Put the 848 EVO in its element - canyon or racetrack pavement where it can finally start exercising the race-bred engine and chassis - and everything about the Ducati not unexpectedly comes into focus. The 848 EVO has that slim, low and planted feel of a racebike, and the firm suspension rates that pound you into submission on the superslab suddenly feel smooth and communicative when the pace picks up and the horizon starts drastically tilting.
The Showa suspension - especially the 43mm inverted front fork - has often been viewed as second-tier quality componentry that manufacturers use when mass production needs take precedence over maximum suspension performance. The Showa unit on the 848 EVO, however, demonstrates how far these supposedly B-league pieces have come, and how well they can perform when the right internal components are specified. There's plenty of compliance over the small bumps, yet the fork maintains excellent control during aggressive cornering and braking maneuvers without feeling harsh or a little vague in the middle of the suspension travel. Front-end feedback is abundant, with the rider always aware of the tire/pavement interface status at all times. The rear shock was similarly well-mannered, with none of the overly stiff spring or damping rates that plagued the 1098 series (our only complaint being the same nearly impossible access to the rebound adjuster through a misaligned hole in the swingarm). While performance is still not on the level of top-spec aftermarket pieces such as Öhlins, we were still very impressed with the 848 EVO's Showa components.
Overall handling was as we remembered with the previous generation 848: a little flighty under maximum acceleration over bumps (the tankslapping tendency thankfully quelled for the most part by the new steering damper) on corner exits, but otherwise very stable in all other phases of cornering. The 848 EVO is nimbler than its bigger desmo Superbike brethren; initial turn-in and major directional changes (i.e., chicanes and ess-turns) require less effort, plus steering with the new Pirellis is sharper. This means you have more options on where you can put the 848 EVO in a corner, instead of just one or two that only emphasize lean angle and corner speed.
The engine mods have pushed...
The engine mods have pushed the new 848 EVO's power peak higher, and it's lost some midrange in the transition as well. There's not much more peak power either, but that is more the result of EPA noise and emissions regulations; an aftermarket exhaust and ECU update will surely unlock more power. Note also that the rev limiter has been extended an extra 250 rpm.
You'd think that with all the hop-up mods to the 848 EVO engine that there would be a significant boost in power, but unfortunately - in stock form, at least - there really isn't that much difference. In fact, we noticed that the EVO version of the 848 actually felt like it lost a bit of midrange during our street testing in some of the tighter canyons, and the dyno test confirmed our subjective impressions. From just past 6000 rpm on up to almost 9000 rpm, the EVO actually lags behind the standard 848 we tested back in '08, with a five horsepower disadvantage at 7500 rpm. Although this lag in midrange power could easily be seen in the 848 EVO's top gear roll-ons (both the 60-80 mph and 80-100 mph roll-ons were significantly slower), it wasn't really that noticeable on the racetrack, because the engine spends most of its time above 8000 rpm.
Make no mistake, the 848 EVO can still rip off corner exits with the best of the middleweight crowd. With weight that's right in the ballpark but with a substantial horsepower (and especially torque) advantage, the Ducati generates speed more like a 750cc inline-four than any 600. The throttle response is silky smooth, allowing you to get on the throttle earlier and use the V-twin's torque to your advantage. And the 848 EVO has an extra 250 rpm before it hits the soft rev-limiter (now set at 10,750 rpm instead of 10,500 rpm), giving it a little bit of some much-needed overrev. But even on the racetrack, the EVO still didn't feel any faster than the old 848 on top end.
Considering some of the modifications that were done to the EVO engine (hottler cams, larger throttle bodies), it stands to reason that there might be a slight loss in lower-end power in exchange for some additional top-end steam. But even though the EVO catches back up to the standard 848 and supasses it at 9000 rpm, it's not by much; our EVO test unit peaked at 117 horsepower at 10,500 rpm, only 0.5 horsepower over the old version. What gives?