Other than Harley-Davidson and perhaps Moto Guzzi, no motorcycle manufacturer is as closely tied to the V-twin engine architecture as Ducati. But engineering realities will not bend to marketing plans, so for 2018 Ducati has unveiled its first mass-production sport bike with a four-cylinder engine, the Panigale V4.
Ducati has promised this new flagship sport bike for quite some time, and showed the Stradale engine earlier this fall. Today, CEO Claudio Domenicali unveiled the new motorcycle on the eve of the EICMA show in Italy.
The Panigale V4 borrows from the Desmosedici GP MotoGP bike in several ways, starting with the same 81 mm bore, which allows the engineers to use what they’ve learned in building the cylinder heads on the race engine. Ducati may have departed from its long history of V-twin street bikes, but it still has the desmodromic valves, four per cylinder. Domenicali said the new 90-degree, 1,103 cc V-four Stradale engine makes 214 horsepower and gives the Panigale V4 a 0.59 horsepower-to-dry-weight ratio. (See Ducati's full spec sheet here.) That's 17 more horsepower than the Panigale 1299 it replaces, despite the lower displacement.
But before we get power-drunk and ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning. There will be three versions of the motorcycle for 2018, with an S and a Speciale in addition to the base Panigale V4. The S adds Öhlins suspension with the Smart EC 2.0 electronic adjustment system and forged aluminum wheels. Then there’s the limited-edition Speciale, which gets its own look, special machined components and an Akrapovic titanium exhaust. In the live presentation (you can watch the entire video on YouTube), Domenicali said 1,500 copies of the Speciale will be built and the limited edition will make 12 more horsepower and weigh 22 pounds less, largely due to the exhaust. Current Ducati test rider — and still the only man to win a MotoGP championship on a Ducati — Casey Stoner rode a Speciale onto the stage.
In addition to the general architecture and bore, the Stradale engine borrows other details from the MotoGP bike, such as its counter-rotating crankshaft, which counteracts some of the gyroscopic effect of the wheels and makes the bike more agile in turning. The inertia of the counter-rotating crank also helps reduce wheelies under hard acceleration and rear-wheel lift during hard deceleration.
The jackshaft needed to rotate the crank in the opposite direction will sap a small amount of power, but it seems like the Stradale engine probably has enough to overcome that. Specifically, Ducati says the 214 horsepower peak comes at 13,000 rpm and the torque peaks at 10,000 rpm.
While the engine may be a V-four, the firing order, which Ducati calls its “Twin Pulse” ignition, retains some of the characteristics of a twin. Ignition occurs at 0, 90, 290 and 380 degrees, so the front and rear cylinders on one side fire closely together, while the two on the other side follow closely together.
Another first for Ducati is the variable intakes, which adjust based on engine speed to optimize air intake lengths.
At this point, you may be wondering about maintenance costs (or, if you have the cash for a Panigale, maybe you aren’t). Ducati kept the valve inspection interval the same as the Superquadro twin-cylinder engine at 15,000 miles, with lesser services due every 7,500 miles.
Looks are subjective, so make up your own mind, but I do want to point out one touch that I thought was interesting. The shape of the fairing as it flows from the front of the bike to the aluminum fuel tank has sort of a ledge that at least to me brings to mind the wings Ducati has been experimenting with the last few years in MotoGP. It's subtle, and much better looking than the function-first aerodynamic aids on the race bikes, but I wonder if it's an intentional visual reference by the designers.
Brawn, but what about brains?
Given the power-to-weight ratio of a 214-horsepower, 430-pound (S version, wet) motorcycle, anyone below Stoner's skill level is going to need some electronic assistance to stave off the otherwise inevitable high-sides. Turns out, there’s plenty. The six-axis inertial measurement unit does all it can to keep you from hurting yourself.
It starts with three riding modes: Race, Sport and Street. Those modes affect the various engine settings and, on the S and Speciale versions, the suspension settings, too. Riders can customize the settings or switch back to the factory defaults.
The additional rider aids include traction control, which includes the motorcycle’s lean angle in its calculations and, according to Ducati, produces less oscillation in its intervention when there is wheel spin. In settings one and two, Ducati says the system will allow riders to use more rear wheelspin to complete a turn while still maintaining control, the way the best racers do routinely.
In addition to the traction control, the Panigale V4 has what the company calls Ducati Slide Control, which uses inputs from the IMU to control torque for better drive out of the corner. There are two levels of DSC. The Panigale V4 also has wheelie control and power launch systems. The latter can be set to three different levels for race starts.
The Ducati Quick Shift EVO system allows clutchless shifts, both up and down, and works with the Engine Brake Control EVO system, which can be adjusted to three levels and also adapts based on input from the IMU.
The Bosch cornering anti-lock brake system is also adjustable to three levels, with the top two levels suitable for track riding.
The Ducati Electronic Suspension EVO system on the S and Speciale models can be used in either manual or dynamic modes. In the latter, the system draws information from the IMU and other sensors and adjusts damping on the fly.
All of this is controlled through the left-side switchgear and information is displayed on a five-inch, full-color TFT display, which can be adjusted to two different layouts optimized for track or street use. There’s also a lap timer, a data logger that stores information such as throttle opening, engine speed, gear selection, etc. There’s also an optional multimedia system that allows you to connect your communications system via Bluetooth to the motorcycle so you can see information displayed on the dash.
Whew. Sounds like a lot. There’s no question Ducati wants to wow people with this new flagship sport bike. But there’s one other factor involved.
What’s the four for?
There’s no doubt all this will make for a massively competent street-going sport bike, but there’s more to it than that. Beginning in 2019, a special homologation version of the V4 will be the basis for Ducati’s World Superbike racer. That’s what I meant at the top when I talked about engineering realities.
When Ducati went to MotoGP, where displacement limits are the basis for the prototype race bikes, there was no doubt the company would need a four-cylinder engine to make competitive power. For years, Ducati was either a dominant force or a strong contender in World Superbike because its production-based race bikes had a displacement advantage over the four cylinders. Not so in MotoGP, so the Desmosedici engine was born. Now, with WSBK rules in flux and a proven V-four platform, why not bring that to production racing? Essentially, Ducati is doing the reverse of what Honda did nearly 20 years ago when it built a V-twin to compete with Ducati in WSBK.
Why now? Just look at what happened Saturday at the last round of the Superbike World Championship in Qatar. Jonathan Rea long ago wrapped up this year’s title. This weekend he “did the double,” winning both races, and tied the record held by Troy Bayliss and Carl Fogarty — the two riders from Ducati’s most glorious glory days in WSBK — for the most career doubles. He has also surpassed Bayliss for most WSBK wins. And he broke the record for most points in a season, which was set by Colin Edwards in 2002 on that Honda twin that was built to beat Ducati at its own game. As you know, Rea accomplished all this on a Kawasaki, easily winning a third straight WSBK title — something Bayliss and Fogarty never accomplished.
Ducati wants its World Superbike playground back. Beginning in 2019, it will have a four-barreled weapon to take on that task.