BENELLI IMPERIALE 400 (2020 - on) Review
- Simple retro styling
- Authentic classic riding experience
- Economical to buy and run
At a glance
|Owners' reliability rating:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£120|
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Traditionally styled bikes are following the same path as adventure bikes. Each new retro is bigger, more powerful and glistens with added tech – and is ever-more expensive. Enter the new Benelli Imperiale 400, bobbing into shot with its 21bhp single, basic chassis and £3699 on-the-road price.
- Related: Benelli Leoncino review
First seen at the EICMA show back in 2017, the Imperiale has finally arrived and is a ‘reinterpretation’ of the lightweight Leoncino models that Benelli made in the 1950s (we’ll gloss over the fact they already have a 500cc twin in their range called the Leoncino).
It uses a brand-new 374cc air-cooled, twin-spark single designed specifically for the model, and that proudly wears a ‘made in China’ sticker on the side.
Benelli have officially been ‘Benelli QJ’ since 2005 when they were bought by Chinese automotive giants Qianjiang – there are 19 people working on engineering, design and prototyping at the firm’s historic Pesaro base in Italy, but all models are manufactured at the QJ factory. Bikes for Europe go through quality control in Italy before being distributed.
In a world obsessed with authenticity you may question the validity of a Chinese-built bike using supposed Italian heritage. But you could say something similar about Triumph. And, actually, if you want an authentic retro experience Benelli’s Imperiale 400 provides just that.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
It’s a very period riding position, with arms out to fairly close bars, and hips and knees bent at 90˚ to the slightly forward footpegs.
If you’re reading this on the loo you’re probably in a similar sort of stance. The chassis is easy enough to swing about and behaves itself at low speed; there’s lots of old-school engagement and feel through the basic suspension, and the slim tyres bring agility.
The Benelli doesn’t have the most balanced ride out in the country, though. The twin rear shocks are a little too firm and allow a paltry 55mm of wheel travel while the forks have a slight tendency to go boing, and the Benelli can be vague and wobbly in 60mph corners on a B-road. Enfield’s Bullet has superior steering and composure, and so gives greater confidence.
EngineNext up: Reliability
The engine is as steady as you’d expect a small capacity 21bhp single to be. With determination it’ll just about indicate 80mph, though obviously this is a bike intended for breezy Sunday morning trundles, and it’s happiest thrumming around up to about 60mph.
It revs more freely than Royal Enfield’s benchmark Bullet – the redline is 6000rpm but it’ll push on until almost 7000 – and is considerably smoother as well. The five-speed gearbox has quite a bit of lever travel, but the action is light.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
Sure, some elements hint at the 400’s modest price. There are a few sloppy frame welds, the wheels don’t sit perfectly centrally in the mudguards viewed side-on, and the brackets for the cable clutch are made from what a metallurgist would call ‘cheese’. But overall the finish and presentation are spot-on for the price.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
The main problem for the Benelli is that a Royal Enfield Bullet is just £500 more. It’s proven, has better handling, its traditional chugging single is more characterful and authentic, and Enfields have cast-iron residuals, too. It feels like the bike the Benelli is trying to be.
And there are more options to consider between these two price points, too. Spend an extra £1500 and you can get the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, the bike that toppled the BMW GS off the top of the sales chart in 2020.
Given the Imperiale is just a whisker over three-and-a-half grand there are some pleasing touches. The stainless-steel peashooter exhaust is perfectly finished and the clocks wear pleasing surrounds.
The engine finish appears high quality, mudguards are steel rather than flappy plastic, the brake lever has a span adjuster, and there’s nothing amiss with the switchgear. I like that the indicators have the warm period-style glow of bulbs too, rather than the sharp on-off you get with LEDS.
And I like the framework on either side of the rear wheel, though have no idea of its purpose.
|Engine type||air-cooled SOHC single|
|Frame type||Tubular steel cradle|
|Fuel capacity||12 litres|
|Front suspension||41mm telescopic fork, 121mm travel, no adjustment|
|Rear suspension||Twin shocks, 55mm travel, adj. preload|
|Front brake||330mm single disc, two-pot caliper, ABS|
|Rear brake||240mm disc, two-pot caliper, ABS|
|Front tyre size||110/90-19|
|Rear tyre size||130/80-18|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||80 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£45|
|Annual service cost||£120|
|Used price||£3,000 - £3,700|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||21 bhp|
|Max torque||21 ft-lb|
|Top speed||80 mph|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
|Tank range||211 miles|
Model history & versions
2020: Benelli Imperiale 400 launched as new model.
Owners' reviews for the BENELLI IMPERIALE 400 (2020 - on)
5 owners have reviewed their BENELLI IMPERIALE 400 (2020 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.
Summary of owners' reviews
|Ride quality & brakes:|
|Reliability & build quality:|
|Value vs rivals:|
|Annual servicing cost:||£120|
Annual servicing cost: £100
Overall very pleased with the bike. Handles well. Performance is adequate in my opinion. So far no problems and the finish is holding up well. As others have mentioned a front mudflap is a worthwhile addition. No drilling required as the holes and fixings are already there. How thoughtful
Some have complained about the harsh rear end. This can actually be adjusted. I find it fine as it is
Nice modular power delivery good economy
No issues in this area looks stunning when clean. And notbing has failed. Prepared to a very high standard by the dealer including copper grease to the bolts. Wish more would do the same
No idea on this as I will be doing it. The filters needed seem a reasonable price
Good level of equipment for the money. Including abs clock gear indicator and hazard flashing
Buying experience: Bought from a dealer excellent from the guys at moonraker Norwich
Annual servicing cost: £100
I love the bike, I've had it since the end of January. Having had a Bullet 350 before, and, I also have an Interceptor, I can safely say, I'd pick the Imperiale over the Bullet any day, and it compliments my Interceptor perfectly. Onto which, comparing the Imperiale, or Bullet for that matter, to one of the Royal Enfield twins, is not an altogether valid comparison, they are very different bikes. As for the suspension, yes, i agree with the article, however, it's not really an issue, and it's something you quickly come to terms with. Performance wise, now it's run in it will comfortable reach 70 two up, so, whilst not having blistering acceleration it is basically any type of road, including motorway, capable, but, it is more at home on A, B and unnamed roads, this is where it feels alive !!. I have really only found 2 negatives, first off, if intending to ride in inclement weather, almost not optional over here, then you need to fit a mudflap to the front mudguard. Also, the spokes, appear to oxidise a little quicker than I'd like, no sign of rust, but they are losing their 'shine'. Aside from that, I can't fault the bike, it looks and feels like you'd expect a retro single to be.It will be interesting to see the difference between this and the new 530cc version due out later this year
All good, just the rear suspension the only minor niggle
Thuds along merrily, feels like plenty of torque
As mentioned the spokes appear to be oxidising quicker than I'd like
That cost is an estimate, as I'm doing the servicing myself
Has all it needs, even has the time on the dash, as well as 2 trip meters
Annual servicing cost: £300
Just misses the mark but it easy to forgive its failings as it's a retro bargain.
Rear suspension very poor, oversprung and under damped although it improves a little with the weight of a pillion, brakes once beaded in are ok but with only 22hp and good engine braking the brakes dont get used as much.
Could do with more power to make A road progress a little less frightening.
So far nothing has failed and no warranty claims!
80 miles plus to the gallon so its frugal.
The speedometer may be illegal a reading at 5000 rpm is 70mph but the actual speed is 61 mph, naughty! Headlight beam is very good and the dash vista for such a competitively priced mmachine is nice. But the rear shocks in a word dreadful you'll feel every pot hole and bump on the B roads and unclassified country roads which is where the Benelli will generally be best suited.
Buying experience: Purchased at full listed price from Bennett's whose care and service has been excellent.
Annual servicing cost: £40
This bike for me is perfect. It is my first 'big' bike since passing my test last year. It is not super powerful but at the same time you can push it to its limit without scaring yourself silly. The sit up and beg riding position is very comfortable and the bike is very well balanced and rides like a dream. It is also very easy to manoeuvre and put on the main stand without assistance (I'm just a feeble woman after all!)
I could easily ride for a couple of hours without a break which is enough on any bike. The brakes are very good and the bike handles really well in the hands of a novice like me
If you are expecting superbike standard you will be disappointed but for someone like me who wants a safe and enjoyable ride it is perfect
It is very nicely built and cleans and polishes up really well (I have a black one and it looks stunning). I ride it almost every day commuting to work and it has not had any issues
I service the vehicle myself so save on labour costs. As far as fuel goes it probably costs me about £10 per week compared to £30 per week using the car
My favourite features are the gear indicator and the analog speedo. Also the fact that the lights are on all the time you are riding
Buying experience: I bought this from a dealer in Nottingham. They didn't have one in but they ordered one from the main warehouse and it came in 4 days.
Annual servicing cost: £75
Does exactly what it is supposed to do in spades! Authentic looks, authentic ride, adequate power for gentle use. Not designed or intended for motorway or fast A road use so don't expect it to be at home there. Becoming more compliant with use.
Becoming more compliant with the passing of time.
Smooth as silk for a single without a balance shaft!
No issues yet but very early days.
Single cylinder so not too much to service should keep costs down.
Gear indicator unexpected, adjustable brake lever unexpected, tyres okay, seat and suspension hard but becoming more compliant with use.
Buying experience: £3699 Delivered to the doorstep with a two year warranty what's not to like?! Bikes4all.