As reviewed by Ultimate Motorcycle (January, 2010)
MV Agusta has always built its premium motorcycles up to a quality-not down to a price. Crafted with meticulous precision, MVs have always had the kind of jaw-dropping Italian good looks that put them at the top of most aficionados' desirability lists.
Created in 2001, the Brutale's original 750cc engine increased its displacement in stages before arriving at this latest 1078cc model. The original was a grin-factor inducing high-revving hooligan, but it was a tad underpowered. The larger-capacity versions produced tractor-level torque, but the fuel mapping was abrupt and hard to modulate. The suspension was race-pace stiff and, although the pre-radial Brembo brakes worked well enough when a hard handful was grabbed, the wooden feel at the lever defied finesse. The end result was an aptly named Brutale that was an excellent motorcycle when ridden with absolute commitment, but an easy streetbike it was not.
Although visually similar to its predecessors, the new Brutale 1090RR is comprised of some 85% new components, most of which are produced in-house. Confusingly, the across-the-frame radial-valve four-cylinder engine has not changed in capacity from last year's 1078RR; the new 1090 is still a 1078cc motor, although that same capacity is reached via a lengthened stroke and narrowed bore.
The bottom end has been redesigned with a significantly lighter crankshaft, a revised lubrication system, and new water pump. A counter-rotating balance shaft is now included within the lighter crankcases, and the redesigned gearshift has an easier-to-find neutral and a torsion damper for a sweeter drivetrain. These changes have resulted in a reduction in peak horsepower, but that is of no consequence-the (claimed) 145 horsepower and 84 ft/lbs of torque appear lower in the rev range and the result feels much stronger than the figures suggest.
Clearly, the priority for MV was to make all that power user-friendlier without diluting it-and, boy, have they succeeded. Helped by a butterfly valve on the exhaust, the increased mid-range torque allows controllable power wheelies in the first three gears, and superb rear-end feel on corner exit. The ride-by-wire throttle now transitions smoothly from off to on-especially noticeable in first gear-and, coupled with the revised suspension, the Brutale has been transformed from a white-knuckle bronco ride into a laser-guided missile.
The 1090RR is joined by a 990R version that lacks the slipper clutch, steering damper, and high/low speed adjustable compression damping of its sibling. The 990R is around $3,000 less expensive and, although less powerful, it is still no entry-level motorcycle. On an extended street ride, the differences between the two are less obvious than on the track. What was very obvious straight from the get-go on both bikes, was the controllable power delivery, smoother engine response, gentler suspension and the finesse of the brakes.
Credit for the motor's new manageability goes to the 46mm Mikuni throttle bodies and Magneti Marelli 5SM electronics, which now includes eight-level traction control and fuel maps for normal or low-traction conditions. The traction control simply retards the ignition when a spike in engine speed is sensed; it does not have the accuracy of Ducati's wheel-sensor based system, for instance, but it does assist the Brutale and its rider in real-world situations.
The street portion of the test was very challenging, but it proved beyond question the newly developed rideability of the Brutale. The Italian roads had been washed clean a week earlier by some rain, and other areas (especially the roundabouts) had layers of spilled diesel fuel and other greasiness that kept catching me unawares when I least expected it. Yet despite the buttock-clenching fear as I was forced to share the slippery road with several oncoming trucks, my guardian angel and the Brutale's softer handling, smooth power delivery, and easily modulated Brembos, helped me safely navigate my way through the picturesque hills around Rimini; it is something I truly believe I could never have done on a previous model.
Read the full review at Ultimate Motocycle