First Ride: 2020 Ducati Panigale V4SArmani
Ducati has updated its flagship sports bike to make it easier to ride faster, bringing performance into the reach of those without a world championship point to their name.
214bhp is a frankly ridiculous amount of power to have under a nervous, sweaty right hand that’s busy enough trying to hold on to 195 kilograms of exquisite Italian engineering. And, after feedback from original V4 Panigale customers, Ducati came to the conclusion that we could do with a little help. The 2018 V4 Panigale was, and still is an incredible motorcycle – ballistically fast, but punishing on the rider. Not such a problem for super-fit, highly skilled racers, but for the people who actually bought them, the performance was hard to unlock. Still considerably easier to ride than the V-twin 1299 Panigale, but there’s always room for improvement. And improve they have.
The 2020 Panigale V4 is immediately recognizable by the aero winglets on the sides of the fairing; a useful visual clue as the appearance is otherwise very similar to the old bike. Those wearing a Ducati anorak and holding the accompanying red pen and notebook might just spot the subtly larger fairing at the front of the bike too, improving wind protection. The rest of the changes for the 2020 bike are even more subtle. With such a sophisticated electronics package, changing the bike to make it easier for normal humans to ride fast could be done largely through adaptations on the way the engine’s phenomenal torque is controlled. The launch presentation involved a lot of talk about vectors, torque mapping and predictive slip angles, presumably intended as a sedative to numb the impact of all the graphs and datalogging curves. These changes can be summed up as follows:
- The bike now recovers from a mid-corner slide better
- In lower gears, there’s less torque trying to flip you on your back like a startled leather-clad turtle
- The gearshift is more aggressive above 10,000rpm
- Despite all this the bike still makes 226bhp with the race-kit exhaust and feels like it’s trying to turn you inside out when you hit full throttle.
It was refreshing to discover that in the midst of all this laptop tuning, there was still a gang of suspension technicians changing springs and fiddling with screwdrivers. Making the bike higher and initially softer has improved feel and confidence, without compromising for those trying to set a lap record. The laptops have made the power more predictable, the screwdrivers have made it easier to get through the turns to put that power to use.
The result is a bike that goes from bunny rabbit to badass quite literally at the push of a button. A bloody fast bunny rabbit, but a bunny all the same. With the bike set to Sport mode and all the various collarbone-saving settings turned up, it is like riding in a video game. On the easiest setting. The one the kids put it on when Dad asks for a go on ‘that Play-box-station thing’. Brake as hard as you like; the wheels stay in line and on the ground. Tip the thing on its side, trying to notice how much easier the suspension changes have made this, then point and shoot. I mean it, just point it out of the turn and open the throttle all the way. 214bhp is fed to you in digitally controlled mouthfuls with just the tiniest slide or the odd wave of front tyre. It’s incredible. Going fast has never been so accessible.
Just as you get to thinking that actually, you’re not really needed and the bike is happy enough riding round without you, that’s when you need to try Race mode. Better still, fit the race kit exhaust system and try Race mode with 226bhp and slick tyres. All previous suspicions that the Panigale has been tamed go immediately sideways. Like the bike at every opportunity. Wild, smokey-tyre corner entries run into perfect, electronically controlled drifts onto straights that shrink in the presence of this nonsense. It really lets you live out your GP racer fantasies, letting you push yourself to the point of terror and then pulling you back from the edge every time.
The 2020 V4 Panigale achieved exactly what Ducati set out to do. It is easier to ride, more predictable and feels safer to push your luck on than ever. In the lower modes, some of the madness is gone, but stick the racekit parts on and there is nothing sane about it. It’s a technical masterpiece that retains an ability to turn grown men into gibbering wrecks. £19,995 (£24,795 for the S model) is a fair chunk of money to drop on a toy, but if you don’t spend it on fast bikes, you’ll only waste it.
So what do the wings actually do?
Apart from being useful for hooking your shopping bags on, the winglets that first adorned the V4R homologation special are designed to improve stability and help corner entry. In a straight line, at 186mph they provide 37kg of downforce at the front of the bike. So for track racers, particularly at fast tracks there is a benefit. But if you’re riding on the road, we’re back to my initial point regarding the transportation of groceries.
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