When Ducati first released the 848 in '08, it was hoping that the WSBK organizers and the FIM would approve its homologation for use in World Supersport competition. The previous 749 was no longer competitive, and the company's switch to the new 1098 platform meant that the smaller sibling had to undergo upgrades as well. Unfortunately, vociferous objections from the Japanese 600cc four-cylinder manufacturers regarding the 848's near-100cc displacement increase put a halt to Ducati's WSS racing plans for its new middleweight.
In fact, the only place where the 848 has been approved for competition among the middleweight landscape is in the U.S., where the AMA's Daytona SportBike category has allowed a wide variety of engine configurations and displacements to race against one another. Team Latus Motors Racing's Steve Rapp, and DNA Energy Drink CNR Motorsports Ducati's Bobby Fong and Michael Beck have been campaigning the smaller desmo with reasonable success, with Rapp finishing on the podium in seven of the season's 18 races, and Fong winning a photo finish over eventual champion Martin Cardenas in the first race at Virginia International Raceway.
That might explain why the U.S. - often last in line when country-specific variants of a particular model are slated for production - was the first country to get shipments of Ducati's latest version of the 848 for '11, christened the 848 EVO. And why we think that you might see more Ducatis running up front in the AMA Daytona SportBike class in '11.
Ducati's engineers dove into the 848 powerplant's internals in the search for more horsepower, utilizing mostly tried-and-true methods. A new piston crown and combustion chamber shape improve burn efficiency and bump compression significantly from the 848's 12.0:1 to a staggering 13.2:1. More aggressive cams feature higher lift (13mm versus 11.5mm), with the intake cam offering a longer 257-degree duration from the 848's 253-degree span. The Marelli EFI elliptical throttle bodies increase in equivalent diameter from 56mm to 60mm, and the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system now uses two lambda probes (one for each cylinder) to maintain precise fueling.
The chassis and running gear also received some minor upgrades, with Brembo's monobloc calipers now handling front brake duties, and a non-adjustable steering damper installed behind the steering head. And Pirelli's superb Diablo Supercorsa rubber replaces the previous Dragon Supercorsa Pro tires.
Andiamo! ("let's go!")
Firing up the 848 EVO results in a bark that is slightly more muted than the previous 848. There's still plenty of the usual desmodromic basso profundo exhaust note present, but much of the edge has seemingly been lopped off. A look at the EVO's tail section reveals why: the EVO's twin underseat silencers are much longer than the previous units, with the ends protruding far beyond the tiny taillight perched at the tip of the angular tailpiece (the reason for these longer mufflers is part of what appears to be a stop-gap solution that we'll get into later).
Noticeable right off the bat is a slight dead spot around 3000 rpm that requires a little throttle and clutch finesse to get off the line smartly, especially with the V-twin's typical tall gearing. Thankfully the 848's wet clutch is far more durable and smoother in action than the dry clutch units found on the bigger desmos.
The ergos are unchanged from the previous generation, so all that needs to be said is that they're great for the racetrack or serious canyon use, but anything other than an aggressive pace on twisty tarmac and your wrists and backside will be begging for mercy in no time. Mirrors are great for a blurred view of your elbows, although all Ducati Superbikes now come with optional 30mm mirror stalk extensions; we weren't able to try these out, but the vibration from the V-twin's power pulses fuzzes out the image so badly that it'll be difficult to tell if it's a police cruiser or pickup truck behind you anyway.
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.
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?
We mentioned earlier about how much longer the 848 EVO's underseat mufflers are than the previous model. Yet when we examined photos of the 848 EVO from Ducati's press kit, the mufflers seem to be the same size as before (take a look at the comparison shots). This led us to surmise that Ducati - as have many other OEMs - found some unexpected roadblocks in getting its latest sportbike onto U.S. shores.
As manufacturers squeeze more power from their engines, the incredibly complicated and laborious U.S. EPA emissions and noise standards become increasingly difficult to pass. One manufacturer rep confided to us that balancing these opposing forces has become "more of a juggling act now. In order to make more power, you have to cut back on noise somewhere, whether from the exhaust or somewhere else. And then you run into the emissions regs. It's becoming a very complicated and expensive battle." It's our theory that in its unhindered European form, the Ducati 848 EVO does crank out a bit more horsepower than the old 848 (Ducati claims six more horsepower at the crankshaft, equating to around five more at the rear wheel); stricter American emissions and especially noise tests forced the retrofit of the larger mufflers and most likely leaner fuel maps, killing off any power gains that would've been present otherwise.
At press time, there was no accessory "racing only" exhaust and ECU remap available from the Ducati Performance catalog, but you can be sure those parts will be available soon. We hope to get the 848 EVO back and do some fiddling with an aftermarket exhaust and fueling unit ourselves in the future.
Braking duties are ably handled by the new Brembo monobloc calipers biting on 320mm discs. While we never really had that much complaint with the previous two-piece calipers, the power and feel generated by the four 34mm pistons and single-piece construction of the monobloc caliper allows a level of modulation at more aggressive braking pressures that can't be matched by the old units. And yet that braking power doesn't come at the expense of grabby initial response that can threaten to upset the chassis if you aren't careful when applying them midcorner; the responsiveness is softened just enough to allow aggressively quick application without adverse consequences.
Ducati Goes "Murdered Out"
Going with an all-matte black motif ("murdered out" in street slang) seems to be all the rage these days with automobiles, despite the fact that Ducati has been offering "Dark" versions of its Monster for many years. But outside of trend concerns, this 848 EVO Dark has more than a visual appeal - the Dark costs $1000 less than the Ducati Red and Arctic White versions. The lack of actual engine performance increase over the old model in stock form could be cited by some, but it should be remembered that this version of the 848 EVO is the exact same $12,995 price as last year - and we'd wager that the potential for increased performance is just waiting to unlocked with an aftermarket exhaust and ECU upgrade. Just as we'd be willing to bet that you're going to see more Ducatis in the AMA's Daytona SportBike class in '11.
|2011 DUCATI 848 EVO|
|+||Strong engine, stable chassis|
|+||Same price as last year (Dark)|
|-||Lost some midrange|
|-||Little more top-end power|
|-||Rear rebound damping a pain to access|
|x||An aftermarket exhaust and an ECU|
|upgrade away from nirvana|
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front: spring preload-4 lines showing on adjuster; rebound damping-11 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping-0.75 turns out from full stiff
Rear: spring preload-21mm from top of spring to end of threads on shock body; rebound damping-1.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping-2 turns out from full stiff
2011 Ducati 848 EVO
MSRP: Dark Version as tested, $12,995
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree, DOHC, V-twin
Bore x stroke: 94.0 x 61.2mm
Compression ratio: 13.2:1
Induction: Marelli EFI, elliptical throttle bodies equivalent to 60mm diameter, single injectors/cyl.
Front suspension: 43mm Showa inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. (127mm) travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single Showa shock, 4.7 in. (120mm) travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping, ride height
Front brake: 2, radial-mount/four-piston monobloc calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Seat height: 32.6 in. (830mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L)
Weight: 457 lb. (198 kg) wet; 412.4 lb (187 kg) all fluids except fuel
Instruments: Liquid crystal display (LCD), with bar graph tachometer, digital speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeters, fuel reserve tripmeter, coolant temp, ambient air temp, clock, battery voltage, lap times; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low fuel, low oil pressure, rev limit
Quarter-mile: 10.75 @ 130.77 mph
Top speed: NA
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.4 sec.; 80-100 mph/5.27
Fuel consumption: 34 to 40 mpg, 38 mpg avg.