MV Agusta F4: 88 points
As we noted in our test of the MV Agusta last issue, the new F4 is a completely changed machine. Besides all the updates to the engine and chassis, probably the most important upgrade as far as street riding is concerned is the elimination of the previous generations' abrupt throttle response. Instead of being forced to exercise the care of a brain surgeon when getting back on the throttle in a corner to avoid upsetting the chassis, the new F4 now has a much smoother response that allows you to concentrate on other aspects of riding.
And you'll probably need that concentration, as not only is the new 998cc engine just as/if not more powerful than its 1078cc predecessor, it has lost little of the signature quick-revving acceleration of previous MV powerplants. Granted, the new F4's powerband is more linear than any inline-four of recent memory, but when you combine a lively engine character with 157.1 horsepower (in addition to the MV's Mk II traction control), it means you'll be approaching the next corner rather quickly. Thankfully the F4's chassis is more than up to that cornering task, with strong brakes, excellent suspension and a chassis with agility that rivals the benchmarks in the class.
Several issues conspired to drop the MV down in the street rankings, however. Besides the usual very aggressive ergos that put a lot of weight on your arms, nearly all testers complained that the F4 vibrated much more than the other fours on both the street and track, an issue that became tiresome even on short rides. Many also complained about the footpegs, which are very short and have little grip.
Ducati 1198S: 90 points
Although Ducati isn't claiming any internal changes to the engine from the standard 1198 (other than the new Marelli ECU to enable the usage of the Ducati Traction Control system), we found the S model to have a substantial torque advantage (87 ft-lb, nearly 3 ft-lb more) despite being down a bit on peak horsepower. Considering that the standard 1198 wasn't exactly a slouch in the torque department, this translates to a V-twin with some serious steam. Accentuating that increase is gearing significantly shortened from the previous 998/999 generations. When we use the term "leaps off the corners", we really mean it when it comes to this booming desmo. Because of the ultra-responsive torque and wide gear spacing, you end up deceptively building up some serious speed with a lot less fanfare than the others in this group.
As one of the two bikes here that come equipped with Öhlins suspension, the 1198S obviously has the goods to maintain that speed through the corners with ease. Steering and front-end feedback through the signature chromoly steel trellis frame are sharp and clear, and although the Öhlins fork and shock are sprung a bit stiffly for street use, stability is rock solid through anything public pavement can throw at the Ducati.
While the 1198S's committed riding position didn't draw as many complaints as the MV's, its underseat exhaust heat drew more. Transitioning from full lean on one side to the other required more effort than the others, and like the MV, the digital LCD dashboard with bar-graph tachometer is difficult to discern at a glance.