First Ride: 2016 Moto Guzzi Audace

This is clearly Guzzi’s “statement” bike: bold, mean and nasty!

They say: A bigger, bolder California. We say: If Audace means “heavy steering” in Italian, then yes.

When [Moto Guzzi][] announced two models to join the California range last November, we really didn’t expect a chance to sample the new Audace and Eldorado on their home turf in Italy. Especially with two days’ notice. But who are we to say no to a trip to Lake Como?

Maybe it was the multiple espressos we were chugging that morning at Guzzi's Mandello del Lario HQ, but the new Audace ("bold" in Italian) instantly struck us as the more dynamic of the two models; taller, meaner, nastier, the Audace is the murdered-out first cousin to last year's California Custom, sharing the same cool cylinder cutouts under the gas tank framing the black-painted heads, and cast-aluminum wheels, but toning it all down with a matte-black color scheme, even on the engine and exhaust system. The Ducati Diavel appears cuddly by comparison.

But the Audace also tosses some of the California's bulkier bits, beginning with the chunky polyelliptical headlight and the wide floorboards. It slims down the fenders, shortens the mufflers (now megaphone-style), and swaps in sportier footpegs, which also means the rocker-type shifter has also been tossed in favor of a conventional shift lever. In the press kit, Guzzi deletes the California reference altogether, perhaps to emphasize the fact that this new, more modern design is aimed at a younger audience. This is clearly Guzzi's "statement" bike. Or was that the jet lag talking?

Refined details like polished cylinder fins and valve-cover ribs and a shapely, suede-trimmed seat with swanky red stitching also signal the Audace’s upmarket aspirations, though you’ll probably focus first on that tall, super-wide drag bar, and the new, now-naked front fork. And you can’t miss the fully adjustable shocks with separate gas bottle, perched above the fat 200/60-16 rear tire. A brief, carbon front fender leads the way.

Although the look is burly and elemental, the Audace isn’t stingy with its feature set. The air/oil cooled 1,380cc V-twin makes the same 89.2 pound-feet as the Custom, and comes equipped with the same premium features including ride-by-wire engine management, traction control, and dual-channel ABS. Guzzi says it’s lighter too, and the Audace is the first Moto Guzzi to comply with Euro 4 regulations.

There’s a period of adjustment with the new drag-style handlebar and forward-set footpegs, which stretch you out on the Audace (Guzzi calls it “sporty”), but once you’re settled, the first order of business is to blip the throttle and revel in that groovy gyro effect: the crankshaft rotation rocks through the chassis, and the bike heels right as you crank ‘er. Then, get into first gear as soon as possible; no amount of “elastic-kinematic” engine mounting can snuff out those ever-classic Guzzi vibrations.

The Audace is quick off the line. Strong in a big-cube V-twin kind of way. But at higher revs, the vibes simply melt away. This non-California feels more lively than its California sibling, especially north of 3,000 rpm; Guzzi says it has a more favorable power/weight ratio (“a few kilos less”), but we don’t have the hard numbers to confirm that. We can confirm that the Audace serves up a pretty appealing soundtrack with a powerful, kick-in-the-ass acceleration, which builds dramatically before leveling off past 6,500 rpm.

And the torque curve is basically straight line, reaching its 89.2 pound-feet peak at 2,100 rpm and staying in the neighborhood until dropping off at 5,600 rpm. Also apparent is the improved EFI, which kept the motor running without a hiccup (until the battery conked out on our first test unit calling for a switch of bikes). We were happy to see the fairly intuitive ride-by-wire multi-map electronic management unchanged, with easy toggling among three engine maps: Turismo (touring), Veloce (sport), and Pioggia (rain). Click over to Veloce, thumb the MGTC traction control system to its highest setting (1), drop the clutch and hang on: the big Guzzi engine has an instant-on quality with a smoothness that manages not to sound like a Honda. There’s a nice intake honk when you give it the beans, and a swell exhaust note that won’t impress any HOG owners but still manages a nasty growl while still squeaking in under Euro 4 rules.

Like the Custom, the Audace rolls with a hefty 18 inch wheel up front that’s a full 3.5 inches wide, which, unfortunately, isn’t particularly cooperative when initiating a turn. Add a massive amount of trail (5.7 inches), the especially wide, front-biased handlebar, and an equally blocky 200-section rear tire and you have a bike that’s more at home on the boulevard than on the back roads—admittedly what Guzzi seemed to imply in the presentation anyway. Overall, the Audace is well mannered but it’s not what you would call flickable, by any definition.

Too bad about the handling then, because the suspension is well-damped suspension both front and rear. We never felt the bike was even close to bottoming out, even on the high-speed, sharper-edged crevasses we navigated on the Autostrada (where a very tall sixth gear came in pretty handy as well). And when it came time to exit the high speed madness, the ABS-enhanced Brembo front brakes were right there to rein in the 660-pound brute, with well-defined initial bite, good feel and great power. The rear brake? Alas, not so much.

After a couple of laps around Lake Como, we can’t help but feel the Audace is meant to be a musclebike, with great straight-line power and a sulky, brooding attitude. By that definition, it’s up to the task, but it’s also got so much more potential—lighter handling and more agility would make this Guzzi truly audacious.

tech SPEC

Stealthy and muscular, the Audace is Moto Guzzi’s dark, performance-based California 1400.
[Triumph][] Rocket III, [Harley-Davidson][] Muscle, [Suzuki][] Boulevard M90
PRICE $15,490
ENGINE 1380cc, air/oil-cooled 90° V-twin
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 96.0 hp @ 6500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 89.2 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
FRAME Steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shocks with adjustable spring preload; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 32.0º/5.7 in.
WHEELBASE 66.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.1 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 659 lb. wet
Mean, muscular, and nicely equipped, but more of a handful than it needs to be.