What Its Like to Ride the Ducati Panigale V2, A Review

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It has been four years since the Ducati 959 Panigale replaced the 899 as the Italian brand’s “middleweight” superbike, and 26 years since the Ducati 748 Superbike first hit the streets, and started this smaller Italian v-twin adventure.

In that two-decades-plus, we have seen this middleweight offering from Ducati outgrow the Supersport Championship rules, and it now approaches near liter-bike capacities – an inch-by-inch search for more power and performance.

Updated once again for the 2020 model year, it will be the Ducati Panigale V2 keeping those v-twin hopes alive for Ducatisti around the world, as the Italian brand continues to offer this curious motorcycle.

Of course, better minds will know that the Ducati Panigale V2 is not a middleweight, as Ducati so often calls it (though to be fair, the term “super-mid” is starting to be used), but the oddly displaced machine is an excellent track bike, especially for those who have grown tired of chasing absolute horsepower, and instead want to make their lap times with actual on-bike talent. 

Finding ourselves at the demanding Jerez circuit in Spain, this tight and technical track proved not only to be a good testing ground for the Ducati Panigale V2, but also a testament into how much fun a superbike like this v-twin can be for those who aren’t swept up in the industry marketing and who aren’t hand-bound by racing rules.

The Track Weapon Sales Pitch

Here is a secret I will share with you: I don’t find myself enjoying superbikes as much as I used to…and that is an interesting statement from a “superbike guy” like myself.

The trend is larger than my own personal preferences though, and in many ways, the Ducati Panigale V2 is a reaction to what is happening in the superbike category.

As the power on these one-liter machines climbs beyond 200hp, the segment increasingly relies on electronics to make the bikes rideable, which detracts from the experience.

These fire-breathers also demand more from the riders themselves. Not only are the physical demands larger for wrestling around these machines, but so are the mental demands that require extracting the total potential of a 200hp motorcycle.

While there is reward in mastering the un-masterable, the fun factor drops when you get too far beyond 150hp, and the dropoff on that curve is quite steep.

This is where bikes like the Ducati Panigale V2 come into play, and offer riders a performance machine that makes superbikes great again.

Built with a unique v-twin, that helps play into the long history that Ducati has with this engine configuration, and shipped with true superbike electronics, the Panigale V2 makes for an intriguing offer, and it is designed to go after a more selecting type of customer: the average track day enthusiast.

This has been the pitch from the Italian brand since the Ducati 899 Panigale first arrived, and while it has remained the same through time to where we are now with the Ducati Panigale V2, the idea is now even more relevant because of what has developed in the liter-bike space.

Can We Call It a 959+ ???

In a way, it is the 200hp superbike category that has carved the Panigale V2 from the 959 Panigale.

The most important changes that come with the Ducati Panigale V2 are those that are tougher to see, and the highlight of those has to be the inclusion of a six-axis IMU.

This simple device gives the Panigale V2 state-of-the-art electronics, which includes a cornering ABS package that has the rear-wheel slide feature. And yes, you can disable ABS on the rear wheel, and rear-wheel lift mitigation for the front wheel…as it should be.

The six-axis IMU also enhances the traction control feature, letting the rear wheel slide when you are on the gas, with confidence and control. With that comes a separate and distinct wheelie control system, which is a welcomed addition to the v-twin superbike. Sadly, there is no separate slide control feature.

But, other electronics include Ducati’s engine braking control feature, which is useful on the Superquadro engine (we prefer Level 3), and the up/down quickshifter, which was absolutely flawless during our testing time.

Lastly on the electronics front is the new 4.3” TFT dash, which should be familiar to anyone who has ridden one of Ducati’s bigger bikes recently. Though not as big as the 6” units that are coming out now from other brands (see: KTM and BMW), it still gets the job done reasonably well.

Other enhancements for the the 2020 model year include a thicker seat (+5mm), which keeps the seat height the same, but narrows the leg gap when your feet are on the ground. 

As you might have noticed, the single-sided swingarm has been added for the first time since the 848 to “middleweight” machine from Ducati, and of course the “double layer” fairings are inspired by those on the Panigale V4. Ducati says that the front-wheel weight bias has increase by 1%, to 52/48.

Our European readers will be happy to hear that the exhaust has been changed for 2020 as well, with the underslung design homologated for all markets, not just the USA, which means saying goodbye to the ugly shotgun unit that came on the Ducati 959 Panigale.

The biggest change though is the one most overlooked one by the common rider, and that is the 955cc v-twin engine. Making now 153hp (114 kW), this 5hp increase to the peak power figure comes in spite of Ducati shipping the Panigale V2 as a Euro5 compliant motorcycle.

With the more stringent emission standards that are here and also coming down the pipe, OEMs will be struggling to maintain power numbers, without adding displacement. Ducati on the other hand has found a way to make the “mini” Superquadro engine quieter and more powerful at the same time, which isn’t easy to do.

To achieve this, Ducati used a more efficient air intake into the airbox, and employed new injectors that have a higher flow rate and different angle of injection. 

As you can see then, this is really the Ducati 959 Panigale evolved further to become the Ducati Panigale V2…but the Italian brand has made these evolutions in very key areas of the motorcycle, and they are more than their sum when it comes to real-world value.

How It Rides

After describing the the changes for 2020, I could probably keep this review quite short. The Ducati Panigale V2 is exactly what it is.

It is a Ducati 959 Panigale with V4 clothing. It is the old model, but with more and better electronics. It is the “cheaper” offering in the superbike line, but now with a single-sided swingarm.

If you reduce the Panigale V2 to those thoughts though, you do a disservice to what Ducati has achieved with this motorcycle because at its core, the Ducati Panigale V2 is a track bike for the track day connoisseur.

The 153hp ( kW) Superquadro v-twin engine has a meaty powerband from 9,000 rpm to 11,000 rpm that gives you a big window of operation when it comes not only to track riding, but also on the street.

The torque curve is so flat, that you actually lose the acceleration rush that comes from a rumbling engine finally waking up.

This can make it a little tough to tell where you are on the rev range from the butt dyno, but makes the machine very smooth to operate, and it doesn’t try to wheelie when ever the throttle rotates more than one degreee.

For a criticism, that smoothness does venture into the subdued at points, but I would graciously take that over the inverse, which is part of the ethos surrounding the Panigale V2.

As you would expect with the six-axis IMU and the lower horsepower engine, the electronics really work in concert with the machine, thanks to the work Ducati has made in its development with the Panigale V4.

Because  the 955cc v-twin engine doesn’t breath the same fire as the 1,103 V4, you see the interventions from the traction control and wheelie control less often, which gives you more of the impression that you are riding the machine, rather than the computer making your lap time.

This make the two-wheeled experience more enjoyable, and because of the power figures, you don’t fatigue as much on the bike. Despite the workout that is the Jerez circuit, with its plethora of heavy-braking zones, the Ducati Panigale V2 feels like a bike I could ride all day.

Ducati has left no stone unturned on this mild update to the machine (let’s call it the third-generation of the “middleweight” Superquadro machines), but yet the chassis remains unchanged.

The monocoque frame on the 959 always worked a bit better than it did on the 1299 version, again because of the power differences between the machines, so this obviously remains true.

Coupled with fully adjustable Showa BPF forks and a Sachs rear shock, the chassis feels good on the track, though it isn’t as precise in its cornering and turning as say some of the 600cc inline-four bikes on the market. Road-going riders might see this as a positive trade off, however, with the Panigale V2 more supple for canyon riding.

Riders might scuff at the “low-spec” Brembo M4.32 calipers on the front-end of the Panigale V2, but the braking system put together by the Italian brand is more than sufficient to get the job done.

Intriguing to our eye was the fact that Ducati has put the a 180/60 sized rear tire on the Panigale V2, which provides ample grip when leaned over, though at the cost for a slower roll speed. It would be interesting to see what a 180/55 option feels like on the Ducati, and if this would help improve the slightly sluggish handling of the v-twin superbike.

Slightly tighter in its ergonomics than the Panigale V4, the bike at times does feel a little cramped, especially from the torso up on this 6’2″ rider, but at the end of a long day at the track one does clearly benefit from the 5mm thicker seat.

All-in-all, the Ducati Panigale V2 feels like a robust package for track riders…and it should, since Ducati has been perfecting this motorcycle for several generations now.

The power delivery is enough to excite, but not overwhelm; the handling is solid though not sharp; and the components are sufficient but not flashy. Is this the latest a greatest? Not quite, but its very close…and very approachable. Most importantly though, the Ducati Panigale V2 is fun to ride. 

We spent five sessions on the Panigale V2 (which is more than normal at a press launch), and I still wish Ducati had given us more, as I wasn’t done enjoying this bike for the day…and that’s the true test of any motorcycle.

Yeah, But Would You Buy It

When I look at the space for this odd segment, four bikes come to mind. There is the Ducati Panigale V2, obviously. But, there is also the stout MV Agusta F3 800, the newly released Triumph Daytona Moto2 765, and the venerable Suzuki GSX-R750.

Despite starting this segment so many years ago, sadly Suzuki has yet to bring a meaningful update to the GSX-R750, though there have been creditable rumors. So while it is in the space, it is not sensible to throw its keys into the ring as a reasonable competitor against the Ducati Panigale V2. The other two bikes, however…

For the Triumph, it will be a game of wait-and-see, as the British brand hasn’t released figures on pricing just yet. Rumors peg the limited edition machine at close to $20,000 MSRP, however, and if that its the case, then the Moto2-inspired machine will have some difficulties.

Down in power in comparison to the others, and decidedly bland in what could have been an intriguing approach, the Triumph Daytona Moto2 765 feels like far too little, far too late, from Hinckley. The potential for a Moto2 bike with lights is certainly intriguing, but instead we go the old Daytona with a massaged motor and expensive graphics.

This really leaves the MV Agusta F3 800 to give the Ducati Panigale V2 a run for its money, and that is a formidable opponent.

We rate the F3 800 as one of our favorite bikes on the market, with the 800cc three-cylinder engine providing good power and torque from a unique engine package.

It doesn’t hurt that the MV Agusta F3 800 is perhaps one of the best looking motorcycles produced in the past 20 years as well.

Despite the $500 premium the MV Agusta has over the Ducati though, the F3 800 feels like a less-refined package than its Italian counterpart. The MV Agusta F3 800 is more raw of bike from the handlebars back, which can be a positive contrast to how subdued the Panigale V2 feels.

But from the handlebars forward, you can see the age of the F3 lineup. Ducati continues to set the standard when it comes to human interface design, and it shows in its approachable dash, easy to navigate menus, and precise finger controls.

To put it simply, Ducati has put into the Panigale V2 the level of refinement expected at this price point, where perhaps the others have not. The price point is something of an issue though.

At $16,495 MSRP, the Ducati Panigale V2 is not a cheap motorcycle by any standard, and that price represents a $1,000 increase over the base 959 model from 2019.

Do you get more for your money? Absolutely, and frankly, I would expect only top-shelf electronics from Ducati on a motorcycle  like the Panigale V2, which does get a benefit in safety and ridability from its six-axis IMU.

Noticeably, Ducati has left enough breathing room in the pricing distance to the Panigale V4 for an up-spec Panigale V2 S to find a home, perhaps in 2021, which could feature Öhlins suspension pieces and Stylema calipers from Brembo ($18,500 to $19,000 MSRP would be my suggestion) – not that the bike really needs those items, of course.

Ducati has also left space south of the Panigale V2 price tag, and this is what intrigues me the most.

The complaint I have with the Ducati Panigale V2 – the point that keeps me from really loving this motorcycle – is that this near-superbike motorcycle comes with a near-superbike price tag…and superbikes have gotten properly expensive in the past few years.

As such, Ducati has priced a meaningful portion of its younger superbike-loving owners out of this motorcycle (not to mention the insurance costs that increase as the displacement does), and it offers them no alternative but to find a home in rival brand Aprilia, with its recently debuted its twin-cylinder RS 660 sport bike.

Faultless, the Panigale V2 only really makes sense when you see the whole board from Ducati’s perspective, and if a true high-revving middleweight is also in the Italian brand’s quiver of two-wheeled offerings, then the Panigale V2 fills an important spot in the lineup.

As it remains, the Ducati Panigale V2 remains the only v-twin superbike on the market, and it is a superbike that you can actually enjoy riding.

When you outgrow the spec-sheet racing that comes with the superbike bike class, and the marketing hype of 200+ horsepower, Ducati has the Panigale V2 waiting for you, and it is truly a bike built to reward two-wheeled enthusiasts.

Photos from the Ducati Panigale V2 Press Launch at Jerez:

Photos: Milagro