2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse First Ride Review

Ducati’s premier 959 brings premium bits to the twin-cylinder party.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse in garage.
Race livery lends the Panigale 959 Corse a track-ready look; premium suspension is also circuit worthy.Basem Wasef

We love our four-digit-displacement superbikes, those supernumerary qualifiers that separate literbikes from lesser players in the game. We'd never want to be caught dead on sub-1,000cc pipsqueak which, God forbid, someone might confuse with a beginner bike.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse stainless and titanium Akrapovič exhaust.
Packed beneath the 955cc powerplant is a stainless and titanium Akrapovič exhaust. The look is hot—unfortunately, so is the feeling.Basem Wasef

We jest, of course. But all kidding aside, Ducati's Panigale 959 Corse is most certainly not that motorcycle. For (nearly) everything you need to know about the $17,895 superbike, whose twin-cylinder engine claims mere 955cc of combustion, consider this: In person, its race-inspired livery reads as orange and white, not red and white—just like a WSBK or MotoGP weapon would. You see, the orange is an optical trick that reads like fire engine red on TV, one that looks a little off to the naked eye but translates to Italianate crimson on the silver screen. Such is Ducati's dedication to the cause.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse aluminum monocoque.
The aluminum monocoque acts as both a frame and an airbox; atmosphere is fed through the air intakes.Basem Wasef

For those not familiar with the Corse designation, it transforms Ducati's otherwise workaday, middle-of-the-road speed machines into more special, trackworthy machines. Not that this so-called super-mid's powerplant has been messed with; the big twin still produces 150 hp and 75 pound-feet of torque, peaking at 10,500 and 9,000 rpm, respectively. But you wouldn't guess it by its bark; my tester sometimes required several cranks to fire up, but when it did its Akrapovič exhaust roared with a neighbor-waking, ground-quaking decibel storm. The stainless system gets titanium cans, and makes you wonder how the boys in Bologna snuck it past US sound regulations.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse tail.
Italian high design extends into the tail, an airy unit inspired by the Panigale 1299.Basem Wasef

Astride the orange and white steed, the usual Ducati signatures are immediately evident: a surprisingly slim chassis, a crisp sense of responsiveness from twisting the right handgrip, and the unmistakable rumble of the massive reciprocation of the L-oriented cylinders, topped with desmodromic valves. Sure, the top-dog 1299 V-4 roars with its own particular thunder. But if anything, the 959’s bark is like a nostalgic nod to Ducati’s twin-cylinder era that set it apart from the ubiquitous perfection of the inline-four-wielding competition. This is soulful character, and power delivery is far more manageable and usable than Ducati’s earlier L-twin flagships like the 1098, which chattered and bucked at lower rpm until it reached its midrange sweet spot and finally began to sing. However, that soul also has a practical cost, namely in the form of heat. Radiating intensely from the seat is a serious amount of thermal energy, which made itself painfully apparent during one ride on a warm-ish SoCal day.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse rear Öhlins TTX 36 suspension.
The rear Öhlins TTX 36 suspension manages to both smooth out bumps and deliver excellent control.Basem Wasef

The 959 Corse rides on fully adjustable Öhlins NIX 30 fork and TTX 36 rear shock, which deliver surprisingly smooth gliding over the bumpy bits. And such is the paradox of high-dollar componentry: Seems the more you pay for track-capable suspension, the more you’re rewarded with a livable ride on everyday public roads. The Panigale’s riding modes play more of a role in power delivery than you might think; while Wet neuters the power considerably to 100 hp (as you’d guess), Sport can also have a way of limiting power delivery when you’re leaned over and goosing the throttle. Opt for Race, and the ride-by-wire throttle taps into all 150 hp while loosening the reins on the DTC and activating only front ABS, while disabling the anti-rear lift system. A standard Ducati Quick Shift system makes for snappy, clutch-free upshifts, though it’s a bit harder to ditch the left lever when downshifting, unless you’re slowing down aggressively and stabbing the shift lever with an extra strong kick. Work the lever, and the new slipper clutch offers enough forgiveness to smooth out clumsy releases and transfer power smoothly.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse Rizoma brake master cylinder.
A Rizoma brake master cylinder rounds out a series of thoughtfully designed details.Basem Wasef

The 959 charges ahead with linear thrust, becoming particularly lusty in the middle sections of the powerband. This isn’t quite an explosive crescendo of G-forces like in the 214-hp Panigale V4, but there’s certainly no lack of occasion when the L-twin is goosed and the exhaust sends its plaintive wail. The aforementioned Akrapovič exhaust has a way of tickling your tympanic membrane even if you’re wearing earplugs, especially at speed when the engine hits midrange and the sharp intake snarl manages to converge with the phoar of the spent exhaust gases spitting out of the twin side mufflers. It’s a thing, this exhaust, and you’d best be committed to the cause when you ride Corse.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse CNC-milled fuel filler cap.
A CNC-milled fuel filler cap offers a race-inspired touch.Basem Wasef

Slice and dice through a corner, and the bike leans in eagerly and responsively. Although it shares the same 10-spoke light alloy 17-inch wheels and Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa rubber with the off-the-rack 959, this bad boy is differentiated by the upscale Öhlins units which supercede the BPF Showa fork and Sachs rear shock. And your seat-of-the-pants meter might not detect it, but the Corse also gets a lithium-ion battery for incremental weight savings, bringing the total mass to 435.4 pounds, which is 4.6 pounds leaner than the standard 959. Decelerating that mass comes courtesy twin, semi-floating 320mm front rotors clasped by four-piston calipers. The Brembo Monoblocks offer plenty of lever feel and enough stopping power to make it easy to manage your pace, though the 959 doesn’t get cornering ABS as does its big sibling V4.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse parked in garage.
The Panigale Corse is all poise and purpose, even when parked.Basem Wasef

Speaking of the $21,495 Panigale V4 flagship (or its variants, which creep all the way up to $39,995 for the full-blown Speciale edition), the four-cylinder Panigale seems to get all the glory these days with its WSBK pedigree and stump-pulling torque. I will admit to a bit of power envy aboard the 959; after all, glorious excess is a calling card of the genre, one whose siren call might inspire you to beg, steal, and borrow to cover the $3,600 price differential.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse TFT screen.
The monochromatic TFT screen looks dated in this age of multicolor displays.Basem Wasef

Is it worth it for the extra oomph? The V4’s improbably addictive acceleration and weightier presence is impossible to deny, though the 959 Corse does bring a level of flickability precision the bigger bike can’t quite reach. At the end of the day, these are soul-stirring questions that nibble of the corners of our sensibilities. We want it all: sound, fury, lap-busting performance, and bragging rights—the whole bit. But maybe you also know when to say when, and have the sensibility to deny yourself the absurdity of the 1,285cc indulgence. Choose wisely, though; especially in the superbike space, FOMO reigns supreme.

2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse headlight.
A hawkish profile signals the 959’s intentions.Basem Wasef
2019 Ducati Panigale 959 Corse Specifications
PRICE $17,895
MOTOR 955cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled L-twin; 8-valve
BORE x STROKE 100mm x 60.8mm
FUEL DELIVERY Electronic, twin injectors, ride by wire
CLUTCH Slipper, wet-multiplate hydraulically actuated
FRAME Aluminum monocoque
FRONT SUSPENSION Fully adjustable Öhlins NIX 30; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Fully adjustable Öhlins TTX 36; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Radial-mount 4-piston calipers, 330mm discs
REAR BRAKE 2-piston caliper, 245mm disc
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR Light alloy; 17 x 3.5-in. / 17 x 5.5-in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa; 120/70-17 / 180/60-17
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0°/3.8 in.
WHEELBASE 56.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.5 in.
WARRANTY 2-year, unlimited mileage
CONTACT ducati.com
2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse profile.
The Panigale 959 Corse’s profile is sharp and purposeful, as is the riding experience.Basem Wasef
2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse headlamp and radiator.
The 959’s stare-down is intense, with a mean headlamp glare flanked by a massive radiator behind the bodywork.Basem Wasef
2019 Ducati 959 Panigale Corse with race livery color in garage.
The standard Panigale 959 is available in Arctic White Silk, but the sportier Corse edition only comes in race livery.Basem Wasef