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2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S review: Approachable insanity

Ducati's latest is maybe the most insane member of an already insane class, but it's more approachable than you might think.

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Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
6 min read
2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S
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2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S

The Streetfighter definitely doesn't fly under the radar.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Designing a car that does everything relatively well isn't easy, but it's definitely doable. I mean, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon exists, right? Performing the same feat with a motorcycle is way, way tougher. 

Motorcycles are, by their very nature, specialty machines. An adventure bike is comfortable, performs well on the road, and can carry lots of stuff, but they're generally tall and usually kind of expensive. A sportbike is fast and agile, but its high pegs and hunched-over, aggressive riding experience makes it unsuitable for longer rides. See what I'm getting at?

That's why Ducati's Streetfighter V4 S is such a staggering achievement. It's one of the most well-rounded and complete motorcycles I've ever ridden, and that's made even more incredible by the fact that this howling, MotoGP-inspired monster has over 200 horsepower and 90 pound-feet of torque from a 1,103-cc Desmosedici Stradale V4 engine. 

First, I'll say that this V4 engine is very, very different from that of the Aprilia Tuono, despite similar layouts and displacements. The Ducati engine feels like it has a lot more going on behind the scenes -- and it does -- and that contributes somewhat to its split personality.

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S
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2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S

Dive planes!

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

By split personality, I mean that the Streetfighter's engine is shockingly docile around town. There are no antics or histrionics to speak of. The throttle is smooth -- even in sport mode -- and doesn't buck or jerk at in-town speeds, something I experienced with the Tuono. The engine's character changes dramatically, though, as you wind it out to its utterly bananas 14,500-rpm redline. 

The V4's noise goes from a weirdly traditional Ducati L-twin sound in most situations to a MotoGP racer yowl in its upper register. Is it as aurally pleasing as the Tuono? In most cases, I'd say no. At the very top end, though, the sheer violence of the sound that the Streetfighter creates is enough to elicit giant shrieks of giddy laughter inside my helmet.

The glorious V4 is mated to a six-speed transmission, which is satisfying to use -- especially with the up-and-down quickshifter that comes standard on the bike -- and it appreciates a good kick to get between gears. This isn't a delicate-shifting box like, say, the Suzuki Katana's. The Streetfighter uses a chain final drive and a super-sexy, single-sided swingarm. 

One minor disappointment with the drivetrain is the hydraulic slipper clutch. Like other modern Ducatis I've tested, the clutch on the Streetfighter is a little heavy, and it doesn't respond well to being slipped while taking off. Like the Hypermotard I reviewed a while back, it's best to just let the clutch out as quickly as possible, with as little throttle as possible, and let the electronics sort out the rest.

Fuel capacity is always a concern on sportbikes -- after all, big power typically makes for a thirsty motorcycle. But thanks to a reasonably large 4.23-gallon fuel tank, fuel stops aren't annoyingly frequent. Ducati doesn't yet have final US-spec fuel economy figures, but for the UK Euro 4 market, it claims 40 miles per gallon. It's hard to tell how accurate that is, though, because there's no fuel gauge. That seems like a weird thing to omit on a bike at this level, though in all fairness, the Aprilia Tuono lacks one, too.

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S is one well-rounded sportbike

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Another major contributing factor to the Streetfighter's everyday utility is the V4 S' electronically controlled Ohlins suspension. The base Streetfighter uses a less technologically advanced Showa Big Piston Fork setup, similar to what has on the Livewire.

Adding a costly suspension to a motorcycle is very different than adding it to a car. In most sports cars, the "track-focused suspension" is punishingly stiff and makes road use uncomfortable. On motorcycles, the opposite is usually true. The Ohlins setup on the Streetfighter (and indeed, on other Ohlins-equipped bikes I've ridden) is firm, but takes a great deal of the initial impact out of poor road surfaces. It also adds damping -- something that lesser motorcycle suspensions suffer for the lack of -- making the experience more controlled overall. In short, this means that the Streetfighter, despite its menacing look and aggressive name, is pretty damn comfortable, even on crappy SoCal roads.

The Brembo Stylema four-piston front brake calipers are gorgeous chunks of milled aluminum, first debuting on Ducati's Panigale V4. The calipers clamp down on some big ol' 330-millimeter rotors in front, and there is a single, dual-piston caliper and 245-millimeter rotor out back. The Streetfighter uses the Panigale's advanced cornering ABS alongside Ducati's other safety goodies like antiwheelie control, rear-lift mitigation, traction control and more.

While the suspension is a big part of a bike's comfort, it's not everything. Ergonomics play a significant role as well, and once again, the Streetfighter excels. The bike isn't necessarily what I'd call relaxed, but the position of the foot controls in combination with the tall, flat handlebars makes it surprisingly effortless to ride. The pegs are high enough to not worry about touching them down on all but the gnarliest corners, and the upright bars help to keep weight off of the rider's wrists.

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S
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2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S

The Streetfighter is surprisingly effortless to ride.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The fuel tank's shape is ideal for gripping it with my knees and thighs, further eliminating stress on my wrists and shoulders. The seat is well-padded and sufficiently wide enough to be supportive, but its shape does limit riding position, meaning it could be a problem on longer rides. The Streetfighter also has a passenger seat, which is pretty wild, but that would totally break the rules of social distancing.

From a styling standpoint, it's hard to call the Streetfighter elegant or understated. It's a brutal machine that wears its capabilities on its angry, red body. I mean, the thing has goddamn dive planes! That isn't to say that it's not a good-looking bike, or that there aren't beautiful aspects to it -- the rear seat cowling comes to mind -- but if you want something that will attract eyeballs, no matter where you're at, then this is the bike for you.

The Streetfighter has a seat height of 33.3 inches, which isn't necessarily towering, but might still mean that shorter riders will struggle to put both feet down at stoplights. Thankfully, even if that's the case, the Streetfighter is well-balanced and tips the scales at just 439 pounds with fluids, so it's a relatively easy beast to manage at very low speeds. Another bonus to those low-speed manners is that the Ducati shuts down half of its cylinders at idle to reduce the amount of heat that the engine throws at the rider.

Not that very low speeds are something you'll be experiencing regularly on the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S. This bike is hugely, insanely, almost unquantifiably fast. First gear on a freeway onramp feels like it's going to stretch on forever, and indeed you'll be at nearly (California) freeway speeds when you get towards the tail end of the tachometer. The throttle is smooth, but opening it up quickly requires a small leap of faith. The bike isn't as prone to lifting its front wheel as the Tuono, but there's still plenty of Indiana-Jones-leap-from-the-lion's-jaws hope that the Duc's highly advanced electronics will take care of you. I'm thrilled to report that, in my limited time with the bike and with my limited bravery on public roads, those electronics haven't let me down.

2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S
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2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4 S

At $24,000, the Streetfighter is hardly an inexpensive proposition.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Aside from the massive power on tap, the bike is pretty easy and fun to ride. The tires that come stock on this bike -- Pirelli's Diablo Rosso Corsa II, to be exact -- probably have a great deal to do with that. I never feel like grip is in short supply or that I'm anywhere near exceeding the bike's limits. I also don't feel like I've been nearing the end of my own talent as a rider, which is a massive credit to the motorcycle, rather than my skill in the saddle.

But here, as they say, is the rub. Ducatis aren't cheap bikes. The Streetfighter is the best of the best of Ducati's offerings, and so it's even more expensive than most of the brand's other models. 

The V4 S, with its Ohlins suspenders and downforce-producing dive planes, will set you back no less than $23,995, and that doesn't include things like heated grips or all the garish carbon-fiber accessories you're likely going to want to throw at it. The slightly more pedestrian non-S model is still $19,995, but the extra cheddar for the electronic suspension is worth it.

The Streetfighter offers so much performance and drama and theatre in a package that doesn't make me feel like I've got a deathwish for winding it out. It's approachable insanity. -- a machine made almost entirely out of magic, and while I realize that may sound a bit silly or hyperbolic, it's as close as I can come to describing the way it feels to ride it.