MotorcycleUSA continues its foreign exchange program with Motor Cycle News (MCN) to bring you this tasty European treat - a review of the sleek MV Agusta F4 R312.
The new MV Agusta F4 R312 earns the 312 in its name by virtue of its claimed 312 km/h top speed - that's 193 mph for us non-metricized Americans.
They say it's the fastest superbike in the world, but is it the best?
To say MV Agusta
knows how to make a fast engine is like saying Mr. Kipling can knock up a pretty decent Viennese Whirl. It's a fact. When the first 1000cc-engined MV F4 came out in 2004 it blew the 1000cc competition away in the top-speed stakes, hitting a true 186 mph. At the time it was the fastest superbike we'd ever tested. Then last year the F4 1000R set the fastest outright lap time at Jerez in the annual Masterbike, beating off all the 2006 sportbikes.
But today we're riding the new £14,750 ($29,500), F4 R312 (even the name sounds exotic, doesn't it?) at its world launch at Monza, Italy. It's a full-production model to replace the F4 1000R, not a limited-edition special and it soon becomes clear that, on the right day, on a long enough stretch of road, and with the wind nudging you along, the sexy R312 is capable of hitting what MV claims it can: 193 mph, or 312 km/h, hence its name. The fury in which this Italian masterpiece of design and technology eats up the straights is just awe-inspiring.
While the chassis remains exactly the same as before, the new motor is 9 hp up on last year's bike and revs on 500 rpm more, thanks to new 30mm titanium valves, high-lift cams, larger 48mm throttle bodies and 10mm shorter inlet trumpets.
The engine has a distinctive raw, hard-edged feel about it, something that'll be completely alien to those brought up on a diet of smooth, polished Japanese engines. But as the revs soar, the 183 hp (measured at the crank) engine smoothes right off as the 10,000 rpm mark approaches. At that precise time the yowl from the airbox gets deeper and more aggressive, and the yell from the quad, underseat pipes goes into audio overload.
Although the M4 Agusta F4 R312 is a capable track-oriented weapon, its value starts to fade compared to the more affordable literbikes from the Big Four.
From 10,000 rpm, the final 2500 rpm in each gear is a heady cocktail of speed, noise and violence mixed with a surreal dream-like sense of tranquillity. Keep the motor spinning hard through the gears along Monza's two big straights, head jammed under the new bigger screen and it's as if you're floating - an incredible feeling. It's only the digital speedo's numbers flickering furiously upwards like a stopwatch and Monza's lush green trees whizzing by you that give you any true sense of speed.
That said, due to the limitations of Monza's straights, the biggest number I saw was 288 km/h (179 mph) before having to brake for (and almost missing, as I was watching the speedo for too long) the tight, first-gear chicane at the end of the start/finish straight.
But what is certain is that the MV engine is a diamond of a thing and its spread of power from low revs to the 13,000-rpm redline impressive. But it does have a few rough edges. The fuelling at low rpm isn't great, and trying to accelerate smoothly out of the first-gear chicane, especially on a damp track in our first session on the bike was a tricky, jerky affair. The gearbox is quite harsh and slow, too, causing crashing through the gears and missing them completely if you're too quick with the lever. On some down changes false neutrals appeared, one notable time braking from sixth to third at the end of the fast straight that leads to the fast Parabolica corner - an early morning eye-opener if there ever was one.
I rode three different R312s and some had better or worse fuelling and gearboxes than others. Some testers had the same problems as me and some didn't - let's hope the set-up of the production models will be more consistent.
Going through corners has always been one of the F4's trump cards. All these MVs have a thoroughbred racebike-feel to them. They're cramped, stiffly sprung and are definitely more suited to the track as they're uncomfortable to ride at slow speeds, but they do get better and better the harder you push them. At a track they're really in their element, as that fastest lap at Masterbike on the F4 1000R proves.
But here at Monza all was not well with the R312 simply because of the way it had been set-up. During our first session the suspension was softened right off and the pressures in the Pirelli Super Corsa tires dropped to cope with the cold, damp track. On these settings the MV gave me a fair amount of confidence to go quickly. But for our second session on a dry track the settings were the left the same and the MV wobbled and weaved in the high-speed corners and needed a Herculean effort to steer through the chicanes - it was like riding on flat tires, which in effect is what I was almost doing.
As the latest evolution of MV Agusta's F4 the R312 is a potent machine for the track, yet the eight-year-old model could benefit from a more thorough redesign.
For our third and final session the handling was dramatically improved with stiffer settings and more tire pressure, but this set-up still didn't give the MV the high-speed stability it needed around this monster track, or the ability to turn anywhere near fast enough, which is a shame because I know the bike can handle a lot better. With the confidence to take the F4 R312 by the horns and with that epic motor powering me along the straights the experience could've been electric, instead it was disappointing.
That aside, the F4 R312 is still a gem of a bike. The finish and quality of the components is exquisite, the power of the radial Brembos is phenomenal and the Pirelli Super Corsa
tires in a class of their own. But as loin-stirring as it is, the F4 is starting to show its age. Because it doesn't have any of the special magnesium or carbon bits of the various F4 specials over the years, it's a heavy old thing - a whopping 26 kg (57 lbs) more than a K6 GSX-R1000. And beautiful as the design is, it's been around unchanged now since the launch of the first F4 750 eight years ago. It makes less sense on the road, too, as the low-speed fuelling will be a pain around town and the cramped riding position a pain everywhere else.
For the ultimate track buzz the F4 R312 could prove to be the class of the 1000cc sportbike field, provided you have the bike set-up well, and you've got the bottle to expose your beautiful £15K machine to a testosterone-filled trackday. But back in the real world a Blade, R1, GSX-R1000, ZX-10R or even a GSX-R750 will be every bit as good, easier to live with and above all much, much cheaper.
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