Ducati Panigale V4R (2019) review

Visordown spent a fast and furious couple of weeks with the Ducati Panigale V4R, the Italian brand's top-spec superbike. Here’s what it’s like living with a 214hp homologation special.

It’s ballistically fast and like the V4S it’s a physical struggle to feed in the next gear before the 999cc engine slams into the rev-limiter as if it’s slapping you round the face for forgetting to change gear
Outrageously powerful

“DON’T worry, it’s not intimidating at all…” says Ducati's tech guru Jinx, as I nervously take the keys to his Ducati Panigale V4R from him.

The trouble is, when a bike reaches this level of hype, it’s hard not to get a tad intimidated. When a machine wears proper downforce applying wings on each fairing, it’s hard not to feel daunted about riding it flat out. When a bike costs £34,995, weighs 193kg and puts out 217bhp, it’s difficult to not feel like your about to puke as you realise this is yours to keep, to guard and to ride for the next two weeks.

Ducati Panigale V4R: Engine

Powering the Ducati Panigale V4R is a version of Ducati’s V4S engine, that can trace its own roots back to the units used in the MotoGP world championship. To get the bike through the WSBK homologation testing – which is the sole purpose of the V4R – the engineers at Borgo Panigale lopped 5.1mm from each of the piston’s stroke, creating a high-revving, high-output V4 engine.

In its full-blown Race mode, the engine will rev out to a blood-curdling 16,500rpm and will apply 217hp to any willing road surface. Slap on the optional easier breathing Race Kit exhaust and the engine will push out a mind-blowing 234bhp.

Out on the open road – and the track – the R is as easy going at low speeds and comfortable to ride as the lesser spec’d V4S, with the carbon tipped winglets that peek around the fairing sides being the only clue to the monster that lies within. The power is linear with electric efficiency, pulling effortlessly without any need for hurried down-shifts and with very little of the old Ducati shudder you used to spend most of your ride trying to avoid.

It’s when you hit some clear road that the engines Jekyll and Hyde character appears, with two distinct power bands. The first arrives at about 8k rpm, making you think you’re in the fat part of the torque curve. It’s the sort of change in an engine’s demeanour that makes you sink into the seat, ready to enjoy the ride. And just when you’re getting comfy, the TFT dash flashes past the 11k rpm mark and it’s like two of the four pistons have been bullshitting you all along, only just deciding to join the party at this late hour. The bike now launches forwards like a greyhound out of the traps, wrenching your arms with it as the front wheel hovers an inch above the Tarmac.

It’s ballistically fast and like the V4S it’s a physical struggle to feed in the next gear before the 999cc engine slams into the rev-limiter as if it’s slapping you round the face for forgetting to change already. This is what a Ducati should feel like to ride, physical, demanding and engaging, but my god is it rewarding when you get it right!

Ducati Panigale V4R: Suspension

To comply with WBSK regulations the V4R loses the trick electronic suspension of the V4S, instead it’s suspended by top-spec Öhlins NPX 25-30 pressurised front forks, an Öhlins TTX36 rear shock and Öhlins steering damper. On the road or the track, the V4R feels taut, but not uncomfortable. It’s surprisingly good at riding the bumps on my favourite B-road, and some of those are pretty big and easily felt on more road-biased machines.

Ducati Panigale V4R: Handling

On the track the Panigale V4R is a sumptuous machine to drop into a corner, a feeling that’s accentuated by the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa ZR17 at the rear. The profile of the tyre seems almost never-ending, almost laying the bike on the horizontal sidewall when you’re at full lean.

To help put the bike reach the top step of the podium, the V4R is blessed with the same counter-rotating crank as the V4S but thanks to this machine’s supersonic redline the effect seems magnified. Even pulling the bike down into the corner with tiny inputs of the throttle at the corner apex. To help deal with these forces, Ducati’s engineers have the revised frame from the donor VRS. Cutting large holes in it to help the thing flex and to prevent it from tying itself in knots.

Ducati Panigale V4R: Equipment

As you’d expect from a homologation machine, the V4R is dripping with electronic gizmos to make the well-heeled speed-freak go faster on track. The electronics system is closely related to that of the V4S, it’s just been tuned and honed for the track, with less of the road-biased compromise.

The traction control and slide control are supposed to predict a slide, using a cluster of sensors and gyroscopes to pre-warn the electronics, allowing them to prepare for it and then letting you to hold on to it, just like the GP heroes on track!

You have the multiple riding modes, power modes, Bosch Cornering ABS EVO, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) EVO 2, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) EVO, Ducati Slide Control (DSC), Engine Brake Control (EBC) EVO, with the Auto tyre calibration being the only thing close to a creature comfort.

Keeping the 217hp in check during the downshifts is a super-trick STM EVO-SBK clutch, which is hewn from a single lump of billet aluminium. While this may sound like an exercise in bollock-waving, it’s actually a sound engineering solution to get the best performance from the part. The billet construction means no clutch dust can pollute the oil that circulates the engine, helping it to run cooler and more smoothly.

During my two weeks with the bike, I found the clutch to be a satisfying thing to use. With a chunky throw of the lever that requires a full-fisted pull to get the thing to disengaged. When clutching between up-shifts – at low speed it just smoother – you get a nice feeling of backlash through the lever, as the clutch basket and 48-tooth plates argue with each other about who has the most important job. It’s nice, and just another little reminder that this is no ordinary motorcycle.

Should I buy the Ducati Panigale V4R?

Taking the Ducati Panigale V4R back to the Silverstone HQ was a solemn ride, and I’d probably only spent about 800-miles in the presence of this legend. Returning a bike to a manufacturer is normally a bit of a brain-out blast, a final fling, one last ride where I get to pretend for just a bit longer that this bike is mine. I didn’t do any of that with the R, I just plodded along and barely got above the national speed limit. I just wanted to savour being around this bike for as long as I possibly could.

Yes, it’s lost some of the fun-time torque of the V4S. Yes, the suspension isn’t as magic carpet-like over bumps. But that fairing, those winglets, that 16,500 rpm redline and of course, the howl of that over-squared engine: Those are the things that make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle, not how comfy that pothole felt half a mile ago.

The sad thing is, I’ll probably never be able to own one, and many of the people who do buy one – outside of race teams – may never ride it. How many out of the batch already built have been hurried away into storage, never to be seen again?

I know, it’s their money, buts it’s a waste. A waste of a great bike, to ride, to look at and to race.