The launch of the Benelli Imperiale 400, without a doubt, poses a challenge to the reign of the Royal Enfield Classic 350. But is it just an empty challenge or a truly serious threat?
Failure is just an opportunity to start all over – a maxim that seems to be at the heart of Benelli. Its long history of 100 years is a cornucopia of tough times, but the Italian brand has managed to bounce back every single time it hit rock-bottom. The brand’s history in India offers a similar narrative. It entered India in 2015, with a full range of products, but with its Indian partner running into financial trouble, Benelli had to temporarily put a stop to its Indian operations.
But, as always, it recovered. And 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 four new products in the Indian market. The latest one to hit the market is the retro-styled offering you see in the pictures here – 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 overall silhouette, everything screams old school. True, the design will not leave you awestruck, but it’s still something that you can admire. Moreover, it’s not a design that will 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 the extreme level of comfort. The seat is wide and has enough support for the back. The forward-set footpegs ensure that you maintain a good riding posture, and the tank pads make it easy to grip the motorcycle with your thighs.
The handlebar could have been a little wider, which would’ve given the bike much better leverage while riding, but more on that later.
In terms of features, the 400 doesn’t quite have much to flaunt. It gets fuel injection and dual-channel ABS as standard. The instrumentation comprises of a clock, a speedo, a tacho, a tripmeter, and a gear indicator.
Refined, but portly
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 in 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 the limit – shifting up only when the tacho 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’ve touched the 100km/h mark, and you need a long straight to go any faster than that. The 205kg kerb weight is a huge disadvantage here. It’s 13kgs heavier than the Classic 350 and 35kgs heavier than the Jawa 42.
In the urban jungle though, the Imperiale 400 feels absolutely adequate. All of its 29Nm come into play 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’m usually biased in favour of a firm setup, the ride quality of the Imperiale’s soft suspension is laudable. Our test route had a lot of broken and uneven state highways, and no matter where we rode the Imperiale, it just wouldn’t put any strain on your back.
In fact, it feels reasonably confident around corners too. The high ground clearance allows you to lean into corners without any fear. Also, 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 though.
Braking 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. And while the brakes are effective, they could have offered 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 to 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 ₹1.69 lakh, it is quite competitively priced. To give you a better perspective, the Classic 350 is priced at ₹1.53 lakh, and the Jawa 42 demands ₹1.74 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, all work in favour of the Imperiale and 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.