Now back in the hands of the Castiglioni family after Harley-Davidson’s brief 15-month tenure, Italy’s historic MV Agusta trophy brand now boasts a clean balance sheet and is cash-rich for the first time in recent years thanks to a $20 million golden goodbye from its American ex-owners. MV also added half that amount after clearing out more than 1000 unsold units from its inventory, with reduced overhead thanks to a slashed workforce and more rational operating systems. With the promise of the acclaimed F3 three-cylinder 675cc model on the horizon, it seems that after repeated visits to the last chance saloon that MV Agusta is at last on the right track towards future survival — even prosperity. While the late Claudio Castiglioni’s son Giovanni has taken over the reins of the company, he will be aided as consigliere by Massimo Bordi, the former Ducati chief engineer and general manager. Under their direction, it appears that MV Agusta is very much back in business.
The debut this month in showrooms around the world of the F4RR Corsacorta, powered by the Italian firm’s first all-new four-cylinder engine since the debut of the 998cc version of its radial-valve motor back in 2005, is ample proof. A project begun just as Harley was formulating its exit plans, this new design has now been seen through to production, resulting in a much more powerful package that began making its way down the assembly line in MV’s Varese factory in the second week of July. The F4RR is claimed to be the most powerful literbike in today’s marketplace, with MV listing 201 horsepower at the crank (179 horsepower at the rear wheel) — 17 horsepower more than the F4 it replaces.
I decided not to join another press test MV had arranged at the tight and twisting Adria circuit, on the grounds that I’d never get a bike out of fourth gear there whose main claim to improvement is the extra top-end power delivered by its new short-stroke motor. Instead, I waited until a slot became available at Pirelli’s Vizzola Ticino test track near Milan’s Malpensa airport, where the long aircraft-style runway and variation of turns on the demanding handling course would help deliver a true impression of what this Superbike supreme really has to offer.
It took barely ten minutes to find out the answer to that, because the F4RR’s substantial increase in performance is so immediately apparent — but so too is the improved mainly electronic control over how it’s delivered. While the new MV pulls cleanly away from low rpm thanks to the hydraulic clutch’s smooth pickup, it isn’t until the bar-graph tachometer sweeps past the 4000 rpm mark on the redesigned LCD dash that the F4RR really starts to motor. But when it does, it picks up rpm fast as it aggressively zips up to the 13,700 rpm rev limiter, requiring you to grab another gear quickly via the clean-action gearshift. However, the new engine’s midrange power delivery seems more layered than on the previous longer-stroke version, and while the MV’s gearchange is as crisp and clean as any Japanese bike’s — not always the case before — it’s a definite disappointment that there’s still no electronic quickshifter, especially with the close coupling of the bottom five gear ratios making you use the gearbox hard. I didn’t see the 185 mph homologated top speed down the Pirelli runway, but I did break the 250 kph (155 mph) mark with a couple of thousand revs to go in sixth gear before running out of pavement, and the short-stroke engine was still pulling strongly.
The F4RR cockpit still retains...
The F4RR cockpit still retains the stylish but functionally useless mirrors and LCD dashboard that is difficult to read at a glance. The Öhlins FG904P fork follows the current MotoGP trend of separating damping circuits, with compression on the left and rebound on the right.
However, all that was while using the Road setting on the F4RR’s new Marelli 7BM ECU. Switching to the Sport setting delivered a very different kind of two-wheeled animal. Doing so is slightly easier than before on the F4 (where you had to grope to find the rather small button on the side of the dash and then use the correct sequence to access the ECU and traction control settings). This has now been switched to the left handlebar where it’s more accessible, although still not as easy as the comparable Marelli system on the Aprilia RSV4 APRC. Interestingly, the MV doesn’t have a Rain map; maybe they don’t expect you to ride home in the damp. You certainly wouldn’t want to use the Sport setting for that, because while peak power is unchanged, the low-end throttle response is notably more aggressive until just over 9000 rpm when it goes mental. That’s when the TSS variable-length intake system starts to lift the trumpets off the Mikuni throttle bodies. The effect is really noticeable, as the F4RR launches forward in full rocketship mode and the rpm builds even quicker than before. In no time at all you’re being told to grab another gear as the small shifter light flashes on the dash.
Traction control and engine...
Traction control and engine mode settings are now adjustable using a toggle switch on the left-side switchgear. Unfortunately the traction control levels (eight different settings, plus “off”) cannot be changed on the fly as with the Aprilia RSV4 APRC.
In spite of there being no anti-wheelie program in the Marelli ECU (unlike its superb Aprilia-programmed package on the RSV4), the F4RR’s front wheel isn’t at all eager to reach for the sky as you crack the throttle wide open exiting a turn, though you can pull a time-wasting wheelie relatively easily if you really want to. But maybe this is because you get the feeling sitting on the MV that there’s quite a lot of weight on the front wheel, including your own thanks to the 32.7-inch seat height, although the riding position isn’t too extreme and is even relatively spacious by the standards of any Tamburini bike — which of course this isn’t, having been redesigned two years ago by expat Brit Adrian Morton. This makes you feel more a part of the MV than perched on top of it as with on my own decade-old F4 750. I especially liked the adjustable footrests, which on the lowest setting for extra leg room still gave plenty of ground clearance in any corner I discovered on the Pirelli track’s myriad layouts, even with the superlative grip of the Italian company’s World Superbike-developed Diablo Supercorsa rubber.