Benelli’s latest motorcycle, the Leoncino, literally translates to lion’s cub. But is its bite as threatening as its roar?
Say hello to the latest workhorse from Benelli. Actually, ‘horse’ doesn’t seem appropriate in this case – it’s really a lion’s cub. And I mean, really! The motorcycle that you see here is called the Leoncino 500 – Italian for Lion’s cub. But, the name aside, the Leoncino is Benelli’s first Scrambler motorcycle for our market and is designed to cater to those with retro-modern tastes. So, is the Leoncino really a King – no pun intended – in the making?
New, but not young
While the Leoncino 500 went on sale in India only a few weeks ago, it’s not really a new bike. You see, it was first showcased roughly 4 years ago at the EICMA show in 2015. And since then it has been regularly featured in the ‘upcoming’ section on our website. It took some time – in fact, a long time – but thanks to Benelli’s new business partners, the Leoncino has finally reached the company’s showroom floors in India.
Despite its age, the Leoncino doesn’t look dated. In fact, it looks quite modern and stylish. Like any other modern-day Scrambler, it too has compact dimensions and a neo-retro look. It feels really special. You see, Leoncino is a revered moniker for Benelli – for the name has its own legacy.
The original Leoncino bikes were made in post war Italy in the 50s and 60s. So, continuing the legacy, the bike gets some special bits, such as special metal plaques on the tank, as well as the ‘Lion of Pesaro’ motif on the front fender. The paint finish is very good in terms of quality, and the all-LED lighting, narrow fuel tank, thick front forks, fat tyres, and wide handlebar make it look really imposing. To my eyes, it actually looks a bit like Simba (think Lion King) – cute and aggressive in equal measure.
Another highlight of the bike is its all-digital instrument cluster that looks very cool. However, under direct sunlight, it’s quite difficult to read the display. Also, the switchgear quality could have been better, as the indicator controls feel quite tacky.
Small heart, big guts
Powering the Leoncino is the same liquid-cooled 500cc parallel-twin that does duty in the TRK 502. The engine develops 47bhp and 46Nm of torque. While, on paper, this doesn’t seem like enough, but, in my experience, this twin-cylinder engine is the heart and soul of the bike. The power delivery is super strong and is spread out evenly.
But what’s really impressive is that it’s super refined and vibe-free. The torque spread is creamy, and the motor revs all the way up to the redline, at 9,000rpm, without exhibiting any reluctance. Sure, the performance isn’t ground-breaking by any measure, but it’s not a slow bike at all. You can hit triple-digit speeds in no time, and it keeps on pulling even after you hit the tonne.
The bike’s throttle response is very smooth, and it doesn’t jerk at low revs. The 6-speed gearbox also plays along nicely, with effortless and precise shifts. The clutch action, however, feels a little heavy, and the engine can get really hot in stop-and-go traffic. The most exciting aspect of its powertrain, for me at least, is the exhaust sound. In typical Benelli fashion, the Leoncino produces a deep and throaty rumble, which makes it sound like a ‘big’ bike.
On firm ground
Benelli can market the Leoncino 500 as a Scrambler all they like, but, in all honesty, it’s a very road-focussed motorcycle. The suspension setup, alloy wheels, and Pirelli Angel GT tyres all point towards that fact. The 50mm front fork is rebound adjustable, while the off-set monoshock at the rear is adjustable for both rebound and pre-load. Overall, the setup is tuned for a jarringly firm ride! On bumpy roads, this gets bothersome. Similarly, at high speeds, there’s a lot of vertical movement from the suspension, and the ride feels choppy.
On the flip side, the tautness of the springs makes it beautifully involving to ride on twisty roads. Despite its 185kg mass (dry), the Benelli feels quite light on its feet. It’s not a sharp or a quick-steering motorcycle though, owing to its fat 120mm (front) and 160mm (rear) section tyres. But, on the whole, the Leoncino is an enjoyable machine.
The wide handlebar, roomy saddle, and upright foot-pegs make it a comfortable cruiser for long rides, but, of course, the stiff suspension and lack of wind protection might act against you if you take it for a long ride. Deceleration duties are carried out by a 320mm dual-disc setup at the front and a 260mm disc at the rear. As a result, its braking performance is spot on. You can also turn off the ABS using a button on the handlebar.
There are two things that are wrong with the Leoncino – it’s bumpy ride, and the fact that it’s not an outright Scrambler. However, I truly believe that it’s a phenomenal motorcycle for the road – one that you can ride and enjoy on a daily basis. Plus, it definitely looks the part, produces an awesome sound, and is a very tempting product at `4.79 lakh (ex-showroom).
Above all, the reason why I find myself gravitating heavily towards the Leoncino is that, after riding it for just for over a day, this little cub has already started pulling at my heartstrings. So, if you’re considering this bike and your head tells you otherwise… well, listen to your heart.
- Benelli Leoncino 500
Engine: 500cc / In-line 2 Cylinders
Power: 47bhp @ 8,500rpm
Torque: 46Nm @ 6,000rpm
Price: Rs 4.79 lakh (Ex-Showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: Small bike with a big heart!