the rider and motorcycle, and how these two interact with each other.

They even got some help in this regard from their four-wheeled overlords.

Looking at the new Panigale V4 S, we see the same familiar backlit switchgear that is prominent on a number of Ducati’s high-end models, including the Multistrada V4. 

Each button has a positive movement and click when you engage it through your thick leather gloves. Their layout is intuitive, and moving settings can easily be achieved without the need for a manual.

Furthermore, the dash is a large TFT screen that is bright in the daylight and resistant to scratches. It is here where Ducati has made some big changes to the UX of the Panigale V4 S.

The LED lights at the top of the dash now function as a shift light, blinking green as you get close to the shift point, and red when you are there.

These used to be amber indicators for when the electronics package was working its magic, but that duty has moved to the TFT screen.

Part of the reason is because of the rider’s eyeline, but Ducati also notes that LEDs are faster than a TFT dash, and when it comes to shifting, a millisecond or two can mean the difference of hitting the rev-limiter or not. This is all about function.

A quick glance down to the Track EVO dash, and the largest number you see is the gear indicator, as it should be. 

The tachometer is at the top, again right near your eyeline and close to an inch thick with its creeping bar to the redline, as it should be.

Speed, lap times, ABS status etc are relegated to the left-hand side of the dash, and while they are big enough to discern while riding the bike, they take more time to process, as they should be.

Easier to read is the four different electronics settings that are switchable while riding: traction control, wheelie control, slide control, and engine brake control.

Each individual rider aid becomes highlighted on the dash as it intervenes, cluing the rider into what the algorithm is tossing his or her way.

What was cutting power as you exiting that last turn? Was it too much traction control or wheelie control? Now you know, as it should be.

The whole dash interface, from its displaying of information, to the adjustment of settings that are hidden a menu away, are laid out in a way that is easy to read and understand, and for how simple that sounds, it is a true rarity in this space, especially as superbikes continue to get more complex with their electronics.

I can go on, and tell you about how straight-forward the Öhlins electronic semi-active suspension is in this regard, but I have already waxed poetic in my previous Panigale V4 review, as well as with the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory.

To make things succinct, Ducati has built an electronics package that humans can use, not engineers.

And at the end of the day, all the electronics, clever math, and fanzy gizmos don’t mean spaghetti if the rider can’t use them or doesn’t know how without reading a PhD dissertation. Are you reading this, BMW HP4 Race designers?

So why am I wasting words about dash layouts, switches, and menu settings? It’s because the details matter when you are in the $30,000 price range, and no other brand except for Ducati has figured out how to bring a truly polished superbike to market – not at this level.

When you stand next to the Ducati Panigale V4 S in person, you see smooth lines, not fasteners. The whole bike looks like it was sculpted by flowing water, like a rock after a millennium in a river. It feels expensive.

It feels expensive, not because it is expensive, but because the Borgo Panigale factory has built something of quality that is a step above the rest.

Take aside its on-track performance (I’m getting to that in a minute, hold your horses), and just consider how many $25,000 motorcycles are on the market right now, how expensive that means superbikes have become, and how many of those machines actually feel like they are worth their sticker price.

I am a notoriously value-focused purchaser, and even my frugal tastes can see how this $30,000 motorcycle feels like a better buy than some of the “cheaper” bikes in the category.

This might be my first Ducati review where I don’t hammer the Italian brand on its pricing strategy, as the “Ducati tax” means more than just the cost of the sticker on the side of the fairing.

This is a true luxury machine…and it is a luxury machine with some legs on it.

Going Faster, Not Harder, Better, Not Stronger

Ducati said at the outset of their debut that the new Panigale V4 for 2022 was designed to be an easier bike to ride.

Let’s just be real clear, there is nothing “easy” about riding a 200hp modern superbike, not if you want to extract the machine’s full potential – which is going to be a tall order for even fast-paced track riders.

There is NASA space shuttle’s worth of electronics on the Ducati Panigale V4 S to keep the motorcycle in shape, managing the tire spin, the wheelies, the braking forces, the lean angles, and so on.

But, there is still nothing easy about riding the Ducati Panigale V4 S, or any other superbike, for that matter. Every session is a battle of attrition. You versus the machine, and the machine always wins.

For those with less sadistic tendencies, read no further – Ducati already offers a sport bike that’s more fun on the track than the Panigale V4 S – it’s called the Panigale V2, and it costs almost half as much as this red demon. Go buy that – you will thank me.

Are you still with me, you sick bastards? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I will not claim to say that the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S solves the inherent problem that faces this entire category, which is to say that mere mortals can extract the full potential of this machine.

I am a professional motorcycle tester, and at Jerez I watched first-hand two MotoGP riders carve 20 seconds a lap off my best lap time. The physics of that blows my mind.

Maybe with a few more sessions (and drier weather), I could reclaim a couple seconds of dignity in that statement, but the end-result is the same. I am just never going to be that good…and neither are you.

But, that doesn’t mean one can’t have a good time trying, and that is where we pick back up in this review.

If Ducati’s stated goal was to make the Panigale V4 easier to ride with its 2022 edition, then a hat-tip to them in achieving that goal.

Out of all the journalists invited to the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 launch, I am in the unique position of being the least in shape – after six months of nursing a shoulder injury, going through surgery, and immobilizing half my body for another two months, I am a duller version of my usually sharper riding self.

I thought about this at the end of the day’s riding. Up until this month, I could count on one hand the number of track laps I had turned this year, but yet, I wasn’t huffing and puffing. My legs weren’t tired. My arms felt fine. I dare say, I wasn’t tired.

It’s not like Jerez is an easy circuit, either. There are five heavy braking zones, three points where you have to wrestle the front wheel of a superbike to the ground, a slew of fast corners, a number of slow corners, and it seems all of them are technical corners.

Jerez is a workout. So why is it that after five track sessions that a sixth or seventh felt like no problem? Put me in coach, I’m ready!

I even came back into the pits after our first session and asked the Ducati press officer if the wind shield was a stock (the whole bike was, and the only setting fiddled with was four turns of preload on the front forks), as it seemed like even my broad shoulders and long torso were more out of the wind. Everything seemed easier.

I can’t point to any of the changes that Ducati has made to the ergonomics or electronics on the new Panigale V4 and say “this is the reason why this bike is easier to ride” – all I can say is that my body should have been much, much more tired than it was at the end of this day.

I still think that the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S should come with a gym membership and personal trainer (especially for the price), but the pains that the Italian brand has gone through to make this a motorcycle you can actually use, they are showing results.

The new Öhlins fork setup, with its longer travel and softer spring (not to mention use of a pressurized cartridge) is another change with noticeable differences.

While there are bikes in the category that eclipse the Ducati on front-end feel, the Italian brand has made a notable improvements in this regard, which previously has been the biggest complaint levied against Ducati’s creation.

The 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S isn’t a vague machine, and with the mounted Pirelli Diablo Superbike slicks (SC1 compound, front and rear) it speaks plain English on how much grip is available to the rider.

Those who passed on the Italian for this reason in the past owe it to themselves to give it another try.

I wasn’t the only journalist on this trip who was surprised at the progress made here by Ducati, though you might have to wait a little longer to read the same conclusion in their reviews.

Out of the other major changes for 2022, I have already raved about the layout of the new Track EVO dash setup, and its clear that Ducati’s electronic settings get only better with each iteration.

The Italian firm has spent a great deal of time and effort on their new engine calibration, which includes specific torque maps for each gear.

On top of that, there are three “full power” throttle maps to choose from, and while I didn’t find the differences between them to be as stark as Ducati claimed them to be, I will say that the “Full” power setting definitely reminds you that there is over 200hp between your legs. Pucker-up buttercup, and hold on.

With so many settings, and so little time in a single day of riding, I didn’t get as much time to play with the electronic suspension setup as much as I would have liked.

I spent the entire time in the “Dynamic” mode of the Öhlins SMART 2.0 EC suspension components, which isn’t something I normally like to do, as I typically prefer to use the manual adjustments in the “Fixed’ suspension mode.

I am trying to grow as a person though, and wanted to see what sort of torture I could put these Swedish pieces through, and came away mostly impressed.

Instead of the “different bike at every turn” feeling that normally comes with such a setup, the calibration seems to have taken another step forward.

The upside is Ducati/Öhlins make it very easy and straightforward to tame the Panigale V4 S into what you need, which right out of the gate was a bike with more rear stability, as it was prone to headshake on acceleration.

Oddly enough, I had the same issue in 2018 with the original model. The semi-active suspension pieces make it easy enough to fix, however.

The interface is in plain English, for those who don’t speak crew chief, and with a couple clicks of the toggles switches, you can completely change your bike setup.

For those with a more technical knowledge, you will probably prefer still mechanical suspension pieces, which is part of the reason why you see them on the Superleggera V4 and Panigale V4 R, as there is an expectation that those owners know what they’re doing in the pits as well as on the track.

But I will say, there is some value in being able to make quick suspension changes in the hot pits, with your gear still on, in a track environment.

One can probably dial in a Ducati Panigale V4 S in a single session because of this feature, and there is value in that.

I did find that I was close to maxing out some of the damping settings in the “Dynamic” mode, wishing for more ticks on the gauge to get the ride where I wanted.

If I had another day, I wouldn’t mind seeing where the limits of the “Fixed” mode took me in this regard, and how close to feeling like a race bike we could make the Panigale V4 S for my tastes.

Having met Ducati’s test riders, I can affirm that a 6’2″ / 220 lbs American they are not, so my only worry here is that Ducati might have a slight blind eye some of North America’s more prevalent body types. I could be wrong here too.

Getting things setup to a “good enough” level of satisfaction for our final session, “Full” power engaged, with a modest amount of traction control and even less wheelie control, the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S proved itself to be a potent weapon on the happy hunting grounds of the Jerez circuit.

Beauty, brains, and brawn. This Ducati is a triple threat. I am sure that few bikes purchased will remain stock, but it is hard to think of what one would change about the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S.

Asked for our opinions after the testing session, my usual critical self had a hard time searching for negatives to share. “It’s pretty okay,” my typical response.

Sure, any bike can be lighter. And who wouldn’t want more roll rate, more stability, better brakes, and so on. But, this is a bike without any glaring weaknesses. More color choices, maybe?

In more ways than one, the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S has become the reference point in the superbike category.

Bologna’s competitors will have a hard time making a faster superbike than the Ducati Panigale V4 S; they will have a hard time making a more refined and polished motorcycle than the Ducati Panigale V4 S; and they will have a hard time making a more beautiful motorcycle than the Ducati Panigale V4 S.

But, the truly difficult task that Ducati’s competitors now have before them is making a bike that can outshine the superlative Ducati Panigale V4 S in all three of those categories – at the same time.

Yeah, But Would You Buy It?

Ah yes, the $30,000 question. Would I buy a 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S with my hard-earned blogging dollars? Is it enough that this iteration of the Ducati Panigale V4 S is the best version of this machine yet from the Italian brand? Because it is.

Is it enough that the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S is the best, most refined, easiest to use Ducati superbike ever made in Borgo Panigale?  Because it is.

I think the question you scrolled down to find in this section though is how the Ducati Panigale V4 S compares to its peers, perhaps most specifically the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory.

That is always a tough question, as I like both bikes quite a bit.

The Italian brands run the show in the superbike category at the consumer level, and are making a class of machine that is on another level compared to what comes from Japan, and at level of refinement and sophistication that beats anything else coming from Europe.

What I have always liked about the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, and still do to this day, is how potent that package has remained over its decade of production, with a fairly affordable price tag.

Whereas the Suzuki GSX-R1000 would be my budget pick for getting a superbike in your garage, the Aprilia RSV4 has always been my value buy – especially in its base model form.

At $17,000 MSRP, the Aprilia RSV4 1100 has plenty of meat on the bones in terms of features, and can go toe-to-toe with bikes that cost nearly double its price tag, including the Factory version. But what if you want more?

I included in this review a section about the look and feel of the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S because side-by-side, an Aprilia is not a Ducati – none of the other brands come with the same polish, fit and finish, refinement, and poise that comes now with a Ducati superbike.

Bologna is on another level in the premium category. They are teaching a masterclass on luxury at speed, and should be considered the benchmark when it comes to style, user interface, and owner experience.

At $30,000 MSRP, I would expect some readers to see my “value focus” to shine through, but with “only” a $4,000 delta to the Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory, the Ducati Panigale V4 S doesn’t seem to be that off with its price tag.

Is there $4,000 of value between the Ducati and Aprilia? I think there is, but I think there is some room for reasonable minds to disagree.

I will save objective statements that one bikes is faster than the other for when I can have two machines, of US spec, at the track at the same time.

I know too well that what is launched in Europe can change when it enters American borders, so I will refain to lay claim to a superlative winner in this category, but I do know it is very, very close.

That being said, the Panigale V4 has come a long way since its initial launch, and a quick straw vote at a dinner table full of journalists afterwards saw many hands leaning towards the bike from Bologna, my own included.

The current Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory is a great pick if you want a superbike in your garage. But, the 2022 Ducati Panigale V4 S is what you should buy if you want something more. The big red hype is real.

Photos: © 2021 Alex Photo / Ducati – All Rights Reserved