Benelli’s latest offering for the Indian market, the Imperiale 400 is a retro classic with modern underpinnings. The Chinese owned Italian brand is extremely upbeat with its new entrant that aims to takes on the established likes of the RE Classic 350 and also the recently launched Jawa twins. We head for an extensive ride to conclude if the new Benelli Imperiale 400 has what it takes to go one up on its rivals.
Design – To start with, we’d say the Imperiale 400 can be conveniently mistaken for the Classic 350. For a retro-styled motorcyle, the Imperiale ticks all the requisite boxes. The design is simple and minimalistic but not missing on attention to detail.
A plain multi focal reflector headlamp flanked by clear lens turn indicators set the tone just right. A rather slim teardrop fuel tank with mesh textured tank pads, chromed filler cap and Benelli emblem oozes of retro charm. We just could not get enough of the chronograph dial styled twin-pod instrument cluster with digital trip and fuel gauge displays- there’s a gear indicator too.
A flat handle bar with neat cabling, brushed aluminium levers and chromed rear view mirrors help in accentuating the clean design. The Imperiale pampers the rider with a spring loaded seat while the pillion has to make do with a small thinly padded rear seat.
The rear fender has a swooping design with a touch extra bracing on either sides. Spoked wheels and a blacked out exhaust with brushed aluminium heat shields reek of premium touch and lend the bike a low and stretched stance. The Imperiale adorns generous dose of chome without being too flashy and seems to have all ingredients in the right proportions.
Engine – The 374cc air cooled single cylinder engine is good for 21 PS @ 5500 rpm and 29 Nm @ 4500 rpm. Despite being 28cc over the RE350`s engine, the output numbers are closely matched. Except the 72mm bore against 70mm on the RE, both bikes share the exact same stroke of 90mm! But that is where the similarities end, gladly.
While the RE350 feels like a 350cc single cylinder long stroke should, the Imperiale`s engine defies the “long stroke” notions – such is its free revving nature. Yes, the theoretical red line on the tachometer starts at 6000 rpm and the rev limiter only cuts in at 7000rpm! How do we know, well this motor loves to be revved and revved hard.
Sadly, the Imperiale`s 205kg kerb weight somewhat robs you of the fun inducing motor, it nevertheless is a gem of a unit. Benelli has beautifully managed to keep the vibrations and harshness associated to a single cylinder unit to the bare minimum. With 80 kph coming up at 3900 rpm, 90 kph at 4500 and 100 at a breezy 4800 rpm- the Imperiale is a 100-110 kph all day cruiser, yet getting past 120 kph seems an uphill task.
The engine specifications directly mean, that the exhaust note is identical to that of the RE 350 though mild but pleasant to the ears. The Imperiale employs a smooth shifting 5 speed gear box along with a heavier clutch action. The overall state of tune makes it for one happy motor for prolonged riding.
Ride, handling and comfort – The Imperiale employs a twin downtube cradle chassis with 41mm forks up front and a chunky rectangular swing arm suspended by gas charged rear shock absorbers with 5 step pre-load adjustment. 19” wheel at the front and 18” at the rear shod with TVS Remora tyres (100/90 and 130/80 front and rear) complete the setup. Stopping power is extended by 300mm disc at the front and 240mm disc at the rear grabbed by a set of Benelli calipers with twin channel ABS being provided as standard.
While the motor feels peppy and rev-happy, that said, we feel that the RE 350 fares better with absolute low end torque. Once past 2000rpm the motor picks up revs and it just loves to be revved. We were utterly surprised to find the engine smoothest post 5000 rpm all the way till 7000 rpm.
Long distance tourers would be delighted here as 100 kph cruising seems to be an absolute lazy affair for the new Imperiale 400. The gear slot imparts a positive feel with not a single false neutral encountered over the review period. While the overall design of the bike and its riding stance invoke relaxed cruising, it is the motor that turns you into a rev happy rider.
The Imperiale masks its weight well and is a pretty agile motorcycle for its class and proportions. The wide handlebar offers for a comfortable all-day riding position while extending an easy maneuvering ability be it trundling around town or tackling the twisties. The TVS Remora tyres surprised us offering oodles of grip in dry and the kind of pushing we subjected the bike to. With a pliant suspension setup, the Imperiale is a very well rounded package for the rider.
Unfortunately- the same luxurious comfort doesn’t expand to the pillion. The small rear seat with soft padding ensures that an average weighted individual would be hitting his bottom onto the base of the seat within minutes. Also the relatively high placed footrests makes for a squatted seating position for the pillion. To add, with the grab rails placed much lower- one could barely manage to get his fingertips and would need to crouch to get a hold around them.
Verdict – While the Jawa twins remain in the mix, the Benelli’s arch nemesis has to be the RE Classic 350. Price wise, the Imperiale commands a premium selling at 1.69L ex-showroom in Silver shade while the Red-Black combo is sold at 1.79L ex-showroom. It translates to 2.34 L OTR (with 5 year insurance) widening the gap to the offerings from RE stable. But is it worth the premium? Pre-empting the comparison and questions, we can easily sum it with a simple Pros and Cons list.
How is it vs Royal Enfield – During the test ride of Benelli Imperiale 400, we also had the Royal Enfield Classic in our possession. Compared to the RE, the Benelli Imperiale 400 felt a lot smoother, much more responsive, better in acceleration, better in braking, as well as the overall riding dynamics was far ahead than the Royal Enfield. We will do a detailed comparison between the two motorcycles very soon.
– Fresh looking design to the relatively dated design of the RE
– Build quality
– Engine refinement
– Handling despite the weight penalty
– Braking, ABS – Standard
– Adjustable front brake lever
– FE is 32kmpl
– Brake lever, Gear shifter, foot pegs and rear grab rail feel a bit low rent
– Dealer network is still expanding
– Cost of ownership and after sales service/spares availability is not yet established
– Pillion comfort