The MV Agusta’s long reach...
The MV Agusta’s long reach to the bars and tall seat put a lot of weight on your wrists. Although the MV also shows less legroom here as well, the footpeg brackets are adjustable.
Ducati 1199 Panigale S: 87.5 points
There’s no doubt that the Panigale is a far cry from the previous generation desmoquattros as far as street manners. You no longer have to put up with overly tall gearing, torture-rack ergos, or mirrors that show nothing more than a fuzzy view of your elbows to get your Ducati fix; the Panigale is a much more hospitable mount in that regard. The engine and chassis are responsive and willing when riding the bike hard, and the busy, loose feel on corner entry we encountered at the track isn’t an issue at the lower speeds and aggression levels of public pavement. And the near-endless adjustability (and the ease of that electronic adjustment) on the Ducati allows it to be custom-tailored to your riding preference or scenario.
But as we’ve noted before in our previous tests, the Panigale still demands a good amount of commitment from the rider. The suspension spring rates are racetrack-stiff, limiting the window for softening the damping rates to offer an acceptably comfortable ride on the imperfect pavement of public roads, and while the ergos are better, the seat’s minimal padding means you feel every bump. And pray that you don’t get stuck in traffic on the way to or from your favorite road; otherwise, we hope that you’re wearing asbestos underwear or have some burn ointment handy, as the heat from the rear exhaust header will toast your butt and thighs medium well in short order.
MV Agusta F4RR: 88.5 points
Just as the MV Agusta surprised us on the track, it also impressed us with its performance on the street as well once we stiffened up the suspension from its Cadillac-soft settings as delivered. The engine has gobs of responsive power everywhere, the chassis handles everything from high-speed sweepers to tight canyon roads with equal aplomb, and the Öhlins suspension keeps it all well-balanced with impressive ease while providing excellent feedback at both ends. The adjustable footpeg brackets allow you to get more legroom if wanted, and the single HID headlight provides a decent beam pattern at night.
Unfortunately, the MV received major criticism from our testers for its poorly thought-out LCD instrument panel. The contrast isn’t high enough to be readable at a glance in daylight or nighttime, making the bar-graph tachometer even more useless. Although you can now scroll through the various displays via a new handlebar switch, navigating those displays or changing any settings is frustratingly non-intuitive. The mirrors are still little more than styling accents, and while the heat coming from the underseat exhausts is nowhere near as bad as the Ducati, it’s still bothersome in traffic; a good amount of engine heat can be felt emanating from the front fairing openings at slow speeds as well. The F4RR’s excessive weight couldn’t be ignored, the transmission’s reluctance to upshift without rolling out of the throttle (exposing the lack of quickshifter), and an engine with a thirst for petrol (we averaged a paltry 29 mpg, meaning you’ve got about 125 miles before you better start looking for a gas station) only added to the annoyances that prevented the F4RR from scoring higher.
Aprilia RSV4 Factory: 90.5 points
The Aprilia’s flexible and character-filled V-four engine and stable chassis proved to be the preferred combination on the street as well as the track. The RSV4’s linear power delivery instills more confidence as the pace ramps up, and its ability to provide that power in a smooth and easily accessible manner at nearly any rpm only makes it that much more appealing. The chassis is nice and stable, yet nimble enough to carve any line you want in a corner, and the Öhlins suspension helps maintain an even keel throughout any riding situation. As far as electronics adjustability, the Aprilia is nearly on par with the Ducati, offering an extensive array of engine modes/throttle response, traction control, wheelie control, and launch control options.
The RSV4 Factory’s only real minuses are the tall first gear, slightly cramped ergos, and a very thirsty engine. The Aprilia’s seat isn’t the roomiest in the world, and its padding is rather stiff — good for rear tire feedback, bad for straightline droning comfort. Navigating the RSV4’s extensive menu options isn’t as intuitive as the Ducati, but it’s not as frustrating as the MV. And plan your gas stops; the RSV4’s tank allows you about 140 miles tops if you’re riding hard.
The Aprilia (top) retains the same analog tach/LCD info panel dash setup that we prefer, although the black background on the tachometer makes quick recognition more difficult. The Ducati’s TFT display (middle) has good contrast and is well-designed (including an automatic “night” feature that switches the display to dark background), although daylight reflection off the top triple clamp and steering damper obscures the lower portion during daytime hours. All of our testers hated the MV’s somewhat outdated LCD dash, (bottom) with poor contrast making it difficult to see at a glance, and frustratingly non-intuitive navigation.
Although the RSV4 Factory’s Öhlins fork (top)is an older generation item, it still works well, as do the older Brembo monobloc calipers. As far as the Ducati’s exclusive M50 Brembo caliper setup, (middle) there is no better front brake on a production sportbike, bar none. The MV Agusta’s Brembo monobloc calipers (bottom) provide good power, but are high effort and lack some feel.
THE WINNER IS ITALIAN...
High-end sportbikes like these three used to be derided in the distant past as tarted-up underachievers, but that label can no longer be applied in this company. All three are capable of staggering speed on a racetrack with little compromise, and they all accomplish it with more style and character than your standard Japanese sportbike fare.
The Ducati 1199 Panigale S and MV Agusta F4RR are both serious performers, yet with a lot more potential. We’d just like a less-busy handling feel entering corners and some midrange power back with the Duc, and some sessions with Jenny Craig and a rethink of the dashboard with MV. Perhaps next year?
We were impressed with the Aprilia RSV4 Factory back when it won our 2010 Bike of the Year comparison test, and the addition of the APRC electronics has made the RSV4 an even more formidable weapon. Aprilia has certainly found a good combination of power and flexibility with the V-four engine, and the superbly designed electronics have raised its game to another level. Former World Superbike champion Max Biaggi definitely wouldn’t argue.
There’s something about Italian sportbikes that gets a motorcycle enthusiast’s heart racing. Their looks are supermodel-esque, exhaust notes something straight from the soundtrack of your favorite dream and there’s almost always some longstanding history tied to them. Neither the Aprilia, Ducati nor MV Agusta fell short in the face of these expectations, but one did prove to be an all-around better package.
Öhlins suspension and Brembo brakes complement each of these bikes, so it wasn’t a surprise to find performance between the three models almost on par. The Aprilia’s weight was a hindrance at the tighter confines of Buttonwillow Raceway, but in every other way it impressed, with simply fewer flaws than the competition. The Ducati requires finesse and bravery on the street or track despite its svelte size, and while the MV seriously impressed with monster power and a rock-solid chassis, its weight, unintuitive electronics adjustment screen and small dealer network would keep me from spending my hard-earned $25,000. Albeit a close decision, I’d choose the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC.
These bikes’ behavior street versus track couldn’t have been more varied, yet it was closer than any other comparison I’ve been a part of. The Aprilia may have edged out the competition on our street stint, but it was surprising how it didn’t “bring it” on the racetrack for me — simply put, it didn’t have the steam at warp speed. The MV shined on the racetrack even if it felt a bit heavy through the tighter stuff. The F4RR’s great motor and incredibly stable chassis coupled with the always-reliable Öhlins suspension edged out the competition in my opinion. Props, though, to Ducati and their all new Panigale S. Undeniably an incredible effort, the 1199 offers ground-breaking electronics that have stirred the motorcycle community, and that’s hard to fault. But I’d go with the MV Agusta when ordering my Italian.
I’m convinced that the Ducati is an ECU-reflash away from offering the superb power its engineers intended. The powerband simply has too many dips and flat spots to be anything that Claudio Domenicali would approve for production. Not so easily fixed, however, is the Panigale’s penchant for nervous handling entering a corner. Once banked into the corner and charging off the exit, the 1199 is fine, but it’s the entry where it has issues. Fix that and the powerband, and Ducati could have a winner.
I’ll admit I was surprised at the F4RR’s per formance at the track. The previous F4 models always seemed a step behind the competition, but this MV changes all that. The engine is a monster with strong responsive power everywhere in the powerband, the chassis works superbly, and were it not for the excess weight and useless dashboard, I might’ve been hard-pressed to make a choice between it and the Aprilia. But as it sits now, picking the RSV4 Factory APRC is an easy selection in this comparison.