Benelli’s lion cub roars into life
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It may well be the hero of the Benelli stable for the next couple of months. Even though the Italian 500cc heritage naked contender is built to a price, with the bike retailing here for just $9490 plus on road costs, the little lion packs in the value.
The Leoncino takes its name from the 1952 Benelli Leoncino 125, “Leoncino” being Italian for lion cub and visually, the new Leoncino packs in the modern-meets-traditional aesthetic well.
The electronics suite is headlined by the same Bosch ABS as found on the TRK 502.
It is similarly switchable if you want the ability to lock a wheel, followed by a host of LED lights and a full LCD digital display, including a wraparound digital tachometer.
The LCD display does look a little out of date — especially when other European names are using TFT technology in the same price bracket — but it features all the necessary info a rider could ask for including gear position, engine temperature, ambient air temperature, clock and, of course, the usual speed and odometer readings.
Between the new steel tube frame is the same 499.6cc engine as found in the TRK. But, aside from a few minor tweaks to the air box and gearing, it is essentially the same unit.
Peak power is claimed at 35.5kW, backed by 48Nm of torque, while the bike weighs in at only 186kg fully fuelled.
With the Leoncino being designed at the Italian design studio CentroStile and then assembled in Asia, it misses out on big names in add-on components such as Brembo, KYB and the like. But the company behind the modern incarnation of Benelli, Qianjiang Group — which is owned by Geely, the same firm who has owned Volvo Cars since 2010 — made the brakes and suspension in house. These do a rather tidy job of ensuring the little lion is kept well under control.
Up front are huge 50mm upside-down forks with rebound adjustment. Out back is a monoshock with preload and rebound adjusters to ensure riders can tailor the Leoncino to their needs. Braking, too, is well sorted, with a pair of four-piston calipers clamping down on 320mm discs up front and a 260mm disc and two-piston combo out back, all backed by Bosch ABS that can be turned off if the rider chooses.
Starting the bike, my first impressions were good. The bike shows solid build quality and decent performance despite the limited miles on the engine.
The seat is on the hard side, which was becoming evident later in the day, and the dash unit and LCD display — while functional — looked dated compared to other bikes in the class.
Performance overall, however, was admirable, and the Leoncino put a smile on my face multiple times throughout the press launch in Australia.
Twisting the cool pocketknife-like key in the ignition reveals the idle of a parallel twin with a 360-degree crank, much like old British machines of yesteryear, with the engine immediately announcing that this is no mere point-a-to-point-b appliance.
Clicking the six-speed gearbox into first gear and letting out the clutch sees you move off at a controlled pace. And, while the 35.5kW of power isn’t arm tearing, it is more than enough to propel the Leoncino to well above the legal speed limit, with a claimed indicated top speed of 188km/h!
Benelli Australia & New Zealand thinks of the Leoncino as a more urban machine. But find a tight twisting backroad, and the little lion will more than surprise even an experienced rider with its ability.
With Pirelli Angel tyres fitted, that adjustable suspension, and a comfortable rider’s triangle, the cockpit of the Leoncino was far from a dull place to be.
Not only that, but Benelli is backing the mechanical reliability of the Leoncino — and other models in the New Zealand range — with a full two-year unlimited mileage warranty and roadside assistance package off the showroom floor. That should go a long way to helping prospective riders make the decision to join the Benelli tribe.
Add to that the fact there are two more bikes in the Leoncino lin- up soon to arrive in New Zealand — a Scrambler and a Sports Tourer — and Benelli sure seems to be pumping plenty of value into the 500cc class.
If you’re looking for a heritage styled bike, but don’t want to go for a 600cc-plus machine with its more expensive registration and insurance, the Leoncino is well worth a look.
2018 Benelli Leoncino
Price: $9490 + orc
Engine: 499.6cc parallel twin
Pros: Great engine, looks the business, well built, unlimited km two-year warranty, LAMS approved
Cons: Limited dealer network, LCD dash not as modern as competitors