Ducati Panigale V2

Words by: Roland Brown

I’m just a few laps into my second session at Jerez aboard the Panigale V2, and already Ducati’s smaller super-sports bike is in its element. It rips round the Spanish circuit feeling well sorted, entertainingly quick and most of all supremely controllable. It’s the sort of bike that flatters its rider and makes relearning a track – or riding an unfamiliar road, for that matter – rewardingly easy.

The sharply styled red V2 looks very much like its big brother, with its flared nostrils, bright red paintwork and a stubby silencer tucked in neatly on its right side. But if I were riding the Panigale V4, or for that matter that bike’s 1299 Panigale predecessor, I’d be experiencing very different sensations – battling G-forces and trying to prevent a wild beast from tearing the bars from my hands.

Aboard the Panigale V2 it’s all much more civilised; almost relaxed, if circulating a racetrack shedding knee-slider on a 150bhp-plus superbike could ever be described that way. This 955cc desmo V-twin might look much more like the larger-capacity V4 than its predecessor the Panigale 959 did, but the closer resemblance is deceptive.

The Panigale V2 name signifies that this is the new flagship of Ducati’s sporting V-twin family, but neither the mid-capacity Panigale’s ethos nor its dohc, eight-valve power plant has changed. Just like the 959, the V2 is designed to be not merely fast but rider-friendly and fun to ride on both road and track.

The Superquadro desmodromic engine does however benefit from the new double-layer fairing, which ducts air more efficiently from those slots at its nose. Together with new, more free-flowing fuel injectors and a redesigned exhaust, which replaces the 959’s twin-pipe system, this increases peak output by 5bhp, to 153bhp (155PS) at 10,750rpm. (Claimed figures are slightly down on the 959 because Ducati now measure torque and power in a different way.)

The chassis is also tweaked rather than dramatically overhauled. The aluminium monocoque main frame is retained, but a new single-sided swing-arm replaces the 959’s twin-sider. The Sachs rear shock sits horizontally on the bike’s left, as before, but is 2mm longer, increasing the rear ride height slightly, steepening the steering geometry and putting a bit more weight on the front wheel; 52 per cent from the previous bike’s 51.

Ducati’s figures show trail reduced from 96 to 94mm and rake unchanged, although fork angle must be reduced by a comparable amount too. Both the shock and the retained 43mm Showa BPF forks are delivered with softer damping settings, although as both units are multi-adjustable the difference amounts to fine-tuning. (While we’re on unchanged chassis details, it’s a shame Ducati didn’t modify the side stand, which is as difficult to locate as ever.)

What is different is the electronic system, which is upgraded with the latest Bosch six-axis IMU giving the full range of Panigale V4-level features. The DQS EVO 2 gearbox quick-shifter now works above 9000rpm and in both directions, instead of only on up-changes like the 959’s. The wheelie control and engine brake control are also EVO systems: more sophisticated and faster-acting, and in the latter’s case now lean-angle sensitive.

The Cornering ABS Evo has three levels, varying from an expert-level track setting (which disables the cornering and rear-wheel ABS) to a road or damp-surface option. The DTC EVO 2 traction control is the latest version, which Ducati says adds a predictive element – in other words, it not only knows how much the rear tyre is sliding but how much it’s about to slide. Which would sound like science fiction, were it not closely based on the set-up used by the factory’s 2018 MotoGP bike and the current Panigale V4R.

In Ducati tradition the level of each system changes with the selected riding mode (Race, Sport or Street), and can be fine-tuned to rider preference. That is shown on an upgraded, 4.3in TFT dash that sits below the narrow but usefully tall screen. The Panigale essentially felt just like the 959 as it fired up with a bark from the low-slung silencer and headed out onto the track.

I hadn’t ridden at Jerez for a while, but the Ducati could hardly have been a better place from which to get reacquainted. In Sport, the middle mode, the throttle response was flawless and the bike charged forward urgently, making the scenery flash past like a 155bhp superbike should, but without the raw aggression that makes the V4 both thrilling and slightly intimidating.

Chassis performance was similarly obliging, combining responsive steering with stability and excellent suspension control. On the Panigale 959’s launch at Valencia four years ago the bike had been slightly reluctant to turn until I raised its rear end with some extra shock preload. The V2 with its longer shock had no need for that, and steered superbly accurately from the first bend, notably through the tricky twin right turns towards the end of the lap.

Even so, for the third of five sessions, I modified Ducati’s track settings with a couple of clicks of compression damping at both ends. This gave a subtly tauter feel and also a bit more support under hard braking, which was especially helpful at the end of the back straight. Like the 959 (whose wet weight of 200kg is identical) the V2 stopped sharply thanks to its Brembo M4.32 Monobloc calipers, but without the ferocity of the bigger Panigale’s Stylema units.

There was still enough force to make me wish the tank was slightly wider, to aid knee grip, but glad that the seat has been made 20mm longer, which allowed me to shift my weight further rearwards under hard braking and reduce the bike’s tendency to lift its back wheel. Although the seat is nominally 10mm taller, at 840mm, it’s also slightly squashier so the triangle between it, the bars and footrests is unchanged.

If braking lacked the V4’s ferocity then inevitably the same was also true of the V2’s acceleration, even in the third session when I switched to Race mode with its sharper throttle response. But the Panigale still felt seriously fast, storming up to about 240km/h at the top of fifth gear on the back straight, and getting close to that speed on the pit straight too before I sat up and dropped anchor for the uphill second-gear right-hander.

The V2 should also make a very quick and rideable roadster. Its serious torque is delivered above about 8000rpm, and on track you don’t spend much time below that figure. But low-rev running seemed pretty good, from what I could gather from a brief tour back to the pits. And more than 60 per cent of the maximum torque figure is delivered from 5500rpm, so the Superquadro lump is far from gutless.

Its sweet gearbox and excellent quick-shifter made things easier too, except on a couple of occasions when I’d exited a turn and couldn’t get my left foot relocated quickly enough for an upchange. As usual, I found having a reliable down-shifter and auto-blipper was a definite benefit, leaving more concentration to spend on braking and what the bike and its front tyre were doing.

Frustratingly that front tyre was soon having to cope with a low-friction surface, because after a few laps of the third session spits of rain on my visor announced that the forecast shower had arrived. With some sections of the track rapidly becoming very slippery, we were waved in, and the Ducati mechanics fitted Pirelli Rain tyres in place of the Supercorsa SCs that had been getting suitably hot and sticky. (The Panigale will be delivered on Rosso Corsa IIs, more suitable for both road and track.)

A couple of subsequent sessions were enjoyable despite the persistent drizzle, and highlighted the Ducati’s precision of throttle response, steering input and braking performance. In such slippery conditions I was also grateful for its ultra-capable electronics, though I didn’t go as far as deliberately testing the cornering ABS or traction control by grabbing a big handful of brake or throttle in a soaking curve.

The Panigale felt quick, refined and above all controllable even on the streaming wet track, which arguably says even more about it than its dry-weather performance does. Some more powerful bikes would doubtless have lapped Jerez quicker, even in the wet, but I suspect not by very much, and possibly without such a wide safety margin or such a rewarding sense of using what the machine has to offer.

As to whether the V2 is the Panigale for you, that very much depends on your riding habits and ability, and what you want from a hyper-sport Ducati. If you’re a fast, experienced track rider, looking for a bike that occasionally scares you while constantly challenging you to exploit its vast potential, the V2 might eventually seem slightly bland.

If, on the other hand, you’re a typical road and occasional track-day rider who fancies the Panigale look and name but prefers a bike to be as rideable as it is rapid, the V2 ticks every box. It’s over five per cent more expensive than the 959, but it’s a more sophisticated, subtly improved machine that takes the mid-capacity Panigale to a new level of performance and control.

Ducati Panigale V2

Engine type

Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin

Valve arrangement

DOHC desmodromic, eight valves

Displacement

955cc

Bore x stroke

100 x 60.8mm

Compression ratio

12.5:1

Carburation

Electronic injection system, elliptical throttle bodies

Maximum power

153bhp (155PS, 114kW) @ 10,750rpm

Maximum torque

104N.m @ 9000rpm

Clutch

Wet multiplate

Transmission

6-speed

Front suspension

43mm Showa BPF usd, 120mm travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension

One Sachs shock, 130mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping

Front brake

2, four-piston Brembo Monobloc M4-32 radial calipers, 320mm discs

Rear brake

Twin-piston Brembo caliper, 245mm disc

Front wheel

3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium

Rear wheel

5.50 x 17in; cast aluminium

Front tyre

120/70 x 17in Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II

Rear tyre

180/60 x 17in Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II

Rake/trail

24 degrees/94mm

Wheelbase

1436mm

Seat height

840mm

Fuel capacity

17 litres

Weight

176kg dry, 200kg wet

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