2013 BMW HP4 Road Test
This linkage connects to the potentiometer that measures rear wheel travel for the DDC, just one of the many parameters it analyzes hundreds of times a second to determine what damping settings are required.
Our test HP4 was equipped with the Premium Package, which includes these folding/adjustable brake and clutch levers, as well as fully adjustable footpeg/brake/clutch control assemblies.
The HP4 is so focused on performance that if you want to carry a passenger, you’ll need to pay for the optional seat and footpeg assemblies.
A full titanium Akrapovic exhaust system complete with exhaust valve and catalyzer is fully EPAapproved, showing that apparently it is possible to market a street-legal aftermarket exhaust system.
When Ducati’s new-generation Multistrada 1200 S made its debut in 2010 with the DES (Ducati Electronic Suspension) system, it opened up a new era in sportbikes. Instead of being forced to manually change suspension settings externally with tools, now a rider could simply change them electronically via a dashboard menu.
But that wasn’t the real change ushered in by the Multistrada’s DES system. By allowing electronic alteration of the suspension, this opened the door for real-time adjustments via those electronics —an actual semi-active suspension that can make changes as you ride. This can provide soft suspension settings for comfort when you’re cruising on the superslab, then changing to sportbike firm when you hit the twisties —all without requiring any input from the rider.
That sportbike has arrived in the form of the 2013 BMW HP4.
** THE BIKE **
The fourth in the line of HP (High Performance) models in BMW’s history —five if you count the K1300S HP option that was available for that model in 2012 —the HP4 gains its distinction by offering the most sophisticated electronics package ever available on a mass production machine, in this case the base platform being the company’s superb S 1000 RR. Actually, “mass production” isn’t completely correct; BMW was being coy about actual production figures, but we’ve been told that at least 2500 will be built worldwide to satisfy FIM World Superstock racing homologation regulations. And of those 2500 or so, approximately 400 units will be making their way to American shores…with all of that allotment reportedly already presold (in fact, our test unit allegedly is destined for a customer…).
Bradley already covered all the details of the HP4 in his First Ride story (“Dynamic Development”) in the December 2012 issue. A brief recap of the BMW’s electronics package includes the Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) semi-active suspension system that can adjust the fork and shock up to 100 times per second; a revised Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) system that now features 15 different levels of traction control in Slick mode that are also adjustable on the fly; a revamped Race ABS that now has IDM German Superbike Championship-developed settings in Slick mode; and a Launch Control setting that holds rpm and wheelies off the line. Other upgrades include forged aluminum wheels wrapped with Pirelli’s Diablo Supercorsa SP tires, Brembo monobloc calipers, and a titanium Akrapovic full exhaust complete with catalyzer.
Even with those accessories included, that all of the U.S. allotment of HP4s are presold is pretty impressive, considering the state of the economy and sportbike market — as well as the HP4’s sticker price. Like most BMWs, the HP4 is available in a variety of option packages. The base model retails for $19,990 which includes the DDC, DTC, Race ABS, Launch Control, forged aluminum wheels in gloss black, Akrapovic exhaust, and GSA (Gear Shift Assist) quickshifter. The “Standard Package” adds a Pillion Rider Package that includes a passenger seat and footpegs/brackets, plus heated grips, for $20,525. And the “Premium Package” (which is what we tested) adds numerous HP carbon body pieces, folding/adjustable HP brake and clutch levers, folding/adjustable HP brake and shift levers, forged aluminum wheels in Racing Blue Metallic, and a sponsor decal kit, for a cool $24,995.
**THE RIDE **
In order to be sold as a street-legal sportbike in the U.S., a bike has to pass stringent EPA noise tests — and the fact the HP4’s Akrapovic exhaust has the “meets federal noise emissions standard” writing stamped on its inner portion of a canister that looks more like a race unit is a feat in itself. Granted, the BMW’s bark when firing up is rather muted, so as long as you don’t blip the throttle, you won’t be annoying neighbors on your way to work in the morning.
Although the DDC makes its own damping adjustments to the suspension as you ride, a major plus is that you can adjust the baseline settings that it starts out with. Theoretically this means you can set up the suspension to start out soft while cruising on the highway or city streets before it starts firming things up as your speeds rise and lean angle changes. It doesn’t quite work out that way though, because the four riding modes (as found on the S 1000 RR: Rain, Sport, Race, and Slick) are set up differently. The Race and Slick modes are not only stiffer for the same settings, but they ramp up to a much firmer rate quicker than Rain and Sport modes, ostensibly because the former are meant for the comparatively smooth tarmac of a racetrack.
While you can change rebound and compression damping separately in the rear shock, the front fork damping can only be changed as a single setting unless you get the accessory fork travel sensor, meaning both rebound and compression are changed according to the setting you choose (spring preload changes front or rear require the usual manual tools). As with the DTC, there are 15 possible baseline settings you can choose; seven steps below and seven steps above the zero base setting.
For the street, we found that softening the baseline setting in Sport mode to as much as -4 in both rear rebound and compression and -5 in the front allowed an acceptably smooth ride while cruising over the usual bumps and heaves of public pavement, yet kept everything well under control when the DDC stiffened up the suspension as we headed into the canyons. We couldn’t discern much of a difference going any softer (and even at -7, the HP4 certainly isn’t sport-tourer plush by any means), and starting at too soft of a baseline allowed a bit of wallowing at aggressive riding levels.
The rear suspension reacts instantly to any acceleration, and with the HP4, that’s a good thing. There is a definite increase in midrange power, and when you factor in that the starting point is an S 1000 RR, well, let’s just say that you probably should thank BMW that the wheelie control is there for the sake of your license. Compare the roll-on numbers: the HP4 does the 60 – 80 mph test in 2.44 seconds versus the S 1000 RR’s 2.61 seconds; 80 – 100 mph, the HP4 takes only 2.33 seconds, with the stock BMW requiring a comparatively glacial 2.64 seconds. The HP4 positively launches off corners, yet its throttle response — even in Race and Slick mode — is smoother than the standard S 1000 RR, with less of the belligerence that forces you to stay on your toes when cracking open the throttle.
That additional performance comes with a price: the HP4 is much thirstier than the stock S 1000 RR, even when doing your best to keep from twisting the loud handle. While the stocker would often average up to 36 mpg, we were lucky to average 34 mpg on a good day, with most tankfuls running in the 32 mpg range.
You can also feel the front suspension reacting when getting on the brakes, and when tipping into the corner. While the front fork doesn’t exactly go stiff like some of the alternative front suspensions we’ve tested in the past, there is a perceptible slowing of the front-end dive that allows you to maintain better control while still transmitting excellent traction feel. And when you let off the brakes to begin your turn-in, you can sense a more controlled rebound of the fork that seamlessly transitions into a softer feel as lean angle increases (thus eliminating the compromise that often occurs when trying to keep the spring rebound under control without making the fork action overly stiff).
Speaking of brakes, the Race ABS system has also been refined from the standard S 1000 RR. Although the intervention level was high, the cycling of the previous system was still a bit rough, which could cause some white-knuckle situations as the bike took some time to return braking power (ask Bradley about turn one at Valencia on the S 1000 RR…). The cycling rate now is much quicker and smoother, and braking over rough pavement won’t cause the elevated heart rates like it used to. Power and feel from the new pad compound in the Brembo monobloc calipers is excellent.
Segueing to the high-speed confines of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, California, we had hoped to really explore the outer reaches of the HP4’s very heady performance envelope. Unfortunately, blustery high winds and constant sand over the racetrack surface forced us to keep the pace within reason, lest we turn the BMW into a hideously expensive ball of aluminum and carbon fiber. Nonetheless, we were still able to discern many aspects of handling and electronics that would’ve been excessively risky on the street.
The HP4 flicks into corners noticeably easier than the stock S 1000 RR and feels much more agile overall. A good portion of credit here surely goes to the lighter forged aluminum wheels and Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires; that the HP4 steers lighter even with the monstrous 200/55-17 rear tire is even more of a feat.
The sketchy traction caused by the sand blowing over the track allowed us to do a decent evaluation of the revised DTC in Slick mode, although admittedly we couldn’t make much use of the levels higher than -1 in those conditions. The HP4’s DTC intervention is much more transparent than the S 1000 RR’s, with less of the “pumping” in the higher settings caused by overreaction to changing grip levels, and a much smoother reduction and transition of power in the lower settings.
That midrange power increase that is so much fun on the street becomes even more of a party on the racetrack — especially with 25 less pounds to haul around compared to the S 1000 RR. The HP4 was literally wheelying out of every corner at Chuckwalla, and the wheelie control in Slick mode makes you look like a hero as it keeps the front end from getting too high while maintaining a solid drive forward. Unfortunately the blustery winds that day cut the party short, as they tried to push the bike’s front end out from underneath it any time the tire was off the ground.
Special mention needs to be given to the HP4’s GSA quickshifter unit. The BMW unit is one of the more well-developed quickshifters made; it not only provides lightning-quick full-power shifts on the track, but it also senses speed and throttle position to provide smooth upshifts on the street as well. Even upshifting from first to second gear at 35 mph, the GSA provides enough delay to allow for a smooth gearchange without jolting the rider.
Engine back-torque/slipper clutch characteristics have also been revised on the HP4 from the S 1000 RR. While the latest generation S 1000 RR tends to freewheel a little too much into a corner in the lower gears (often catching you off-guard and forcing you to suddenly apply more brake than you originally intended), the HP4 has a bit more engine braking programmed into the ECU. This not only gives a better feeling of control when going deep on the brakes, but it also allowed for nice rear-end slides into corners without excessive rear brake use — again, making you look like a hero. And in Slick mode, even with the dodgy conditions at the track that day, we never once felt the Race ABS intervening.
Needless to say, we were very impressed with the HP4. The DDC is surely the leading edge of future active suspension technology that will hopefully become cheaper and more readily available on lower-echelon machinery. That BMW engineers were able to do so well in their first try with the system — as well as with the revisions to the DTC and Race ABS — shows that the success of the S 1000 RR is no flash in the pan. The competition had better be doing their homework.
About the only real complaint with the HP4 is that all of the units coming into the U.S. are spoken for. Considering what you’re getting for the money, even the $25K Premium Package model we tested doesn’t seem that outlandish. Let’s hope that demand convinces BMW to continue producing more of these bikes.
2013 BMW HP4
MSRP: **$24,995 (Premium Package, as tested)
Type: **Liquid-cooled, tranverse inline-four
**Valve arrangement: ** DOHC, 4 valves/cyl., shimunder-bucket adjustment
**Displacement: ** 999cc
**Bore x stroke: ** 80 x 49.7mm
**Compression ratio: ** 13.0:1
**Induction: ** BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
**Transmission: ** 6-speed
Front suspension: ** 46mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload; DDC semi-active suspension control with electronic adjustment for combined rebound/compression damping baseline
**Rear suspension: ** Single shock absorber with adjustable spring preload; DDC semi-active suspension control with electronic adjustment for rebound and compression damping baseline
**Front brake: ** Dual 320mm rotors with dual radial-mount, four-piston Brembo monobloc calipers
**Rear brake: ** Single 220mm rotor with single-piston Brembo floating caliper
**Front wheel: ** 3.50 x 17 in., forged aluminum alloy
**Rear wheel: ** 6.00 x 17 in., forged aluminum alloy
**Front tire: ** 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
**Rear tire: ** 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
**Rake/trail: ** 24.0 degrees/3.9 in. (98.5mm)
**Wheelbase: ** 56.0 in. (1423mm)
**Seat height: ** 32.3 in. (820mm)
**Fuel capacity: **4.6 gal. (17.5L)
**Weight: ** 445 pounds (202kg) wet; 417 pounds (189kg) dry (no fuel, all fluids)
Quarter-mile: ** 9.76 sec. @ 152.40 mph
**Roll-ons: ** 60-80 mph/2.44 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.33 sec.
**Fuel consumption: **27- 34 mpg, 32 mpg avg.
**TEST NOTES **
**+ ** DDC works well
**+ ** Revised DTC, Race ABS
**+ ** More midrange power
**– ** Price is bit steep
**– ** Umm, we’re thinking…
**x ** The future of suspension is here
I didn’t really want to ride our HP4 test bike. It’s an enticing motorcycle don’t get me wrong, especially when swathed in carbon fiber and high-end accessories as ours was. Kent and I were very specifically told to not leave a single scratch on it, however, and so I kept my distance as best I could. That being said, I’d certainly recommend the HP4 to anyone — anyone who could find one for sale that is!
When people would ask me what “my favorite bike is”, I’d often give them a vague answer; 19 years of testing bikes does that to you. But not anymore; the HP4 is my new fave. The DDC is what seals the deal, a peek into the future of sportbike technology. Add a monster engine, good chassis, superb brakes, decent ergos…I don’t see the key leaving my possession anytime soon.