As a child, I particularly remember the rumble from a 350cc air cooled,
single cylinder motor that with exhaust tips that looked like the shotguns from
American movies on HBO. The sound that made its way out of the exhaust was
quite literally every Indian man’s motorcycling symphony.
Everyone wanted one,
everyone saved up for the big bad Bullet. It was a market hit, even at that
time with the angry kickstart and the dangerously small service intervals. The
‘Cruiser’ segment is a vast sea, but come down to modern-classics and you’d
realize that it’s a segment that invokes the feeling of nostalgia.
The cruiser segment in India now has multiple options, unlike yesteryears.
It’s a pie that every manufacturer wants to dig into. Bajaj did it, but with a
modern cruiser that you can tour with, just like the Bullet. Jawa did it, with
their Jawa Classic and the 42, after years of R&D. The Classic that
resembles the vintage Jawa took a while to see sales kickstart in the Indian
market. Benelli too, wanted a piece of that tasty cruiser pie, so they dug in
with what was a retro-modern cruiser with a lot of potential. It is the first
motorcycle in Benelli’s portfolio to be launched in its BS6 ready avatar. It was launched in 2019 with an aim to take
on Royal Enfield’s Bullet 350. At least that’s what we assumed.
The Benelli Imperiale 400 BS6 neo-retro cruiser styling is old school,
with the round headlamp, old school indicators, generous spread of chrome,
split seats and a lovely vintage looking tank. For those who are still running
their mouths behind a phone or laptop as to whether this is a wannabe
motorcycle due to its resemblance. It’s not. You see, Benelli has had its fair
share of history. The name comes from Benelli’s Moto Bi range which included
the Imperiale 125. The styling is something we all have questions about, mainly
because of how common it is for manufacturers to utilize round headlamps, twin
pod instrument clusters and highly basic fuel tank design.
How does it look?
Honest to God, I’d say it looks different. Functional. Proportional. It’s
got authentic retro cues all around that give you vintage vibes. The seating
position is upright with a relatively low handlebar. There’s just enough use on
chrome elements all around, including the classy rear-view mirrors to give off
the retro vibe. The chrome spoked rims too add to the vibe, with a 19-inch rim
in the front and an 18-inch rim at the rear. The quality of plastics of the
switchgear has improved drastically, changing the overall feel of the bike.
It’s got an old-school twin pod instrument cluster that is part analog
and part digital and shows basic readings – rpm, speed, time, fuel, gear
indications, low fuel warning and trip. The gear shift indicator is the slow
one, unable to keep up with quick shifts. The fuel indicator, like every
neo-retro motorcycle with a round tank, has a mind of its own. I particularly
liked the chrome handlebar for being just wide and high enough, which coupled
with the 780mm seat height, made for a very comfortable seating position.
The retro teardrop shaped tank is reminiscent of vintage motorcycles,
probably from the 60’s. It has knee indents with pads that are more aesthetic
rather than functional in nature. The Benelli lettering and pinstriping is a
vinyl sticker, but adds so much classic flavor to the overall motorcycle.
Lastly, the exhaust pipe is one that you must have surely seen on other bikes. Of
course, not the same one, but a similar shaped barrel. Take a look at the whole
bike from the sides, and you’d take 60 seconds to fall in love with how simple
it is while also wondering how this is not as popular as the competing 350cc
The Benelli Imperiale is powered by a 374cc air-cooled, single-cylinder
that makes slightly more power and torque compared to the Royal Enfield Bullet
350. Precisely, 20.7bhp @6000rpm and 29Nm of torque @3500rpm. The difference in
power and torque is just 1 unit, but where the Bullet’s motor starts thumping
from the get go, the Imperiale takes a while to get into form, which is almost
close to 2500rpm. Keep that slight bottom end deficit out and you won’t get
over about how happily the motor revs. Happy revs coupled with a relatively
smooth 5-speed gearbox..Trust me, this is a Great buy.
The sweet spot for the 374cc motor is 4000 to 5500rpm. Keep it inside
this and you will really enjoy your ride. Cruise between 80- to 100kmph and you
would be surprised as to how relaxed the motor feels. Yes, there are vibes at
high revs that creep onto the handlebar, but barely any on the foot pegs thanks
to the chunky rubber padding. The redline is somewhere around 6000rpm, but the
needle pushes past that till it hits the rev-limiter at 7000rpm.
Ride and Handling
The ride is relatively plush with front forks being slightly softer than
the twin gas-charged shock absorbers at the rear. The spring rate on the rear
springs is higher, due to which the compression is still relatively low even
with a pillion. The suspension didn’t ever bottom out even on sudden big bumps,
but weirdly what did hit the ground, was the centre stand. Every single big speed
breaker if not taken slowly and at an upright angle, would cause the centre
stand feet to scrape.
Overall ride is comfortable and won’t cause much fatigue on long rides,
if you happen to plan a long ride to the mountains. The bigger front wheel will
certainly give you the upper hand when tackling broken roads. And on paved
roads? Well, this is where it shines! No silly wobble trying to be a hero into
a corner, just give immense confidence thanks to a firm frame, superb weight
distribution and a nice set of tyres. However, at 205kg it sits pretty heavy
and while it loves corners, it does not have a thing for direction changes. Highway
rides though will be great fun. One, because of the rev happy motor and two,
because of the 1,440mm wheelbase that offers stability even on those fast
corners. Back in city, the wide handlebar makes filtering a piece of cake.
For when you want to drop anchor you have a 300mm disc 2-pot caliper in
the front and a 240mm disc with a single-pot caliper at the rear. The bite is
progressive and will aid better when used with 60:40 force. At high speed, say
a dog tries to cross your path, and you panic brake, the ABS comes in pretty
handy, here more than the bad roads where it seemed to go berserk and end up
increasing braking distance.
If you’re in the market for a modern-retro cruise that won’t break your financial spine and can
also be your daily ride, we suggest you to take the leap and make the decision
to buy the Benelli Imperiale. Surely it won’t let you down, unless you really
enjoy the loud thumping exhaust note. Like the Royal Enfield, Benelli too has
years of heritage. Which means there is no doubt about credibility. The
Imperiale will cost you Rs 1.89 lakh ex-showroom which is slightly over the
price you would pay for a Classic 350. In the city it will lend you a decent
mileage of 20kmpl, while on the highway, the number goes up to 33kmpl and
sometimes, if you are really careful 36-37kmpl. There you have it. The
Imperiale can be your next motorcycle, and you don’t even have to be too brave about
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