Ducati Panigale

The Ducati Panigale V4S blew us away last year

Named after the district of Bologna; Borgo Panigale, the Ducati Panigale name first appeared in 2012 on the 1199 superbike, which replaced the long-standing 1198 as the Italian firm’s flag-ship sports machine.

Although sharing the same distinctive red finish, booming V-twin soundtrack and all-but-one-number in its name, the 1199 was a game-changer for Ducati and marked a shift in the design of their full-fat superbikes as the class moved towards the 200bhp barrier.

Producing a claimed 195bhp, the all-new 'superquadro' engine formed the basis of the 'frameless chassis', with the bike’s swingarm, forks, clocks and ancillaries all bolted to the twin-cylinder powerhouse.

From here came the smaller-capacity middleweight 899 Panigale in 2013, which replaced the outgoing 848. This was then boosted to a chunkier 959 in 2016, which helped save the bike from the destructive jaws of Euro4 emissions regulations.

The 1199 was also transformed, receiving a number of updates and special editions before growing to a 1299 in 2015. It was a move that was criticised by some, who felt the existing 1199 was already hard enough to ride, without the extra grunt. Their worries were soon addressed though, when the launch revealed it was actually easier to use, despite more power and torque.

Much like the 1199 before it, the 1299 also spawned a number of specials, designed to give the bike additional performance and greater styling, as well as the competitive edge in the World and British Superbike paddocks. In 2018, the V-twin Panigale came to an end, becoming the first-ever Ducati two-cylinder superbike not to win the WSB title.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale in action

This was replaced by the all-new Ducati Panigale V4 range, which was largely revered as a game-changer - winning MCN’s coveted Bike of the Year for 2018. Powered by an 1103cc, 211bhp V4 engine, the bike was also the fastest MCN had ever tested - recording a genuine 191.30mph top speed at the hands of professional speed tester Bruce Dunn.  

For 2019, the V4 motor will make its debut in the British and World Superbike paddocks in a slightly more compact 998cc guise. Although offering less capacity, the power has actually been upped to 217bhp, with extra aerodynamic wings bolted to either side for more downforce.

Although not just a homologation special, it has been built solely to win the World Superbike crown – something Ducati haven’t enjoyed since Carlos Checa in 2011 on the 1098R.

The history of the Panigale

Ducati 1199 Panigale

  • Engine: 1198cc
  • Max power: 195bhp
  • Torque: 98.1ft-lb
  • Weight: 188kg
  • Seat height: 825mm 

MCN's Michael Neeves wheelies the 1199

In an age of ballistic BMW S1000RRs and savage Kawasaki ZX-10Rs creeping ever-closer to a genuine claim of 200bhp, the Ducati 1199 Panigale was the long-awaited successor to the outgoing 1198 superbike. Launched in Abu Dhabi in 2012 to the world’s press, it was a bike that Ducati staked its hopes on for success in the world of racing and performance road bikes. 

As well as an increase in capacity, the first Panigale broke tradition by featuring a frameless chassis – meaning all of the external ancillaries like the clocks, forks and swingarm were all bolted directly to the thumping 90-degree V-Twin.

The bike also featured a completely new riding position, never before seen on performance-focussed Dukes. Sitting further forward, there is less of a reach to the bars – allowing the rider to remain more in control at higher speeds.

Ducati also redressed the delivery of torque to make the bike manageable from low-down in the revs under hard acceleration – something its ancestor struggled with, thanks to an excessive amount of wallop at the bottom-end. 

The results were stunning and for a shade under £20,000 you could have a gorgeous Italian superbike that not only pulled like a train, but also handled like a (usually far nimbler) Japanese four-pot litre bike.

Initially, the 1199 was available as both a standard machine and as a more lavish S model. This top-spec tool featured Ohlins electronic suspension and an adjustable rear suspension link, complete with Brembo monobloc brakes.

Also included was traction control, riding modes, electronic engine braking control, a slipper clutch, a quickshifter, magnesium and titanium engine parts, a Thin Film Transistor multi-function dash, optional racing ABS and the latest Pirelli Diablo Super Corsa tyres. The standard bike got 50mm Marzocchi forks and a Sachs rear shock, instead of Ohlins.

The specials: Ducati 1199 Panigale

Alongside the standard 1199 and 1199 S came a series of special Panigales; each with their own unique twist and equally outrageous price tags. 

One of the first of these was the Ducati 1199 Panigale R. Designed for collectors and racers alike, the R cost a smidge below £27,000 at its 2013 launch, this machine took the lower spec bikes and added the best extras money could buy, creating a tasty homologation special for Ducati to take racing in WSB.

The 1199 Panigale Superleggera being tested

It’s for this reason that the bike has an adjustable swingarm pivot, as well as heavy lashings of carbon fibre - something MCN Chief Road Tester Michael Neeves criticised as being a little lightweight at the bike’s launch.

This followed on from the 1199 Panigale Tricolore, which again took the standard bike and gifted it with some tasteful accessories. Costing £23,495 in 2012, the lucky few who could afford it received a gorgeous three-colour (or, indeed, tricolore) paint scheme, racing ABS and a datalogger. As if that wasn't enough, there's also a pair of naughty titanium Termignoni slip-on cans, which boosted power to 186bhp at the rear wheel - 26bhp more than the 1198! 

If you couldn’t quite stump up the cash for the full bike, Ducati sold the titanium cans separately for owners of both the standard and 'S' models to the tune of £1466.23.

The last hoorah came for the 1199 Panigale specials was the 166kg, 200bhp 1199 Superleggera (or super light to you and me). Costing a whopping £54,000 in 2014, the limited-run missile had sold out before all 500 bikes had left the production line. 

Based on the 1199 R, the new bike gained 200 new parts, including a magnesium frame and wheels, carbon fibre seat unit and an ultra-light 700g lithium battery.

Despite revised electronics and weighing the same (without fuel) as the WSB bike of the time, the bike was a bit of a handful to ride at speed. That didn’t ultimately matter though, with most owners simply scratching the surface of the bike’s capabilities. 

The middleweight 899 Panigale

  • Engine: 898cc
  • Max power: 148bhp
  • Torque: 73ft-lb
  • Weight: 169kg
  • Seat height: 830mm

MCN's Adam Child in full tuck on the Ducati 899 Panigale

Replacing the Ducati 848 as the Italian firm’s middleweight option, the 899 was a step forward over the old bike and featured a smattering of rider aids as standard and a quick-shifter.

The styling was also radically updated to match its larger 1199 big brother and made for a formidable track weapon. It was also 5kg lighter and faster than the 848, whilst also being more forgiving and comfier too. 

Despite losing the gorgeous single-sided swingarm from the larger Panigale, the 899 was gifted with ABS as standard, as well as the same traction control system from the 1198.

There’s also Ducati’s Engine Brake Control, which looks after engine braking and prevents the rear wheel from locking up. As if that wasn’t enough, you get a Race, Sport and Wet mode, plus a quickshifter, all as standard! 

More power and Euro4: 959 Panigale

  • Engine: 955cc
  • Max power: 157bhp
  • Torque: 79.2ft-lb
  • Weight: 200kg
  • Seat height: 830mm

The 959 Panigale is a formidable track bike

The 959 Panigale was designed to extend the lifespan of Ducati’s baby sportsbike range. The hike in capacity amongst other changes were needed to get the bike through Euro4 regulations, with the 899 superquadro twin only designed to meet Euro3 standards.

Although being a claimed 9bhp more powerful than the old bike, Ducati were forced to abandon their underseat pipe design for a twin shotgun-style system for this model, as well as add an extra 7kg of weight in order to comply with the rules.

This may sound like a backwards step from the outside looking in, but the 959 is a fantastic sportsbike in any company. Most of the bike has been drafted over from the 899, however the swingarm pivot has been also lowered by 4mm to improve traction on track and stability on the road.

Popping a wheelie on the 959 Panigale

Enter the Ducati 1299 Panigale

  • Engine: 1285cc
  • Max power: 196bhp
  • Torque: 106.7ft-lb
  • Weight: 190kg
  • Seat height: 830mm

Tim Thompson in action on the Ducati 1299 Panigale S

Despite producing monster power and torque, which some originally criticised as unnecessary, Ducati’s largest-capacity superbike to date was actually more user-friendly than its 1199 predecessors, thanks to its clever electronic Öhlins package, which increases compression and rebound damping when placed in 'Race' mode.

Put the bike in 'Sport' and you have the addition of cornering ABS, which reduces the risk of a low-side or front end fold significantly as you lean on the brakes later into a bend. 

Alongside being a weapon on circuit, the 1299 was also developed with road riders in mind, gaining a taller screen, comfier seat and grippier pegs than the previous model.

The specials: Ducati 1299 Panigale

The 1299 Panigale Final Edition

Much like the 1199 before it, the 1299 Panigale was no stranger to special editions. Ranging from the top-spec mass-production Panigale S to a series of blinged, lightweight, limited-run beauties, there really is a 1299 for everyone. 

The top of the range 'S' model was originally priced at £20,795 and featured lighter forged wheels, alongside upgraded electronics and suspension. 

Away from this came bikes like the gorgeous Final Edition, which was to be the firm’s last full-fat V-twin superbike to date. Launched in 2017 and producing 209bhp, it was the ultimate culmination of speed and beauty, clad in a classy Italian-inspired three-colour livery. 

Although missing the sandcast crankcases and aluminium cylinder liners found on the equally as pretty 1299 Superleggera, it shares the rest of the components. This includes high compression superbike-spec pistons, high-lift cams, lightweight flywheel and crankshaft with tungsten counterweights and titanium con rods. You also get a set of sexy WSB-style, Euro4-friendly underseat exhausts.

The 1299 family:

  • 1299 Panigale - 197bhp, 190.5kg. Entry level 1299 Panigale might not have flashy suspension and wheels, but it has the same brutish power and clever electronics package as the S-model.
  • 1299 Panigale S - 197bhp, 190.5kg. Comes with a carbon fibre mudguard, semi-active Ohlins, forged ali wheels, full LED headlights and extra switchgear buttons to control rider aids. 
  • Panigale R, 196bhp -184kg. Homolgation special built to go superbike racing. The smaller-engined 1198cc R is lighter than the 1299, has sandcast engine cases and manually adjustable Ohlins. 
  • 1299 Superleggera - 215bhp, 167kg. Only 500 built (and sold out already). Carbon frame, swingarm, wheels and bodywork. Race-inspired motor and next-evolution electronics.

V4 victory: The birth of the four-cylinder Panigale

  • Engine: 1103cc
  • Max power: 211bhp
  • Torque: 91.5ft-lb
  • Weight: 195kg
  • Seat height: 830mm

Former Senior Editor Matt Wildee power wheelies the Panigale V4S

At its launch, the 1103cc V4 Ducati Panigale quite simply blew us away. After years of V-twins, this was undoubtedly a step in the right direction of the Bologna-based brand. 

Speaking from the world premier, former Senior Editor Matt Wildee said: "They’ve made the most desirable sportsbike on the planet, with amazing, light handling, superb power delivery and the kind of top-end rush that skews your senses and tests your sheer ability to hold on. It’s the real deal. 

"The bike is simply astounding. Ducati said at its launch that it was the fastest, most powerful production bike that the world had ever seen and after that first session we had no reason to doubt them.

"The engine makes power in the kind of glorious, linear way that makes it easy to exploit, but once it gets revving it simply takes your breath away. It’s got loads of soul and goes through gears so fast it blows your mind. Despite being a V4 it still sounds and feels like a Ducati but it’s all we can do to hold on!" 

These thoughts were then cemented when we took the bike to Bruntingthorpe for a spot of speed testing. Doing 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds and 0-100mph in 5.63 seconds, it went on to reach a top speed of 191.30mph in the hands of professional speed tester Bruce Dunn. 

From there, a Panigale V4S spent a summer with Chief Road Tester, Michael Neeves, who said: "I've loved getting to know my Ducati, riding it on short blasts and taking in bits of our new MCN250 road test route. It's so beautiful it takes me 10 minutes to walk away from it every time I park up. I’m already dreading the day it goes back later in the year."

The original V4 trio:

There are three different spec versions of the Ducati Panigale V4, here is how they compare. The prices were correct at the time each one was launched.

Panigale V4, £19,250

  • Ducati Red with grey frame and black wheels 
  • 43 mm Showa Big Piston Forks (BPF), fully adjustable 
  • Sachs monoshock, fully adjustable 
  • Sachs steering damper 
  • Latest-generation electronic package with 6-axis Inertia Measurement Unit (6D IMU): ABS Cornering Bosch EVO; Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO); Ducati Slide Control (DSC); Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO); Ducati Power Launch (DPL); Ducati Quick Shift up/down EVO (DQS EVO); Engine Brake Control EVO (EBC EVO) 
  • Riding Modes (Race, Sport, Street) 
  • 5" full-TFT dashboard 
  • Braking system with new Brembo Stylema® monobloc calipers 
  • New Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres, 200/60 at the rear 

Panigale V4 S, £23,895

As base model, plus:

  • Ducati Red with grey frame and black wheels 
  • Suspension and steering damper with Öhlins Smart EC 2.0 system 
  • Öhlins NIX-30 forks 
  • Öhlins TTX 36 shock absorber 
  • Öhlins steering damper 
  • Aluminium forged wheels 
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • Cast magnesium alloy front sub frame 

Panigale V4 Speciale, £34,995

As Panigale V4 S, plus:

  • 'Speciale' colour scheme with grey frame and black wheels 
  • Carbon fibre front/rear mudguards 
  • Machined-from-solid top yoke with identification number 
  • Alcantara seat 
  • Dedicated handle grips 
  • Adjustable foot pegs 
  • Carbon fibre heel guard 
  • Carbon fibre cover swinging arm 
  • Racing articulated levers 
  • Racing fuel tank cap 
  • Brake level protection 
  • Full racing titanium Ducati Performance by Akrapovič exhaust system 
  • Racing screen 
  • Plate holder removal kit 
  • Machined-from-solid mirror replacement plugs 
  • Ducati Data Analyser+ GPS (DDA + GPS) 
  • Bike cover

Gunning for WSB success: Ducati Panigale V4R

  • Engine: 998cc
  • Max power: 217bhp
  • Torque: 90ft-lb
  • Weight: 193kg
  • Seat height: 830mm

Knee down on the Panigale V4R

Although the standard Panigale V4 was impressive and offered plenty of performance, the 1103cc capacity meant it was illegal in production-based superbike championships like World and British Superbikes.

Cue the Panigale V4R - Ducati’s most powerful road bike, making 218bhp, or 231bhp with the optional race kit exhaust (which isn’t road legal).

Revealed at Eicma 2018, the V4R stole the show, producing insane performance figures for a naturally-aspirated litre bike. Using the same stunning Panigale lines, alongside aggressive wings and shark-like gills, it looked fast just standing still.

Producing the same power figure as Ducati’s original 2003 MotoGP Desmosedici GP3, the bike is surprisingly tractable for road riding. The throttle response is crisp and the electronics offer a futuristic safety blanket like nothing else. However, you will need to have the skill of a professional racer to feel the true benefit of the carbon wings when pushing the bike on circuit.

The rear end of the Ducati Panigale V4R

Although produced to form the basis for superbike racing projects, the V4R is not a limited-run superbike, unlike many of the bikes used by their rivals in these championships, such as the Kawasaki ZX-10RR.

To achieve this level of performance, Ducati took the 1100cc V4 Stradale motor and shrunk it down to fit superbike racing rules. It uses the same 81mm bore as before, but the stroke has been shortened by 5.1mm to 48.4mm - bringing capacity down to a 998cc. The red line is set to 16,000rpm and 16,500rpm in top. 

It has higher lift cams, titanium instead of steel conrods, a lighter crank, variable intake trumpets and bigger elliptical throttle bodies (up from 52mm to 56mm). Despite its raciness, the valve clearance service is still every 15,000-miles.