Ducati's claiming 214bhp
as standard... Carl’s
claiming it's a beast
Ducati's claiming 214bhp as standard... Carl’s claiming it's a beast|Ducati Panigale V4S
First Rides

2020 Ducati Panigale V4S: Refined Rocket

The Ducati’s V4S Panigale is the perfect combination of sexy looks, raw power, and as user-friendly as a bucking bronco with a sore backside

Carl Stevens

I’m not sure about you lot, but I absolutely loved the first iteration of Ducati’s V4S. It proved an utter, fire-breathing monster, with a riding experience that felt more like an acidlaced dragon than a MotoGP inspired protégé. For sheer fun that’s not such a bad thing, but when it came to hunting down lap times or having the fitness to fight it all day on track, let’s just say it proved pretty damn draining. The good news is that for 2020 Ducati’s been back in the lab and has delivered us something a little softer, cuddlier, and supposedly easier to blast around on… but how have they managed it? Looking at the spec sheet, the new V4S’s DNA may only look trivially different to what’s come before, but don’t write it off just yet – we saw only a few months ago how a similar approach from the Bologna boys transformed the dawdling 959 into a refined wonder weapon (the new V2). If anything, the V4 has been taken even further down this path. Yeah, it still utilises the same engine and most of the same components, but there are still plenty of tweaks to talk about. For starters, now the V4S comes equipped with the show-stopping V4R’s nose and fairing panels; not only is the fairing 76mm wider with a taller screen, but it also has the extra cooling vents on the side panels, alongside those fancy carbon winglets, which we’ve been told give a 2.5 metre advantage when accelerating out of the last corner at Jerez to the finish line. Happy days!

That said, if you’re like me you might be thinking that this bike isn’t meant to be easy to ride, or that Ducati’s just bolted on a few trick bits from the back of its factory store room to sex up an ageing model. Maybe they have, but who cares if it means you get a load of glitz and glam from its super- premium sibling? One less obvious addition is the V4R’s teeny-weeny front frame, which has been machined 30 per cent lighter, saving precious weight, but also meaning the 2020 V4S feels less stiff. In total, the new V4S has 30 per cent less torsional rigidity than the rock star that came before it, so it should now offer more feel than a piece of stale bread in the bends. The centre of gravity has also been raised and the geometry altered slightly in order to make the new 2020 model more agile, while they’ve revised the chain angle for a better feeling under acceleration – meaning there’s less of that ghastly squatting when you crack on the gas.

The V4S is so easy to ride, anyone can hit an apex on it
The V4S is so easy to ride, anyone can hit an apex on itDucati Panigale V4S

Oh, and let’s not forget that they’ve updated the ride-by-wire throttle system too, and have stolen the updated EVO 2 traction and wheelie control strategies as well, which has a ‘predictive’ mode in order to stop slides, or to be smoother when you force out a few skidmarks. According to Ducati, all of these changes add up, and it’s claimed factory test rider/ racer Michele Pirro went 0.4s a lap faster at Vallelunga on the new bike, while a slower test rider (think fast trackday pace) found a whopping 1.3 seconds a lap. That’s all well and good, but the only thing I wanted to know was how it would fare when I got my mitts on it?

Stepping out on to the scorching pit lane at the Bahrain International Circuit, it was nigh on impossible to deny the Ducati’s utter beauty, made all the sexier with its added shark vents in the fairings and that menacingly aggressive front end. There’s a reason that people associate Ducatis with pure luxury, and being the biking equivalent of a supercar, I’m not one to disagree; the V4S continues that trend with its gorgeously crafted lines, and a cockpit that felt fit for a king. Although the ride height (and therefore the seat height) had been raised by 5mm, it didn’t feel too tall or awkward even for my little legs, and the rest of the spaciously placed controls hammered home the bike’s welcoming riding position. With the 1,103cc V4 engine fired up, life really did feel exceptionally awesome, with my excitement levels building as I slotted the Ducati into gear and headed out on to Bahrain’s 5km long international circuit. This was to be the perfect playground for the V4S, with plenty of room to stretch its legs and experience just how improved, or not, its cornering credentials really were.

A full Akrapovic system adds 12 horsepower and a weight loss of 6kg, if you so desire
A full Akrapovic system adds 12 horsepower and a weight loss of 6kg, if you so desire Ducati panigale V4S

From the very first lap, with Sport mode selected, the V4S felt like a different animal to its previous incarnation, with the most obvious improvements being to the feel of the front end. The combination of the wings, the decreased rigidity of the frame and the altered (and softer) suspension settings made the V4’s nose come to life, talking to me non-stop as I got down to business. Everything felt so much more heightened, and not just in the corners. There’s a stupid amount of heavy braking zones at Bahrain, which gave me a chance to realise how settled and brilliant the bike behaved when trying my hardest to stop on a sixpence. The stopping power was impressive, but so was the support from the electronic Öhlins suspension that effortlessly sucked up all the abuse I sent its way and meant it was never a challenge to hit an apex. Turn 10 is perhaps the sketchiest corner on the track, with loads of entry speed and the need for a lot of trail braking; it’s the perfect corner to wash the front end out, but not once did the V4S ever feel like it was going to bail out. Last year’s bike always felt a lot more physical to get into a corner, wanting to fight you all the way (especially if you’re not chunky like Mike so lack the weight to throw at it), but the 2020 model just seemed to oblige without any drama. Even through fast direction changes the package felt predictable and easy to switch from side to side, hell, it was even pretty stable. In a world where 1mm of ride height can make such a huge difference, Ducati was very brave to throw 5mm into the mix, but the end result was the 174kg (dry weight) V4S was transformed in a 200bhp+ ballerina.

With a few more laps under my belt, ‘Race’ mode engaged and the old confidence was growing. The hardware had definitely moved the package on a lot, but the other big asset was the software. The refined ride-by-wire and engine mapping settings felt like a dream on track in both ‘Sport’ and ‘Race’ mode, with a really nice throttle connection wherever I was in the rev range; the V4 motor felt potent, but usable. And then there was the traction side of things. I’ve never been one for relying on a few codes and algorithms to save my backside, but after some wise words from Ducati’s rapid test rider Alessandro Valia, I couldn’t resist trying out the revised EVO2 offerings.

Ducati have made a fair few changes throughout the new V4 and V4S, but the engine isn’t one of them
Ducati have made a fair few changes throughout the new V4 and V4S, but the engine isn’t one of themDucati Panigale V4S

Admittedly, the Bosch kit on the old V4S was amazing anyway, but with an updated TCS (DTC) and Wheelie Control strategy, the V4S seemed to do even more of the thinking on my behalf, without tying the bike in knots or slowing me down. Coming out of slow, second gear corners, the wheelie control just effortlessly held the front wheel inches above the floor without a flinch, and for the first time on a litre sportsbike in a long time, I didn’t find myself having to cover the rear brake. And the DTC? Well, that was something really special. It’s been derived from Ducati Corse and their MotoGP project, and for the first time it considers the actual intensity of the wheel spin with the help of the IMU, that in turn essentially means that it can intervene both faster and smoother with less oscillation – which translates to having a system that doesn’t just send you through the screen at the smallest of slides. To be honest, at one point it almost had me thinking that they’d gone too far in the other direction, turning the most savagely exciting bike on the superbike market into a bit of a pussycat, but after a few laps with the electronics turned off I can confirm that this isn’t the case at all. Yeah, Ducati have put their rabid dog on a leash, but it still can run wild if you’re strong enough to walk it.

With a fair few sessions under my belt and a chunk of track knowledge behind me, I really wanted to go for it and see how the Ducati coped under pressure, which meant with some new Pirelli slicks, I gave it some serious berries. In all honesty, the V4S still emitted the same positive vibes as it had all day, but it did give off a few odd niggles here and there; see, even with the changes on the chain and the rear suspension linkage, it did still have a slight squat under heavy gas, that would turn into a bit of a headshake as the tyre buried in and drove forward over bumpy sections. Yeah, it’s leaps and bounds better than the previous model, thanks to the electronics and the chassis, but if you stoke the fire enough it will try and burn you. On Bahrain’s fast and wide surface the Ducati coped impressively well, but on a tight, bumpy circuit, it’s sure to feel a whole different animal. I’m sure messing about with the set up would help a bit, but it pays to remember the potency of this package.On a chirpier note, I did notice the V4S didn’t roast my chestnuts like the old one did, but I can’t say the same about the monstrous Brembo Stylema Monoblocs. They offered so much bite and stopping power, but their performance would edge off with the more laps banged in. On the road, unless you’re at the TT, I doubt it’s something to even consider, but if you’re on a trackday it would pay to dial the span adjuster out a few clicks.

To round off, what was once a burn-inyour-mouth, eye-watering lump of spice, has now become a slightly softer and milder concoction. Ducati have actually listened to some real feedback and made the V4 easier to ride, and ride fast, but have still kept some serious amounts of excitement rolled in for good measure. Everything that made the V4 good upon its release has been kept, while the minute changes and alterations have definitely made it a better package. On its own it’s hard to fault, but the real test will come when we pitch it against its rivals and see if it can cut the mustard. But even if it can’t, a bike this stunning very much deserves a place in your home (or garage).

The 2020 Ducati V4S really is a thing of beauty, and now it’s even easier to nail around!

If the V4S doesn’t tickle your fancy, Ducati also have a standard V4 that will comes in a lot cheaper
If the V4S doesn’t tickle your fancy, Ducati also have a standard V4 that will comes in a lot cheaperDucati Panigale V4S

On a chirpier note, I did notice the V4S didn’t roast my chestnuts like the old one did, but I can’t say the same about the monstrous Brembo Stylema Monoblocs. They offered so much bite and stopping power, but their performance would edge off with the more laps banged in. On the road, unless you’re at the TT, I doubt it’s something to even consider, but if you’re on a trackday it would pay to dial the span adjuster out a few clicks.

To round off, what was once a burn-inyour-mouth, eye-watering lump of spice, has now become a slightly softer and milder concoction. Ducati have actually listened to some real feedback and made the V4 easier to ride, and ride fast, but have still kept some serious amounts of excitement rolled in for good measure. Everything that made the V4 good upon its release has been kept, while the minute changes and alterations have definitely made it a better package. On its own it’s hard to fault, but the real test will come when we pitch it against its rivals and see if it can cut the mustard. But even if it can’t, a bike this stunning very much deserves a place in your home (or garage).

The 2020 Ducati V4S really is a thing of beauty, and now it’s even easier to nail around!

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