Is this MV Agusta's finest bike?

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2014

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Swapping directly from the saddle of one of MV Agusta's four-cylinder 1000cc F4 sportsbikes to one of company's smaller F3 triples makes you immediately aware of important differences.

First, the ergos aren't as contorting, making the F3 feel almost as comfortable as a Gold Wing by comparison. Then there's the more flickable steering, aided by the lighter weight and contra-rotating crankshaft of the triple.

As for power, it's only in the upper third of the rev range that the thousand makes its superior output known. That's provided the F3 is one of the new 800cc versions, which feature longer piston strokes than the 675cc alternative and therefore provide the best grunt-to-weight ratio in the MV Agusta showroom.

As for bang-for-buck, the 798cc F3 nails its F4 1000R cousin to the wall with a $25,990 sticker instead of $34,990. You could add the extra grand charged for the addition of an optional race-mode ABS system to the F3 800 and still ride out of the showroom with the arguably-better bike and an $8K saving in purchase premium.

If I was a prospective F4 buyer, I'd be haggling hard for a price reduction given the many attractions of the latest smaller-capacity MV Agusta sportsbike. It's also debatably the better-looking bike from a distance, thanks to the way Brit designer Adrian Morton refined and sharpened the Tamburini-penned F4's inspired visuals for the F3.

Up close, the appeal of the smaller MV does pale a bit however, as it lacks the finer detailing of the 1000, including the adjustable footpegs and high-quality steering damper of the F4.

There's still plenty to admire about the 800 F3, and it retains the position of the 675 version at the top of the Supersports class for its aristocratic build quality and detailing, but you're immediately conscious that it was built to attain a certain price point where you suspect that the lire-counters lost just about every argument over the production cost of the F4.

Then there's the difference in the suspension quality of the two bikes, and it only takes one of our notoriously lumpy backroads to notice how an F3 bucks and ricochets off the bumps where the F4 sucks it up and glides.

There's little need to stand on the pegs of the F4 when approaching sudden deteriorations in the road surface, whereas it becomes the preferred mode of operation when riding an F3 in such conditions. MV Agusta bumped up the spring rates of the 800cc F3 in acknowledgement of the bike's extra speed and more powerful brakes than its 675cc sibling, and the change is most welcome when charging around a smooth racetrack at speed, but it has resulted in reduced ride compliance when bimbling around the back country at sports-touring pace. I'd be seeking out 675-spec springs and a steering damper for the 800 if buying one.

Such a scenario remains a mouth-watering prospect despite the butch spring rates of the 800. For the bigger engine forgives many of the sins of the 675, despite the only changes being new engine management software, a bump in compression ratio from 13.0:1 to 13.3, and the 8.4mm extension to the stroke of the pistons (54.3mm instead of the 675's 45.9) that adds the extra cee- cees and results in better- proportioned architecture due to the 78mm bore diameters that both F3 triples share.

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The result is an endearing friskiness through the middle of the rev range where the 675 feels comparatively flat, and decent lifts in power and torque output (up by an extra 20-horspower and 17Nm). Despite its raised final drive gearing, an 800 F3 is constantly tugging its front wheel away from terra firma at half-throttle in any of the first three gears, and the added mid-range muscle masks some the of the fuelling imperfections of the 675. The brand-new 800 displayed some of the 675's tendency to hunt at steady partial throttle upon first encounter, but it got better as the settings adjusted themselves to the fuel quality, temperature fluctuations, and rich oxygen levels of New Zealand riding conditions.

By the time I handed the 800 reluctantly back, the Eldor engine management system had identified settings that represented acceptable progress. As an illustration of the challenges facing all developers of motorcycle engine management software, the F3 has no less than 32 separate electronic control units developed for different regions in which the bike is sold, and the each then undergoes a period of self-analysis and final tweaking over the initial stages of ownership. Eldor will also continue to provide engine management upgrades over the life of the F3, with new fuel maps added to the ECU when the MV is being serviced.

The version of traction control used by MV Agusta is a little cruder than some systems, using just a single wheel speed sensor at the rear, and matching that feedback to engine and gear info to target the trigger points of the eight settings. Wish I could tell you how effective it was, but it never once chimed in. I'd like to say that was due to my preference for the least trigger-happy settings, but it was more likely that the superb Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tyres simply provided flawless performance throughout the entire test period.

Is the F3 800 MV Agusta's finest bike? With tests of the new 800 Dragster and 800 Rivale streetbikes still to come this year, it's too early to make such a call. It certainly is the brand's finest sportsbike in terms of performance-for-price.

AT A GLANCE

MV Agusta F3 800 ABS:

Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled dohc 12-valve fuel-injected inline triple, 108.8kW (148bhp) at 13,000rpm and 88Nm at 10,600rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, chain final drive.

Frame: Tubular tellis/cast alloy hybrid frame with cast aluminium single-sided swingarm, 43mm fully- adjustable Marzocchi front forks with 125mm of travel; fully adjustable Sachs rear monoshock with 123mm of travel.

Price: $26,990 as tested ($25,990 without ABS)

Hot: Refines the performance of the acclaimed F3 675 to such a level that it overshadows the F4 flagship; refined race-mode ABS system is worth spending the extra $1000 for.

Not: Over-sprung suspension; TC system isn't as sophisticated as some; MV Agusta's limited dealer access in New Zealand; trackday riding buddies will hate you.

- The Press

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