Benelli’s faired 300cc sports bike has been a long time coming. We had a taste of a pre-production version late last year and now we finally have our hands on a production-ready version. The 302R is based on the TNT 300 naked bike but has seen some significant modifications. It’s going to need them to thanks to impressive rivals like the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and Yamaha’s R3 (which is expected to return soon in BS4 trim). Is the 302R up to the task?
Design and style
A major draw in the buying decision of a faired sports bike in India is the way it looks and the eye-catching 302R scores big in this department. Thanks to its big-bike size, the 302R easily stands out in a crowd, more so than any of its rivals. We won’t go as far as calling it the best-looking machine in the segment, as the proportions do seem a bit off with a long silhouette and a rather front-heavy look. Thankfully, Benelli has tidied up the graphics and it doesn’t look quite as busy as the pre-production bike. There are also quite a few neat design details like the lion motif along the sides, funky exhaust end can and plastic inserts near the tail section. We’re also big fans of the classic Benelli metallic silver and green paint scheme that reminds us of the old Tornado 900 superbike. The dials are fairly simple, but offer all the information you need outside of fuel-efficiency data. Fit and finish levels are acceptable and nothing stands out as cheap or flimsy looking, but the lack of a hinged fuel filler cap is surprising.
Engine and performance
The 302R runs the same 300cc, in-line, two-cylinder, liquid-cooled unit from the TNT 300. This is one of the most tractable engines we’ve ever experienced and it can potter around in sixth gear at speeds as low as 25kph. Benelli has also done a fabulous job with the exhaust tuning and, like its naked sibling, this is easily one of the sweetest sounding bikes at this price point.
That said, while the gearbox itself is precise, the engine isn’t quite as smooth as the competition and has a slightly gruffer feel. Vibrations aren’t completely isolated either, and depending on the engine speed, you feel them through the pegs, bars and seat pan. Thankfully, they never get painfully intrusive and aren’t a deal breaker.
With 38.8hp and 26.5Nm of torque, both developed above 10,000rpm, the 302R makes nearly identical power and torque to the Kawasaki Ninja 300. In the real world, however, the hit of power you expect never really arrives. The motor revs out all the way to 12,000rpm, but to get anywhere in a hurry, you've got to keep it above 8,000rpm. And even then the rate of acceleration isn't as exciting as we'd like. But make no mistake, this is still a pretty quick machine and, given the space, you should be able to see upwards of 170kph on the clocks. Highway cruising is effortless as the engine is happiest between 110 and 130kph where vibrations are well restrained, but quick overtakes will still require dropping a gear or two. Long rides are further aided by the relaxed riding position and well-padded seat.
Chassis, ride and handling
The reason behind the Benelli's muted performance comes down to its weight. At 198kg, this bike is nearly 30kg heavier than some rivals and weighs closer to a litre-class superbike. The good news is that the 302 handles its weight well and you only really feel it while taking u-turns or pushing the bike around a parking lot. City riding is easy thanks to a decent turning radius, good heat management and realistic ground clearance.
Benelli went further than just slapping a fairing on the TNT 300 and gave this bike a revised trellis frame as well as a new swingarm. The earlier side-mounted shock has been moved to the centre and as a result, it’s quite hard to access the pre-load adjustability. The fat USD front forks, meanwhile, offer rebound adjustability, a unique feature in this segment. Ride quality is well judged, with a supple feel that absorbs bad roads well and yet offers a confident and planted feel through the corners.
We found the foot pegs to be too low on the pre-production bike and Benelli has addressed that with redesigned pegs that offer enough clearance for knee-down levels of lean. Handling gets a big boost from the excellent Metzeler M5 Sportecs which offer superb wet and dry weather performance. Both, the front and the rear, tyres are slightly narrower than the optional Pirelli’s on the TNT 300 but this leaves no negative effect on the handling. In fact, the 302R is, without a doubt, the most dynamic handler in Benelli’s current line-up, even if it lacks the sharper, more nimble feel of its rivals.
Braking is handled by a twin front-disc set-up, another segment first. Sadly, the performance doesn’t meet expectations and the brakes not only lack bite, but also offer inconsistent pressure at the adjustable brake lever. On the bright side, this is the first bike in the segment to offer ABS; full credit to Benelli there.
At Rs 3.48 lakh (ex-showroom), the 302R costs Rs 12,000 less than the Ninja 300. Benelli has positioned the 302R as a sports tourer rather than an outright sports bike. This better matches its capabilities as the bike lacks the punch and excitement that its rivals offer. Instead, it has great street presence, big-bike sound and feel, good comfort and is easy to ride. If that’s the riding experience you're looking for, this bike is worth considering. But if it's outright speed and thrill you crave, you should look elsewhere.