The sub 400cc classic retro segment just got fiercely competitive!
The battle for the sub 400cc cruiser retro market has heated up a whole lot more than ever before. For years now, Royal Enfield has ruled the segment simply because it was unchallenged – there were no other motorcycle manufacturers making products for this segment. However, within just one-and-a-half years, this segment has now grown from one to three manufacturers. Talk about progress!
The first was the resurrection of Jawa, which introduced the 42 and the Jawa to this segment. And now, (Chinese-owned) Italian manufacturer Benelli has launched the Imperiale 400. Now, since RE has had an undisputed reign, we wanted to see which one of these two challengers is best suited to dethroning the King. So, we did what we do the best – we rode both the Benelli Imperiale 400 and the Jawa to see which one proves to be the more worthy competitor.
Always in fashion
It seems that the classic retro cruiser design will never go out of fashion. In some sense, perhaps, it’s the purest design available today – no electronics and no fancy technology, just a teardrop fuel tank, a round headlight, and you’re good to go. Every motorcycle in this segment shares the same design philosophy – a tribute, no doubt, to their original models.
The Jawa is the smallest in the segment, and also the lightest – it weighs just 175 kilograms. The Benelli Imperiale 400, on the other hand, is the largest bike now in the segment. The Benelli is both the biggest in terms of dimensions and the heaviest in the segment, which also means that it has the most imposing road presence.
If we were to put the Royal Enfield Classic 350, the Jawa, and the Imperial 400 side-by-side, the Italian will likely get the most attention.
Jawa has certainly done a great job in paying tribute to the original model, and there’s no doubt that the bike has a certain charm and will appeal to Jawa enthusiasts. Even though it's a single-cylinder bike, the dual exhaust adds a nice touch, and so does the offset instrument cluster and the positioning of the ignition key next to the engine, which gives it a proper retro feel.
Even though the Jawa gets the smallest displacement engine – 293cc – it still produces the most power: 27bhp and 28Nm. Its lightweight and small dimensions, then, would suggest that it’s also the quickest to accelerate. The Jawa comes with a 6-speed transmission. In the city, it feels very refined, however, on the highway, if you decide to take things up a notch, you can start to feel the stress of the engine.
But, overall, the bike remains calm and composed on the highway, but it's not the most comfortable to ride long distance. The seat is very firm, the suspension is even firmer, and ergonomically you do feel a bit cramped. The bike is light and nimble, but don't expect to lean into sharp corners, because it’s likely to scrape the ground if you lean too much.
The Imperiale, on the other hand, comes with the largest engine in the segment – a 374cc single-cylinder engine that pumps out 21bhp and 29Nm of torque, which is also the highest in the segment. The engine is mated to a 5-speed transmission. The acceleration here is definitely not as peppy as the Jawa, but the engine is definitely smoother and much more refined.
In city traffic, the engine feels good, but it takes some time to get acquainted with the position of the gear lever. The overall ride quality is also better, as the engine doesn’t vibrate. Plus, the seating position is more relaxed, and the suspension can absorb a whole lot more on bumpy roads.
Owing to its weight and size, the Imperiale may seem difficult to handle in city traffic, but the fact is that it’s not – it’s very manageable. Moreover, the bike also feels better when the road gets twisty.
This segment now comprises of the 350cc Royal Enfields, two Jawa models, and a Benelli retro classic model – all which claim to give you a taste of that retro classic experience. But the question is – which one should you go for?
If we keep brand loyalty and our biases aside, then, for me, the clear choice would be the Benelli Imperiale 400. The Royal Enfield bikes have now become very old, and reliability remains questionable. But there’s no doubt that they’re still the cheapest to maintain and have the largest dealership and service network.
Jawa is still struggling to deliver their motorbikes, but it's safe to say that the product is right on the money. I’m sure Jawa purists and collectors will lean towards this motorcycle. That being said, the Imperiale 400 is the newest bike in the segment, which brings into the mix beautiful Italian design in a large retro classic cruiser frame – a guaranteed recipe for grabbing eyeballs.
The Imperiale is also the best of this trio in terms of build quality and engine refinement. Benelli has recently been on a launching spree, and they are aggressively expanding their dealer and service networks. It's too early to say how reliable the bike will be, but it certainly feels and rides the best of the lot.
- Jawa Forty Two
- Benelli Imperiale 400
Engine: 293cc / 4-Stroke Liquid Cooled / DOHC
Power: 27bhp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 28Nm @ 4,750rpm
Price: ₹1.55 lakh (Ex-showroom)
X-factor: A great engine and the Jawa badge make it a very attractive proposition.
• Engine performance
• Light & easy handling
• Cramped riding position
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: With a refined motor, comfortable ride and classy looks, the Imperiale 400 has all the ingredients to become the segment favourite.
• Superior ride
• Lacks grunt
Also read - Benelli Leoncino 500: Track Test