Benelli’s fourth product to be launched this year is a retro-modern offering that will go against the popular Royal Enfield Classic 350. We take it for a spin to see how it rides.
Failure is just an opportunity to start all over – this maxim seems to be at the heart of Benelli. In its 100-year history, the company has had a rather rough ride. But the Italian brand has managed to bounce back every single time. The Italian brand’s story in India has been similar too. They entered India in 2015 with a full range of products, but with their Indian partner running into financial trouble, Benelli had to temporarily put a halt to its Indian operations.
But now, partnered with Adishwar Auto Ride India (AARI), the bikemaker is bullish about its expansion plans. In fact, since its resurrection in August last year, Benelli has introduced 4 new products in the Indian market. The latest one to hit the market is the retro-styled offering you see in the pictures here. Say hello to the Benelli Imperiale 400!
No school like old school:
The Imperiale 400’s design has retro-classic written all over it. From the round headlight, the chrome-finished mirrors, and turn indicators to the dual-pod analogue instrumentation, teardrop tank, and the overall silhouette, everything screams old school. It isn’t a design that will leave you love-struck, but it’s still something that you will admire, and moreover, it won’t age badly. The build quality of the bike is impressive. Everything from the switchgear to the body panels come together seamlessly to give it an air of luxe. In fact, it feels a lot better built than its immediate rivals – the Royal Enfield Classic 350 and the Jawa 42.
Swing a leg over it, and you will immediately notice just how comfortable the Imperiale 400 is. The rider seat is wide and has enough support for the back. The forward-set footpegs ensure a good riding posture, and the tank pads make it easy to grip the motorcycle with the inside of your thighs. I wish the hand bar was a little wider though – it would have given the bike much better leverage while riding, but more on that later.
As far as features go, the Benelli doesn’t quite have much to flaunt. It gets fuel injection and dual-channel ABS as standard. The instrumentation displays a clock, a speedo, a tacho, a trip metre, and a gear indicator.
Let's get the numbers out of the way first. The Imperiale 400 is powered by a 374cc single-cylinder motor that develops 20.7bhp and 29Nm. Although the power and torque come high into the rev range – 5,500rpm and 4,500rpm respectively – the motorcycle feels quite strong in the mid-range too. But it’s the refinement of the motor that pleasantly surprised us. Even when we pushed the bike to its limit – shifting up only when the techno needle hit the red line – the Imperiale felt vibe-free and superbly composed. We rode the motorcycle for nearly 200 kilometres, enough to stretch its legs. On the highway, the Benelli could’ve done with a bit more power though. It struggles to gain speed once you have touched the 100km/h mark, and you’d need a long straight to go any faster than that. The 205kg kerb weight plays a huge disadvantage here. It is 13kg heavier than the Classic 350, and an unbelievable 35kg heavier than the Jawa 42. In the urban jungle though, the Imperiale 400 feels absolutely adequate. All of its 29Nm come into play positively to ensure that overtaking is quick and easy.
The Benelli Imperiale 400 comes paired with a 5-speed transmission. Shifting between gears is smooth and precise even when riding at high speeds.
Benelli has done a great job in setting up the suspension of the Imperiale. Although I am usually biased in favour of a firm setup, the ride quality of the Imperiale’s soft suspension is laudable. Our test route covered a lot of broken and uneven state highways, and no matter where we rode the Imperiale, it just wouldn’t make your back feel the stress. And with that in mind, it feels reasonably confident around corners too. The high ground clearance allows you to lean into corners, and it maintains its composure even at high speeds – as long as the roads are smooth. Hit a pothole mid-corner, and it does feel unsettled.
Braking force comes from a 300mm disc upfront, which is larger than what you get on the RE and the Jawa. At the rear, it comes fitted with a 240mm disc. Brakes are effective but could have done with better initial bite.
Benelli’s ride in India has been rather bumpy so far, but under the new leadership, it seems determined to smoothen it out. The company already has around 20 customer touchpoints across the country, and it intends to expand it by another 12 – 15 outlets in the near future, and that should address the reluctance of most customers to commit to the brand.
Coming back to the motorcycle, at Rs 1.69 lakh, it is quite competitively priced. To give you a better perspective, the Classic 350 is priced at Rs 1.53 lakh, and the Jawa 42 demands Rs 1.73 lakh (all prices ex-showroom). Heavy localisation of parts has allowed Benelli to price the Imperiale 400 aggressively. In addition, the build quality, ride comfort, and the refinement work in favour of the Imperiale to make it a great alternative to the popular Classic 350.
- Benelli Imperiale 400
Engine: 374cc / single-cylinder / air-cooled / 4-valves / SOHC
Power: 20.7bhp @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 29Nm @ 4,500rpm
Price: ₹1.69 lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-Factor: Comfortable and refined, the Benelli Imperiale 400 can be a great alternative to the RE Classic 350.