2008 Ducati 848 Road Test
Class In a Class of its Own
When you think of hallowed Italian marque of Ducati, several glorious models come to mind, such as 750 Supersport, the iconic 916, the successful line of Monsters, and more recently the exciting 1098 superbike and Hypermotard wild thing.
But not many revere the 749, a middleweight V-Twin based on the platform of the little-loved 999, whose styling failed to ignite the passions of the Ducatisti. While a competent performer, the 749 weighed nearly as much as the 999 and wasn’t on anyone’s list of prettiest bikes.
All that’s changed with the introduction of this new 848. It not only shares the lovely shape of the wildly successful 1098, it also shames the legendary 916 in terms of horsepower output. We measured nearly 116 hp at the rear wheel. Consider that the revered Ducati 916 had a hard time cracking the 100-hp barrier, and the brawnier 998 barely topped 110 rear-wheel horsepower while weighing considerably more than this Slim-Fast-ed 848.
In general terms, this new Italian scalpel is little more than an all-new engine in the impressive 1098’s structure. Its nimble chassis and gorgeous bodywork are same-same, which is fine with us.
The noteworthy addition to this platform is a bespoke powerplant that uses a new vacuum die-casting method called Vacural which results in an engine that weighs about 7 lbs less than the old 749. The “Testastretta Evoluzione” motor uses a 94.0 x 61.2mm bore and stroke to yield 849cc. No, that’s not a typo - this continues Ducati’s disregard for its nomenclature matching the engine’s displacement: the old 749 displaced 748cc; the standard 999 was 998cc; and the 1098 has a 1099cc engine.
In conjunction with the V-Twin’s increased bore and stroke, everything else in the engine is correspondingly larger. Intake valves are up 2.5mm (39.5mm) and the exhaust’s are enlarged 1.5mm (32mm). Feeding those valves is a pair of 56mm throttle bodies that are fashioned in the contemporary F1-style elliptical shape, up from the round-port 54mm injectors from the 749.
The result is yet another sweet and torquey Twin from the Boys in Bologna, and it’s a major upgrade over the somewhat lethargic 749. Good grunt is available from low revs until it falls a bit flat around 4500 revs before a satisfying surge at 6000 rpm. From then on it continues a 10-horse-or-more advantage over the 749 all the way to its 10,900-rpm rev limiter.
We strapped our 848 on the Area P dyno and saw a peak of 115.6 hp at 10,400 rpm on their Dynojet 200i. It should be noted that these numbers were calculated using the SAE correction factor (as we use in all our testing), but it’s been typical to see upward of 120 rear-wheel horsepower from an 848 using the “STD” dyno formula. Peak torque is also impressive, topping out at 62.3 ft-lbs at 8500 rpm. In comparison, the 749 we tested in 2003 cranked out just 100.6 ponies at 9850 rpm and 56.6 ft-lbs of twist at 8450 rpm. So the 848 boasts a 15% boost in horsepower and a 10% improvement in torque in a bike that weighs three bowling balls less.
Whether it has 116 or 120 ponies, this 848 handily stands apart from the four-cylinder Japanese middleweights whether in terms of peak output or its generous spread of torque. It even out-cranks Triumph’s stellar 675cc Daytona. The new Duc, however, won’t be able to match the Trumpet’s waif-like class-leading weight. The Daytona scales in at 390 lbs without fuel, and we expect the 848 to come in around 405 tank-empty pounds (since a 1098 weighs a bit less than 420 lbs and the 848 is said to be 11 lbs lighter than its big brother).
Much has been done to reduce the 848’s mass wherever possible. Ducati says this new sporting Twin scales in about 44 lbs less than the 749, weighing in without any fluids at a claimed 369 lbs. Its frame is said to be 3.3 lbs lighter than the 749 while being 14% more rigid.
Another trio of pounds was dropped through the use of a wet-type clutch instead of Ducati’s traditional dry clutch. While hardcore Duc fans will miss the jingle-jangle of free-floating clutch plates in neutral, these new oil-bathed plates offer up much improved modulation and should also be more durable. Notable in its absence is any sort of back-torque-limiting feature as seen on nearly every modern sportbike.
An 848 rider’s ears are greeted with a healthy bark from the throbbing V-Twin. Spent fuel is fed through a 2-1-2 exhaust with dual stainless steel mufflers mounted under the seat. The huge, 57mm OD exhaust pipes are identical to those on the 1098, and the tone and volume of the stainless-steel system is mellifluous and perfect. It sounds so good in stock form that the purchase of an aftermarket pipe is a questionable necessity. However, a titanium and carbon system would benefit weight and appearance, as the stock system looks heavy and has some ugly welds, so we’re sure many 848 owners will be ogling catalogs for Termignoni and Akropovic pipes.
Clutch effort through the radial-pump master cylinder is reasonable if not light, and the hi-po Twin makes good use of its torque and street-rational shortish gearing to tractor away smartly from stoplights. Upshifts through the gears aren’t quite as graceful as the low-effort trannies of its competition, but once past second gear they are precise and relatively smooth.
Riding the 848 around town and on the freeways makes you wish you were instead on a racetrack. Its riding position is quite tight, just like the 1098’s. Despite a tallish 32.2-inch seat height, the high footpegs will cramp bigger riders. The clip-ons are mercifully not too far of a reach, but they are quite low. It’s worth mentioning that its grips are placed significantly higher than the old 916/998 series, so things could be worse ergonomically.
Air flowing over the windscreen hits a rider high in the chest area, which is helpful for taking some weight off wrists at highway speeds. Its seat is minimally padded and flows narrowly around the ultra-skinny 4.1-gallon fuel tank. And, despite a restricted sweep of the steering, the Duc’s upper fairing will crush the fingers of your right hand at full left lock.
It should come as no surprise the 848 works best on a twisty road, where its committed riding position works for you and the stylish but useless mirrors don’t work against you. The 848 feels very taut and direct. Its 24.5-degree rake angle and 97mm of trail are fairly typical sportbike numbers, but the 848 stands out for its 56.3-inch wheelbase, which is more than an inch longer than its rivals. This helps endow the bike with the kind of stability Ducatis are known for (even without a steering damper), but it comes at the cost of some agility. Hustling this Duc through a chicane takes more effort than any of its rivals in the 600cc category.
Still, the 848 is more nimble than its 750cc forebears. Marchesini has provided a new Y-spoke front wheel that is 250 grams (roughly a half pound) lighter than the hoop on the 749, which has a significant affect on steering effort and suspension reaction. The snowflake-patterned rear rim is said to be more than 2 lbs lighter than the single-sided swingarm wheel from the old 748. It’s different than the 1098’s rear wheel, being 5.5 inches wide instead of 6.0, and so it uses a 180mm tire rather than the fatter 190 on the liter-size Duc.
Suspension is provided by fully adjustable Showa components at each end. The beefy 43mm fork does without any fancy titanium-nitride or DLC coating, but its responsiveness is quite good, as is its adjustability. The three-way adjustable shock works through a trick-looking aluminum single-sided swingarm, but access to its rebound-damping adjuster is frustratingly muddled through a small hole in the swingarm that requires a long Allen wrench, preferably with a ball end so it fits the bolt head at the awkward angles the tiny opening allows.
Braking is one of the 848’s strong points. Instead of the 1098’s one-piece monobloc calipers and massive 330mm discs, which are overly abrupt in low-traction street applications, the 848 gets the job done with two-piece radial-mount calipers and 10mm-smaller rotors. They prove to be less grabby yet plenty powerful, so they’re actually preferable for street use. Exemplary feel is the result of a radial-pump master cylinder firing fluid through coated, braided stainless-steel lines.
Instrumentation is more comprehensive than most, as it’s based on the multifunction LCD gauge pack used on Ducati’s MotoGP bike. In addition to conveniences like a clock and fuel gauge, the instruments include fields for average speed, average fuel consumption, a remaining-fuel meter and a lap timer.
A rider toggles through the fields via a switch on the left handlebar. It all works well once a rider becomes accustomed to using it, but we are continually scratching our heads at why Ducati refuses to put a marked redline on its tachometers. The LCD bar graph tach on the 848 is already difficult to read at a glance, and the absence of a marked rev limit makes it even tougher to accomplish well-timed full-throttle upshifts.
Optional is the Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA), which is a clever little datalogger that hooks up easily to the bike’s ECU. It records parameters such as throttle position, vehicle speed, engine revs, temperature, distance traveled, laps and lap times. Up to 3.5 hours of data can be logged (2 MB), which can then be downloaded to a computer for analysis. Cool stuff for an extra $299.
And speaking of cool stuff, let’s take a moment here to acknowledge the 848 as a design statement. Regardless of the numerical decals stuck to the fairing, this Euro delicacy is every bit at sensuous as its elder 1098 sibling. Let’s face it: an arousing figure is something we all appreciate, especially when considering the purchase of a $13,000 Italian plaything. And if it causes appealing people to approach so they can tell you how much they like your bike, that’s never a bad thing. It’s handsome enough to even persuade a few of them to sample the perfunctory pillion accommodations, albeit only for a short while.
The 848 exhibits a measure of artistic elegance that can’t be matched by anything from Asia. While not as groundbreaking as the ’94 916, it’s a similar visage accentuated by a few more creases and flairs. It authentically hits all the styling touch-points of Tamburini’s iconic original – a pair of horizontal headlights, slender trellis frame, dual exhaust cans under the seat and the exposed rear wheel created by a single-sided swingarm – while remaining relevant in contemporary design language. And before you deem the white color scheme as too bland, you should see for yourself how nicely the metallic pearl paint pops in golden sunshine. (Make sure to check out many more of Fonz’s excellent pics in the accompanying photo gallery.)
It will be interesting to see how Team Ducati does in this upcoming season of AMA Formula Xtreme racing. It will have at least as much horsepower as the 600s and will have a healthy torque advantage, so it just might be the bike to beat for the class title. If you are racing your 848, keep that to yourself when you try to exercise Ducati’s generous two-year warranty at your dealer.
While this new Duc is much too impractical for utility-minded riders (hello, V-Strom people!), its lusty allure goes far deeper than any pragmatic criterion. Will it be $3000 faster than a 600 around a racetrack? No. But it has a romantic charm and an air of glamour that its so-called competitors will never attain. For $12,995, you might expect as much, and the 848 delivers.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|The attention-loving Ducatista who wants a modern upgrade from their 916 or 749 and who has something more practical in their garage.|