Two V4 giants get into a street brawl
On the racetrack, the fight between the Aprilia RSV4 RF and Ducati Panigale V4 S was so close, it resulted in one of, if not the, closest shootout in Motorcycle.com history, with the two protagonists separated by 0.2% – two-tenths of a percentage point! – on our scorecards. On paper, anyway, the Ducati emerged victorious for a track tool, but it was only our racetrack ringer, Shane Turpin, who ultimately picked the Panigale V4 S – and its $4k heftier price tag – as his weapon of choice. Meanwhile, both Tom and I would elect to save the extra dough and be perfectly happy with the Aprilia – despite what the scorecard says.
For part two of our V4 faceoff, we take the two Italians off the track and see what they’re like to live with on the street. As we often see when comparing motorcycles on both the street and track, things we’d often miss or consider non-factors in one environment become major talking points in the other. This is especially true in this case, and our overall scores reflect an even tighter finishing order because of it!
This time around, we’re leaving Shane Turpin at the track and giving riding duties to Tom and Yours Truly. We got to know the bikes during average highway duty, around town jaunts, and even stopped at a coffee shop or two for poseur value. Then we ripped them up through the twisties surrounding our lovely SoCal locale. The verdict?
Sportbikes are terrible commuters
I’ve written before about sportbikes being terrible for your normal street rider who may never explore the edges of their tires. In exchange for the gorgeous good looks and mind-boggling acceleration these Italian exotics offer, you’re faced with a forward riding position that puts weight on your wrists and lower back, which leaves your butt sore after a long ride. This is especially true in the case of the Aprilia. Its tall seat height (33 inches) is coupled with a rather broad seat (for a sportbike), leaving shorter riders on their tip-toes. The creases along the edges of the seat also don’t do the glutes any favors on long rides. While they may help the seat conform to the lines of the motorcycle, the sharp crease isn’t comfortable to sit on for any length of time. Then, of course, there’s the forward lean and relatively tight knee bend compared to the Ducati.
Maybe we’re just getting old, but the silver lining for the RSV4 is the fact it comes equipped with cruise control, an option you won’t find on the Ducati. Following the advice of the great late-night infomercial host Ron Popeil, all you have to do is “set it and forget it,” and you can cruise along in relative comfort. Meanwhile, the Ducati rider is forced to keep the throttle open with their hand. Ugh, so primitive…
Or is it? We couldn’t believe it ourselves, but if you gotta slog through town on a sportbike, the Ducati Panigale V4 S cockpit isn’t such a bad place to be, ergonomically speaking. The seat is a half inch lower than the Aprilia’s, but it feels like more thanks to the slim fuel tank junction. It’s got decent padding, too, which is a surprise. Unlike Ducatis of old, the rider isn’t reaching over for the front tire while grabbing the bars, and the pegs feel lower than the Aprilia, giving a more open rider triangle. Between the two, both Tom and I preferred the ergos of the Duc, but we gotta admit, it sure is nice to let cruise control lead the way as you’re heading to and from the twisties.
How would you like that cooked?
While we liked the ergos on the Ducati, something we can’t ignore is the immense heat the Panigale V4 S – or at least our particular test bike – produces. On the racetrack, this wasn’t as readily apparent, since we’d ride the bike then come in and hop off (though we did notice the temperature gauge brimming on the hotter end of the spectrum), but tooling around on the street, the Ducati’s heat issues are immense. You may recall we’ve had similar heat issues with Panigales of the past, but the new V4 eclipses even those. What’s more, the Panigale V4’s frame spars act as heat sinks. So, once you come to a stop your thighs are roasting on the frame until you get moving again.
“As my daughter, Hayden, would say, ‘it’s hot, hot, hot!’” says Tom. He goes on to comment, “Ergonomically, the Ducati is the superior motorcycle compared to the Aprilia, but it’s all for naught when you’re forced to ride around with the legs flayed out in order to direct cooling air to the ever-worsening inferno emanating from the V4 between your legs.”
So, when it comes to ergonomics for the street, it’s essentially a wash between the two. One puts you in a more committed position (but at least it has cruise control), while the other will have your legs cooked to medium rare by the time you get to where you’re going.
There’s no replacement for displacement
Many commenters to both the track story and video complained that the Ducati is a “cheater” due to its bigger engine. True, its 1103cc V4 makes it ineligible for most racing classes throughout the world, but on the street, there’s no such thing as a cheater engine. Heat issues aside, the Panigale V4 power is arguably more appreciated on the street than it is on track.
Here’s what Tom had to say about it: “The Ducati’s engine performance on the street is intoxicating. Its revvy nature allows me to carry gears longer and row the gearbox lazier –which totally fits my style of riding. The torque output always means you have enough oomph to accelerate out of any given situation regardless the gear you’re in. While I preferred the smooth linear fashion of the Aprilia’s power delivery at the track, I’ll take the Duc’s shock and awe engine performance on the street any day.”
My opinions fall in line with Tom’s, though that’s not to take anything away from the Aprilia. We’re on record several times in the past waxing poetic about our love for the RSV4 engine. Its linear power delivery is sublime, and better still, the roar it makes at full song is second to none. “The Ducati V4 sounds more like a traditional V-Twin offering,” says Tom. “A sound, in my humble opinion, that pales in comparison to the Aprilia’s V4. This is as subjective as it gets, but when I get on a V4 I want it to sound like one – and the Aprilia’s noise pushes all the right auditory buttons.”
To get more specific, both the Aprilia and Ducati have excellent fueling straight from the factory, as you can see by the clean lines when we put both bikes on the dyno. What the graph also clearly shows is the Ducati’s displacement advantage not only results in more power up top but simply more power everywhere. You can feel it from the moment you crack the throttle, the Ducati’s power and displacement advantage is evident. Of course, this is to be expected, but the manner in which the Ducati does so is incredible. It doesn’t inch away from the Aprilia (which is no slouch itself) – it drops the RSV4 like a bad habit.
Both motorcycles are equipped with quickshifters in both directions, and similar to the reactions we had at the track, Tom liked them both equally while I sided with the Aprilia by the slimmest of margins. The smoothness with which both bikes click into gear – in either direction – is unreal, but the Aprilia gets the nod by being smoother in the lower half of the rev range.
Lean on me
Hustling the Aprilia and Ducati in the canyons proved to be interesting indeed. True to form, the Aprilia exhibited the same pinpoint accuracy we loved at the track, with great communication between chassis and rider. Meanwhile, at street speeds, the chief complaint we had about the Panigale V4 – chassis communication – wasn’t as much of an issue. The Ducati will rail a corner with the best of them, but like nearly everywhere else in this test, the two are evenly matched here. The Aprilia is able to hang with the Ducati mid corner due to its confidence-inspiring ability to carry more corner speed. Then, of course, the Panigale pulls away on exit.
It’s, perhaps, a testament to the Aprilia RF’s well-damped Öhlins bits that we didn’t feel the need to make adjustments to it – though if we did, tools would have been needed. For its part, the Panigale V4 S shines in this scenario, as making suspension adjustments is as simple as making a few button presses. Otherwise, manipulating the electronics (TC, ride modes, etc.) is a relatively simple process on both bikes once you figure out the nuances. However, where the Ducati’s electronic suspension really comes in handy is when your terrain, and your requirements, change. As Tom notes, “I like the Duc’s electronics package at the track but it’s even more important on the street. In the canyons, you push a button and stiffen everything up for better handling when riding aggressively, then push another button to soften things up for a more cushy freeway ride on the way home.”
You may have noticed that, including the track test, it’s taken this long to even mention the braking abilities of both machines. The simple reason is this: both shed speed at an uncanny rate. Both sport top-shelf items from Brembo: M50 monoblocks for the RSV4, Stylema monoblocs for the Panigale V4 S, both clamping on a pair of 330mm discs. There’s not much to say other than “whoa.” We’ve gone on and on about how well each system works, providing outrageous stopping power with superb feel and balance at the lever. We’ve had nothing but praise for Brembo’s latest offering, the Stylema units, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we said we could feel any appreciable advantage over the M50.
The final tally
As was mentioned at the top of this comparison, the results for the street test are even narrower than the results on the track. It’s as much of a shock for us as it probably is for you. Initially, we were in firm standing that the Ducati’s power advantage would be enough to sway us toward the Panigale. However, its heat issues are a big drawback for a street bike.
On Aprilia’s side, the 999cc displacement by no means produces a weak motorcycle, but when compared to the 1103cc Ducati, it suddenly feels slow. However, its engine character, as well as the chassis are still magical to us – and we’ll never get tired of hearing that RSV4 sing at full song.
The Ducati’s electronic suspension is definitely nice, effective, and intuitive to use, but the Aprilia’s analog bits are about the best you can get on a production bike without introducing a computer chip – and, crucially, it also means the whole motorcycle is $4,000 cheaper – $23,499 compared to the Ducati’s $27,495.
After many discussions back-and-forth between Tom and I, we came to a conclusion on the scorecard we’ve never reached before – we’re declaring this one a tie. Had the Ducati not run so hot the scales might have been tipped in its favor, but as far as our particular test bike is concerned, its heat issues cost it some points. Meanwhile, the RSV4 proved yet again why we love it so much with its consistent, confidence-inspiring performance.
Maybe the real truth is we’d pick neither of these bikes for the street and go with something equally as fun and a lot more streetable. Here’s Tom to close us out: “In all honesty, I’d take my money and spend it on a KTM Super Duke R or Tuono, but that’s just me getting older. If your youthful vitality can withstand the demands of a repli-racer for long time periods between corners, either of these two machines will keep you grinning.”
|Aprilia RSV4 RF vs. Ducati Panigale V4 S – Street Scorecard|
|2018 Aprilia RSV4 RF||2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S|
|Total Objective Scores||93.8%||95.2%|
|Quality, Fit & Finish||96.3%||92.5%|
|Troy’s Subjective Scores||96.3%||95.8%|
|Tom’s Subjective Scores||95.8%||95.6%|
|2018 V4 Shootout Specs|
|Aprilia RSV4 RF||Ducati Panigale V4 S|
|Engine Type||999.6cc liquid-cooled, 65º V4||1103cc liquid-cooled 90º V4|
|Bore and Stroke||78.0mm x 52.3mm||81.0 x 53.5mm|
|Fuel System||Four Marelli 48mm throttle bodies with 8 injectors; variable-height intake ducts||EFI, twin injectors per cylinder. Ride by wire w/elliptical throttle bodies; variable length intake system|
|Horsepower (measured)||168.9 hp @ 13,570 rpm||186.71 hp @ 13,350 rpm|
|Torque (measured)||73.1 lb-ft @ 10,770 rpm||80.7 lb-ft @ 11,470 rpm|
|Valve Train||DOHC; four valves per cylinder||DOHC; four valves per cylinder w/Desmodromically actuated valves|
|Front Suspension||Öhlins Racing Fork with TIN surface treatment, 43mm stanchions. Adjustable spring preload and hydraulic compression and rebound damping; 120mm of travel.||Öhlins NIX30 43mm fully adjustable fork with TiN treatment. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment.|
|Rear Suspension||Öhlins Racing monoshock with piggy-back, fully adjustable||Fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 unit. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment.|
|Front Brake||Dual 330mm floating discs. Brembo M50
4-piston mono-block radial calipers.
|Dual 330mm semi-floating discs. Radial-mount Brembo monobloc Stylema (M4.30) 4-piston calipers w/cornering ABS|
|Rear Brake||220mm disc. Brembo 32mm 2-piston caliper.||245mm disc, 2-piston caliper w/cornering ABS|
|Rake/Trail||24.5º/4.1 in. (104mm)||24.5º/4.0 in. (100.0mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.4 in.||57.8 in.|
|Seat Height||33.6 in.||32.5 in.|
|Curb Weight||465 lbs.||445 lbs.|
|Fuel Capacity||4.9 gal.||4.2 gal.|