Go-fast time: Ducati previews 214hp Panigale V4 S and Speciale track weapons

2018 Ducati XDiavel S
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Ducati’s new 2018 motorcycle model “More Than Red” show-and-tell tour stopped in the Northwest (Portland and Seattle) recently, giving fans of the iconic Italian bikemaker a peek at some cool — and key — new models.

The party started February 9th at MotoCorsa in Portland, where manager, local bike scene fixture, and all-around bon vivant Arun Sharma hosted the show, which also included remarks from some official Ducati reps and the reveal of five new machines, along with a reskinned current model, the XDiavel S.

Elsa’s bike: Ducati XDiavel S

Ducati continues to soldier on with their Diavel series of alt-cruisers, and brought the high-spec XDiavel S to the party, because nothing says eXpensive like adding the letter X to the trademark. And while the XDiavel S rings in at a nickel or two under $24,000 (or $24,300 in the striking new Iceberg White color that was on display), you do get your money’s worth with the liquid-cooled 1262cc
V-Twin’s 156 horsepower and 95 foot-pounds of torque, numbers that will put any other cruiser out there on notice, no matter the price.

The XDiavel S looks dense, purposeful, and intimidating; whether the style of the ride is your style, is, of course, a matter of personal taste. It certainly doesn’t fit the typical V-Twin cruiser bill, with a single-sided rear swingarm hosting a massive rear wheel and tire, tiny (but very informative) LCD instruments, invert-canted headlight with LED trim, and seating literally for yourself and a 5-year-old. Thankfully, other saddle options exist to accommodate a second full-size human.

The icy white XDiavel S comes with brains as well as subjective beauty, with multiple ride modes, variable valve timing, regular ABS, cornering ABS, traction control, launch control (thank God), cruise control (more thanks!), a slipper clutch, adjustable front forks, Bluetooth for the Ducati app, and LED lights in every socket.

But of course, the hulking power cruiser, which drew a lot of attention as it sat solo and uncovered in the MotoCorsa alcove under a banner with Ducati’s new More Than Red slogan, was just a teaser for what was on tap for the rest of the night.

Dirty fun: Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport and 1100 Special

Hiding under black covers as the crowd of several hundred Portland-area motorcycle enthusiasts filtered in were new Ducati Scrambler 1100 models (or “Scrambler Ducati” in Ducati-speak), which join the already-popular 800cc offerings and the standard 1100. The two new Scramblers variants included the 1100 Sport with a flattering black-and-matte silver paint scheme, black spoke wheels, and some chrome plating on the curvaceous header pipes swirling back to twin upswept exhaust cans.

Joining the Sport was the more upscale Special version, which reverts to cast wheels instead of the Sport’s spoked variety, but adds in Ohlins suspension bits along with a few other premium trim items, along with a sassy black paint scheme with gold trim that recalls old Norton livery for us seasoned riders. But the basics between all three bikes remain the same: An air-cooled, twin-valve L-Twin Desmo power plant from simpler days, although with fuel injection and other tech trickery, they now crank out 86 horsepower and 65 satisfying foot-pounds of torque. All three utilize 6-speed gear boxes.

The new 1100 variants (actual displacement: 1079cc) also add in a mix of new goodies including ride modes, slipper clutch, ride by wire, regular and cornering ABS (no OFF option), five levels of traction control (including OFF), neo-retro clocks with LCD displays and, overall, just more size and power. The bike is a few inches longer, a few dozen pounds heavier and overall, just a bit bigger in most every way, which is good news for larger riders (like yours truly).

But will the new Scrambler 1100 models retain that do-it-all, devil-may-care vibe the more lithe 800 is famous for? We’ll see, but sitting on the bike at MotoCorsa (no rides allowed during the open-bar fiesta), it seemed to whisper “fun, fun, FUN!” in my ear, with a wide handlebar, flat feet on the ground for my 33-inch inseam and a classic-styled flat seat with room for two — or just myself and some weekend getaway gear bungeed on the back. For those with minimalist riding inclinations and dreams of bare-bones touring (me!) that might also include some light off-road work, the bigger every-bike Scrambler 1100 may be the perfect fit. We’re hoping to get some seat time in the near future to test out that very hypothesis. Prices start at $12,995 for the big new bikes.

Color me fast: Ducati 959 Panigale Corse

The next black hidy cover to drop revealed the new 959 (955cc) Panigale Corse, the latest addition to the Panigale sportbike family, and perhaps one of the most approachable models for prospective Ducati sport bike owners. Dressed in a bold mix of MotoGP matte red and white, the Corse machine cuts a mean jib, and the bike we saw featured an underbody exhaust that subtracted the questionable stock dual-stacked pipes to better show off the rear banana-shaped swingarm. How did it sound? If only we knew…

Corse pilots will wrangle 150 horsepower and 75 foot-pounds of L-Twin torque, assisted by a range of e-helpers including traction control, ABS, Engine Brake Control, multiple ride modes, a quick shifter for clutchless upshifts, slipper clutch, and a comprehensive LCD infopanel. The Corse edition also ups the suspension game with fully adjustable Ohlins boingers front (NIX30) and back (TTX36), plus a big O steering damper. If you don’t want to ante up for the Big Time Panigale V4, then this is your bike, and it’ll only set you back $17,595.

Welcome to The Machines: Ducati Panigale V4 ‘S’ and V4 Speciale

With the appetizers out of the way, the main course was set for the hungry crowd. Ducati reps pulled the covers off the new Panigale V4 S and its more limited-edition stablemate, the essentially almost race-ready V4 Speciale.

Ducati has produced a V4 for commercial consumption before, but just barely. The hyper-expensive ($72,000) Desmosedici RR hyperbike from 2007-2009 is considered one of the most collectible of the many collectible Ducatis, and the vast majority of the 1,500 sold a decade ago are likely zero-mile hanger queens sitting unridden in collections having never turned a wheel on the track or any other surface. What a pity.

Why, yes, these bikes are all street legal.

Fortunately, Ducati has seen to remedy that and will likely make as many of the new V4, V4S and V4 Speciales as they can fit together (OK, OK, only 1,500 Speciale units are set for production). And while Grandpa Desmosedici made a paltry 197(!) horsepower, the new V4 S and Speciale ticks the output up to 214 horsepower and 91-plus foot-pounds of twist from its 1103cc Desmosedici Stradale mill, numbers that, quite frankly, should give all but the most seasoned track jockeys pause, considering the insane power-to-weight ratios these flyweight track weapons possess. Why, yes, these bikes are all street legal. Enjoy your tickets.

With such titanic output on tap (from pump gas!), you’d better believe the Panigale V4 lineup is stuffed nose to tail with every possible rider aid on Earth; you’re essentially riding MotoGP-level kit with some mirrors and turn signals added on. At this point, we need bullet points for all the e-helpers:

  • Multiple rider modes
  • Multiple power output modes
  • Regular and cornering ABS
  • Traction control
  • Wheelie control (you’ll need it)
  • Slide control
  • Engine brake control
  • Auto Tire calibration
  • Power launch control
  • Quick shifter (up AND down)
  • Electronic suspension controls for the Ohlins suspenders
  • LED lighting all around

And we probably missed some of the lesser features. Most every tech feature on the bikes is tunable, turn-offable, tweakable and tailorable for street riding, track days, or about any kind of riding outside of dirt biking (but don’t tell that to MotoCorsa).

The Speciale (“Spesh-ee-all-ee”) includes all the “S” farkles along with numerous carbon fiber bits, Marchesini aluminum wheels, a spiffy Alcantara seat (for one butt only), a full-race Akropovic exhaust system ($$$) in addition to the stock system, those sorta silly brake lever protectors (just like the pros use), and your very own production number machined into the top of the steering yoke, among other announcers of status.

ducati 2018 motorcycle preview panigale v4 s tailleds
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

And the price? A pittance compared to the old halo ‘Sedici RR: Just a tick under $28,000 for the V4 S variant and a fiver under 40 large for the Speciale and all those extras. See? Bargains.

It also helps that both bikes look mean AF, with slick halo-style LED lighting effects, colorful TFT LCD displays, and get-thee-to-the-track riding positions. Sure, you can tour on them, if you’re a contortionist.

How the V4 universe got started

Corporate Ducati nuts and bolts guy Alex Frantz was on hand and explained to all present that the V4 worked (and even sounded) a bit like the regular two-banger Duc L-Twins, but the V4 has an uneven firing order by design in order to get better drive out of corners, something the old-skool L-Twins have always been good for, but two-plus cylinder bikes can often struggle with. Without descending into a full-on technical digression, suffice to say the Ducati V4 is using some of the same tricks Honda discovered decades ago with their then-struggling V4 race bikes, which eventually resulted in Honda going to a “big-bang” uneven firing order that finally got the bikes out of corners without spinning the tread off the tires.

Basically, the brief “pause” in the uneven power pulses allows the rubber in the tire just enough downtime to regrip the pavement, instead of constantly spinning due to the normal “even” 90-degree power pulses. Despite Honda’s high hopes for racing the V4 back in the 1980s, the traction mystery forced early Honda riders to essentially back off the throttle a bit on their corner exits to let the rear meat hook back up — not exactly a good strategy for winning races.

ducati 2018 motorcycle preview panigale v4 speciale tail
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

But now, with the Ducati bokka-boom, bokka-bokka-boom big bang output scheme and the suite of computers riding shotgun, well, riders better hold the hell on, the launch to hyperspace from the corner exit is imminent on these new V4 machines. And to think those Honda guys had exactly zero tech aids back in the day. What stones.

And with that, the crowd slowly filtered out of MotoCorsa into a typical dark and stormy Portland February nightscape. Ducati will be returning to Portland next month to participate in a local Spring Opener ride (of which there are several), and DT will be on hand to see (and HEAR) the new Panigale V4 S actually get underway.

It could get loud.