Bologna, Italy - The Panigale V4, previewed this week ahead of the Eicma biennial, marks Ducati’s biggest break with tradition since the legendary Ing Fabio Taglioni dropped bevel-drive camshafts in favour of rubber belts in 1977; it’s that important.

Billed as the replacement for the 1299 Panigale V-twin at the top of the Ducati pecking order, it’s the first mass-production bike from the Bologna works with a V4 engine, derived directly from the DesmoSedici MotoGP machine and with the same 81mm bore, albeit with a longer, 53.5mm stroke to bring peak revs down and improve mid-range torque, giving it an actual capacity of 1103cc.

There will be, we are told, a screaming short-stroke version displacing less than 1000cc to make it eligible for World Superbike racing, but it’s not clear whether a streetable version of that engine will be offered.

Be that as it may, the current version runs a stratospheric 14:1 compression ration in DOHC desmodromic (of course) four-valve heads. It breathes in through four 52mm ride-by-wire oval throttle bodies, each with dual injectors and variable-length intake bell-mouths, housed in a cavernous 12.8 litre airbox; the factory quotes outputs of 157.5kW at 13 000 revs and 123.6Nm at 10 000rpm.

The crankshaft runs backwards, MotoGP fashion, and the crankpins are spaced at 70 degrees apart to give it a ‘twin pulse’ firing order, with the right-side cylinders firing 90 degrees apart and then a long gap of 200 degrees before the left-side cylinders fire, also 90 degrees apart. That’s what gives the Desmosedici the hardest acceleration out of corners of any MotoGP bike, so who are we to argue?

Drive is taken to the rear wheel via a conventional six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with a hydraulic wet clutch (it wouldn’t have a snowball’s hope of passing EU noise testing with the traditional Ducati dry clutch) and a standard-fit electronic quickshifter that measures the movement of the selector forks rather than just cutting the ignition for a given number of milliseconds and then slamming the power back on.

The Panigale V4 is also the first Ducati in many years that does not have a trellis frame; instead it uses the engine itself as the frame, with a box-section ‘Front Frame’, bolted to the front upper crankcase and rear cylinder head to support the steering head. Both the single-sided swing-arm and the rear suspension damper are pivoted on the back of the gearbox.

A cast-magnesium bracket serves as instrument and fairing mounts, while an aluminium shell-casting, bolted to the rear cylinder head and the top of the gearbox, supports the seat and tailpiece.

All of which, together with magnesium engine covers and a magnesium sump, has kept the kerb weight of the new V4 down to 198kg, only 7.5 kilograms more than the V-twin it replaces.

The electronics package of the Panigale V4 is based on a six-axis inertial platform and includes second-generation Bosch cornering ABS, traction control, slide control, wheelie control, engine braking control and a launch control function.

The Panigale V4 will be released in South Africa during the first half of 2018 in a choice of three variants - the base model with Showa suspension and cast wheels, plastic bodywork and a wet battery, the V4 S with Ohlins suspension and steering damper, forged wheels and a lithium-ion battery, and the V4 Speciale, of which only 1500 will be made.

The Speciale will have all the S kit plus carbon-fibre mudguards, heel protectors and swing-arm cover, a machined-from-solid top fork yoke engraved with the bike’s serial number, adjustable footpegs, articulated racing levers, special grips and an alcantara seat.

Included in the box will be a taller racing screen, a racing fuel-cap, tail tidy kit, telemetry kit, a bike cover, and a track-only, non-street legal, full titanium Akrapovic exhaust system that boosts maximum power by 8.8kW to 166.2kW.

FACTS: Ducati Panigale V4

Engine:1103cc liquid-cooled transverse V-four
Bore and Stroke:81 x 53.5mm
Compression Ratio:14:1
Valvegear:DOHC with four desmo valves per cylinder
Power:15.5kW at 13 000rpm
Torque:123.6Nm at 10 000rpm
Induction:Electronic fuel-injection, ride by wire
Starting:Electric
Clutch:Multiplate wet clutch, hydraulic
Transmission:Six-speed gearbox, chain
Front Suspension:43mm adjustable inverted forks
Rear Suspension:Adjustable monoshock
Front Brakes:2x330mm, 4-pot Brembo Stylema callipers
Rear Brake:245mm, single-piston calliper
Front Tyre:120/17 ZR 17
Rear Tyre:200/60 ZR 17
Wheelbase:1469mm
Seat Height:830mm
Kerb Weight:198 kilograms
Fuel Tank:16 litres

PRICES

Panigale V4 157.5kW/123.6NmR280 000
Panigale V4 S 157.5kW/123.6NmR349 000
Panigale V4 Speciale 166.2kW/123.6NmR650 000

IOL Motoring