Does Benelli’s interpretation of a scrambler stay true to its roots? We really think the Leoncino has the potential…
Probably the only bike from the current crop of Benellis with some heritage, the Leoncino dates way back in time. The original 125cc stroker debuted in 1951 and was Benelli’s first bike after World War II. And it was quite successful; one of the bestselling Benellis in Europe in fact. However, the times have changed and unlike those days, the Benellis are now made in China under the umbrella of Qianjing. Thus, the company has travelled far; from Pesaro in Italy to Wenling in China. And so has the Leoncino. Benelli says that it’s their version of a scrambler. The Leoncino 800 and the 800 Trails was showcased at the EICMA 2019 and the Leoncino 250 has been already launched in India. Is it all hype and hoopla for nothing or is the Leoncino a shot in the arm for the Chinese bikemaker with Italian pedigree?
Benelli hasn’t launched the Trail variant of the Leoncino in India yet. Trail is basically the Desert Sled of Benelli’s scrambler, erm, Leoncino range. However, it retains a lot of elements of the Trail including the riding stance. In fact, the Leoncino feels heavily inspired by Ducati Scrambler (trust me, it’s my daily rider). You don’t sit on the bike but in it with a low saddle height of just 785mm. The ‘bars are upright and canted towards the rider for a comfortable yet commanding riding position. Same is the case when it comes to the looks. Round headlamp? Check. Traditional looking cluster with digital display? Check. Retro-ish elements? Check. And unlike most other Benellis, the Leoncino feels finished with slightly more attention to detail. There are a few bits that have been left untouched but still, it’s the best finished Benelli for sure. It does not lose on the quirky Benelli character though. The fuel gauge has a mind of its own and the fuel level can vary from empty to full in a series of corners, depending on whether you love left handers or otherwise. The number plate holder came loose at the end of our ride which was barely 110km. But it does end up winning some brownie points for its looks. And don’t judge by the pictures; it actually looks brawnier than it does on these pages.
Based on the TNT300’s engine, the 499.6cc, DOHC, parallel-twin motor dates back to 2015. We have already seen its application on the TRK502. However, the Leoncino is lighter than the TRK by 27kg. But that doesn’t make a world of difference when it’s compared to other twins that cost almost half the money. My long term Interceptor, although heavier, feels quicker and more tractable too. Even the single-cylinder 390 Duke will murder the Leoncino in a straight line. Clearly, 47bhp and 45Nm doesn’t suffice for its bulky proportions.
By the time you get to 6,000rpm, the engine already goes out of steam and there’s barely anything to power through after that. However, the counterbalancer works in its favour allowing for a very smooth; borderline creamy delivery. It’s quite refined (again, for a Benelli) and the twin-cylinder motor loves to go cruising, just like how it should be on a scrambler. The exhaust plays usual Benelli numbers which not only warrant a second look from passersby but (strangely) even dogs.
The moment you set your eyes on the Leoncino, you know that it’s overtyred, especially the massive 120-section front. It gets 50mm USDs which you don’t really require unless you are planning to jump a three-storeyed building. But then, the suspension travel is quite low (for a heavy motorcycle) at 125mm and 112mm (front and rear) so you cannot really do so.
The wide handlebar allows you to tip the Leoncino quite easily though. Well, not as easy as a Triumph Street Scrambler or a Ducati Scrambler maybe, but it’s definitely easier than the Interceptor. And that’s despite the wide front tyre. If you’re really planning to take it off-road, or even for some mild trail-riding, you must swap to somewhat thinner wheels. The suspension is clearly not of high quality and Benelli doesn’t disclose the maker’s badge but it offers a fully adjustable setup at both ends. The best part: the rear mono can be adjusted via a remote knob that lets you alter rebound. So just before you are heading off-road, just soften the whole setup without using much tools and you’re sorted. Some more eggs from the scrambler bag then.
The handling is par for the course and thanks to a wide rear tyre, you can really go all-out on the gas. The long-wheelbase allows for excellent stability mid-corner and even on straights. The only downside to the whole package are those brakes. They’re extremely spongy and despite an adjustable lever, I really couldn’t find the sweet spot even after living with the Leoncino for almost a week.
Now, to address the elephant in the room – the price. The Leoncino costs a lot of money when you compare it with the popular, made in India twins from Royal Enfield. At `4.79, Benelli is asking for twice the amount of an Interceptor 650. Does it justify the price tag? Not at all. But then, as a scrambler, there is nothing being offered in the sub-7 lakh range today. And the Leoncino fills the gap in the best way possible.
It does offer the joys of discovering new roads and even some mild trails. The adjustable suspension setup, parallel-twin motor with a ‘sportsbike’ soundtrack and macho looks make it worth a dekko.
The Benelli brand has already come a long way under the leadership of Qianjing, a sub-brand of Geely who also owns Volvo. But Volvos don’t show any signs of Chinese engineering in the way they drive. The Leoncino is, no doubt, a brilliant Benelli but it’ll have to do a lot more to become just brilliant, like the Volvos.