The HP4 (High Performance in-line four) is essentially a tarted up S1000RR. For around an extra £1,500 (final prices are yet to be confirmed but you are looking at the £15,500 area) you get a unique paint job, numbered top yoke, semi-active suspension, titanium Akrapovic, upgraded ABS and traction control settings, launch control, new Brembo monoblock calipers, forged alloy wheels and a quick shifter. That's bloody good value. And, just to make it even more interesting to racer types, BMW is trying to get it homologated for WSB and superstock racing, meaning semi-active suspension could be used in WSB next year.
With a claimed 193hp and 83lb ft, and tipping the scales at 199kg wet, the HP4 is the lightest in-line four 1,000cc sportsbike on the market, as well as one of the most powerful. And this is all on top of a bike that has already decimated the opposition when it comes to performance and electric gizmos.
BMW spared no expense with the HP4's launch and unveiled it at the MotoGP track of Jerez in Spain. Jerez is fairly tight and twisty but has several long and fast corners that require big balls, not to mention a fair degree of rear tyre grip. Should either fail, you ain't going to land for ages...
The semi-active suspension system is permanently active and when you switch between Rain, Sport, Race and Slick the damping alters with the mode selected. Opting to start the day in Race mode I headed out on track. After a few laps to get into the groove I started to push on and see what difference the DDC (Dynamic Damping Control) had on the BMW's handling.
Exiting one of the long right-handers there is a slight lip in the tarmac as the track heads uphill then levels off to the back straight. This is about the point you start to really wind on the power and was the first time I noticed the suspension altering its damping. There was a slight pulsing feeling from the rear (of the bike as well as my backside) which seemed to be three 'pumps' that happened in very quick succession before gradually reducing and disappearing.
Looking down at the clocks the DTC (traction control) warning light wasn't activated so I can only assume that this was the shock increasing its damping to deal with the undulation and increase in power. It was an odd feeling, but not one that made me feel as if anything untoward was happening.
Carrying on to the end of the straight and you hit the brakes, reducing your speed from fifth to second gear. With the ABS turned on the bike's forks initially felt quite soft, diving fairly dramatically before becoming a lot stiffer in their damping. I tend not to trail brake too hard into corners but at the point of turn-in the front did feel fairly solid. That said, it was still extremely confidence inspiring and after a few laps it felt like I was circulating Jerez faster than I ever have before.
Lightweight tyres always make a marked difference to a bike's handling and after telling myself off for some erratic 50-pence cornering around Jerez's slower speed hairpins I realised the reason. Obviously lack of talent was one, but mainly it was the new lighter wheel making the S1000RR's already incredibly nimble steering even better. I was turning in expecting a slower response, only to be greeted by a kerb rushing towards me!
Session over and for the next time out I opted to set the HP4 in Slick mode. Unlike the standard bike, the HP4 has a button on the left-hand bar that allows you to alter the DTC's interference while on the go. Setting it in +1 I also increased the DDC's damping in the shock via the onboard display and had a word with myself to man up and stop being such a wimp.
A few laps in and the HP4 reminded me just how special it is. The feeling of movement from the active suspension on the rear was gone, meaning that either the increased damping had done the trick or that the 'pump' had been replaced by the traction control allowing the rear to move slightly, taking away the feeling. So balanced was the bike mid-corner that exiting in third gear at around 12,000rpm I had time to look at the dash, register the blinking yellow light, and be inwardly pleased that I may actually be laying down some rubber. Although probably not, but we can all live a dream. Which is what ultimately the HP4 is all about.
I'm not going to win a superstock race; I doubt very much many HP4s ever will as most will end up with road riders. However, when you ride the HP4, like the stock S1000RR, it lets you live the dream. You can play at sliding the rear safe in the knowledge the DTC will save you, brake deeper than ever before with the amazing Brembo calipers and ABS acting like a safety net and turn in when you think it's all too late thanks to the stunning chassis. The semi-active suspension is far more likely to show its worth on the road, or much more likely on BMW's 2013 range of touring bikes, but if you are looking for the best of the best sportsbikes, the HP4 is just like an S1000RR - only better and with suspension that does the fiddling for you!
BMW S1000RR HP4
Engine: 999cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, fuel injection
Power: 193hp @ 13,000rpm
Torque: 82ft.lb @ 9,750rpm
Top speed: 190mph (est)
Weight: 199kg (dry)
MPG: Who cares?
Price: £15,500 (est) or £18,500 with the 'Competition Package' of carbon panels, blue wheels and HP levers and rearsets.