Road test in Australia of the heavily revamped 2017 version of the MV Agusta Brutale 800 naked triple
Be careful what you wish for, especially if you’re an unelected bureaucrat with the power to change the rules and regulations which cover society at large, driven by reasons varying from personal whim to a perceived desire to save the planet. So if indeed – as many believe – there’s a concerted drive by the Eurocrats in Brussels to make riding motorcycles less appealing and less exciting, so that ultimately there are simply so few of us doing so on the public highways of Europe that they may be able to get rid of us altogether, their latest ploy in pursuit of that aim has resulted in an own goal of pretty massive proportions.
For the Euro 4 legislative requirements introduced by the EUromob and now compulsory for 2017, which are much stricter than the Euro 3 regulations in place since 2006, essentially dictate an average 40% overall drop in NOx/CO/hydrocarbon emissions, and a 5dBa lower noise limit. Furthermore, Euro 4 also introduces a durability test, so manufacturers must prove their engines are still compliant after 20,000km of use. Meeting these rigorous new norms has been very costly for all such companies, though by definition less so for larger concerns like Honda or BMW which build a greater number of bikes for sale over which to spread the costs of achieving this. So for a smaller manufacturer like, say, MV Agusta, which made just 9,000 motorcycles in 2015 and half that number last year, thanks to financial problems which have now been resolved with the input of new capital from an outside investment company named Black Ocean Group, it’s much more onerous redeveloping their bikes to meet these rigorous new norms.
And yet, the heavily revised Brutale 800 which was the first MV Agusta model to reach the marketplace in Euro 4 compliant form last year, before production stalled owing to said financial hiccups – it’s now restarted fully – is proof in the metal that, to quote the old cliché, less can indeed be more. So, on this model less emissions and less noise equals less power – but heaps more fun, thanks to more torque, more rideability and more accessibility for riders of all levels of experience. Oh, and more kilometres (or miles) between services, thanks to more durability for engine components introduced thanks to the EU’s 20K compliance rule. So thanks to Brussels, as I found out for myself on a 300km day riding the first such bike to reach Australia through the Victorian Goldfields northwest of Melbourne [see why later!], the result will unquestionably mean that more people of both sexes and all ages will become attracted to riding such a motorcycle, not less – well, always assuming they can afford the MV Agusta’s relatively steep price tag. That’s Euro 13,830 in Italy, against Triumph’s architecturally comparable new Street Triple 765 at Euro 8,900 or the lower spec three-cylinder Yamaha MT-09 at Euro 9,240. Is the MV worth it? Let’s see….
"We have redesigned this entire bike from the ground up to make it more accessible to newer riders, while retaining the same sense of character and excitement for seasoned riders," said Brian Gillen, MV Agusta's Director of Technical Development. "We've reworked the chassis, electronics package, and engine to provide all riders with one amazing motorcycle." Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he – except it happens to be true, although he overlooked mentioning what triggered that process, in the form of Euro 4 compliance. Like Triumph, which originally declined to reveal the (lower) horsepower numbers for its Euro 4 models compared to the Euro 3 variants they replaced, MV Agusta’s 798cc three-cylinder motor has suffered a significant drop in power in meeting the Euro 4 rulebook, compared to the previous Euro 3 version that kicked off MV Agusta’s family of 800 triples in 2012 – a loss which inspired Gillen & Co. to perform a radical reworking of the engine’s character that’s ultimately resulted in a better hands-on product.
So, the 79 x 54.3 mm three-cylinder engine with backwards-rotating 120º crank resulting in quicker steering via decreased crankshaft inertia, has been completely overhauled in pursuit of Euro 4 compliance, with new pistons delivering a 12.3:1 compression ratio, new cam profiles and timing, a bigger airbox incorporated via a reshaped 16.5-litre fuel tank, an all-new exhaust with three-litre bigger silencer canister mounted beneath the engine and housing the three-way catalyst, and revised engine mapping via the Eldor EM2.0 ECU incorporating the Mikuni RBW/ride-by-wire throttle package which has a choice of four riding modes – Sport, Normal/Touring and Rain, plus one Custom setting with increased options, and eight levels of switchable traction control.
But while this results in a claimed 110CV/108bhp at the crankshaft at 11,500 rpm, a hefty 17bhp down from the 2015 model, there’s a compensating increase in maximum torque, peaking with 83Nm/61lb-ft at 7,600 rpm – compared to the previous 78Nm/57.8ft-lb a thousand revs higher. But MV claims 90% of that figure is already available at just 3,800 revs, and I believe them, because the result is an extremely broad spread of usable performance and enhanced rideability. That’ll be welcomed by real world riders, who on a Naked roadster like the Brutale spend much longer riding the torque curve in the middle of the rev range, than they do chasing the revlimiter in pursuit of straight line performance. The six-speed gearbox has unchanged ratios, but the ramp-style oil bath slipper clutch is now hydraulically operated, and for the first time there’s a two-way EAS 2.0 Up-Down clutchless quickshifter included as standard, a category first that helps explain the price gap over the MT-09. The new Triumph has only a uni-directional upward powershifter, so you must still use the clutch for downward shifts, unlike on the MV.
The Brutale’s uprated chassis retains MV Agusta’s trademark composite format with a tubular steel upper spaceframe bolted to cast aluminium sideplates, in which the single-sided cast alloy swingarm pivots. Its spaceframe section is now made in ALS alloy steel tubing that’s reportedly more corrosion-resistant than the more familiar 4130 chrome moly variety, and is also relatively easy to weld, as well as more durable in a crash. The swingarm has been lengthened 20mm, thus extending the wheelbase to 1400mm and throwing more weight onto the front wheel for extra grip in turns, and there’s more conservative steering geometry, too, with trail now increased to 103.5mm from 95mm on the previous model, while the head angle has been kicked out a full degree to 24.5º, all in pursuit of calming down the handling to make it a little less edgy than before – remember Gillen’s gospel of broadening the Brutale’s accessibility to customers.
The fully adjustable suspension remains unchanged at both ends, with a Sachs monoshock giving 124mm of travel at the rear via its progressive-rate link, and a 43mm Marzocchi upside down fork up front with 125mm of travel – the fact the historic Italian suspension manufacturer was recently saved from closure via a buy-out from its previous American owner Tenneco surely came as great relief to MV boss Giovanni Castiglioni, since most of the models that MV manufactures carry Marzocchi front ends. The Brutale 800’s Brembo brake package is also unchanged, with radially-mounted four-piston calipers gripping twin 320mm discs up front, and a single 220mm disc with twin-piston caliper at the rear. Switchable Bosch 9-Plus ABS is included as standard as required by Euro 4, complete with RLM/Rear Lift-Up Mitigation. Dry weight of the 2017 Brutale 800 is 175kg – 8kg more than the model it replaces.
The 2017 Brutale 800 has been subtly restyled by Spanish designer Carlos Solsona, who worked alongside MV Agusta’s Senior Designer Adrian Morton when he headed up Benelli’s styling department, and has since followed him to MV. There’s a similarly-shaped but all-new LED headlamp up front, while the rear light is also LED, incorporated in an all-new seat cowl mounted on a new cast aluminium subframe. The stacked trio of exhausts on the right are bigger and meatier-looking than before, and there are copious detail changes to covers, brackets etc. There’s a redesigned dash which rather surprisingly isn’t a full colour TFT item such as KTM are fitting even to their Austrian-made singles, but instead is a slightly drab and definitely cluttered monochrome LCD item. Even with 20/20 vision, you’ll need a magnifying glass to read the clock, though the gear selected monitor and digital speedo are now easier to scan at a quick glance than before. That’s more than you can say for the array of ten warning lights lined up below the dash, though, which are pretty illegible in sunlight – they’re too dim, and too small. This is a mistake of potentially critical proportions, since there’s no fuel gauge, just a yellow warning light which, ahem, being too faint to see in bright sunshine, means that you risk being stranded out in the Aussie bush some miles from a gas station, with just a curious wallaby or two for company while you wait for your photographer mate to bring you a top-up can of fuel. On a bike that’s otherwise so well designed, this is just wrong.
The cast aluminium five-spoke wheels carry Pirelli’s latest Diablo Sport Rosso III tyres, which are claimed by Pirelli to be mainly suitable for Naked bikes, with a tread pattern aimed at improved wet weather use, and a dual compound rear for extra side grip. I didn’t get the chance to evaluate the Pirellis’ wet weather performance, though, because my debut ride on the 2017 Brutale 800 came in Australia, where Joseph Elasmar, the owner of MV’s Melbourne-based importers Urban Moto Group – which has now also taken over North American distribution for the Italian brand, since becoming MV’s best-selling global distributor after taking over as Aussie importer in 2014 – gave me the keys of the first such bike to reach their shores.
Just streetfighting my way out of Melbourne en route to the Calder Freeway leading to Bendigo and the Tiny Towns of the Victorian Goldfields like Castlemaine and Maldon, gave an immediate introduction to the new Brutale’s radically changed personality, which in a way has made it finally live up to its name. For while the previous model was certainly more torquey than the shorter-stroke 675 Brutale which preceded it, it was still relatively revvy by middleweight Nakedbike standards. That’s history, now – there’s much more bottom end and midrange grunt, with an 18% increase below 5,000 rpm according to MV, making this a more effective real world traffic tool. The riding position helps here, seemingly a little more upright than before with your feet slightly further back – but it’s fairly comfortable in spite of the hard padding on the relatively high 830mm tall seat, which has been narrowed where it meets the tank so that shorter riders will be able to put their feet down at a stop light. Women riders are already a key customer segment for MV with the Brutale, and I reckon that will only increase with this new version.
The Euro 4 version of the MV motor offers a cleaner, more fluid drive from low down – it’ll pull wide open from just 2,000 rpm upwards, with an ultra-smooth torque delivery which you can feel tops out as early as 4,000 rpm, then holds all the way to the 12,000 rpm redline. You can hold fourth gear for miles on end along a flowing, twisty country road like the so-called Pyrenees Highway running from Castlemaine – home of XXXX beer, as well as the street rod capital of Australia! – to Maryborough (once home to visiting American writer Mark Twaine, of Huckleberry Finn fame), just working the throttle back and forth and revelling in the MV’s new-found flexibility. Essentially, what the Gillen gang of MV R&D engineers have done is to give away some of the previous model’s top end horsepower – as they needed to do to meet Euro 4 – which on a bike like the Brutale you don't usually use, in exchange for extra midrange torque that's always going to be useful. It’s a good deal for the customer end user – especially as it’s delivered to the really thrilling trademark rasp of a triple as you wind the throttle open. It hardly seems muted any from the hotseat!
So again what I think has happened here is that once again the law of unintended consequences has backfired on Brussels, because while meeting Euro 4 compliance in terms of ride-by exhaust noise, MV’s engineers have actually produced a bike that’s sounds even more thrilling from the hotseat because of extra intake roar. I had a foretaste of that in riding Jules Cluzel’s factory MV Agusta F3 Supersport racer in a track test at Misano, where nothing prepares you for the full-on concerto you get when you fire up the motor on the starter button and head out onto the racetrack, to be greeted by a combination of the intake roar and race exhaust making music up close and personal as you twist your wrist, which the glorious-sounding pipe however transmits only in muted form to onlookers. You hear it much better than they can. The new Brutale 800 is the same as the F3 racer – it sounds wonderful when you’re actually riding it, but it’s not anything like as distinctive and evocative to hear riding past you, as when you’re actually on the bike.
The Euro 4 version of the three-cylinder 800 motor is a super-responsive package, where because of the extra midrange grunt you’ll find yourself short-shifting at around 9,000 rpm on the wide-open quickshifter, just to surf the waves of torque – though it would be nice to have a programmable shifter light on the dash. Thanks to the auto-blipper that’s also now included as standard you need never touch the clutch lever after setting off until you come to a halt on the MV, and of the several such systems I’ve now sampled over the years on everything from MotoGP racers to various rival streetbikes, I can’t recall one as well dialled in as the new MV’s – honestly, it’s that good, with a foolproof action so long as you’re travelling at more than 20kph. Downshifts are so smooth you’d hardly know you’d made them before getting back on the gas again, if it wasn’t for that soulful blip of the throttle that the system delivers. Every bike should have this – really!
The three standard riding modes are accessible on the move via a button on the right ‘bar, which sometimes took several pushes to make it work, and isn’t very accessible because of the distance away from your throttle hand’s thumb – the button placement makes it difficult to change modes except at a dead stop. In the same way, MV Agusta continues to put the horn button where the turn signal switch is on almost every other motorcycle, and vice versa, so that I kept blowing the horn when about to make a turn. Fix it, signori – please: if Ducati can finally fit footrests that your boots don’t repeatedly slip off, you can get the switchgear right. Back to the three modes, which have a very different character one from another, each with its own fuel map offering a different response via the ride-by-wire throttle, with the Normal one all but perfect for every kind of circumstance in real world riding. The Rain mode sees power restricted to 80bhp with a more gradual pickup, and it’s OK to use it even in the dry in congested city streets like the Melbourne mayhem with which I started my day. But the Normal mode is plenty controllable at low speeds, yet also delivers zestful acceleration and access to that delightful midrange grunt with plenty of brio – I found myself using it most of the time. Sport means what it says on the label – there really is a much more aggressive pickup from a closed throttle that’ll make you check on your TC setting, and choosing it sees power building in hard but linear fashion all the way to the rev-limiter, whereas in Normal mode the drive tails off a little around 9,000 rpm to encourage you to hit a higher gear, and get back in the fat part of the torque curve.
Opting for Sport also reduces engine braking, which is noticeably helpful in slowing for a turn in Normal mode, with the slipper clutch now fitted to the Brutale 800 (but absent from its predecessor) retaining just enough engine braking to mean you can go easy on the Brembo brake package. That’s quite welcome, because the MV Agusta’s twin front discs are ferociously powerful for a bike of this weight, with the twin four-pot Brembo radial calipers are hard to modulate at first until you get your head around them. They need a delicate touch, but once you’ve got used to them they deliver huge stopping power in return for very little effort. You’ll be glad you have ABS when riding in the rain, although this can be switched off by using a couple of buttons on the left bar to access a menu on the digital dash, which also lets you choose between traction control from levels zero (so, switched off) to eight (the most intensive).
In spite of its more conservative steering geometry as well as the longer wheelbase, the Brutale 800 remains quick-steering and agile, via the good leverage from the relatively high-set but pulled-back handlebar. But it’s just that little bit less nervous, less downright flighty as its predecessor could sometimes be, especially in the absence of a steering damper, which still isn’t fitted to this new version. The old Brutale 800 was especially prone to lifting the front wheel under hard acceleration, so that you’d have the handlebars shimmying in your hands as you gassed it wide open. That only happened to me a couple of times on the new bike, in both cases in Sport mode, probably thanks to the stiff setting of the Sachs rear shock, which like the Marzocchi fork seemed rather oversprung and rather uncompliant over rougher road surfaces out in the bush. I didn’t have the chance to play around with the settings, but I’m sure being fully adjustable I could have dialled in a softer setup. But still, those were the default settings as delivered from the factory, and I’d expect every example of the bike delivered to customers will need the dealer to soften things up to keep the guy – or gal – with the credit card happy. You shouldn’t have to stand on the footrests on a bike like this to avoid getting your backside pummelled by the seat along a bumpy road.
Is the new MV Agusta Brutale 800 worth the extra money over the Triumph and Yamaha which are its key marketplace rivals? Well, quite apart from the gorgeous styling, the noticeably enhanced build quality, and the undoubted presence the new Brutale has, it includes a hydraulic slipper clutch and an up/down quickshifter/autoblipper – so maybe for those who can afford it, the answer must be yes. And if the 2017 Euro 4-inspired drop in horsepower is an issue, then MV Agusta will have the Brutale 800 RR coming to a dealer near you later this year, albeit at a substantial hike in price to Euro 16,020. For that extra money, though, besides heaps of high end hardware like forged wheels and the like you get a twin-injector engine delivering 140 bhp at 13,100 rpm, with an equally hefty hike in peak torque to 86 Nm/63.4 ft-lb at 10,100 rpm thanks to new camshafts and revised mapping. Your choice.
But whichever way you look at it, the bone stock 2017 MV Agusta Brutale 800 is an outstanding motorcycle which augurs well for the similarly uprated such models coming from the Italian manufacturer, as each is adapted to meet Euro 4 compliance. Thank you, Brussels!
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Photo credit: Stephen Piper