Benelli aims high with the new Imperiale 400. We’ve ridden it and are happy to report they’re on the right path…
What Benelli has done with the Benelli Imperiale 400 is sound the battle horn, and very loudly at that when they announced the price. Classic, modest and retro, Benelli Imperiale 400 is the brand’s first mass market offering as I would put it. At the price of Rs 1.69lakh (ex-showroom) it fights against the ever popular Royal Enfields and the ever fascinating Jawas. The timing is perfect from Mahavir Group though. Royal Enfield 500s are losing their market to its elder siblings, and how many Jawas have you actually seen on the road. Benelli Imperiale 400 sits beautifully in a void where you demand a classic motorcycle that actually carries some history in its name and well is an overall nice product. I was fortunate to ride it a few days ago to get a taster from this highly localised product.
An absolute time traveler this! Looks like somebody went back in time, brought one of these back, modified it to pass through homologation and put it up on sale. And all of that I say in a good way. As original as a wood burning stove, it is a good looking motorcycle with shining chrome replaced with brushed aluminium finish. This approach just wins you over. Its conventional headlamp, tail lamp and indicators do not house LEDs or DRLs. Those fenders are reminiscent of the golden days of classic design and the springy rider seat is surprisingly comfortable on flat roads. Love those analogue meters, always have and always will. Imperiale 400 is also longer, wider and taller than all of its competition. In fact its 1,440mm wheelbase is equal to the Triumph Street Twin by measure. Another bonus is its 165mm ground clearance which meant I could happily clown about on the loose sands at the banks of Ganges. Yes, I definitely approve of the way it looks. However, I’m not sure how those headlights perform in the dark, will do a longer test for that.
Despite its generous ground clearance Imperiale 400 has a saddle height of 780mm, sort of right in the middle of competitive offerings. So Thunderbird is lower, Classic is higher and Jawa is even lower than the Imperiale 400. The rider triangle is comfortable and you can use it every day if you like. Here’s another surprise. At a kerb weight of 205kg it isn’t exactly lightweight, is it! But I’m staggered by the ease it masks its bulk once you set off. Here I am slipping and sliding a heavy machine through wet sand. It should simply dig in, which it was trying to, but still kept going. For something which is not designed to do the rough stuff, this thing is pretty good. I do think the rider footpegs are too large, too centrally positioned, and they intrude when you’re tip-toeing in stop start traffic. It’s not too bothersome at all but I personally dislike this bit as I absolutely adore the Imperiale 400. There are minuscule vibrations on the bars, but then Imperiale has the least in its segment. The gauges particularly are excellent. Both the rev-counter and speedometer are analogue, with digital readouts for fuel level, gear position, clock, ODO, and trips. Simple and legible they look excellent.
Similar retro story here as well. A modestly powered SOHC 4-valve single cylinder displacing 374cc makes 20.7bhp and 29Nm of peak torque to keep you going the whole day. It’s not all classic though. The electronic fuel injection keeps it lively and efficient while you chug along kilometres. This is where I liked how it manages its weight. Imperiale 400 is no gazelle but it sure is good enough to challenge its more powerful competition. I noted 135kmph tops on long highway straights. Could go more if you find a road empty enough. But then that is not the point of owning a classic machine. It happily sits at 80-90kmph on straights making a nice decent rumble. Yes, the exhaust note is not heavy, but very polite and exudes a grown-up attitude rather than shout about. The gearbox too gets 5-speeds as a genuine retro should. 5-speeds are enough for you to utilise all the power nearly all the time. I’ve not ridden the Jawa engine yet, heard great things about it, but against the RE engine this little 400 is much characterful. Refined and smooth this engine took all the beating I could throw at it and still did shine.
Handling and Brakes
It is Italian, what do you expect! Remember Imperiale 400 is heavy, yet it is able to manage itself very gracefully. Obviously it is not a KTM while cornering, it’s an entirely different approach. Calm and composed, it returns a satisfying smile when you ask it to play through curves. Not too hard though else it’ll start wallowing in protest. But keep it through decent speeds and it stays true to its lines, even on broken patches of roads. Ground clearance is enough to negotiate some off-roady bits. But I felt the suspension on the stiffer end of the scale. I bounced off the seat on a few speed breakers. Other riders did not complain, but I’ll recommend you experience it before stamping me incorrect. The large dia wheels on the Imperiale 400, 19-inch up front and 18-inch at the rear, wear TVS Remora rubber. This pairing is good enough for our combination roads. However, those spokes mean tube tyres which irritates me beyond anything. Yes, spokes do not allow tubeless tyres, and no I still don’t think you can live with tubed tyres. Do you honestly think you can pull a 205kg motorcycle to a puncture repair mechanic without destroying the tube and furthermore your spine? Nope, anything but this problem is evil. Brakes too are adequate to bring you to a safe stop. There is a 300mm disc on the front and another 240mm at the rear, but they can do with more bite, and yes some feel as well. General riders will be more than satisfied, but some of us do like communication from brakes. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I have to nit-pick every detail.
Buy it! I know you were thinking about it very heedfully. My only gripe is that Benelli needs to expand its dealership network to assure riders it is here to stay. Imperiale 400 is a great product and should be in your priority list as the new retro in your collection. The REs might be easy to mend, and the Jawa is a cooler looking and the faster option, but they cannot be as practical and bold as the Benelli. It is not a preliminary product, it is finished and done well. Tuned for our complex streets our 250km brash ride through traffic, high-speed expressways, rough farm roads, and literally wet sand did not leave a rattle on it. Benelli Imperiale 400 is a genuine resurrection, and everybody can have one. Please Benelli, you’ve made an excellent broth, do not mess the serving!