Benelli Imperiale 400 Review By: Syed Shiraz Photography: Faraz Shah
Before I begin this Benelli Imperiale 400 review, a bit of background is indispensable. Especially considering how royally the company’s previous partner and PR agency had botched it up for current and prospective customers. Don’t fret now if you own or want to own a Benelli as Benelli India is now under the aegis of the Mahavir Group that has over two decades of experience in selling Mercedes-Benz cars in India. In fact, their (Mahavir Group’s) website says that they are the largest dealers for Mercs in India. They also have dealerships of Skoda, Isuzu, Indian Motorcycles, Suzuki motorcycles & ATVs, and Benelli, of course.
Point is, this time Benelli India is in the right hands. That takes care of the customers’ peace of mind, but what about us, the media folks? I say that because not only was its erstwhile partner absolutely anesthetic to words like logic and courtesy, their main PR chap behaved like a typical property dealer; you know the kind: thick gold chains around their necks, sky-high promises on their mouths, but an incurable glint of deceit in their eyes. I didn’t use ‘real estate broker’ as that would be too sophisticated a term to describe this gent. If you’re wondering why the angst, then let me tell you that the dork couldn’t make a single media unit available in Delhi in the past 5-6 years! Well, that changes now.
Benelli India has a different PR agency this time, and the gent handling Delhi media is an absolute gem! I would request the agency to give that man a raise! More often than not, unless you’re an editor of a big magazine, newspaper, or TV channel, the PR folks are more ambiguous in their responses to media unit requests than a confused girl trying to find excuses to not say a yes or no directly to a guy’s proposal.
Nothing of that sort happened here; the bloke was highly proactive in arranging our first Benelli, the Leoncino 500, and was also absolutely prompt in getting me the answers from Benelli for the few technical queries I had. Moreover, despite my inability to write its review yet (the videos went LIVE shortly after the ride though; you may check them here: English Review, and Hindi Review), it didn’t keep him from inviting us to the Imperiale 400’s first media ride. And what a brilliant first ride it was! Simply put, it earns a place in my “best media rides” along with the Suzuki GSX-S750 first ride, Suzuki V-Strom 650 first ride, and Indian FTR 1200 first ride. Coincidentally, both Suzuki and Benelli share the same PR agency (MSL).
No, they didn’t give us a “press gift”; what they gave instead was sheer quality time with the motorcycle. And, listen up manufacturers, THAT’S ALL WE WANT. Plus, the planned route included everything that a prospective owner of any motorcycle, and not just this one, would expect to ride on. Flawless tarmac (expressway), not-so-flawless tarmac (B-roads), not at all tarmac (offroad tracks with a few stretches covered with strewn sugarcane leaves, and sand near the Ganga riverbank), mad traffic, no traffic, and everything in between. Perfect!
By the end of the day, I had ridden a shade over 240 km. Awesome for a first ride! Also, since this motorcycle will be bought by people who love retro-styled motorcycles, and they will compare it to the RE and Jawa at some point or the other, they must know my credentials on the subject. I mean, you should know whether the person reviewing a ‘modern retro’ has some experience with at least the original Jawas and Bullets, if not the more exquisite classics from the ’50s and ’60s. So here they are in brief:
The first motorcycle I bought from my own hard-earned (as opposed to pocket money or parents’ gift) was a ’73 Jawa 250 in 2001. Have ridden the REs a lot too in the past more than two and a half decades of riding, thanks to my maternal uncle’s workshop that has been catering to Enfields, BSAs, Triumphs, etc., since 1969. Haven’t ridden the latest Indian Jawas, but saw them up close at the launch last year. So I’ll keep my references, as and when they pop up, to the Jawa and RE within the purview of my exposure to both bikes. For those of you wondering why we have not been able to test the Jawa yet, let me tell you that the media units have finally reached Bombay, and I hope that Delhi should get its fleet soon now. Let’s begin the Benelli Imperiale 400 review now, shall we? If you’re not much into reading, you may check my video reviews here: English review link and Hindi review link.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Design, Build Quality, and Instrumentation
I don’t need to even talk about the design of this motorcycle, as retro lovers won’t need my opinion on it. They already love it, and I concur. The purity in design is second to none here, and this Benelli won’t look out of place parked alongside the Matchless’, Nortons, BSAs, Ariels, and Triumphs of the ’50s. Then there is the build quality. It’s so darn good that Jawa and RE can’t hold a candle to it. Everything looks and feels well-built and sturdy. The fit-and-finish is exemplary too, and I couldn’t find any loose ends whatsoever. Also, at the end of the day long ride where we jumped speedbreakers, throttled it out over rough roads, and maxed it out on highways, there were no rattles, squeaks, or moans from this motorcycle.
I also loved the instrument cluster on this one. It’s the most comprehensive in the segment: two dials, one each for the revs and speed, where you have speed markings in both mph and km/h; a clock, digital fuel gauge, gear position indicator, and two trip meters.
The switchgear comprises a pass/flasher switch, hazard lamps, and a span adjustable front brake lever! And just look at the levers on this one! You would normally see such chunky levers on expensive machinery like the Bonnies!
Talking about levers, I must add that there might be a few who would find the clutch lever pull a tad on the heavier side in dense traffic. I had no issues, and you may see in the videos on my YT channel that I do not have huge forearms.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Ergonomics & Comfort
Back in the day, the best part about most motorcycles used to be that one size fitted all. The Benelli Imperiale 400 is no exception. I am just a shade over five feet tall, and the other three people riding along were all taller, with the tallest being a six-footer. I asked all of them about the ergos, and the unanimous answer was that it’s a very comfortable bike for everyone. But I must add here that, surprisingly, a couple of taller folks reported that the pegs hit their shins while pedaling the bike backwards.
However, they said that the issue is not as pronounced as it is on the Interceptor 650. It’s strange that I didn’t face this issue on the Benelli, whereas I did face it on the RE. All riders also concluded that the saddle is very comfortable for both city and long rides, and I can say that for the pillion seat too. I did sit behind our photographer for the day. Faraz, and found the perch to be fantastic.
The seat height is a low 780 mm, but since the seat is broad, I could only tiptoe on this one like I do on almost motorcycles. Will I be able to ride it day in and day out like this? Absolutely!
For perspective, the RE’s saddle height is 800 mm, while the Jawa’s is just 765 mm.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Ride Quality
I made this a separate topic altogether because it’s the next most important thing after ergonomics for tourers, and as important as engine performance and refinement (read: “lack of vibrations”). On smooth roads, this Benelli just wafts and you do not feel the roads’ minor imperfections at all. The front suspension is as caring as your mother. It will ensure that no harm comes you way, come what may! Okay, that rhymed.
But the rear is unnecessarily harsh like your dad. It says that I’ve protected you all along (read: “the aforementioned minor road-imperfections”), son, but now you will have to handle the bigger bumps yourself. As such, it really gets rough on the, er, rough stretches. Standing on the pegs helps.
The factory setting of the preload is set at 3, like on almost all bikes. I got it adjusted to its softest setting by the Benelli technician upon returning to the showroom (would have done it myself on the return leg if I had the spanner), but it didn’t make much difference. It would help Benelli to make the rear soft by a couple of notches. The ground clearance of 165 mm is high enough anyway (RE’s is 135 mm), so you won’t be scraping its underbelly even if the rear is made softer.
I must also add that bounciness subsides to a large extent with a pillion. Also, a co-rider, who said he weighs over 100 kg, did not face any such issue. It can be deduced that it won’t be an irritant while touring as your bike will be loaded by a pillion or luggage, or both. And you won’t have an issue in the city too, even if you’re a 60 kg rider like me, because, like I said, the rear shock absorbers are as absorbing as your dad.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Handling
I don’t think this section would matter much to the prospective owners, but it has to be talked about. The Imperiale 400 has the longest wheelbase in the segment. Yes, longer than the RE’s. The Jawa’s is the shortest. The Benelli is also the heaviest. These traits come with their own set of pros and cons. But before I tell you about them, let me quickly make the all important distinction between ‘handling’ and ‘maneuverability’ because non-enthusiasts generally mistake the latter for the former, despite me using both the words, wherever applicable, in my reviews.
See, a motorcycle may excel in both the departments, but excellence in one does not necessarily guarantee that it will be as good, or bad, in the other. But let me explain what handling and maneuverability mean.
Handling essentially means how good a motorcycle is at taking corners at high speeds, and ‘how good’ is a measure of how quickly it turns into a corner; how stable it remains there, and how easy it is to get it back up and repeat. The Yamaha YZF-R15 should come to your mind. How stable it is in a straight line at high speeds is also a part of handling. Steering geometry (rake & trail angles), wheelbase, suspension, chassis, weight, aerodynamics, and tyre grip determine the bike’s handling characteristics.
Maneuverability, as the word suggests, simply means how easy it is to perform the maneuvers expected in the daily grind. The maneuvers include the push and pull required to squeeze into and out of a tight parking lot, pedalling back behind an adamant cager to make full use of the steering lock available, tight U-turns, etc. Weight, steering lock-to-lock range, and—to a certain extent—wheelbase and steering geometry as well, determine how easy or difficult it will be for you in traffic.
If these definitions were two straight lines, the only time they meet each other would be at instances that require riding quicker than other forms of traffic in dense but moving traffic, say, while filtering. Or when you need to pee. That’s when you need a motorcycle that should not require much effort in directional changes, whether under motor’s power or your own.
Now, the kind of riding a Benelli Imperiale 400’s owner would do, straight line stability (which comes under ‘handling’ as we discussed) would be his only requirement from the things we discussed under “handling”, whereas he certainly would require the bike to check all the points we mentioned under maneuverability. Plus, he would also need the bike to be adept at things we discussed in the last paragraph. So how does the Imperiale 400 fare?
Excellent, when it comes to high speed stability. Honestly, being the heaviest and longest in the segment, it would have been a shame if it didn’t achieve this. It’s easy, so no pats on Benelli’s back. Even with a light rider like me aboard, the bike remains beautifully planted even at 120-125 km/h. Even post that it doesn’t get unnerving as you’ll see in the videos below shortly. But what’s really commendable is that it doesn’t feel that it’s heavier than the RE! For example, if you have to move an RE, any RE, in tight spaces using your own musclepower, it’d be a proper workout. With the Benelli, it’s like a warmup session.
You also don’t feel the weight much in traffic, which, coming from a five-foot rider, says everything about it. A pat on Benelli’s back definitely this time! The lack of heft also makes filtering through dense traffic a cinch on this motorcycle. We all did that a lot on our way back because crossing Ghaziabad to enter Delhi is still a nightmare. Even in broad daylight. It checks all the required boxes, then.
But if you must know how it corners, then let me tell you that you won’t be disappointed. The stiff rear helps here, while the considerate front doesn’t wallow around either. I had thought that I would keep it for the verdict, but let me divulge here that this rides and handles like a mini-Bonneville! Well, a mini-Bonnie with a hard rear suspension.
Coming to the braking performance, the word ‘adequate’ describes it truthfully. The bite isn’t something that you would call strong, and the feel also is not something you’ll boast about to your friends. But they stopped the bike in time, every time, and that’s all I expect from my bike. I mean, I didn’t encounter a situation in the entire ride where I felt that I should have stopped quicker. Do keep in mind that the bikes were brand new, and the brakes weren’t bedded in properly.
An owner’s bike, I feel, will perform better in this area. The ABS is surprisingly non-intrusive, which tells me that the usually bad-mouthed TVS Remora tyres don’t do a bad job on this one on dry tarmac. And since none of us fell while negotiating the aforementioned off-road stretches, I’d say that they don’t disappoint on loose stuff too.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Performance
The Imperiale 400 is actually a 374 cc motor. If this was a Facebook post, the first heart reactions would come from the KTM 390s. The Benelli’s motor is much simpler though, like it should be on a modern-retro. So it’s an air-cooled unit developing 21 PS at 5,500 rpm and 29 Nm at 4,500 rpm. But simpler doesn’t mean outdated, so fuel is injected electronically, while a single overhead camshaft operates the four valves to start and complete the combustion process. A Delphi ECU oversees everything.
But how does all of that come together, you ask? Like whipped cream, sir! This is again where it feels like a mini-Bonneville. The motor’s smooth & refined; the power delivery is linear, and the soundtrack is throaty but with a low decibel count. It’s like that handsome well-built man who will handle everything with elan but would never resort to violence, irrespective of the level of provocation.
It’s quick for the segment it plays in, but doesn’t feel hurried. It crosses 100 km/h, but does that with grace. It’s not lazy by any stretch of imagination; it just has a calm demeanour like the Bonneville. And like I had mentioned in that Triumph’s review, even this Benelli can bring down instances of road rage, especially in Delhi. But if you must know how quick and fast it is, then you may watch the clips below:
The avid tourers would also want to know the cruising speed in top (5th) gear. So here they are:
62 km/h at 3,000 rpm
82 km/h at 4,000 rpm
102 km/h at 5,000 rpm
110 km/h at 5,500 rpm
122 km/h 6,000 rpm
130 km/h at around 6,300 rpm
The redline starts at 6,000 rpm but the limiter cuts in at just below 7,000 rpm. It’s a pretty tractable motor as well that doesn’t require you to work the 5-speeder much in traffic. Third and fourth gears are good enough to trundle around in the city, and you don’t always have to drop a gear to disappear (I hate that cliche).
Most importantly, there are almost zero vibrations, especially between 80-120 km/h. I know, that’s indeed the best news for those of you contemplating a buy to go touring on it!
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Fuel Efficiency
Normally, no journo can tell you about the fuel efficiency after the first media rides. Simply because you can’t do a tankful-to-tankful test, unless the tank capacity of the unit is under four liters. That said, thanks to the wonderful 240 km ride, I can at least you give you an approximate figure, which should be not much off the mark, give or take 4-5 km/l. The fuel gauge had two bars still left after my ride, and it hadn’t hit reserve, which I am assuming could be anywhere between two to three liters in a 12-liter fuel tank.
So considering that the bike used around eight liters of fuel for this ride, the fuel efficiency comes to 30 km/l. It must be reiterated that we were gunning the bikes most of the time during this ride, and no owner will ride like this. I reckon that your Benelli Imperiale 400’s average fuel efficiency figure will be 35 km/l, or more with a careful right hand.
Benelli Imperiale 400 Review: Verdict
We had reached earlier than other media houses, and got to choose our test bike in the colour we liked the most. Faraz chose the bike you see here and I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Benelli that it’s the one cheaper than the other two colour options by 10 thousand rupees! It’s the one that allows them to write “price starting at INR 1.69 lakh”. The Jawa’s price is listed on the company’s website as INR 1.64 lakh, while the cheapest Classic 350 ABS is priced at 1.54 lakh by RE. RE’s pricing also changes by the colour options though, with the costliest Classic 350 ABS being those sand and blue variants at INR 1.64 lakh each. All prices mentioned here are ex-showroom, Delhi.
At the outset, you just cannot go wrong with any of these three bikes if words like nostalgia, retro, reminisce, classic, iron, metal, etc., appear in your social media bio. Of course, these are and would be bought by those as well who aren’t on social media. However, all buyers will invariably compare these three bikes, to varying degrees, and that is where we come in. And we’ll achieve that by temporarily disconnecting the heart, and using only the brain. Don’t worry, we’d let the heart rule eventually.
Let’s keep it simple then. If you’re opting for the Benelli, you’re paying five thousand over the Jawa, and anywhere between five to twenty-five thousand, depending upon the colours you fancy, over the Classic 350 ABS. What extra do you get for that amount? When compared to the RE, the Imperiale 400 gets you a modern engine with fuel injection and four valves, more power and torque, better acceleration and top speed, best in segment instrument cluster and equipment, best in segment build quality, an unmatched three-year unlimited km warranty and two-year complimentary service, and most importantly—REFINEMENT.
When compared to the Jawa, Benelli is again giving you the best in segment build quality, the unmatched three-year unlimited km warranty and two-year complimentary service again stand out, better ergonomics for taller folks while still being in reach of shorter riders, way better seats for the rider and pillion, and the bike’s delivery before you get old.
But the knockout punch comes in the form of way this Benelli feels. At this price, no motorcycle should have the right to feel like a small capacity Bonneville, but this one does! In fact, Triumph should have made such a motorcycle, but I am glad that someone did. And I am not at all referring to the design when I say that, despite there being a good resemblance between the Bonnie and this Benelli when viewed head on. I am talking about the way the Imperiale rides, the way it handles, the way its engine behaves, the way it makes you feel; everything about this Benelli shouts BONNEVILLE!
For those of you who haven’t ridden a Bonneville, the following line will elucidate it in a better manner. Simply put, the Imperiale 400 feels way too classy and premium for any Jawa and RE (except the 650s, of course) to be able to even come close as of now.