Not just a TNT 302 with a fairing, the Benelli 302R promises to be a lot more as it gets set to enter the entry-level performance segment.
Stepping into the Indian market in 2014, the Benelli brand was launched with five motorcycles – four of which were naked. Subsequent, they introduced an entry-level single pot offering last year in the shape of the TNT25 – also a naked. So, even after all these launches, they missed a fully-faired product in their line-up. So, finally, after a long wait, the Italian bike maker is about to fill that gap with the launch of the 302R quite soon.
First things first, the Benelli 302 ain’t a TNT302 that has a fairing slapped on. It’s an all-new motorcycle, well almost! Aside from the design, which is the obvious aspect of distinction, the 302R is based on an all-new trellis frame. And while it does sport the same parallel-twin unit, it’s differently tuned to suit the DNA of the bike. But, before we get into the technical jargon, let’s take a closer look at its design.
In the flesh, the Benelli 302R looks moderately eccentric. The massive fairing makes it look larger than its displacement suggests, especially from the front three-quarter angle – thereby giving it a ‘big bike’ feel. The U-shaped headlights, underlined by Daytime Running Lights, make it look purposeful. In profile, certain parts of the fairing are reminiscent of the Bajaj Pulsar 220F. But thanks to the relatively narrow rear section it tends to look somewhat disproportionate. Rear three-quarters is probably the best angle from which to view the Benelli 302R, but we would have liked it better had the tail section been a bit smaller. The bike we rode was a pre-production model and was draped in a multi-colour livery, but the production model is expected to come with a different colour scheme.
Swing a leg onto the Benelli 302R, and you find its riding position to be extremely comfortable. It isn’t overly aggressive, nor is it relaxed like a touring machine. In fact, it finds the right balance between the two. The handlebar isn’t very low and the seat height is ideal for an average sized Indian. That said, you might just feel a bit cramped if you’re 6-foot-something. And that puny rear seat won’t be very comfortable for pillion riders. Moreover, the absence of grab rails means that there’s nothing to hold onto either.
The Benelli 302R borrows its engine from its naked sibling, which means that it gets the same 300cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin unit. The Italian bike maker, however, has tuned the engine differently to suit the dynamics of this fully faired offering. Unlike the TNT 302, which had to be revved hard to extract the best from it, the 302R packs more punch in the mid-range – and this should be quite useful in both the city and on the highway. But as you twist the wrist and the tacho needle goes north of the 6,000rpm mark, the vibrations can be felt on the handlebars as well as the foot pegs.
The Benelli 302R may not be the fastest entry-level motorcycle out there, but it sure can hold three-digit speeds comfortably – with enough juice left over for swift overtaking manoeuvres. Since this is a prototype, and is in the process of homologation, Benelli hasn’t shared its power and torque ratings but they claim that it’ll be marginally lower than the TNT 302. The difference in power should be miniscule and won’t really affect its real-world performance. And, although the 302R also comes with a 6-speed transmission, the gear ratios are different. They’re now better spaced out, with the lower cogs being relatively short for improved efficiency. While the shifts are precise, they’re too rubbery for my liking.
The Benelli 302R sits on upside down forks up front and a monoshock at the back. The setup leans towards the stiffer side, which makes the overall ride a bit harsh. Thankfully the riding posture isn’t overly aggressive though, so it doesn’t leave you with a sore back after a long ride. On the flipside, stiffer springs give the Benelli impressive handling dynamics. It leans in with ease, feels composed while attacking corners and the Metzeler rubber further helps in inspiring confidence. Our only grouse were the foot pegs that scrape the tarmac far too easily. The ground clearance, meanwhile, is good enough so you don’t quite have to worry about scraping the underbelly over rough surfaces.
Benelli hasn’t announced the price of the 302R as yet, but it’s sure to play a crucial role in the eventual success of the bike. Keeping in mind that the bike will go up against the likes of the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and the Yamaha YZF-R3, Benelli can gain an edge by undercutting both its rivals. Although the prototype we rode wasn’t equipped with ABS, Benelli says that the production version is sure to get it. Aside from this, the 302R does manage to shine with regards to comfort and handling – making it a neat all round package.