Ducati Panigale V4 S Corse review – actually too much for the road?
Maybe. Maybe not. 400 miles on Bologna's maddest box of frogs
When Ducati switched from two cylinders to four back in 2017, it was the motorbike equivalent of Porsche waking up one morning and deciding the 911 should be a front-engined hot hatch.
It was a huge, huge change for the brand.
After all, Ducati’s L-twin had been through a lot, and its loud, booming, torque-rich signature had become the essence of the brand. There are few more iconic bike sounds than a lumpy Ducati twin fighting against its starter motor before relenting and shrugging into a deafening and uncertain idle.
I’ve owned a 2009 Ducati 1198S for a year. It was, in many ways, the pinnacle of Ducati’s torquey twins before the Panigales arrived with their revvier short-stroke engines. But even those two-cylinder Panigales still felt like the Ducatis we know and love. They still vibrated enough to make the rear-view mirrors a complete irrelevance and, by the time the 1299 Panigale came out in 2015, they still had lots of low-down punch.
So would the transition to a four-cylinder engine, with the 214hp Panigale V4, create a new generation of Bolognan superbikes that feel completely un-Ducati?
It’s a big question, and we took one for the team by borrowing a Panigale V4S Corse for a fortnight to see what it’s like to live with. We clocked up almost 400 road miles including Sunday morning backroad blasts and a fair bit of commuting that involved hours of lane-splitting on the motorway.
Spoiler: It was a fortnight that completely recalibrated our sense of how fast the human body can go.
It makes you swear at every opportunity...
… but mostly in a good way. The shower of expletives started as it rolled out of the Ducati delivery van. Because despite how it looks in these pictures, it’s not a red Ducati. It’s a fluorescent satin orange one. And. It. Looks. Stunning.
It stands out enough that I was constantly worried about it being nicked, but you get that with any new bike these days.
When I first asked to borrow the bike, a polite lady at Ducati emailed with the following immortal line. “The bike has a race exhaust system fitted. Is that okay?” Clearly I wasn’t going to argue.
Full exhaust? £4,355 excluding fitting. Noise? Priceless. Unless you have a swear jar.
But when I hit the starter for the first time I jumped out of my skin.
The starter spins quite a few times before the engine catches, which gives you just enough time to shrug your shoulders up to try and cover your ears. Because when that 1100cc V4 fires, it does so with an almighty cavalcade of noise. The Akrapovic full system basically de-cats the bike and removes most of the silencing.
It simply explodes with a wall of noise and demands you stick another fiver in the Panigale swear jar. A blare that isn’t as bassy as my 1198, but one that still batters your chest as you hunch over the tank and open the throttle.
We’ve only found one track day noise test that this exhaust would pass, and it’s on the moon.
Ducatis are now smooth
The first time you pull away on the Panigale V4 you’ll likely be surprised at two things. Firstly, that you have to slip the clutch more than usual because first gear feels longer than a British winter. Secondly, because it’s so smooth. The old v-twin Ducatis did eventually smooth out at about 3500rpm, but this V4 just feels buttery straight away. This means that – glory be – the mirrors actually work, and that you can filter between queues of cars on the motorway without slipping so easily into that low-rpm judder zone where the v-twin bikes would attempt to undo every single fastener on the fairings.
It’s just outrageously fast
You’ll twist the Panigale V4’s throttle hard and think ‘yup, that feels mighty fast’. And, honestly, you’ll only be doing 7,000rpm. It feels like a genuinely rapid bike up to that point.
Then you do a double-take at the rev counter and realise it revs to 14,500rpm.
So you try again, locking your knees into the tank and gripping the pegs with your feet.
Second gear. 7,000rpm on the TFT dash. Pin it.
The digital rev-counter warps to 9,000rpm rapidly, but then something utterly terrifying happens. It rips from 9,000pm to the 14,500rpm redline so fast your eyes will genuinely struggle to process the upcoming strip of Tarmac in time. That’s what 214hp feels like. Add in the extra 16hp from the race exhaust and this Corse was packing 230hp. No wonder I repeated a single word beginning with F about 20 times in quick succession.
It. Is. Ludicrously fast.
My eyes couldn’t keep up with the speeds the bike was pulling. It’s a terrifying sensation, and an addictive one. And like most addictive things, it’s not very legal. The top-end rush is just unreal, as if the scenery is in a seismic rush to get behind you. I imagine standing at the foot of Niagara Falls and looking directly upwards gives a similar sensation.
Between 9,000 and 14,500rpm on a Panigale V4S, it feels as if nothing could keep up with you.
My current personal point of reference for acceleration is a ride in a Bugatti Chiron. This makes a Chiron feel as if it’s running on two cylinders.
The way the Panigale V4 accelerates at the top end is genuinely, utterly mind-blowing.
And therein lies a bit of a problem. It’s a bit tricky to enjoy it on the road unless you’re very confident there are no police around.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Trundling around the M25, I noticed that when you’re travelling at 70mph (the UK speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways), the Panigale is trotting along at 6,750rpm in third gear. Add another 2000rpm and you’re in ‘you’ll get a fine or points’ territory, and the remaining 5750rpm leave you firmly behind bars and with no hope of driving or riding for another couple of years. It’s a pretty real risk.
But it’s also one well worth taking, even just once.
You feel in control
Although it’s the rev-happy, free-spinning V4 that dominates your initial miles on the Panigale, it’s the handling that really impresses after a few hours in the saddle. That slow-turning reluctance from the trellis-framed era has long been banished, but so has that nervous front-end feel from the 1199 and 1299. The V4 flicks side to side so effortlessly – it leans as easily at 120mph as my 1198 does at 30mph. Yet it still feels planted and stable in the turn, and you can change your line to avoid gravel and horse shite without any dramas whatsoever.
In fact, the high-speed handling is good enough to make you tempted to visit the top of second gear again, safe in the knowledge that you can make it through bends at those sorts of speeds. Which, clearly, is irresponsible.
It’s not all progress though…
10 years separates these bikes, but in riding terms they feel light years apart
There are, however, two areas in which my old 1198S trumps the V4 Panigale. Firstly, there’s the bum feel.
The 1x98 era of Ducati sports bikes is definitely easier to lock into. The plastic tank has cutouts designed to accommodate your legs, which is a godsend for bracing under hard braking or hanging off like Rossi on the roundabout down by McDonalds. The V4, meanwhile, feels wide between your thighs – those extra two cylinders don’t just magically appear without geometric repercussions. The tank is also a bit too bulbous and smooth to really get a grip on with your legs – pull the front brake lever to activate the stupidly powerful Brembo Stylema calipers and you’ll slide into the tank a bit before being able to brace yourself properly.
The satin paintwork on this Corse bike also adds to that slippery feel – and you don’t want to mark it with your boots swinging your leg over the bike, because it’ll be a git to polish out without ruining the matt finish. It does get a lovely suede-like seat, however, which does help keep you in place, and it doesn’t get ruined in torrential downpours on the M25 while wearing kevlar jeans.
We're big fans of grippy seats
Ask me how I know, and I’ll show you a pair of boxer shorts that still hasn’t dried out.
The second area where the V4 can’t compete with my old bike is in throttle response. My 1198 actually feels far more powerful around town and bursting out of 30 limits than the V4, thanks to its ridiculously torquey long-stroke motor. An 1198 will give you about a second’s lead before the 1100 gets into its multi-cylinder stride and absolutely buggers off.
The throttle-by-wire system also can’t compete with the 1198’s cable connection for confidence powering out of a corner – with the 1198 you can almost sense exactly how much gas you can pour on the fire through your right wrist. With the V4S you’re a bit in the dark, although you have a huge array of electronics to keep you safe.
The one on the left locks you in better and you can use more of its power without breaking the law… but you could justify owning both
On the 1198S you have Ducati’s first roadgoing traction control system, which uses the wheel speed to determine when the back is sliding, and an ape with a sledgehammer to cut the power and smash your privates into the tank. Bike electronics have moved on immeasurably in 10 years, and the V4’s suite is right up there.
Is the Panigale V4 too much for the road
On the face of it, the Panigale V4 is a bit wasted on the road. It’s clearly meant for track work, and to feel its true warp-factor power you need to be so high in the rev range you’ll be very, very much in prison if you get caught tasting it in any gear.
Some people will therefore say it’s a pointless bike on the road.
But those people would be wrong. There are multiple benefits of having all the electronics that come with that power. You can ride it in the pouring rain, on almost-slick Supercorsa tyres, without fearing that it’ll do you a mischief. And the engine is smooth and tractable enough to not require multiple gear changes when you’re commuting. It still has stacks of midrange to make riding on the road fun. The downblipper and quickshifter meant I could get to work every day without an aching left hand from pulling the clutch in all the time. The electronic suspension is supple enough, and it’ll get anywhere between 40 and 50mpg if you ride it normally, and the riding position is pretty roomy.
The downsides? Well, at £25,795 this Corse edition is even more expensive than the already expensive £24,295 V4S (and the only real change is the paintwork), and a lot more money than the regular £19,495 V4. And the full race exhaust is £4,355 and takes a day or two of a dealer’s time to fit. So this bike, as tested, was something like £30,000. The exhaust does hike power to 227hp though, which is a cool thing to be able to say on two wheels.
Oh yes, and it’s sometimes impossible to hook the sidestand down with your boot, meaning you have to use your hand, or otherwise kick your fairing lowers into oblivion as you scrabble for it.
But that’s a small price to pay for knowing a truly otherworldly experience is just a twist of your right hand away.
a Ridiculous, sublime, surprisingly usable slice of racebike for the road
Second opinion – by Colin Goodwin
In the interests of fairness, I gave DriveTribe regular and ex bike racer Colin Goodwin a shot on the V4. Here's what he had to say:
"I have never ridden or driven any machine with such breathtaking performance and that includes a Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1."
"Near £30k for a motorbike is a lot of dosh but you are talking about the ultimate two-wheel machine. A McLaren P1 or La Ferrari equivalent from the car world will cost considerably more."
"How fast you can get from 0-60mph on the Ducati is down to the rider’s skill and bravery. Once you’re up at 50mph the bike’s acceleration would leave a supercar for dead."
"I never got close to using full throttle on the Panigale, even on a motorway. Even in first gear you’d be facing a ban and in second or third forget it. Plus the violence of the acceleration is just too scary. When the revs get to 9,000rpm you can’t look at the rev counter because a giant hand has gripped the horizon and pulled it into your face."
"The amazing thing about the Panigale V4 is that it can go from scaring you to death on a country road to being very docile in town. How can you build and engine that produces 223bhp yet ticks over smoothly and doesn’t overheat at traffic lights. Very clever."