Not that you'd want to stay in the saddle long enough to prove it, but the MV definitely has the fuel range over the others. Its surprisingly huge 6.1-gallon fuel tank makes up for the fact that it was the thirstiest of the trio, and it was easy to squeeze 180 miles out of a tankful (although surprisingly the low fuel light would come on at 140 miles, meaning you had over a gallon still left). The Kawasaki's comparatively skimpy 4.0-gallon tank means you'd better plan fuel stops on any long trips, as you'll be running on fumes in 135 miles or so. The Streetfighter was only slightly better with its 4.4-gallon tank.
Acceleration off the line (i.e., from a stoplight) seemed fairly even between the three for the most part. The Ducati's slightly tall first gear requires a bit of clutch slippage to get off the line smartly, but its low-end torque and light weight (only 427 pounds wet) helps there. The Kawasaki's torque-laden 1043cc inline-four doesn't have to fight a tall first gear, but it's the porkiest of the bunch at 483 pounds full of fuel, so that evens things out a bit. And while the Brutale has the quickest-revving and most responsive engine of the trio by far, it required a bit more rpm to get off the line in haste, and its engine lags behind the other two in overall power.
Slicing And Dicing
Once we began to encounter twisty tarmac and ramp up the cornering pace, the more racetrack orientation and higher-spec componentry of the two Italians quickly came to the fore. This is not to say the Kawasaki couldn't hold its own when the horizon began to tilt - it just required more work and concentration to keep the Ducati and MV in sight.
The $4500 difference between the Z1000 and the two Italian thoroughbreds is easily traced to the suspension. While the Kawasaki's 41mm inverted cartridge fork and horizontally mounted rear shock offer complete adjustability (the shock has spring preload and rebound damping only), the spring and damping rates are skewed toward the softer end of the spectrum. The model-specific aluminum beam frame and swingarm are more than capable, but the suspension is also saddled with the task of controlling the Kawasaki's substantial heft; in order to keep everything under control, we had to crank up the rebound damping to just off maximum in the rear, and close in the front as well. And although this enabled the chassis to remain composed during aggressive cornering, the stiff settings compromised compliance at any pace less than full pin.
The brake components also reflect the Kawasaki's more frugal intentions. While the Brutale and Streetfighter both sport radial-mount Brembo calipers and 320mm discs, the Z1000 makes do with radial-mount Tokico calipers and 300mm discs. Compared to the top-shelf brakes on the MV and Ducati, the Kawasaki's brakes were adequate, but extended periods of aggressive riding began to show a bit of sponginess in the brake lever. Tires were also a contributing factor; the Z1000's stock OEM-specific Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber wasn't quite a match for the Streetfighter's Pirelli Diablo Corsa IIIs, and especially the MV's Diablo Rosso tires. Overall grip was decent, but edge grip and compliance were not on par, and the Japanese-made Dunlops also showed some pretty major wear during the course of our test, while the Pirellis had plenty of life left.
Although the front brakes on the Streetfighter and the Brutale 990R look somewhat similar, their performance was not. Both offered superb stopping power, but the Ducati's radial mount/monobloc Brembo setup (left) was fairly aggressive in its response and progressiveness, which seemed a bit sensitive to some riders; the MV's standard radial-mount Brembo calipers (right) delivered a more linear response and power curve. The Kawasaki's radial-mount Tokico calipers and smaller 300mm discs (middle) offered good stopping power, but started to get a little mushy when pushed.
There isn't much in it between the MV and Ducati when the pace really ramps up - each had its strong points that struck a chord with testers. For example, everyone loved the sharp and lithe steering habits of the Brutale chassis that enable it to carve both tight and fast corners with uncanny precision. Turn-in effort is light but not flighty, and the Marzocchi front fork offers up good feedback. But the Ducati counters with superb front-end feel when pushed hard, and although it lacks the agile characteristics of the MV's chassis, its rock-solid stability makes up for it. While the Marzocchi/Sachs suspension fitted to the Brutale is very good, the Showa pieces on the Streetfighter are that much better.