Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC vs. BMW S1000RR vs. Ducati 1199 Panigale S vs. MV Agusta F4R | Class of 2012 Part II

MC Comparison

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC

Best Lap: 1:53.4

We knew going in that Aprilia’s thrilling RSV4 would be tough to beat. Our “Class of” Champion the past two years running, the Italian superbike returns essentially unchanged for 2012 with the same lusty V4 powerplant and World Superbike-winning chassis. This top-of-the-line, $22,999 Factory APRC version received only minor updates in the form of a slightly lighter exhaust, new design forged-aluminum wheels and revised fueling and final-drive gearing. All the same praise we heaped on it last year still applies here.

Riding the Factory felt as familiar as chatting with an old friend—a snarling, sharp-edged, brutally fast friend! The growling, grunty V4 dominates any initial impressions. Aggressively oversquare with a 13:1 compression ratio, the 999.6cc mill punched out 147.5 rear-wheel horsepower at 12,500 rpm—5 bhp down from last year, incidentally, though we didn’t really miss the missing ponies. Ride-by-wire electronic throttle activation enables three different power profiles: Road, Sport and Track. Power delivery is exceptionally linear and smooth in all modes, with no spikes or surges. Some test riders even described power delivery as “flat,” though the performance data suggests otherwise. Output is admittedly soft below 6000 rpm and falls off above 10,000, but kept between those points—a feat made easier with the AQS quick-shifter—you’ll haul ass! Gearing is too tall, however—this was the only bike on which we consistently used first gear. Going down one tooth on the countershaft would create a real animal! One thing that doesn’t need altering is the angry exhaust note, which sounds just like a Cherry Bomb-equipped musclecar.

The RSV4 engine is the most tractable of this bunch, combining the top-end power of an inline with the low-end punch of a twin. The V4 is also easy to package, resulting in a bike that’s narrower than the inlines with better mass centralization, so it feels slimmer between the knees and easier to toss around at speed. Short but stable, the angry Ape splits the Ducati’s agility and the BMW’s stability. The RSV4 snaps into turns with tremendous front-end feedback, then drives with absolute authority, like it could grip pavement the other bikes couldn’t find. The fully adjustable Öhlins suspension remained typically compliant, and with brilliant traction control and effective anti-wheelie programming keeping the front wheel ground-bound, it’s no surprise that even with less horsepower than before the RSV4 Factory still consistently turned the quickest laps.

Aprilia’s APRC electronic suite is second only to Ducati’s in terms of sophistication and breadth. Dual ECUs, informed by various accelerometers, gyroscopes and wheel-speed sensors, process up to 256 million (!) instructions per second for unrivaled responsiveness. Three-level ALC launch control promises faster launches, though we didn’t find this to be the case at the dragstrip. Aprilia’s self-calibrating traction control, on the other hand, is the best there is in terms of both activation and adjustability. Eight-level trigger-switchable on demand, without closing the throttle or clutch, ATC delivers unmatched convenience, while smooth engagement via manipulating the throttle valves ensures the most linear and predictable response of this bunch.

With a broad saddle and high, widely spaced clip-ons, the RSV4 isn’t as cramped as its compact looks suggest—though legroom was a bit tight for our taller testers. Everything on the RSV4 is purposeful and functional, just like a racebike. The analog tach is easy to read at speed, the digital display prioritizes different information depending on ride mode, and oversized thumb and forefinger triggers that alter the TC settings are intuitive and easy to use, even in the heat of a hot lap. The Factory delivers legit World Superbike-level performance without lacking any intangibles you expect from an Italian exotic. Most agree this snub-nosed stallion is the best-looking bike here. The vestigial tail and center-dense, MotoGP styling still look cutting-edge. Mil-spec matte-finish carbon-fiber bodywork and magnesium engine cases lend paddock appeal, just like the matte gold-anodized forged-aluminum wheels. The polished frame looks rich, and you can’t ignore the anodized, laser-etched hardware that secures the bodywork. That’s attention to detail!

Just like before, we had a hard time finding fault with the RSV4 Factory. The lowest lap times show it still does the job on-track, helped by an excellent electronics package, with hewn-from-a-single-billet stability that makes every rider instantly feel confident and fast. It’s a passable streetbike, too, at least by European sportbike standards, with a moderate riding position and adequate cockpit space, even if the exhaust system throws a lot of heat onto your feet. We’re a bit disappointed that power is reduced slightly, and compounded by too-tall gearing, but that’s easy to fix. The essential core of this race-ready performer remains, and it remains one of our all-time-favorite superbikes.

Off The Record

Ari Henning, Road Test Editor

Best Lap: Aprilia 1:53.5 | Age: 27 | Height: 5’10” | Weight: 175 Lbs.  | Inseam: 33 In.

After four straight days riding these brutal beasts, I felt like I’d been beaten with a fork leg. These bikes are built for speed, not comfort! Even so, come Monday morning, I was ready to do it all over again—these European sweethearts are that infatuating. The Panigale is stunning, but the honeymoon was short. I’m no fan of the Superquadro engine—where’s the torque?—and the chassis was a pain. The MV surprised me with impressive handling and great power, but the engine and electronics were at odds with one another. I initially expected the RSV4 to dominate again. It still looks drop-dead sexy and makes great musclecar noises, but less power and taller gearing felt like a step backwards. BMW’s new S1000RR has it all: comfort, edgy looks and ferocious-yet-tractable power. Our testing is long over, but I’m still riding the Beemer!

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