After nearly two years since Benelli unveiled the classic vintage-styled Imperiale 400 at the 2017 EICMA show in Milan, the motorcycle has finally reached the Indian shores. Till now, the cruiser segment in India has witnessed quite a few products that have arrived, lived their lives and eventually become obsolete or lost the buyer’s interest.
Another factor to be considered is the unending cult following of Royal Enfield products that have been the fad for years now. And this cult is exactly what Benelli India is aiming at by trying to acquire a sizable portion of the pie with the all-new Imperiale 400. And yes, we too are keen to know how this cruiser stacks up against the Chennai-based bikemaker’s cash cow, the Classic 350 and the resurrected Java. But, for now, we’ll be confining our opinions to the newest product Benelli India has to offer and how well it sits in the market. So, here’s the first ride review of the all-new Imperiale 400.
At first glance, the Imperiale 400, without any doubt, has the typical bodyline which instantly reminds of classic vintage styling. And that is because the overall design draws its inspiration from the Imperiale 125, a motorcycle manufactured back in the 1950s, by the erstwhile Benelli-owned company, MotoBi.
Moving back to the modern one, the Imperiale 400 follows a minimalistic look with a round headlamp flanked by circular amber lens turn indicators and a retro-styled twin-pod instrument console that sits on top. Next is the teardrop-shaped metal fuel tank with rubber grips followed by a split-seat setup and the black plastic side panels on either side covering the battery, air-intake and other components.
The tail section also carries the same design with a wide mudguard and an oval lamp for the brake lamp. The classic vintage appeal of the motorcycle is further accentuated by chrome highlights for the headlamp and instrumentation bezel, rear-view mirrors, wheel rims, handlebar and pillion grab handles. And the same is contrasted by a blacked-out treatment for the powertrain, exhaust and other components.
Let’s start with the chassis first. The Imperiale 400 has been built around a double-cradle chassis. Now, while this chassis contributes to a sizable amount in the motorcycle's weight which stands at 205kg (kerb), it also offers a rigid and stiffer skeleton that aids with riding.
For cycle parts, the Imperiale 400 comes with 41mm telescopic forks up front and gas-charged twin shock absorber for the rear with pre-load adjustment, both sourced from Gabriel. Furthermore, it rides on 19-inch front and 18-inch rear steel rim spoke wheels, an ideal setup for a cruiser-type motorcycle. The wheels are shod with 110/90 (front) and 130/80 (rear) section TVS Tyres branded units that complement the Imperiale 400’s stance while ensuring a strong road presence. For anchorage, the motorcycle employs a large 300mm disc with a two-piston floating caliper ahead and is accompanied by a 240mm disc with a single-piston caliper at the rear, fortified by dual-channel ABS.
Coming to the motor, Benelli has strapped in a 373.5cc single-cylinder four-valve air-cooled mill featuring fuel-injection. The motor has a rated power output of 19bhp available at 5,500rpm and 28Nm of peak torque delivered at 4,500rpm. All this power and torque is transferred to the tarmac via a five-speed synchromesh gearbox. The motor’s power band is more inclined towards the mid- and top-end of the rpm range which benefits during cruising on the highway. On the flip side, the low-end torque can be felt to be on the lower side as the bike asks for a downshift from second to first while accelerating from slow speeds.
Feature-wise, the Imperiale 400 does have few tricks up its sleeve that are worth highlighting. Besides the sweet-looking twin-pod instrument console featuring a white backlit, the LCD displays come with an odometer, two trip meters, time, fuel level indicator and a gear position indicator. It is also the only motorcycle in its segment to come with a tachometer and also a flip-type ignition key. Apart from that, it also comes with a hazard lamp switch which is another segment first feature. The switchgear is positive in operation and is easy to reach. However, we would have liked a slightly better quality of materials.
Starting with the seating triangle, the Imperiale 400 offers a plush and commanding stance. The seat height is set at 780mm which makes it easier to rest both feet on the ground (my height is 5’6”). Meanwhile, the foot-pegs are centre set and the handlebar is a single-piece wide type, all contributing to likeable ergonomics may it be within the city or out on the highway. The rider seat is sprung underneath while the seat cushioning is soft yet firm, good enough to ride for 2-3 hours at a stretch before taking a break, which is ideal.
The main highlight about this motor is the absence of any bothersome vibrations. Besides the small buzz felt on the handlebar, regardless of the speed the bike is ridden at, it never gets intrusive. In fact, except for the handlebar, there are hardly any vibes felt at the foot-pegs or the seat.
Another quality of the motorcycle worth applauding is its handling. The steering setup feels direct and planted when attacking corners. So good, that we ended up scraping the footpegs on not just one but multiple occasions while cornering. And yes, at crawling speeds the bike’s weight does creep into the picture, but with more time spent on the saddle, it should be manageable. Even the heat emitted by the engine isn’t felt much except for the exhaust which can be noticed in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The exhaust note on the Imperiale 400 might not have the typical thump that’s available on Royal Enfields. Instead, it is muffled but still has a deep tone that makes it refined and quite enjoyable. And, as for ride quality, thanks to the slightly firmer suspension setup, road undulations and potholes get ironed out pretty well. Coming to the brakes, there is good progression available to modulate the braking force however the initial bite, especially from the front, could have been better.
In terms of speeds, the Imperiale 400 is capable of achieving a top speed of 130kmph without much hassle. However, the sweet spot to cruise in comfort is between 90-100kmph which is perfect, given the road infrastructure.
To sum up things, the Benelli Imperiale 400 is the newest entrant in the cruiser space that offers classic vintage styling, impressive handling dynamics, usable features, decently powered motor and lastly a premium Benelli brand image with is probably more desirable. Meanwhile, the trade-offs are the switchgear quality and a less punchy low-end torque. So, if are looking for something new and modern yet vintage with a legacy and something that has an global brand image and stands out in the crowd, the Imperiale 400 is a motorcycle worth considering.
Photography by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi