First Ride

First Ride: Ducati 1199 Panigale S review

Take a successful formula that's worked for over two decades then throw it in the bin and start again, from scratch. Welcome to the Italian way of thinking.

I'M SURE you won't have any sympathy when I tell you I could have done with more time on Ducati's new 1199 Panigale S at the Yas Marina F1 circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That's not to say I didn't have enough time to review the Panigale in the four sessions we had but with each session under my belt the Panigale just felt better and better. In the spirit of past Ducati superbikes, this is a proper rider's bike.

Before we go into how the bike rides, I want to run you through some of the technology involved because, even though electronics aren't widely accepted as being a good thing, they play a vital part in how this bike feels. First there's DTC which is Ducati's Traction Control. Don't get this confused with the DTC of old, this new iteration is so much smoother the the last. Then there's DQS, which is Ducati's Quick Shift, it helps you feel in gears with such speed you wonder whether it's actually cheating. Then there's EBC, which is Ducati's Engine Brake Control, designed to help keep the rear wheel behaving on rapid downshifts. EBC wasn't my cup of tea but it definitely contributes to the bike's feel.

Barely three corners in and what stood out to me - and continued to stand out throughout the day - was the engine. Not how much power it makes - although it does make a lot - but how it delivers its power. It is so smooth off the bottom and feels completely different to the 1198SP. The 1198SP, although a good bike, just isn't as usable in lower gears as you'd like it to be. To be honest, I thought the 1199 Panigale was going to be more extreme but it just isn't. It has precisely the amount of drive you want, not need, but definitely not such an excess that you wince every time you open the throttle out of a hairpin.

It doesn't feel like a twin but it doesn't lose the characteristics that I love about twins; torque, usable drive, the narrow riding position and the noise. The noise!  It is so smooth and revs so quickly that if someone told you the Superquadro powerplant was actually a v-four, I'm not sure you'd disgaree.

I know that comparing the Panigale to the 1198 isn't really fair, but the 1198 typifies a lot of the characteristics of Ducati sportsbikes harking back to the 916; you feel like you're sat on them rather than in them, they feel firm and they demand effort. Lots of it. There is so much about the Panigale that's different, it's no longer just another bigger faster version of a bike that 15 years ago was a 916.

Again, all the hype leading up to the Panigale's launch left me thinking it was going to be more extreme than the 1198 the but riding position is really comfortable. You feel like you're sat in the bike, not on it. The reach to the footpegs is roomy and that's not something I'd have ever said about a Ducati sportsbike (just look at the picture on the right for proof). The bars are wide and are set in a more open position but Ducati's design makes them look light on switchgear, further enhancing the race-bike feel. That extra room makes all the difference and the riding position feels natural, definitely not extreme. I daresay that, although the Panigale looks smaller than the 1198SP, it would suit taller riders better than most superbikes.

A lot of the areas where the Panigale benefits are to do with user feel and confidence. The old Brembo monobloc calipers, as used on the Hypermotard EVO 1100SP, 848 EVO and 1198SP are fantastic brakes, amazingly powerful and with the right master cylinder, give good feel. However, I can't forget the first time I used them: it felt like someone had shoved an iron bar in the front wheel. The old monobloc's bite is incredible and starts off being something you fear rather than embrace. Brembo and Ducati have worked together to revise the monobloc calipers on the Panigale and the result is brakes that no longer have the iron bar feel. Some sportsbikes are guilty of being under-braked and having brakes that fade on track, not this one.

Click here for Ducati 1199 Panigale S review page 2 of 2.

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