REVIEW: You have to admire the cheekiness of aspirational brands.
BMW puts features on its options lists that would be standard on lesser cars, while niche badges produce limited edition models to lure those seeking something a little different.
Fiat’s Gucci 500 for example or a seemingly endless line of limited edition Harley-Davidsons. And, perhaps not surprisingly given it’s now owned by Harley, this MV Agusta Brutale anniversary edition.
MVs sell in handfuls in New Zealand, but the iconic name rings with decades of high speed race-track success.
Formed from the Agusta aviation company in 1945 to create post-war jobs, the brand claimed 270 Grand Prix wins and 10 titles in three capacity classes from 1952 to 1974 with riders like John Surtees and Giacomo Agostini aboard, and for a while it was a podium fixture at the Isle of Man.
As such, buyers are primed to pay a premium for the badge; to live with a few electronic gremlins which prompt suitably Italian arm-waving frustration and to keep a weather eye out for short-run variants.
This one focuses on a livery change to mark the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification.
So the standard machine adds Italian flag accents, the number 150 etched here and there, the belly pan and the knowledge you’ve got one of only 150 built.
You don’t care? There is a stand ard 990R, but I was certainly looking forward to this one, after a long past but memorable summer touring the far north on its brutal 750cc ancestor.
Like that bike this is naked so there’s no screen or fairing to cut the wind with aggressive lines and a riding position that perches you purposefully over the bars.
But tucked beneath you and inside that tubular steel trellis frame there is a 998cc in-line four-cylinder engine that features Ferrari-designed radially arranged valves and produces 102kW at 10,600rpm and 106Nm at 8000rpm.
That’s half a kilowatt per kilogram, which trounces the nimble little Ferrari 458, and not just in terms of power to weight. You can break the open road speed limit in first gear MV Agusta says it’ll hit 109kmh at 11,600rpm; all I know is the engine was throwing it out as I hit 100kmh, and I hadn’t yet changed gear.
Given a closed road I could get to 150kmh in second; MV says top speed is 265kmh. But I was playing in the real world, with 100kmh speed limits and a bendy hill road near home.
Which is one reason to love this bike, for unlike some purer sports machines it is happy to play at real world speeds. Second gear at 100kmh sees around 7500rpm on the dial while at 80kmh in first you’re on 8000rpm, in the meat of the torque, and though delivery can be quite sudden in the sport setting, even this fairly average rider handled it just fine a good one would just be quicker.
The bike does get traction control, though I never felt it cut in and couldn’t access the eight settings promised. Nor could I disable sport for standard mode. And with no English language manual in the country, even the dealer couldn’t work it out.
Apparently, you press the start button while it’s already running, hold your breath, look at the sky, plan tomorrow’s shopping list and it may or may not happen. In my case, the bike stayed resolutely in sport until the day I returned it, when one of the shop mechanics discovered that if he held his cigarette out at a 45-degree angle to his body while pressing buttons, it’d deselect sport. What’s adjusted via the change?
No-one seemed sure, and given the bike was due with another journo I never got to find out.
Meantime, no matter what Mr Mechanic did with his Dunhill, the traction control settings remained a closed book.
But I didn’t need them. Even on wet roads I found this bike surprisingly tractable and comfy, not only in terms of its riding position. It’ll handle walking-speed manoeuvres without complaint even in sport, delivery is controllable moderate your throttle hand and you’ve got instant traction control while the adjustable Marzocchi forks and Sachs rear shock, once adjusted to suit my weight, were sufficiently compliant to manage the bumps of real-world roads.
The 830mm seat height will suit taller riders, while the narrow profile means shorties like me can get their feet down.
The riding position isn’t too extreme for longer distances, and the 23-litre tank suggests a touring capability.
However, there’s no pillion pew, and though there are rear footpegs which suggest the plastic rear cowl (which opens to reveal enough space for disc lock) can be replaced by a pillion pad, you won’t carry much luggage. I couldn’t find anywhere to put bungee hooks that wouldn’t damage the paint.
It’s hard to complain about the tricky settings change given it might be simple with a manual on hand and buyers will of course get one.
I couldn’t even complain about the left-hand mirror’s habit of tipping skywards the moment I whacked the throttle open it stayed put during sedate riding and merely underlined the bike’s manic performance at speed (while acting as a potent reminder to keep it seemly among other traffic, when you most need the mirror). And anyway, the other one stayed put. But you’d have to be keen to pay this price, given Triumph’s Speed Triple costs a good five grand less.
Still, think Speed Triple, add the illustrious pedigree and the extra rarity value from this limited edition variant of an already unusual badge and if you’re willing to pay the extra to suit, you’ll no doubt be happy especially since you no longer have to worry about the build quality and finish issues that once dogged Italian brands thanks in part to MV’s new owner.
MV Agusta Brutale 990R Anniversary
How much? $26,990 ($25,990 for standard 990R)
Engine, transmission: 998cc dohc liquid-cooled fuel injected, six-speed chain drive
Power and torque: Power 102kW at 10,600rpm, torque 106Nm at 8000rpm
How big? 2093mm long, 760mm wide, 830mm seat height, 1438mm wheelbase, 190kg dry weight, 23-litre tank
Suspension and brakes: Front forks with rebound and compression damping and spring preload adjustment, rear single shock with spring preload adjust, front double floating 310mm disc brakes with four-piston callipers, rear single 210mm steel disc with four-piston calliper
Wheels: Aluminium alloy cast wheels with 120/70-ZR17 front and 190/55-ZR 17 rear tyres
For: Heritage, rarity value, real world performance
Against: Not suited to passengers, MV premium
– Fairfax NZ News
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