Benelli Imperiale 400 Roadtest Review

The Benelli Imperiale was first showcased at EICMA 2017, and it garnered a lot of attention, especially from the Indian market, despite very few details shared by the manufacturer at the time. The bike has just been launched in India as the ‘Imperiale 400’ and is said to be a reinterpretation of one of the manufacturer’s historic models produced in the 1950s namely the MotoBi range, but with a touch of modern technology. We recently got a chance to sample the Benelli Imperiale 400 on one of the toughest and almost non-existent yet scenic roads of Maharashtra between Lonavla and Mulshi. Read on further to know more about the all-new Benelli Imperiale 400.

Design and Styling

The Imperiale 400 is styled to look like a motorcycle straight from the 1950s. The bike has a simple double-cradle frame and a lengthy matte black exhaust muffler with brushed metal finished heat guards. It also has a rounded, retro tank with Benelli stickers and tank pads on either side. Staying true to it’s authentic and pure design, the motorcycle flaunts a traditional twin-pod analog console with two digital trip meters, gear position indicator and a fuel gauge.

Continuing with the classic look, the motorcycle comes equipped with two separate seats with the front one being sprung. The seats are wide and supportive both for the rider and the pillion alike. We never felt that the cushioning was too hard or too soft at any point. In fact, it was just right to keep one’s tush in good shape and form throughout our journey all the way from Thane to Mulshi.

What makes the old-school styling more apparent is the classic-looking tank, simple round headlights with H4 type halogen bulb, no LED DRL’s, and minimalistic panels. Even the turn signal indicators are clear lens with orange coloured bulbs; much like other retro-themed bikes viz. the Jawas and the Royal Enfields – this one too has a long rear fender with an LED stoplight. The motorcycle rides on spoked wheels with a 19-inch wheel up front and an 18-inch wheel at the rear, wrapped in tubed 100/90 R19 front tyre and 130/80 R18 rear tyre.

Unlike the old-school design, the hardware is quite modern. Braking duties are taken care of by a 300mm single disc up front with a two-piston floating calliper and a 240mm rear disc with standard dual-channel ABS. Benelli says that the bike is an ‘authentic and pure bike, which in its simplicity retains its distinct personality’. This is the manufacturer’s first proper retro offering and it falls under the ‘Classic’ category of the brand.

Engine, Ride & Handling

Powering the Imperiale 400 is a 374cc, air-cooled, single-cylinder engine that pushes out 21 BHP @ 5,500rpm and churns out 29Nm @ 4,500rpm. The power and torque figures are close to that of the Royal Enfield 350. However, this motor is fuel-injected with a Delphi ECU and features a four-valve head, unlike the Royal Enfield. Having said that, it still can’t be considered to be a truly modern motorcycle as it still uses a SOHC setup and a 5-speed transmission.

As with all new Benellis, Imperiale 400’s kerb weight is a hefty 205kg when compared to the Royal Enfield Bullet 350 which weighs 183kg (kerb), while the Classic 350 weighs 194kg. You may think that the extra kilos might hamper its on-road performance, but that’s not the case at all. The moment we swinged our leg over the motorcycle we felt right at home. With the handlebar set at perfect arms length and the foot pegs very mildly rear-set; the switches and controls in order and even the mirrors perfectly set.

Thumb-start the motor and it fires to life with a burble and settles down with a mellowed thump. The clutch is light and progressive when engaged and released. The gearshifts are slick and well spaced out with absolutely no false-neutrals between shifts, unlike the Royal Enfield 350 which is known for its clunky gearbox. The engine is refined and butter smooth in nature.

There’s absolutely no vibrations from the engine whatsoever, which is a boon on long rides making the travel extremely comfortable and vibration free. We started our ride at around 9 am from Thane and encountered one of the worst traffics in our riding history as we got to sample the motorcycle mid-week. In a way it was good as we could test the motorcycle for its ease of use within the confines of the city and even with its heft of 205 kgs – it didn’t disappoint.

It took us two hours to reach Shree Datta Snacks, Panvel from Thane which if I might add is exactly the time we take to reach Lonavla on our weekend rides. Having said that, all thanks to the Imperiale 400 the two hours didn’t feel all that tiring after all. From Panvel onwards, the roads were decent with some long sweeping curves and the motorcycle held its own. The Imperiale 400 never failed to impress with its road holding and highway mannerisms, unlike the Royal Enfield 350 which scares the crap out of its rider with absolutely no feedback from any of the wheels.

However, sometimes the front felt absolutely lifeless on straight roads, all because of the 41mm front forks which don’t offer any kind of adjustability – one area where there’s scope for improvement. Once we reached Lonavla, it was time to hit the corners. In no way the Imperiale tries to be a super bike and the manufacturer isn’t promoting it as one. But, we never felt this confident hitting the corners on a Royal Enfield 350 or a 500 for that matter.

Finally it was time for us to take the dreaded diversion right after Cloud Nine towards Mulshi – Malhar Machi Resort (our final destination). The roads were good and well tarred up to a certain point. However, there was an abrupt end to the beautifully laid out tarmac when all hell broke loose. It felt like we were teleported to another dimension where there was loose wet soil and rocks in the name of roads. Again the Imperiale 400 kept its cool and took the non-existent roads in its stride like no ones business. The roads reminded us of the dried out Shyok river bed which flows through northern Ladakh, the most treacherous stretch we’ve ever come across on a motorcycle.

We experienced all kinds of imaginable surfaces possible on that stretch. It took us almost three hours to cover 36 kilometers – it was that bad. Nevertheless, the views on that stretch just kept getting better and better. Also, as we got comfortable with the motorcycle and it’s dynamics it was easier for us to tackle the terrain. However, the front brakes need a lot of improvement as there is very little initial bite and the adjustable lever is of no help whatsoever. This again is another area where Benelli should address the problem and make some changes to the front brakes. All in all the Imperiale 400 is a worthy motorcycle and a healthy competition to the Royal Enfield 350 in every way possible.

Verdict

Benelli launched the Imperiale 400 at a very competitive ₹1.69 lakh ex-showroom pan India. The manufacturer has achieved this thanks to the localisation of components such as the wheels, tyres, brakes and electricals. The Imperiale 400 costs only ₹15,000 more than the popular Royal Enfield Classic 350 which costs ₹1.54 lakh and ₹14,000 more than the Jawa Forty Two. Moreover, it comes with best-in-class 3-years unlimited kilometres warranty and 2-years of complimentary service(free labour). We are sure Benelli with its Imperiale 400 has left no stone unturned and is here to ruffle more than a few feathers amongst its competition.

Words – Amit Shelar
Photography – Govind Gadekar

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