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Whenever you think about Benelli, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the crazy Tornado 1130. Outrageous and beautiful. The same goes for the TNT, both 1130 and 899. But when Benelli announced that they wanted to diversify and reach a larger audience, we were curious about what they had in mind. Soon after, we had the Imperiale 400. And not too long after, the Imperiale 400 BS6. I got to ride it and well, I am impressed… and perplexed.
The reason for being impressed is what this review is all about. For being perplexed… well, that’s because it is very hard to form an opinion about this motorcycle. But follow along and you’ll understand. Like always, we’ll discuss the various aspects of this motorcycle and we’ll start with the looks.
If I had to keep it short, it looks good. At least when compared to the competition it has. It is not that the competition is ugly, it is just that Benelli, despite sticking to the at-the-brink-of-being-used-but-screw-that-cuz-we-can’t-have-enough retro theme, has kept it tasteful. Very tasteful actually.
Round headlight, check. Twin-pod instrument, check. Just the right amount of chrome, check. Long exhaust and a long rear fender, check. Spoked wheels, check. Teardrop tank (with a nicely done tank pad on either side), check. Split seat, check. Black, check. Door-handle like pillion grab rails… wait, what!? Or are those just there so you can tie some stuff up at the back?
So the checklist is complete and the Imperiale 400 BS6 is more than qualified to be called retro. The last bit, those grab rails… they kinda overqualified it. I wonder whose idea it was. Anyway, I really like the Imperiale 400 and the biggest reason is proportion. Despite motorcycles being made for so long, it is an easy-to-make mistake but the Benelli has nailed that part.
The bits I really like are the turn signals, the tail lamp, the fenders, and the blacked-out engine (thank you, Benelli). The bits I don’t like are the grab rails, of course, and the oversized leg guard. That thing is huge and messes with the overall balanced look of the bike. Overall, it is a good looking motorcycle and it has a very European old-school feel to it.
Onwards to the performance. Benelli Imperiale BS6 is powered by a 374cc single-cylinder, air-cooled engine. It has 4 valves and a single overhead camshaft. The engine is good for 29 Nm of peak torque that arrives at 3,500 rpm and around 21 bhp of power which arrives at 6,000 rpm.
My initial impression of the mill was a little disappointing and the reason is the exhaust note. It is just sufficiently burbly but then, it was Benelli who spoiled us with the mind-boggling soundtracks of their motorcycles. It was their sacred art but they seemingly forgot where they kept that scroll when they were making the Imperiale 400 BS6. But as soon as you get a move on, it more than makes up for it.
The first gear clicks into place instead of clanking which is a hit for some and a miss for some. But one thing that is commendable is the refinement. The mill is very slightly buzzy in the very beginning and butter-smooth afterwards. Bothersome buzziness is only reserved for the very top of the rev range where you won’t enjoy this motorcycle anyway.
Torque and rideability were the aims and Benelli has done a good job of achieving those. The motorcycle pulls cleanly from a standstill and it keeps going like that. The thick of the fun is in the low-mid to mid-range and that’s where the Benelli is at its most easy and therefore, enjoyable.
It can thrum along highways at 100 km/h all day without breaking a sweat. The redline is 6,000 and the rev limiter even further, but don’t go there. If you want to, the Imperiale BS6 may not be the motorcycle for you or rather, you aren’t the rider for it. The gearbox is also no-nonsense and gets the job done. There’s a fair bit of travel on the clutch but the action is light so even inside the city limits, your hands will rest easy.
Finally, the roll-on acceleration is also nice. It is not mind-boggling but it is more than ample for some highway overtakes when you are too lazy to downshift. Overall, except for the initial buzz and the slightly underwhelming exhaust note, it is a pretty good engine and the motorcycle boasts of appreciable performance. If it weighed a little less, it would have been even better.
Since we have come to the topic of weight, let’s talk about handling. This is also the department where the most serious ones of the gripes I have with the Imperiale BS6 lie. It is like Benelli expected the Imperiale 400 BS6 to be ridden in a utopian world where roads are smooth and the twists and turns are rare. Let me explain.
On the highways, the Imperiale BS6 rides as it is supposed to. It is planted and one of the steadiest motorcycles to ride at speed you’ll find. Credit goes to the 205 kg (kerb weight) and the 1,440 mm wheelbase. Sustained 100 km/h riding is a breeze. On the other hand, when things slow down, the same attributes make it just a little cumbersome. And in case of a ‘pushy’ situation, even more so.
I was so happy with it but then came the bad roads. The rear suspension is a bit stiff. And you can tell. The seat is roomy and comfy but after an hour or so, there’s some discomfort to be felt. The turning-radius is… not ideal, to put it mildly. And it is a bit spongy and lethargic in corners. Most of it is down to what the Imperiale BS-6 is meant to be but then, it would not have taken a lot to fix these niggles. But I am no engineer so there’s that. Overall, the Imperiale 400 BS6 is a delight on the highways, a little stiff inside the city and a tad spongy in the twisties.
The suspension seems adequate on paper till you read about the travel of the suspension; 110 mm on the front and 65 mm on the rear. That’s a little less. Combined with the 165 mm of ground clearance, it is not very difficult to scrape the bottom of the Imperiale BS6 when going over over-ambitious speed bumps and grisly potholes.
The brakes are ample to bring the motorcycle to a halt if you are willing to put in the effort. There’s a 300 mm disc up front and a 240 mm disc at the rear. The braking power is adequate and the hardware complies, but the initial bite felt inadequate and you need a handful of the lever to try to stop the thing. Dual-channel ABS is standard.
There is nothing to complain about in the ergonomics department. 780mm of seat height is approachable for almost everyone and the rider’s triangle is comfy and there is no undue stress on your wrists or hands or knees or the back. It is easy peasy lemon squeezy all day. The condition again is that you don’t encounter too many bad roads and that you have sufficient padding on your own seating unit.
The rearview mirrors are nice and big and chromed. The refinement levels also help the cause of imparting a better view of what is going on at the back. The headlights are something we can’t comment on since we did not get to test them at night. We are not sure about the mileage but you can expect a range of over 350 km with the 12 L fuel tank. Switchgear is likeable and I liked the inclusion of a hazard light. The build quality also hits the spot for the most part.
The twin-pod dials are something I really liked. The font and the design are very ‘68 Mustang-y. There are digital readouts for the gear position and fuel level in a small display between the pods, and the odometer and trip meters can be found in another digital display in one of the dials. In addition to all that, there are a lot of telltale lights too. I really liked it and it is good to know that modern is just as important for a manufacturer as classic.
In the end, I hope you can imagine my perplexity or perplexion or whatever. It is a very good motorcycle in some places but the small places where it misses, it gets on your nerves for being such a likeable motorcycle and then… that.
Coming to how it stacks up against its competitors, I’d say the Imperiale 400 finds itself in a good place. Again, the thing is that the basics are spot on but it seems like it lost its way a little after that. A few things here and there and the Imperiale BS6 could have been a near-perfect modern classic because it looks the part and the engine is pretty good too. And so, for INR 1.99 lakh (Ex-Showroom), it is actually a pretty good motorcycle.
Full specs here.