The Royal Enfield Classic 350 is the best-seller in its segment, but now the Benelli Imperiale 400 has entered into its territory. So, we bring together the new BS6 models of both bikes for the ultimate modern retro motorcycle showdown.
For many years now, Royal Enfield has been calling itself a premium motorcycle maker. But if you ask me, its motorcycles are not premium. Sure, the new 650 twins could fall into the category of premium motorcycles, but only in India. Why? For the simple reason that the vast majority of two-wheelers sold in the country fall under Rs 1 lakh. So, manufacturers take the liberty of calling motorcycles ‘premium’ when their price crosses over that mark. That’s just how the market in India is, and that is why Royal Enfield has for many years now been India’s best-selling premium motorcycle manufacturer. RE bikes have 350cc engines and above, and this has always been the point to consider for those looking to get into bigger bikes. The bikes are relatively affordable, and so, RE has always been an aspirational brand in the country. Big tough bikes that make you feel good is how they have marketed themselves in the Indian market, and it has worked wonderfully for them.
Now, RE has managed to sit comfortably in its market position because other manufacturers have not been too keen to enter the 350cc to 500cc retro cruiser market. Now, Jawa and Benelli have entered the market with their own iterations of a 350cc modern retro, and even Honda will very soon join the bandwagon. It seems that the success of RE has drawn the competition to enter the modern classic segment for the masses. While we have already ridden all the bikes in this segment, the new BS6 models are out now. So, we got our hands on the new BS6 Royal Enfield Classic 350, which has been the best-selling retro cruiser in India for 10 years now, along with its newest and most potent contender, the BS6 Benelli Imperiale 400. So, let's see how these bikes fare against each other.
Both the Classic 350 and the Imperiale 400 have an unmistakable retro design. They both have a bare-bone body and feature a round headlight, a flat and wide fuel tank, a single-cylinder engine, and spoked wheels. Everything about them screams retro. The Classic 350 we tested was in full chrome and really stood out a lot. Other paint schemes of the Classic look pretty basic. The Imperiale doesn’t have much chrome except on the engine and forks, where it’s most visible. The Classic is a pretty straight forward motorcycle, and its dimensions are also a bit smaller than the Imperiale 400. The Classic, however, feels a bit more retro because everything about the bike just seems old. The only thing modern on the Classic is the switchgear and, now, the use of fuel injection and ABS. Even the single analogue dial and ignition are pretty old-school – it’s a 10-year-old model after all. The Imperiale seems a bit more high-end. It uses better quality components, looks bigger, and its instrumentation is also more modern. Which one looks better is still up for debate, as they both do justice to their retro appeal. Personally, I love the chrome scheme on the Classic 350.
If you are an RE purist or a hardcore fan, then you will still love the BS6 version of the Classic 350. The thump from the single-cylinder engine is just as noticeable as before and continues to feels and sounds great. At idle, the UCE 350cc single sounds beautiful and pure. The Classic 350 has never been about performance, so you will have to look past vibrations and the raw feel of the engine if you want to enjoy this motorcycle, that is. The Classic 350 is at its best during low-speed, easy cruising. The BS6 model is just 1kg heavier than earlier, at 195kg. With just 19bhp and 28Nm of torque, the bike has decent power for highway cruising, but in the city, the engine is just enough torquey for you to have a tiny thrill of acceleration. Thanks to the fuel injection, the engine also does seem a little more refined than before. The bike's handling in the city is manageable, but you can really feel the weight of the bike. That’s because the Classic 350 uses the standard single downtube frame. Still, the bike does have a lot of character. The ergonomics are nice, and you never feel constrained. Its not-so-smooth ride quality really does win your heart over, as long as you stick to slow speeds, given that you like that sort of mechanical feel. It’s by no means a great performer, but it does manage to connect with you, or maybe I am just getting old.
The new BS6 Imperiale 400 gets a larger 374cc single-cylinder engine. It’s also the most powerful in this segment with 20.7bhp and 29Nm of torque. The engine feels a lot smoother, and you don’t feel as much vibration as the Classic. At 205kg, the Imperiale also weighs more than the Classic 350. However, it handles very well, thanks to the larger forks and the double-cradle frame. The seating position is also a bit more comfortable, but ergonomically, it’s similar to the Classic 350. On the highway, you don’t have to stick to slow speeds because the Imperiale can easily cruise at triple-digit speeds. Its overall ride quality is also the best in the segment. The Imperiale manages to retain that classic retro feel but it also allows you to push it a little harder than the Classic 350. The engine feels new, but it still has that raw riding character you'd expect from an old motorcycle.
Which is better?
In terms of performance, the Benelli is definitely much better. It’s a newer machine after all. Even though it’s an Italian motorcycle with just as much history as the RE brand, the bikes are now made in China. Now, it can potentially turn a few people off, but the fact remains that it’s a better build, with better quality, and has an equally charming retro character as that of the RE. It’s also a bigger machine and more expensive. Because both bikes are now BS6, there is a premium on the price now. The Classic 350 starts at Rs 1.6 lakh (ex-showroom) now, which doesn't stop there. The Benelli Imperiale, though, has gotten a lot more expensive – it's now priced at Rs 2 lakh (ex-showroom). For the higher price tag, you get a less polluting engine. Either way, both bikes are great. However, it just so happens that one of them has a cult following in the country, which will surely help it against the competition. The BS6 Classic 350 is the last of its kind though, as Royal Enfield will very soon bring in its newer 350cc models.