Benelli's new Chinese ownership group QianJiang knows a thing or two about manufacturing. It makes more than 1.5 million bikes a year and this production muscle has enabled Benelli to put together an entry-level machine that delivers impressive specs and great looks at a price that undercuts even the Japanese competition. A 300cc parallel twin with twin disc brakes and adjustable suspension, the Benelli BN302 should make a nice "exotic" alternative for new riders.
The BN302 represents new territory for Benelli. It's the company's first "learner" class bike – at least, the first under its new Chinese ownership. Built in China under an Italian quality assurance team, the BN302 is designed to bring new riders into the Benelli fold early, with an impressively low price, exotic good looks and a spec sheet that even its higher-priced competition can't match.
At AU$6,290 (US$5,015), it's considerably less expensive than the wildly popular Kawasaki Ninja EX300 and KTM's Duke 390, but it certainly doesn't come across as cheap. Fit and finish is beautiful, with the bike boasting a lovely feel to it and quite a few details that make it seem a lot more expensive and European than it is. One of the first you'll notice is the seat detail, which is a very classy touch, but you'll have to look a little closer to find the real surprises.
The BN302 has twin disc brakes and preload/rebound adjustable suspension at both ends. None of the more expensive bikes in the 300cc class offer either of those touches. The Pirelli Angel tires are another surprise. Tires, brakes and suspension are generally the first places money is saved on a cheaper bike, but here the Benelli outdoes the competition.
It's a fairly physically large bike for a small capacity learner machine. At 185 kg (408 lb) wet, it's got some bulk to it, which will discourage some smaller riders. Others will appreciate the extra size, although at 5 ft 11 in (180 cm), I found my legs getting a bit cramped due to the high footpegs.
The engine is a nice compromise. At lower revs it's calm and accessible and torquey enough to deliver confidence to new riders. Rev it higher and you'll get yourself access to the full 37 hp (27.5 kW) and 27 Nm (20 ft lb) of torque, which is enough to deliver some decent laughs on a twisty road. Power and torque are both up on the Ninja 300's numbers, but any performance gains will likely be swallowed up by the Benelli's extra 10 kg (22 lb) of weight.
The brakes and suspension show their pedigree when you get out and start riding hard. Power and feel on the brakes is impressive and the suspension responds well to adjustments in rebound damping. Most small bikes come underdamped for larger riders out of the box, and the BN302 is no exception. But a few turns of rebound on the fork, a couple of clicks on the hand-adjustable shock, and it immediately felt much more under control for me.
As a more experienced rider, I appreciated the braking power on tap. It's not overpowering or touchy, but with a bit of pressure you can stop very hard. For that reason I think Benelli ought to think about adding an ABS option as panic braking can easily catch learners out.
At the end of the day, the BN302 will probably take its place in the market as an attractive option for new riders that want something different to the crowd. It'll set itself apart with its smooth, European looks (even if it's clearly reminiscent of Kawasaki's ER-6N) and its impressive specifications. The price tag will come as a nice surprise.
And if this bike is an indication of the quality we can expect from QianJiang's Chinese manufacturing plant, things are looking bright for Benelli.
Product page: Benelli BN302