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.
An Öhlins TTX36 shock handles...
An Öhlins TTX36 shock handles rear suspension chores, with both rebound and compression damping adjustment knobs within easy reach. Footpeg and gearshift/rear brake levers are adjustable for height via eccentrics.
But that noticeable front-end bias seemed more extreme than the 52/48 percent claimed by MV, not only by the way the front wheel felt so totally planted in corners from the usual great feedback from the Öhlins fork, but also by the way the back wheel lifted under the superlative braking delivered from high speed by the Brembo radial monobloc front brakes. Squeezing the adjustable lever to access this brings an immediate response — I’m not sure how easy it would be to gauge this on a wet road surface in the absence of ABS — and totally effective stopping power, to the point that I can’t think of another streetbike that stops as well as the F4RR with its brake package worthy of a Superbike racer. The very effective and sweetly set-up slipper clutch, whose presence is confirmed by the trademark click on the clutch lever when you work it to shift down the gearbox, has a little vestigial engine braking left dialed in. And although its usage of course means you don’t have to blip the throttle on downshifts, it’s hard to resist doing so on the F4RR just to revel in the music from the quartet of square-section exit pipes under the seat, from what has to be the best-sounding engine in the Superbike showroom. Let the music play; this could only be an Italian bike!
The chromoly steel trellis...
The chromoly steel trellis forward section of the hybrid chassis (it bolts to the cast aluminum swingarm pivot section) allows MV Agusta to easily alter the frame for various uses with the same engine, instead of having to design a whole new frame. Note the shaped coolant tube with bleed screw.
That front-end weight bias gives confidence entering a turn, although you soon learn to enhance stability under braking by using the rear brake first, in order to settle the rear and reduce the weight transfer delivered by the aggressive front brake package. Otherwise the MV can become very nervous when hard on the brakes (maybe that’s why the MV surprisingly has a four-piston caliper grabbing the rear disc, whereas most other sportbikes have just a twin- or single-piston caliper). Get it settled down nicely so that the back wheel isn’t waving around, and the F4RR steers beautifully into the apex of a turn on the brakes, although it’s harder work lifting it up again for the exit, and it definitely takes some physical effort to flip it from side to side in a second- or third-gear chicane. This isn’t helped by the fact that those adjustable footrests are rather slippery, with smooth ends that need to be better corrugated for grip.
I rode the MV using default suspension settings from the factory, so it could be that the physical riding style required to get the best out of it on the track could be solved with some adjustments. The now multi-adjustable nature of the chassis geometry, allied with the benchmark Öhlins suspension — which by the way gave good ride quality over the Pirelli test track’s stretch of rough-surfaced road, even though I didn’t start playing with the suspension settings because of time — surely means you could alter this to suit any rider’s tastes. And at simulated road speeds on the Pirelli test track the F4RR paradoxically seems lighter steering and more responsive to changes of direction than the old F4. I can’t wait to get it out in the real world and see for myself if that’s really true.
The F4’s classic organ-pipe...
The F4’s classic organ-pipe exhaust design originated by Massimo Tamburini is retained with just a subtle reshaping by designer Adrian Morton.
Build quality on the new MV Agusta seemed pretty good, at least as well finished off as you’d expect for a bike of this price level, although except for the quad exhaust and the new dash, there are no longer the numerous detail features you’d only ever find on an MV Agusta. It’s more mainstream than it used to be — or maybe we just got used to all the quirky stuff like the single-sided swingarm. The new LCD dash uses italic numerals and script, which look distinctly different in their own way, but frankly the dash is hard to read on the go at any sort of speed because the contrast isn’t high enough, especially in bright daytime conditions; you have to spend too long peering at it even to check what level you’ve got the traction control set at. As on other such streetbike systems from Magneti Marelli, there’s a choice of eight different levels (with 8 the most intrusive and 1 the least, plus you can switch it off), accessed via the twin thumb buttons on the left clip-on. The system is pretty overpowering in the higher numbers (I suppose that’s your solution for riding the MV in the rain) and I ended up using Level 3, and couldn’t feel any telltale hesitation accelerating out of turns, nor any loss of grip.
The combustion chambers of...
The combustion chambers of the F4RR cylinder head are machined instead of cast-in, allowing tighter control of tolerances and volume. Larger titanium valves (all four instead of only titanium intakes in the past; 31.8mm vs. 30mm intake, 26mm vs 25mm exhaust) are set at a true 2-degree radial angle to each other .
Italian-made two-ring forged...
Italian-made two-ring forged pistons use just a single compression ring, and force a compression ratio of 13.4:1 versus the previous 13.2:1 setup. These run in a Nikasil-lined cylinder block made by Mahle that is no wider than the previous block despite the larger bores.
The all-new nitrided crankshaft...
The all-new nitrided crankshaft features a central cam chain drive, and completely reshaped flywheels with more overlap on the crankpins for greater rigidity. Steel connecting rods are likewise all-new, and are longer for reduced side-loading of the pistons at high rpm.
But the real star feature of the F4RR is that stellar new Corsacorta engine’s appetite for revs, which only the class-leading BMW S 1000 RR can really hold a candle to. Having spent half a day lapping Monza on an almost box-stock version of the German bike just three weeks earlier, I had the basis for comparison, and while I’d say the MV certainly feels just as powerful as the much less costly BMW, it isn’t quite as well-rounded an electronic package, and certainly seems less well equipped from that standpoint than the same-priced Aprilia. The MV has no anti-wheelie program, no rain map, no ride-by-wire throttle, and no powershifter, all of which the Aprilia has. The F4RR has better low-end performance and midrange grunt than the Kawasaki ZX-10R against which it seems likely to have comparable top-end performance, but the MV definitely isn’t as agile and nimble in changing direction as the KTM RC8R or Aprilia. But it is indeed undisputedly thrilling to ride, has the best brakes in the business, and possesses that ever so slightly rough-edged appeal that’s one of the characteristic traits of an old-style Italian superbike or supercar, which inevitably always came with stellar styling. And it’s got the MV Agusta badge on the fuel tank — even if they unaccountably forgot to add the tricolore Italian flag alongside it!
The new Corsacorta motor makes MV Agusta a contender again. Thanks, Harley! SR
2012 MV Agusta F4RR Corsacorta
||Liquid-colled, transverse DOHC inline-four
|Bore x Stroke
||78.0 x 58.9mm
||Mikuni fuel injection, 49mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diable Supercorsa SP
||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
||23.5 deg./3.95 in. (100.4mm)
||56.3 in. (1430mm)
||32.7 in. (830mm)
||4.5 gal. (17L)
|Claimed dry weight
||423 lb. (192kg)