Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Aprilia’s World Superbike challenge has faded in recent seasons but the RSV4 street bike that formed the basis for three WSBK championship victories in five years up to 2014 has continued to shine. The ultra-powerful and compact 999cc V4 has remained arguably the most pure-bred, track-ready and simply quickest mass-produced sports bike on the planet.
Ducati’s soon-to-be-released Panigale V4 looks set to mount a serious challenge but it will need to be mighty good to surpass an Aprilia that dates back to 2009. Several updates since then have fine-tuned the flagship RSV4 RF – the “F” standing for Factory, Aprilia’s traditional code for the top-specification version – without reducing its track focus one iota.
The RSV4’s key has always been the way its ultra-compact, 65-degree V4 engine is shoehorned into a light, rigid and supremely adjustable aluminium-framed chassis. And then wrapped in a similarly minuscule and racer-like set of bodywork that works better the faster the bike goes. That format remains, following last year’s engine and exhaust tweaks that got the Aprilia through Euro4 regulations with no change to its maximum output of 201bhp.
With its racer-like “Superpole” graphics the RF looks as though it has been wheeled straight off a World Superbike grid, and it has the chassis to match. The current model features updated Öhlins suspension, forged aluminium wheels and a state-of-the-art brake system incorporating bigger front discs, Brembo’s top M50 monobloc calipers and cornering ABS.
Outrageous straight-line speed is a given with 200-odd horsepower to play with, especially when backed by controllability and cutting-edge electronics. The Aprilia’s power delivery and rasping sound are spine-tingling; its ferocious acceleration is matched by the ride-enhancing sophistication of its traction control, anti-wheelie and other functions, including an updated quick-shifter that works in both directions through the gearbox.
Aprilia claims the RSV4 RF is typically a second a lap quicker than the previous model on track. The gap to almost every other bike is bigger. On the road, the RF is thrilling if hardcore, its aggressive riding position, compact dimensions and taut, supremely well-controlled suspension making for an uncompromising ride. The fact that Aprilia declined to fit semi-active suspension because it didn’t benefit lap times sums up the RSV4 RF.
Speed and agility are the Aprilia’s greatest strengths but its V4 charm and air of quality are not far behind. This model adds a colourful TFT screen and uprated switchgear to its predecessor’s pulse-quickening view of low screen and Öhlins fork-tops. There’s cruise control for the motorway; a pit lane limiter for the track. If your preference is the latter, an optional race kit takes peak output to 215bhp.
Others might be more interested to learn that for 2018 the RF is belatedly joined by the only slightly less lavishly equipped RSV4 RR model, which features Sachs suspension and cast wheels, and costs £15,599 to the RF’s £19,999. Ninety-five per cent of the performance for nearer three-quarters of the price sounds like a tempting deal. Either way, Aprilia’s supremely refined race-replica sets the V4 sports bike bar mighty high.