Honda CB300R vs Benelli Leoncino 250: Retro Rampage
Head over heart. Heart over head. Buying decisions can be dictated by many factors, and in the case of motorcycles, emotions run high on that list. Not everyone who buys one is looking to eke out every kilometre from a litre of fuel, the best price-performance ratio or even the best value for money. The heart wants what the heart wants, and occasionally, you have to indulge it. The existence of these two motorcycles is a clear indicator of that.
The Honda CB300R and the Benelli Leoncino 250 have quite a bit in common. They both feature very distinct retro styling, both cost around the same amount of money, and both fall short on the performance front when compared to, say, the likes of a similarly-priced KTM 390 Duke.
What these two motorcycle are, though, is undeniably cool — motorcycles that make a statement and make you stand out in a crowd. They both draw their styling cues from bigger bikes in the same stable, and are looking to bridge the gap between stylish urban runarounds and long-distance mile munchers. Question is, which of these two bikes should you get?
Benelli Leoncino 250
It looks bloody good. Benelli has done a fab job on the styling front, with the Leoncino 250 looking like a modern Scrambler with plenty of tasty details. The oval headlamp is unconventional, the tank has some neat-looking elements on it and though I’m not a fan of the lion on the front mud-guard, I’m sure there are plenty that will appreciate it. Even the digital display is unconventional but looks cooler and has all the information you need. The Leoncino is taller than the CB, and consequently has more presence on the road too. And isn’t that what these motorcycles are all about? However, for as good as the Leoncino looks, I found the rider’s triangle to be a bit odd. The bars are fairly upright, while the pegs are positioned in a manner that doesn’t give you too much knee-room putting them at odds with each other.
On the go, the Leoncino is actually a sweet machine. The 249cc engine puts out 25bhp and it makes the most of its grunt in the midrange. Refinement levels are acceptable for a single, but what works in its favour is the tractability of the engine, making it rather usable in the city. However, 0-100kmph takes 9.6 seconds and that is down to the lack of outright performance from the drivetrain. The six-speed gearbox is a little clunky too, and I found it to have much longer throws than I would have liked. So, typical of Benelli, the engineers have worked hard on the exhaust note and there’s no denying its throaty character sounds good.
The Leoncino enjoys taking on a twisty road as well. It turns in with confidence, and remains extremely stable through the bends. The front-end isn’t as reactive as the CB’s, but this also means the Leoncino is a little more forgiving when it comes to your inputs. Ride quality is set up slightly on the stiffer side, so you have to slow down a bit for bigger bumps and broken roads but on a smooth road, the Leoncino makes for a fun ride for sure.
At Rs 2.49 lakh, the Leoncino 250 is hard to objectively justify but it makes far more sense when looked at exclusively in this company.
Where the Leoncino has gone for the Scrambler look, the CB has more of an urban cafe-racer vibe to it. The CB looks more hunkered down, and has sharper elements all around like the creases in the tank and the bikini fairing on its flanks. It is also more compact, though the rider’s triangle feels more natural than the Leoncino’s despite it being more aggressive. Sure, the bars are lower but the seat is wider and more comfortable and the pegs are positioned such that it gives you slightly more room to move around. Which one looks better? Well, that depends on what you like. I preferred the CB300R, with its CB1000R-inspired styling, though plenty of the guys on the shoot were of the opinion that the Leo is the better looking bike.
The Honda’s engine, at 286cc, is slightly larger than the Leoncino's and there’s no replacement for displacement. Outputs are higher as well — 30bhp and 27.4Nm. Combine this with the fact that the CB300R weighs only 147kg, you have got surprisingly good performance at hand. It hits 100kmph from a standstill in just 6.7sec. Again, most of its grunt is in the mid-range and though it isn’t as tractable at low speeds, the CB is far more impressive at picking up speed and holding it. Crack open the throttle and it surges ahead with intent and urges you to push it harder. Refinement levels are phenomenal and the gearshifts are slick. It may not sound as great as the Leoncino’s, but it certainly eggs you on more.
On the dynamics front, the CB300R is a peach. It’s got a really darty front end and it reacts telepathically to your inputs. This also means it is more reactive to your inputs mid-corner, and doesn’t feel as stable as the Leoncino. That said, the CB is a machine that urges you to push it harder and harder, the more time you spend with it. The ride quality on the CB300R is well-suited to Indian roads too. It isn’t overly stiff and actually deals with bumpy patches and the occasional broken roads quite well.
If I had to level any criticism at the CB300R, it would be that tall riders wouldn’t fit very comfortably on it, owing to how compact it is. Also, the digital display feels a little too spartan at this price-point, and the lack of a gear position indicator is a big miss. The CB also has its indicator switch where you expect the horn to be. This kept throwing me off, though I suspect once you ride it enough, you will get accustomed to this. But now I’m nitpicking. The CB actually nails the fundamentals of being a fun motorcycle.
Again, when looked at in the context of the whole market, it is hard to justify the CB300R. The likes of the KTM 390 Duke and the Royal Enfield Interceptor offer so much more performance at just a fraction more of the price. And yet, the CB endears itself to you.
Let us break down the prices. The Honda CB300R costs Rs 2.41, while the Benelli Leoncino costs Rs 2.49 lakh (both prices ex-showroom), making the Honda more affordable by almost 8,000 rupees. For the money, the CB 300 gives you much better performance in a straight line, while offering sharper dynamics and scoring well on the comfort front too. Of the two, the Honda is the engaging one to ride, feels sportier and wants to be pushed harder. The Honda’s trump card is how light it is, and this really defines its character. Add to it, a much wider service network and that Honda badge and you know that the peace the ownership experience will offer the addition of peace of mind. Well, the Bigwing dealerships are limited for now but Honda is betting big on the superbikes market and planning to open new showrooms to accodmodate the new range of Fireblade, Africa Twin and the litre-class sibling of the CB300R – the CB1000R.
The Benelli, meanwhile, is a sorted machine but with a slightly contrasting character. Its performance is more sedate and while it handles corners just as well, it isn’t as twitchy and comes across as more friendly. It doesn’t ask to be ridden hard, instead gives you plenty of confidence regardless of the speed you’re carrying and how much you push it. It is a motorcycle that amateurs may find themselves more comfortable on, as it doesn’t pick up speed with the ferocity of the CB. There’s also the fact that these two motorcycles have their own distinct visual identities — the Benelli being a neo-retro take on a Scrambler while the CB heads down the cafe racer route. Both of them, with their compact dimensions, actually make for great motorcycles to use on the daily commute as well, though the Benelli is more comfortable in this regard.
Honestly though, there isn’t any point trying to justify these motorcycles with respect to their prices and how much value they offer. If value was what you’re looking for, you’d buy a Suzuki Gixxer 250 or a KTM. What matters here is which motorcycle’s character appeals more to you and your riding style, regardless of the money that you have to fork out. What matters is what you want to see parked in your garage every morning, and what you want to be seen on when you head out for a night on the town. I would pick the Honda, but I only came to that conclusion after riding both of them. So get astride these motorcycles and see which one tugs at your heartstrings more.