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

MV Agusta F4R

Best Lap: 1:55.3

In many ways, the MV Agusta is the most impressive bike in this bunch—but mostly because we had such low expectations for it! Too often the gorgeous MV Agusta F4R is dismissed as little more than butt-jewelry for well-heeled cappuccinisti. The “other” Italian superbike doesn’t get any respect for being an awesomely functional piece of perform-ance art. This latest version, with its all-new Corsacorta (“short-stroke”) inline-four, flat-out hauls Balz and carves corners better than a Beltrame stiletto. Considering that at $19,498 it’s the second least expensive bike here, it’s a mystery why more MV Agustas aren’t sold.

Even alongside the exquisitely finished Aprilia and Ducati, the MV is in a class of its own. The steel-trellis portion of the composite frame is hand-welded and looks it, while fine details such as MV-monogrammed clip-on clamps and the exquisite brushed tips on the quad-outlet exhaust make this bike a joy to admire and touch. Classic two-tone red-and-siver paint lets designer Massimo Tamburini’s fine lines stand alone—even if, 15 years later, the F4’s long-nose/big-tail silhouette looks like an aging supermodel alongside the nipped-and-tucked younger starlets.

Fortunately, underneath that sculptural bodywork, the F4R has more than kept up. With extremely oversquare (79.0 x 50.9mm) engine geometry, a higher 13.4:1 compression ratio, a new low-inertia crankshaft and even larger, radially arranged titanium valves, the 998cc four spins faster and makes more power than ever before: 168.9 bhp to be exact (12 more than the F4 we last tested in 2010), and nearly identical to this year’s BMW S1000RR. Just like the Beemer, the MV makes power everywhere, with fierce low-end punch and an absolutely rabid top-end rush. The howling exhaust note could come straight from Formula 1 and the Corsacorta offers loads of lusty character, though spikes in the powerband—especially at 12,000 rpm where the variable-length intake stacks snap open—bothered some testers.

Climb aboard the F4R and again you feel its age. Long, tall and top-heavy, it feels almost elephantine after riding the svelte Aprilia or Ducati. Yet despite its big size, the MV doesn’t make much room for the rider. The bars are low and crush your fingers against the fairing at full-lock. The non-adjustable footpegs are very high and cramped even our shortest rider unnecessarily—these could drop an inch and still not touch down at the track. And the underseat exhaust remains a rump-roaster, especially in a Palm Desert construction zone on an 80-degree day.

It’s not comfortable by any definition, but the low, forward-biased riding position does the job at the track, contributing to the F4R’s almost telepathic front-end feedback. The handling isn’t quick compared to the Ape or Duc, but you don’t need to wrestle it toward an apex, and it holds a line like nobody’s business. Despite the F4R’s base-model Sachs suspension—the Öhlins-equipped F4RR wasn’t made available for our test—this bike still provided excellent suspension action on the street, staying on-track over all surfaces while delivering predictable handling at any speed.

Suspension performance was less consistent at the track, however, where corner entries suffered from a lack of braking stability. The progressive-rate fork springs that worked so well over a wide range of street conditions collapsed under hard braking, causing the rear end to wag and wander during turn-in. We also struggled to get good drives out of corners. The aforementioned power spikes caused the rear wheel to break traction erratically, then the eight-level-adjustable traction control would over-correct to compensate, occasionally causing what felt like stuttering as the engine and electronics struggled to attain equilibrium.

The F4R would benefit from the addition of an electronic quick-shifter, too. It’s the only bike here without one, and this absence was especially noted because the otherwise smooth-shifting gearbox found occasional false neutrals. The slipper-clutch mechanism needs attention, too. It works fine gobbling up back-torque during deceleration, but is almost impossible to engage smoothly from a dead stop at anything above idle—the herky-jerky dragstrip launches were literally painful to watch. Certain small details—the electronic interface consisting of tiny rubber-covered buttons one tester likened to a ’90s TV remote, for example—seem ready for an upgrade as well.

Mechanically the MV Agusta occasionally suffered from an excess of “character,” and the styling and technology are both long overdue for an update. But with more charisma than anything else even in this exotic bunch, and engine performance that equals the benchmark BMW S1000RR, the F4R remains an undeniably desirable superbike—and it functions considerably better than most would expect. If only MV Agusta could repackage this essential character in a more modern chassis—something like a big-bore version of the newly released F3 triple, for example—then the firm’s line-leading superbike might get the respect it otherwise deserves.

Off The Record

Aaron Frank, Editor At Large

Best Lap: Ducati 1:56.8 | Age: 37 | Height: 5’7” | Weight: 155 Lbs. | Inseam: 32 In.

If I was being pragmatic and just wanted the best all-around sportbike, I’d pick the BMW S1000RR. Or the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R, which does everything short of warming the rider’s hands as well as the Beemer, for $3000 less. But there’s nothing sensible about selecting an exotic European superbike. The right Euro-bike needs that extra bit of style or charisma that lights up the emotional as well as the rational regions of your brain. All four of these motorcycles have plenty of character—there’s not a boring bike here—but none excited me quite like the MV Agusta F4R. Mostly it was the howling exhaust note, and the stupendous acceleration that accompanied it. But the build quality, finish and attention to detail are a class apart. It’s like a Ferrari among Audis and Alfa Romeos. The others are fine machines—just not the same.

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