Benelli’s Indian launch plans are very exciting. Not only because they are getting their flagship TNT 1130R motorcycle to India, but because their product line-up starts as low as 250cc. And to sweeten the deal, all bikes brought to India will be via the CKD route. Benelli has shown interest in bringing motorcycles ranging from 125cc, 300cc, 600cc, 899cc and 1,130cc to India in the single-cylinder to four-cylinder engine layout. DSK will assemble the bikes at the same facility where they assemble the Hyosung motorcycles, near Satara. The facility can churn out ~250 units a month on a single shift and if the demand per month exceeds 500, DSK Group will have to look at investing in a new facility. The Benelli group was founded in 1911 and has a long standing heritage in the history of motorcycling and motorsports. The company churns out ~30,000 units globally.
Benelli also plans to enter mass production for mass market motorcycles in the range of 125cc in the future. The company is optimistic that there is a definite market for their bikes and the growth rate of the Indian two-wheeler sector is very encouraging. As of now, entering the scooter segment is not planned. DSK Benelli will sell motorcycles via a completely new dealer network. Initially, we will get 7 dealers at top locations in the country and the number will increase to 20+ dealerships by the end of 2015.
DSK also plans to set up a Benelli Riders Group to support leisure riding along with riding safety.
Benelli has announced that it will rebrand all the motorcycles under the BN category to TNT when launched in India. So bikes such as the BN 251, BN 302 and BN 600i all will be renamed as TNT 251, TNT 302 and TNT 600i. The company is doing so to bring down the explosive halo of the higher capacity and more powerful TNT range of bikes down to the BN range. But does this make sense? TNT stands for ‘Tornado Naked Tre’. Here Tre justifies the brand name to the motorcycles since they are powered by a three-cylinder engine. But the BN 251 is a single-cylinder motorcycle, the BN 302 is a twin-cylinder motorcycle and the BN 600i is a four-cylinder motorcycle. So technically speaking, the new brand name does not do enough justice. It is more about creating an aura around a product during launch, and the brand TNT has it better than BN.
Apart from the litre-class motorcycles, what seems more practical for a day to day use is the 600cc-range of motorcycles. Benelli has the BN 600i, 600cc motorcycle lined-up for India, and in a very sweet sounding 4-cylinder engine layout. Day to day riding is much easier on a 600cc motorcycle, compared to a litre-class, hence we took the BN600i / TNT 600i for a spin, and this is what we have to say…
You look at the Benelli TNT 600i, and the bike does not look intimidating at all. Being a 600cc-class motorcycle, the dimensions are decent and won’t shy away a customers because of its big-bike looks. If you expected it to look anywhere close to the TNT 899 or TNT 1130R, you will find that the TNT 600i has a much more toned down design. This toned down design will however appeal to a wider audience with its simple naked design, rather than the wicked styling on the bigger siblings.
At the front, things are pretty much no-nonsense. A clear lens headlamp setup is split in two, one for the high beam and the other for low beam. The headlamp also gets pilot lamps on either corners at the top. A small bikini fairing has a air-duct like design on either side, just for aesthetics. On top, you have a small black plastic section which covers the speedometer behind. A humble Benelli sticker rests on this. LED turn indicators are mounted conventionally on the headlamp. Front mud guard is body coloured and ends slightly on the higher side at the back, which will result in a lot of mud spray on the radiator during monsoons. Upside-down front fork looks chunky in silver and make their presence felt. These units are supplied for Marzzochi for the international markets, but for India, Benelli will make them to suit our road conditions. This is also expected to bring down costs. The 6 y-spoke alloy wheels in black house dual 320mm disc brakes made by Benelli, dumping the Brembo setup available abroad.
From the side profile, the bike doesn’t look huge or bulky, but the mid-section sure looks mean. The exposed trellis frame, blackened body panels, completely exposed engine add a lot to the bikes butch characteristic. Mid-section is quite the highlight, really. The nicely carved out tank in dual tone, with the upper half in body colour and the lower half in black plastic. Although made of fibre, you can’t notice the screws to unbolt it. The blacked out lower end in plastic is a good thing. The paint won’t fade away after months of riding and your knees rubbing on it. The side floating cowls on the TNT 600i are much better built compared to the TNT 899. They hold on tight, and feel sturdy. Not only do they add a bit of style, but also cover up the radiator from being seen, from either side. These cowls get a BN 600i sticker as of now, but will be replaced with a TNT 600i sticker when launched. Below, the exposed trellis frame holds on to the engine, which is painted in dark grey. 4 exhaust pipes coming out from the engine connect as one piece below the engine, and split into two towards the tail end. Cross mounted, yellow coloured rear monoshock is visible only from the right hand side of the motorcycle. The rear swingarm of the TNT 600i is super chunky. Painted in dark grey, it looks brilliant and gives the rear end of the side profile a very distinct look. On top, seats are of the split and step-up category. Under the pillion seat, you get another body coloured panel which again gets a BN 600i decal.
Things at the back are dominated by the dual underseat exhaust pipes. Both of them get a silver accent at the tip, to make it more noticeable. Between the two exhaust pipes is the LED tail lamp setup in a red lens cap. On top, the pillion grab rails are fairly visible while viewing the bike from the rear end. The number plate housing is bolted below the tail lamp and is not too long. It reveals a fair amount of the 180/55/R17 patch rubber, for those who like it. LED turn indicators at the back are also bolted on this number plate mount. Rear alloy wheel houses a single 260mm single disc brake with a single piston caliper. A small tyre hugger is provided on the inside, to avoid mud spray. If you look from underneath, you will notice a heat shield placed below the seats to avoid heating up due to the underseat exhausts.
All Benelli motorcycles coming to India look different not only from each other, but from competitors as well. Italian design language and its arguably loveable styling aside, each bike has a fair bit of uniqueness and those looking at exclusivity will be happy with the Benellis.
Instrumentation and ergonomics:
Instrumentation is one field where the Benelli’s lack flare. The bikes look extremely ordinary in this department and the available setup doesn’t look or feel premium on such an expensive motorcycle. The TNT 600i gets an analogue + digital instrument cluster. The revv counter is seen in analogue while the speedometer gets a digital display. The digital display also reads out the engine temperature, time, fuel gauge, trip meter and odometer. A couple of tell tale lights are placed to the LHS of the tachometer. The Tachometer gets a while backlit while the digital display gets amber backlit. Plastics used here are just about average, nothing to write home about. Grips on the handlebar are perforated to help while riding in wet conditions.
The TNT 600i gets a conventional, single piece handlebar painted in silver, at a reasonable height. Switchgear plastic quality is also average. On the right, you get an electric starter, hazard light switch and an engine kill switch. On the left, you have the usual high / low beam switch, pass switch, turn indicator switch and the horn button. Rear view mirrors function decent, and give you good viewing range and angle. Front brake and clutch levers are forged, but only the brake lever gets adjustable levers. The clutch is slightly on the harder side and needs effort.
Hop on the TNT 600i and you are instantly at home. At a rider seat height of 800mm, the bike will suit most of us and getting both feet on to the ground is also an easy task. Seats are much better than the bigger, TNT 899. Riding position is a good balance between sporty, yet comfortable. It is slightly committed thanks to the rear set footpegs, but you don’t put all your weight on the wrist, hence, more liveable than supersports motorcycles. Pillion seat also has decent room but one needs to be careful while getting on and off the bike, the grab rails might hit you knees. Under seat exhaust doesn’t heat up as much as it did on the TNT 899. The pillion grab rails are also at a safe distance from the exhaust, so that you don’t accidentally touch them. Footpegs for both the rider and the pillion do not get a rubberised top, and are painted in black.
Engine, performance and handling:
The Benelli TNT 600i is powered by a 600cc, in-line, 4-cylinder, 4-stroke, 16-valve, liquid-cooled, DOHC petrol motor producing 82 BHP of power @ 11,500 RPM and 52 Nm of torque @ 10,500 RPM. Engine is mated to a 6-speed gearbox coupled with a wet clutch. The bike also gets two catalytic converters and four oxygen sensors. The 4x1x2 exhaust is pure symphony at all times, idle or revving.
Fire up the 600cc motor and you will be surprised with the levels of refinement. The engine is smooth as silk, and at idle, there is absolutely no harshness or vibrations felt or heard. Even at idle, the exhaust note from the 4-cylinder motor is a melody to listen to. The refinement levels of the TNT 600i simply cannot be compared to the harsh TNT 899. Slot it in first and the bike needs only a light twist of your wrist. Torque availability low down isn’t adequate to keep lugging the motor without throttle input. However, don’t get us wrong, even if you slow down a bit too much, the engine doesn’t start knocking. It still keeps progressing, but is not as eager as it would be in the right gear. Power delivery is very linear and tamed down. You can expect no drama at all within the city. The TNT 600i can even serve as your daily commuter, it is that easy to live with. With a strong mid-range, the first couple of gears can handle everything, from crawling at low speeds, to blasting away from signals after a green light. Not to forget the exhaust note while doing so, the TNT 600i cannot go unnoticed, or rather, unheard. Gearshift quality is good, and the bike did not false shift even once. Finding neutral was also not too difficult. The clutch however is a bit hard, as was the case on the bigger 899. Also, the travel range of the lever isn’t adjustable, which will lead your fingers feeling stressed after a long ride.
Hit the highway and wring the throttle, you will be annoyed with how tall the gearing is. Not that it creates any problem. But you just cannot redline that easily. To hit the revv limiter on the TNT 600i, you either have to be on lower gears, or need a really, really long straight. We managed to hit the redline only in the second gear. Trust us, the gearing is super tall. But on the positive side of this, is the exhaust note. The bike continues to pull relentlessly and the exhaust note keeps building up throughout. Although not hitting the redline can let you down, the exhaust note leaves a wide grin on your face. Hitting triple digit speeds is extremely easy and the bike stays planted at all times. With power delivery being very linear, you can wring the throttle without the front end of the bike getting airborne.
The TNT 600i also tips the scale above 200 kg. But the trellis frame, grippy Pirelli tyres keep the bike glued to the road. Cornering is not problem at all and the motorcycle has nimble handling abilities. We did not have any problem hanging from left to right of the bike throughout the Lavasa ghats. Yes, if you slow down a bit too much, the weight can thrown in some surprise, but apart from that, the handling department fares well. The suspension setup on the TNT 600i ditches the international Marzzochi USDs and gets a Benelli built, India-specific unit. We found this suspension setup to be much better than the Marzzochi on the TNT 899. It was softer, and more complaint as per Indian road conditions. Ride quality was better and the potholes were soaked up well, without leaving us unsettled. Also, they are not too soft to disturb your balance while in a corner. The setup is around perfect for what we need here and will suit most of the riders. Cruising, high speeds, corners; the bike handles well in all situations and stays planted. Within the city, the turning radius is again smaller than the bigger TNT 899 and is easier to maneuver the motorcycle.
Braking performance comes from a dual disc setup at the front and a single disc setup at the back. Brakes are also developed by Benelli for the emerging markets and dump the expensive Brembo setup. While this will give Benelli a cost advantage, the braking performance has suffered a bit. The initial brake bite on the TNT 600i is a bit spongy. Yes, it does start to slow down the bike, but the brake bite is not as sharp as a Brembo could have delivered. Then again, ABS is also missing. For a bike which can accelerate above 100 kmph in 2nd gear, isn’t ABS a primary requirement here in Indian road situations? Although Benelli does plan to introduce ABS in 2015, it will be limited to the higher end motorcycles.
Overall, the Benelli BN 600i / TNT 600i is a worthy motorcycle in it’s segment. Not only because it will be attractively priced with CKD assembly, but because it is the first motorcycle in the 600cc-class to offer a 4-cylinder layout. Then it offers pure symphony out of the 4x1x2 exhaust system, and that too all stock. Annoying bits are very few compared to the balanced riding dynamics and the powerful package that the motorcycle is. Getting acquainted to the bike is also fairly easy, and an upgrade from lower end motorcycles to this will not leave you scared. So if you’re in the market for a new sportsbike, we recommend you try this by the end of this month. The butter smooth engine will surely get you hooked.