Two strands of Ducati’s history come together to create the remarkable Panigale V4. This latest red rocket succeeds the 1299 Panigale, the last in a line of V-twins that stretches back, via 1098, 916 and 851, all the way to the air-cooled 900 and 750 Super Sport that forged the Bologna firm’s reputation for fast and glamorous superbikes in the Seventies.
But the Panigale V4 is different: the first of a new breed of four-cylinder flagships. It’s powered by an 1103cc, quad-cam V4, with desmodromic valve operation. The engine layout follows that of the Desmosedici raced in MotoGP (Andrea Dovizioso came second in last year’s championship), and the street-legal Desmosedici RR that was produced in small numbers from 2007.
With its sleek, shark-like bodywork and scarlet finish (there’s also a limited-edition Speciale version in patriotic red-white-green), the V4 is very much a Panigale. But that powerplant was shaped in MotoGP. The 16-valve unit shares the Desmosedici racer’s combustion chamber shape, 90-degree cylinder angle, contra-rotating crankshaft layout and irregular firing order.
Chassis design also comes straight from the racetrack, being based on an aluminium “front frame” created using Ducati’s MotoGP-derived knowledge of the precise rigidity required in each direction. The suspension comprises conventional units from Showa and Sachs or, in case of the upmarket Panigale V4 S (and Speciale), Öhlins’ Smart EC semi-active system. Other high-level components include Brembo’s Stylema front brake callipers.
Inevitably, straight-line speed is one of the biggest assets of a machine that generates a maximum of 211bhp at 13,000rpm with storming midrange. The Panigale thunders towards its 190mph-or-so top speed at a ferocious rate, its pace enhanced by sublime throttle response and cutting-edge electronics including anti-wheelie, traction control and a new slide control function.
Its chassis is arguably even more outstanding. The V4’s MotoGP-honed combination of weight distribution, frame stiffness and suspension quality gives it an edge over the 1299 Panigale in steering accuracy and cornering poise, despite being slightly heavier and more powerful. The contra-rotating crankshaft (wheels turn in the opposite direction to the crank) reduces inertia and helps keep the front wheel down under acceleration.
Ducati’s decision to abandon tradition and turn from V-twin to V4 was a huge call. The Panigale’s blend of blistering pace and sublime control confirms that it was the right one. All that hard-earned MotoGP knowledge has helped create a stunning bike that is not just faster than its predecessor but also easier to ride.
As a bonus, the V4 matches its retained Panigale looks with a distinctive, Ducati-like sound and feel, thanks to the irregular firing order that has much in common with a V-twin. There’s an air of quality too, from features including colourful TFT screen, two-way quick-shifter and, in the V4 S test bike’s case, forged Marchesini wheels. The Panigale V4 doesn’t merely start a new era for Ducati, it goes straight to the front of the superbike pack.
Price tag of our Panigale V4 S: £23,895. (standard Panigale V4 £19,250; Panigale V4 Speciale £34,995)