New Panigale V2 replaces the 959 with a new design in line with the range-topping Panigale V4. We see how the top Ducati twin-cylinder sport bike performs on a Spanish GP circuit.
What is it?
Ducati’s middleweight sport bike has always had a place in the company’s modern history. For decades, as long as there has been a flagship Ducati superbike, there has been a smaller, less powerful (and often less exotic) lower-capacity superbike to keep it company. What has reminded common throughout has been the use of a 90-degree, V-twin engine architecture, but that changed when the flagship Panigale switched to V4 power a couple of years back.
Instead of developing a different, lower-capacity V4 motor for the smaller sport bike, Ducati chose to keep the high-revving twin from the 959 Panigale, but gave the rest of the bike a fairly significant makeover to bring it in line with the current-day Panigale V4 – and along with that comes a new name. After years of insisting that we call their 90-degree V-twin an ‘L-twin’, Ducati has now gone and called their latest sport bike the Panigale V2. This is to bring the bike neatly in line with the V4; and you’ll quickly forgive Ducati this minor act of hypocrisy the moment you set eyes on the bike.
The V2 is now dressed just like the V4 and, to my eyes, that makes it one of the most sensational-looking sport bikes on the planet. Those headlamps recessed within dual air-intakes, the mean LED-running lamps, the svelte bodywork along the side and that delicious tail section – it’ll make you stop and stare for ages. This is also the first time the smaller Panigale has received a single-sided swingarm, which leaves the pretty rear alloy wheel on full display. Ducati’s also done a great job with the exhaust packaging which is now much more nicely executed on the 959, despite the fact that this motorcycle packs more catalyst material in the quest to meet Euro 5 emission norms.
Then there are the finer details. No one does the small touches on their sport bikes as well as Ducati and things like the beautifully finished foot-peg holders, the machined triple clamp and high-quality switches ooze a premium, expensive feeling. The V2 also gets a new TFT display, just like the one on the V4, and also gains most of the electronic rider assists that you’d find on the V4; but more on that in a bit.
What does it look like?
So how do you tell the Panigale V2 apart from the V4? There isn’t that much to go on, aside from the slightly different fairings, but you can also tell based on the exhaust design and the side-mounted monoshock that carries forward from the 959. Moreover, the whole bike is actually a little slimmer, thanks to the fact that the V2 is essentially a 959 under its skin. That means this bike continues with the unique monocoque-frame setup and nothing has changed in terms of the frame or steering-head angle, but the subframe has been redesigned to accommodate that new tail. The brake setup, with the dual Brembo M4.32s at the front, is the same as well; so is the suspension hardware, with a fully adjustable Showa fork and a gas-charged Sachs rear shock.
There have been some tweaks to the suspension internals, and the rear shock is now 2mm longer as well, with a softer stock setting on the preload. The result is that the bike now sits a little more on its nose, and the whole idea is to get the bike to be more responsive as well as easier to ride than the 959. It’s quite amazing how such seemingly small changes can make such a noticeable difference.
Out on the fast and flowing Spanish GP circuit of Jerez, the V2 proved to be much less work than the 959. Turn-in took less steering effort and the stability of the bike was superb throughout. Ducati has not done anything to change the riding position, so you still get the same widely set clip-ons and the rear-sets aren’t too extreme either, while still allowing plenty of cornering clearance. Taller riders will appreciate the seat, which is now 20mm longer (it’s also 5mm thicker, for more comfort) so there’s plenty of room to move around; and I found that the new bodywork was easier to grip with the lower body as well. It may have gained 2kg, but you’d swear that the 200kg V2 is lighter, and an easier bike to ride hard, than the 959.
What’s it like to ride?
Jerez is not a monster power circuit, so I never found myself wishing for 200-plus horsepower; not that I ever really do. And that’s what makes the 155hp V2 such a sweet package – this engine has all the power to keep you enthralled but without going into the zone of litre-class fear and intimidation.
Despite being Euro 5-compliant, the 955cc motor now makes 5hp more that the 959, and a little more torque as well. Ducati has achieved this through the use of a more efficient air intake, improved ECU calibration and new injectors (two per cylinder) with a higher flow rate.
What was pleasing to discover is that Euro 5 regulations haven’t strangled the engine; and small blips of the throttle in the pit lane reveal that this is still one of the most responsive V-twin engines you'll ever meet. A Ducati engineer recently made an interesting point that Euro 5 essentially demands cleaner combustion and if you try to meet the regulations by tuning the motor instead of just dumping in more exhaust catalyst material, you could end up with more power as well as lower emissions.
Clean air from the exhaust certainly wasn’t on the top of my mind at Jerez because this is a high-speed circuit that demands your full attention. To make matters more interesting, we only had one session in the dry followed by a wet track through the rest of the day. Ducati’s choice to run SuperCorsas in the dry (instead of the stock Rosso Corsa III tyres) followed by some awesome WSBK-spec Pirellis in the wet, meant we never got to experience the bike's stock tyres.
On the other hand, the V2s new IMU-aided electronics really shone through in these conditions, allowing clean and controlled power slides on corner exits in the dry while adding a super-reassuring safety net in the wet. In fact, aside from a couple of things like launch control and slide-slip control, the V2 now gets almost the full suite of electronics from the latest V4, including the bi-directional quickshifter, multi-stage adjustable traction, wheelie and ABS control. This really ups the value quotient and is more than you’ll find on many litre-class bikes.
Should I buy one?
In many ways, the V2 feels just like a scaled down V4 and the only aspect that missed some top shelf sharpness were the brakes, although their actual performance was without fault. It packs the exotic looks and equipment, it has the electronics to match, and in many ways, the riding experience feels a lot like the V4’s without the mental power rush. A few similarly priced Japanese litre bikes may seem like better value for money on paper, but this motorcycle fills a sweet spot with an exotic vibe the Japanese machines can’t hope to match – there’s little else like it. If that sounds interesting to you, Ducati will launch the V2 in India by mid 2020 at a similar, but probably slightly higher price point to the Rs 15.30 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) 959 Panigale.