After being unveiled to universal acclaim in its 750cc form back in '98, Massimo Tamburini's MV Agusta F4 went on to continue life for many years, including growing to 1000cc form in '05. Some were skeptical that Tamburini could recreate the same design magic that surrounded his previous masterpiece, a bike that has since become a sportbike icon: the Ducati 916. But the F4 has proven to possess the same lasting appeal with motorcyclists, with the styling remaining basically unchanged since its inception.
When Harley-Davidson purchased MV Agusta in '08, however, Tamburini abruptly retired. Sources say that a major rift developed between Tamburini and Claudio Castiglioni, CEO of MV Agusta, due to a remark Castiglioni made to H-D executives regarding Tamburini's penchant for slow development from concept to production. With its creator gone, MV faced a dilemma when it sought to update the F4 for '10. Could it renew the latest F4 without tampering too much with the design and upsetting the faithful?
Keepin' It Real
As associate editor Siahaan noted in his First Ride coverage of the new F4 ("Simple Elegance", June '10), MV Agusta managed to pull off a difficult makeover: creating a lighter, faster, and overall better machine, without losing the visual and tactile appeal of the original. Longtime MV engine designer Andrea Goggi wove his usual horsepower magic, taking many components from the numerous special edition models of the past such as the TSS (Torque Shift System) variable-length intake trumpets first used on the '05 F4 Tamburini Evo, and the 30mm titanium intake valves from the '07 F4 R312, but added numerous other hop-up bits (such as twin injectors per cylinder, hotter camshafts, larger airbox, the latest Marelli 7BM ECU and Mk II traction control, etc.) to boost performance well beyond the previous model.
Lead designer Adrian Morton had the much tougher task of updating the F4's styling. Anything approaching radical change was obviously not in the cards; one need only think "Ducati 999" to quickly deep-six that notion. Yet there had to be some sort of refreshment of Tamburini's 12-year-old design, as attempting to simply slap some new paint on the status quo would have counteracted any "all-new model" marketing campaigns despite the engine changes. Thankfully, Morton and the CRC (Centro Ricerche Cagiva, the design center previously headed by Tamburini) succeeded in creating a new F4 that largely retains the original's undeniably distinctive appearance.
One major development with the MV had nothing to do with any mechanical or styling updates. MV Agusta USA is now listing the MSRP of the '10 F4 at $18,500-which, in a new world of $13-16K-plus literbikes, suddenly makes the previously very exclusive MV a much more attainable goal.
Siahaan was obviously impressed with the F4 after his short stint with the MV out in Spain. But we finally got the opportunity to spend some time with one on the more imperfect pavement of our home shores here in the USA. So how much of a step up has MV Agusta made with the new F4?
Life With A Supermodel
Those short of inseam probably shouldn't apply for a seat on the MV, unless it's the passenger; the F4 continues its predecessor's history of a tall seat height, which in actual terms is a bit higher than the 32.7-inch number listed-especially if you start fooling around with the rear ride height adjustment rod. The reach to the bars is a bit shorter than on previous F4 editions, with the bars themselves seemingly positioned a bit higher for thankfully much less of a committed riding position than in years past. We tried to adjust the brake and clutch lever angle a bit lower for a more natural reach from the grips, only to find out that the lever mounts cannot be rotated on the bars; the clamps have a small tab that prevents any deviation from the stock location.
After the onboard diagnostic system takes a couple of seconds to determine that all engine systems are functioning properly, you're allowed to start the 998cc radial-valve four, which quickly lights off with a surprisingly loud-for a stock EPA-legal system at least-bark from the four separate square-shaped exhaust tips. The MV's throttle still has the cold-start fast-idle cam lever from the original F4, which we found a bit odd in this age of powerful engine management systems handling any cold-start idle/fuel requirements; regardless, we never had to use it, with the MV easily settling into a smooth idle and quickly warming up.
As you'd expect, riding the F4 in any situation other than aggressive cornering eventually becomes an exercise in self-flagellation, so there's no need to go into specifics. We should mention that the previous tendency of the F4 to surge at light throttle settings is mostly (but not completely) gone; the heavier crankshaft probably plays some role in this, although more precise fueling as a result of the dual injectors surely has some effect as well. Also worth mentioning is that you'd better plan ahead for gas stops; our test bike averaged a high of 30 mpg, and a low of 25 mpg, meaning you've got about 130 miles before you'd better start looking for a gas station pronto.
The heavier crankshaft and dual injectors surely play a major role in suppressing the MV's past penchant for aggressive response off of a closed trailing throttle. While we've always loved the overall power and acceleration of the MV four-cylinder mills, this bothersome trait has been a thorn in the side of every F4 we've tested since day one. And it's not just the response right off closed trailing throttle; accelerating off of corners where traction is at a premium required a similarly deft touch with the throttle, as the MV would want to spin up the rear tire at the slightest provocation.
Thankfully that overly aggressive throttle response has finally been largely eliminated with the '10 F4. This allows you to make full use of the new powerplant's impressively smooth yet still very robust acceleration earlier in the corner, instead of being forced to wait until the chassis settles down. In fact, smooth almost doesn't fully describe how linear the F4's power is, from down at the bottom all the way up to its screaming 157.1 horsepower at 12,250 rpm power peak. Whereas previous F4s always had some peaks and valleys in the powerband that you had to work around when plotting your course through a racetrack lap or canyon road, the 2010 version simply leaves everything in your hands with no strings attached. While we've always enjoyed the upper midrange hit of a GSX-R or the wailing top end of the BMW, to have use of such a smooth powerband-especially from an inline-four-is a refreshing change.
The MV's Mk II traction control uses a rate-of-change algorithm to determine the moment and amount of intervention (a system used by aftermarket units like the Bazzaz Z-Fi), instead of comparing front and rear wheel speeds as with the Ducati and BMW traction control systems. By precisely measuring engine rpm, gear selected, and throttle position, the Mk II TC is able to determine when wheelspin is occurring and intervenes via ignition/fuel to pull back power. We've actually found well-developed rate-of-change TC systems like the Bazzaz to work superbly, and the MV's system is no different.
The Mk II traction control is adjustable to one of eight levels, plus it can be turned off completely if desired. The system is very transparent; you don't hear the engine running rough or feel any stuttering in the power when it intervenes, only a small drop in acceleration and a red warning light atop the LCD instrument panel flashing to let you know it's working. We weren't able to experiment much with the lower (less TC) settings, as most of our mileage was in the canyons; we'll be pushing the limits at the track in our upcoming BOTY test. One gripe we had with the system though, was that changing settings required some time and patience with the buttons on the right side of the instrument panel.
The MV also has two selectable engine maps: Sport and Rain. Rain mode only softens the engine response in the first 25 percent of throttle opening (with full power beyond that), so actually it's not as limiting as you think, and a far cry from other neutered rain engine maps. Truth be told, the average rider could leave it in Rain mode and think that the F4 has a very responsive and powerful engine. Again, our gripe with the engine modes is changing them; instead of the buttons on the instrument panel, changing modes goes back to the old MV method of pushing the starter button with the engine running, and it often ends up being a frustrating hit-or-miss operation.
Steering and handling characteristics from the MV's hybrid chromoly steel tubing mainframe/cast aluminum swingarm pivot rear section chassis were superb. Steering was as sharp and quick as a Honda CBR1000RR with just a tad more initial effort required, although perhaps with a touch more stability than the CBR. The greater effort could probably be put down to the MV's 468-pound wet weight; while the newest MV has dropped some 16-odd pounds from its predecessor, it still doesn't rank among the lighter literbikes in the field.
Suspension action from the Marzocchi 50mm inverted fork and Sachs rear shock was excellent as well, with a nice compliant ride over the small bumps while still handling the bigger hits well. The Marzocchi fork follows the increasingly popular method of having the right side fork leg handle rebound damping, and the left side deal with compression damping (both sides have spring preload adjustment). Separating the damping circuits pays numerous dividends: it cuts weight from not doubling up on components, it allows better and more consistent damping because the internals' design and size isn't compromised due to space taken up by the other parts, and it allows easier and quicker adjustments.
Our only gripe with the suspension was that access to the spring preload collar on the rear shock was extremely limited. The only way to accomplish the task without removing the exhaust midpipe section running behind the right side footpeg assembly would be to use a hammer and punch...not how you want to treat your MV Agusta.
Braking action from the 320mm discs and radial-mount/four-piston Brembo monobloc calipers (actuated by a Nissin master cylinder, as has been the case almost since day one) was exemplary, with a very linear response curve. The amount of braking power you received was directly related to the amount of pressure on the lever, which suits many riders better than a slightly progressive setup that builds a bit more braking power as pressure or heat increase.
Form And Function Are One
Back in the old days, forking out some major green for a limited production European brand usually meant you got some exclusivity and cachet, but the performance side often came up a bit short of the mass production Japanese machinery. Those days are long gone, my friend; even today's "exclusive" brands need to have the performance to meet the established class heavyweights head on, or their brand cache will soon fade away.
We were sufficiently impressed enough with the F4 to include it in our upcoming Bike of the Year comparison. That's some pretty rarified company-but the MV Agusta F4 is much, much more than just a pretty face.
|2010 MV AGUSTA F4|
|+||Strong, linear power|
|+||16 pounds lighter|
|-||Still a little heavy|
|-||Still a tad pricey|
|-||Non-intuitive settings procedure|
|x||No longer just a pretty face|
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS|
|FRONT||Spring preload--1 turn in from full soft; rebound damping--12 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping--10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height--4 lines showing above lowest point on top triple clamp|
|REAR||Spring preload--23mm from top of spring to end of threads on shock body; rebound damping--12 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping--10 clicks out from full stiff; ride height--6mm thread showing on linkage rod|
2010 MV Agusta F4
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse DOHC inline four, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 55.0mm
Compression ratio: 13.1:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI with 49mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Front suspension: 50mm Marzocchi inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel; adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single Sachs shock absorber, 4.7 in. travel; adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front brake: 2, radial-mount/four-piston monobloc calipers, 320mm stainless steel discs
Rear brake: Single four-piston caliper, 210mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17 in.; cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 23.5/24.5 deg. (adjustable)/3.9 in. (100mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Seat height: 32.7 in. (830mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L)
Weight: 468 lb. (212kg) wet; 441 lb. (200kg) all fluids except gas
Instruments: LCD panel for digital speedometer, bar graph tachometer, coolant temperature, odometer/dual tripmeters, lap time, traction control level, sport/rain engine mode, night/day dash setting, scheduled maintenance, EOBD diagnostics; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low oil pressure, kickstand down, low battery level, low fuel level, traction control activation, shift points
Quarter-mile: 10.21 sec. @ 149.38 mph (corrected)
Top speed: NA
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/2.88 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.86 sec.
Fuel consumption: 25-30 mpg, 29 mpg avg.
I was glowing after riding the F4 around the Almeria circuit in Spain during its intro a few months ago and I'm still glowing after riding it back at home. Sometimes at these intros the manufacturer will have us riding "cheater" bikes that have been specially prepared for the day, and it's not until we get a unit back at the office that we find out the two are nothing alike. I'm glad to report that's not the case here. As far as literbikes go, it's just an easy bike to ride quickly. Gobs of power right where you need it most makes it feel like a freight train and the chassis always feels planted. Ergonomically the F4 is all business-high pegs and low bars make for a torturous ride during the daily commute-but the quad pipes in the rear sound so delicious that I really don't care. Once on the track or in the twisty bits and the seating position starts to make more sense. I think it's a shame a small company like MV Agusta can't afford to fund a strong racing effort anymore because this bike is the real deal and let's face it, racing grids all over the world would be better off with the red and silver machines occupying a few spots. Here's to hoping...
When the MV Agusta F4 first made its appearance in 750cc form back in '98, it was a fantastic styling exercise but not much else. It was overweight, underpowered, and despite the radial valve cylinder head, seemingly a generation behind technology-wise to the class leader, the Suzuki GSX-R750. The jump to liter-size engines in '05 helped it close the gap to the competition, and the F4 1000R in '06 was right in the wheel tracks of the class leaders. But there seemed to be a lull in development from that point, as the engine grew to 1078cc and more special editions with different bits and graphics were paraded through the MV lineup.
But with the apparent influx of Harley-Davidson capital, it appears the development curve is starting to gain some speed again. The latest F4 is a superb literbike, with gobs of quick-revving yet linear power, a sharp-steering yet stable chassis, and excellent brakes. And it's definitely not lacking in technology, with a well-developed traction control system that appears to work quite well despite its lack of wheel-speed sensors.
To top it all off, the MV is now priced within sight of the other literbikes, instead of floating about up in the stratosphere. It's still pretty exclusive, but now that exclusivity is attainable by more than the well-heeled.