2017 Benelli 302R review, test ride
5th Dec 2016 7:00 am
We get astride the Benelli 302R pre-production version to find out what we can expect from it.
It’s probably not a good omen when you start a bike review with a disclaimer, but a bit of background is required before we can speak about the Benelli 302R. Now, the bike that we rode isn’t up to production spec yet. When this bike goes on sale in January 2017, DSK Benelli said that some things will change, and a few of these could even be considered critical. So think of this as more of a preview of this near-quarter-litre faired motorcycle rather than a full-blown review.
A matter of perspective
With that out of the way, let me just say that I think this Benelli is a pretty good-looking motorcycle. Sure, some of you might think otherwise and I agree that some proportions seem a bit off. The fairing does feel a bit too wide in places, especially around the bellypan, and that bulk doesn’t gel too well with the slim tail. But there are lots of delectable design details like the shape of the headlight, the windshield and even the exhaust. The stickers on the fairing, however, are rather busy, almost to the point of looking like racebike livery. And there’s so much text that you’ll be standing there scratching your head wondering what this bike is actually called – B302R, Anniversary, BJ300GS-C, TXV and even Supermoto. Thankfully, all of these will be axed and the launched bike will be just called Benelli 302R. Phew!
The 302R’s proportions may seem slightly odd; fairing is quite wide compared to slim tail, but it’s a pretty striking machine.
The 302R is powered by the same motor that you get on the naked TNT 300. It’s a 300cc, parallel-twin, liquid-cooled unit mated to a six-speed gearbox. Now the international specs for the bike read slightly lower power and torque figures as compared to the Indian version of the TNT 300; we suspect that’s down to the Euro-IV compliance. However, we were assured by DSK Benelli that the 302R will have the same outputs as its naked sibling, which puts peak power at 38.2hp and peak torque at 26.5Nm. So that’s one thing you can wave in the face of some other European bike makers. But as this bike isn’t production-ready yet, we thought it best to keep performance measurements for later. It suffices to say that the 302R feels peppy enough, but like the TNT 300, it’s not as quick as you would expect a bike with those power figures to be. However, it could reach and hold speeds of up to 150kph fairly easily.
Highly tractable motor is a peach.
But what totally blew our minds was the sheer tractability of the motor. It just seems unreal when you open the throttle at 30kph in sixth gear and the bike gets going just smoothly, without the slightest judder. Going to have to chalk that one up to some black magic on Benelli’s part. Of course, when I say smooth, I mean that relatively, as this bike does have vibes – quite a few more than the TNT 300 (which is actually almost vibe-free) – and they are felt at pretty much all rpms. Hopefully, this should get addressed by the time the bike hits showrooms. The exhaust note too is a bit rough compared to that of the naked. Clearly, DSK Benelli has gotten rid of that TNT’s exhaust box that housed a metal replica of Pavarotti’s vocal chords and replaced it with a bit of Slip Knot. But it should make cornering easier as one doesn’t have to fear scraping that exhaust box in right-handers. Or, so I thought!
Two left feet
While there was no exhaust box to scrape the corners, the low-set footpegs were a serious concern. Even with a moderate amount of lean, the feelers are ever ready to dig into the tarmac. And that’s really a crying shame because the 302R is actually a pretty decent handling machine. It doesn’t get the trellis frame from the TNT, but instead opts for a new steel tubular chassis, with chunky 41mm upside down forks up front and a centrally-mounted rear monoshock (as opposed to the side-mounted unit from the TNT). Shockingly, rear suspension travel is just 45mm, which necessitates a really stiff spring to prevent it from bottoming out over the smallest of bumps. This makes the ride fairly stiff, but endows the 302R with good agility. And it’s confident through the corners as well, and almost as if to reiterate the point that this wasn’t a production bike, it came with a Metzeler tyre up front and a Michelin at the back. When it launches, however, it’ll be an all-Metzeler affair. So, kudos for that. DSK Benelli understands the concept of correct tyre choice. I just wish they could address the footpegs issue so it would be possible to really exploit this bike’s handling potential.
Fairly nimble and sure-footed, but the footpegs ground too easily for proper cornering.
However, one thing I’ll say is that the saddle is extremely comfortable, at least for my height (about 5ft 10in). The riding position isn’t too extreme, think R3 instead of RC, which should make this bike an ideal sports-tourer. Although, to really excel in this role, it’ll certainly need slightly more pliant suspension and fewer vibrations. Another small concern was the brakes. There’s a decent amount of stopping power no doubt, but the amount of free play at the lever is just ridiculous. And no matter what setting I tried on the adjustable lever, I still needed to use four fingers, even when trying to feather the brakes. But I shouldn’t be griping about this as the production bike will have revamped brakes equipped with ABS. Again, kudos DSK Benelli!
What to expect
I certainly believe this 302R is the best offering in DSK Benelli’s smaller-capacity range. Yes, with this test bike, we had a few nits to pick, but the company has assured that most of them will be addressed by the time it actually hits showrooms. Potentially, this is one of the most well-balanced bikes in this segment. It doesn’t go overboard on the sportiness like its Indo-Austrian nemesis, and will be (in theory) addressing the bigger drawbacks of one of its Japanese rivals. If DSK Benelli gets the pricing right, hopefully in the low Rs 3 lakh range, or if we’re being optimistic, even below that, the 302R will be an irresistible option. Fingers crossed!