BENELLI IMPERIALE 400 (2020 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Simple retro styling
  • Authentic classic riding experience
  • Economical to buy and run

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Annual servicing cost: £120
Power: 21 bhp
Seat height: Low (30.7 in / 780 mm)
Weight: Medium (452 lbs / 205 kg)

Prices

New £3,699
Used £3,500

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

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.

Benelli Imperiale 400 right side

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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.

Benelli Imperiale 400 rear quarter

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Benelli Imperiale 400 engine

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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 rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Small-capacity, simple retros like the Imperiale are thin on the ground these days with models getting bigger, more complicated and more expensive - just look at the £13,000
Triumph’s latest Thruxton RS but there are alternatives out there.

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.

Equipment

2 out of 5 (2/5)

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.

Benelli Imperiale 400 rear frame

Specs

Engine size 374cc
Engine type air-cooled SOHC single
Frame type Tubular steel cradle
Fuel capacity 12 litres
Seat height 780mm
Bike weight 205kg
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 £44
Annual service cost £120
New price £3,699
Used price £3,500
Insurance group -
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

Model history

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.

Review your BENELLI IMPERIALE 400 (2020 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Engine: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Value vs rivals: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Equipment: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Annual servicing cost: £120
4 out of 5 Recommended
14 February 2021 by Suffolk man

Year: 2020

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

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Some have complained about the harsh rear end. This can actually be adjusted. I find it fine as it is

Engine 4 out of 5

Nice modular power delivery good economy

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

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

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

No idea on this as I will be doing it. The filters needed seem a reasonable price

Equipment 5 out of 5

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

4 out of 5 What a Bullet should be ...
01 September 2020 by Tony Smith

Year: 2020

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

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

All good, just the rear suspension the only minor niggle

Engine 5 out of 5

Thuds along merrily, feels like plenty of torque

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

As mentioned the spokes appear to be oxidising quicker than I'd like

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

That cost is an estimate, as I'm doing the servicing myself

Equipment 4 out of 5

Has all it needs, even has the time on the dash, as well as 2 trip meters

4 out of 5 Italies "Chinelli"
25 August 2020 by Mark Wonnacott

Year: 2020

Annual servicing cost: £300

Just misses the mark but it easy to forgive its failings as it's a retro bargain.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

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.

Engine 4 out of 5

Could do with more power to make A road progress a little less frightening.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

So far nothing has failed and no warranty claims!

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

80 miles plus to the gallon so its frugal.

Equipment 4 out of 5

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.

5 out of 5 Mint Imperiale
25 August 2020 by Eddy

Year: 2020

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!)

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

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

Engine 5 out of 5

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

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

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

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

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

Equipment 5 out of 5

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.

4 out of 5 Great value retro styled bike with enough power to get two people where they need to go and put smiles on their faces!
25 August 2020 by Catmandel

Year: 2020

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.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Becoming more compliant with the passing of time.

Engine 4 out of 5

Smooth as silk for a single without a balance shaft!

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

No issues yet but very early days.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Single cylinder so not too much to service should keep costs down.

Equipment 4 out of 5

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.

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