Superbike vs. Supercar: Ducati 1198S vs. Ferrari 458 Italia

Ducati's 1198S takes on Ferrari's new 458 Italia in a contest as unfair as we could make it

By Barry Winfield, Photography by Brian Vance, Julia LaPalme, Motor Trend

Even on the long legs I rode to deliver the bike, first for dragstrip testing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, then for lapping at the Streets of Willow in distant Rosamond, the riding position wasn't too tortuous. The seat is relatively roomy and the bar-to-peg relationship I could recover from in mere hours. Hey, I'm not young anymore! The real challenge I faced riding from place to place was keeping it under 90 mph.

Sixth gear is tall on the 1198S, which recently inherited that ratio from the factory racebikes, and the engine cruises more smoothly at 5000 rpm than at 4000. Below four grand you can often maintain a reasonably smooth pace, but the old Ducati jack-hammer kicks in if you add a handful of throttle. Six grand is better yet, but the speed obviously increases along with the revs, and cruising in fifth to keep the vibes down just feels wrong.

None of this was an issue for Steve Rapp, former Daytona 200 winner and current Ducati 848 pilot in the AMA Daytona Sportbike class, who we invited to ride the 1198S in our various timed tests. He jumped on the bike like he'd been born on it. With a simple modification of gearshift position-reversing it to the down-for-up pattern preferred by most racers-Rapp rolled the bike to the Christmas tree on the dragstrip and launched like he was starting a national.

Rapp liked the clutch so much he was pondering going back to the stocker in his 848, until we remembered that's a wet clutch and this one is dry. Right out the box, he was mere tenths off what would be his fastest pass: 10 seconds flat at 144.9 mph. Plus he ran the bike from the slippery side of the strip, where a zillion burnouts had laid a rubber carpet.

The Ferrari couldn't even use that side of the strip because of runaway wheelspin. Driven from the wrong end by Motor Trend's experienced tester Scott Mortara, the 458 Italia managed a credible 11.10 seconds at 125.2 mph. Its 0-to-60-mph time was 3.0 seconds. Amazing as that is, the Ducati beat it with a 2.7. Thus, to nobody's surprise, it was round one to the Ducati.

Slower though it may be through the quarter-mile, the Ferrari nonetheless kicks the Ducati's ass in terms of creature comforts. Although the 557-horsepower supercar is good for over 200 mph, it has this little lever on the steering wheel called il mannetino, which can select various ride and handling options. Set it to Sport (there is no Normal, Touring or other un-Ferrari modes here), and the car softens up, quiets down and settles into a comfy cruise.

Even the steering is light-effort in this mode, yet the car tracks like a well-suspended, beautifully damped go-kart. It was so easy to drive home in the dark that I chose the diamond lane on the 14 freeway, bordered by a menacing K-rail that threatened to grind the sides off the car.

The Ducati has multi-adjustable suspension, and might even approach a supple ride at its extreme, but it's not adjustable on the fly, and its focus is primarily to allow fast lap times. While the bike is intended for street use, its riding position, control layout and specifications are dictated by the needs of the racetrack. Not so the Ferrari, which is a pure street car. There will be racing versions, but this one has air conditioning, leather upholstery, a stereo system and all the safety equipment mandated by our government.

And the Ferrari has quite some bandwidth. It can be friendly or it can be tough-it's your choice. Switch from Sport to Race mode and the car tightens up its act. The valved exhaust system opens much more frequently, the adjustable shocks tighten up, the electronically controlled differential goes to a more disciplined strategy, and the seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission shifts quicker.

By Barry Winfield
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