Benelli has announced the return of their Leoncino as a 500cc offering, oozing character and providing plenty of performance to carry riders effortlessly beyond the learner experience. Review by Kris Hodgson, Images by Heather Ware

Benelli’s Leoncino has made its return in 2018, offering a 500cc learner legal option for $8,990 on the road and looks to recall Benelli’s glory days. It’s a stylish scrambler/roadster offering and it’s easy to see the attention to detail the brand’s committed.

Check out the video and tech talk here: Video Review: 2018 Benelli Leoncino 500

So what does your $8,990 get you? Quite a lot by my estimation. The parallel-twin four-stroke engine is a real gem, with 35kW as dictated by restrictions in Europe (and Australia), with 45Nm of torque. It’s a characterful engine, with what I can only describe as taut and punchy power delivery, keeping in mind this is a LAMS compliant machine.

It's subjective, but I really like the Leoncino. It has flowing lines, a good finish quality and attention to detail, and is a characterful package.

Styling is subjective, but I really like the Leoncino. It has flowing lines, a good finish quality and attention to detail, and is a characterful package.

There’s quite a quick throttle response and power delivery, while engine braking comes on smooth, ensuring there’s little downside. Aggressive downshifting through the gears is fun, with only that short first gear one to watch out for, if you like blipping the throttle down through the gears.

First gear may be short, but thanks to the torque on offer you can actually ride around at a crawl in second, with good throttle response even from low rpm anywhere through the gears. The gearbox is clunky, however getting into neutral is never a drama, and the cable operated clutch has a good action, but if you’re in bad enough traffic you’ll notice it’s not quite what you’d call ‘light’.

Around-towning is a breeze, with punchy power making suburban trips fun

Around-towning is a breeze, with punchy power making suburban trips fun.

Cruising at 110km/h at around 5800rpm in top there is plentiful power, but you can easily drop to fifth, or even fourth if you really want some kick for overtaking, and cruising the open roads there’s enough power to take you well beyond the legalities with good roll-on in top also.

 

Ventura-EVO-60

 

Brakes comprise of dual 320mm rotors, with four-piston radial-mount Benelli calipers on the front, and a 260mm rotor on the rear with a single-piston floating caliper, all matched to Bosch ABS. Feel at the front lever is a bit on the wooden side, but in saying that it’s well set up for new riders, and there’s plenty of power once you apply a bit more pressure.

The rear gives a bit more bite and is ideal for stability and braking around town, with a dirt bike styled brake lever, that if you’ve got big feet like me, may mean you’ll need to make an effort to get your foot out and around the lever. Footpegs are all rubber clad, and while there was some vibrations in the right ‘peg at times, they weren’t noticeable at higher speeds, and a gear change quickly quelled them.

Suspension is made up of meaty 50mm forks on the front end, and a single rear shock, with both offering basic adjustability, with an external preload adjuster on the rear and rebound clickers on the front. It’s a nice feature if you’re taking a pillion, or just like to tinker. While a bit harsh at low speeds over big bumps, suspension is ideal on smoother urban roads, while as the speeds rise to 80km/h+ it really comes into its own.

This may be a LAMS machine but even weighed down with a backpack of camera gear, the harder I pushed the better the suspension got

This may be a LAMS machine but even weighed down with a backpack of camera gear, the harder I pushed the better the suspension got.

It’s not on par with a super-high end system, however it’s controlled, once pushed it takes the harshness out of the bumps and tracks exceptionally well, in a way that puts many more expensive bikes to shame. Just keep in mind I’m around 70-75kg in gear and with my camera, so this will vary.

The seat is my one area of criticism, after 45-minutes it becomes quite hard and I felt like I could feel the base through the padding, short trips aren’t an issue, however I’d be looking at a bit more padding if I intended to do weekend cruises. There is room for a pillion though and grab rails on the sides, which also would make ideal tie-down points. It’s also 785mm (not 815mm as stated in the video) and is extremely low, making for an easy reach to the ground for all riders.

The tail itself is minimalistic, with a bright taillight and exceptionally bright indicators, before leading back into the painted bodywork, which continues through to the tank, in very clean lines. A cut-out in the tank includes the Benelli logo, while another badge includes the model name under the seat on each side.

The trellis frame displays the engine to good effect, with a single headlight incorporating LED technology and throwing light a good distance down the road. Front indicators are likewise super bright.

Benelli's Leoncino makes for a great entry or returning rider option.

Benelli’s Leoncino makes for a great entry or returning rider option.

The simple digital dash has a main screen area and a left secondary screen and includes a fuel gauge and gear indicator, with speedo and tacho both digital, resetting the fuel meters is easy too, and I was getting about 220km for 8L, which I find good.

Switchblocks are simple, but do include a high beam flasher, and look a little cheap but everything functions well. Mirrors are roundish items, which look the business but don’t offer incredible vision (more rectangular mirrors just offer a better field of view), and do vibrate a little at higher speeds.

There’s even an ABS switch, but I couldn’t get the ABS kicking in, so I didn’t mess around with it. Details that do stand out are the Benelli branded grips and clutch perch cover, and Leoncino fuel cap. The exhaust is also a cool looking affair with a polished collector under the belly of the bike, and a stainless muffler with two exit pipes, again bearing the Leoncino name. There’s even a lion on the front guard, and adjustable front brake lever.

 

Cassons Cruisetec

 

Overall finish quality is really good, and I was a bit surprised to hear the TRK 502 (which Benelli Australia stressed is a sport-tourer – not an adventure-tourer as stated on the Benelli website) shares the same engine (with different mapping and gear ratios) and platform, although there’s a significant weight difference between the two machines, the score is vastly different.

A fun little commuter, the Leoncino takes everything in its stride

A fun little commuter, the Leoncino takes everything in its stride.

At the end of a week of testing I was extremely impressed by the Leoncino, it’s one of those LAMS machines which doesn’t feel restricted, that powerplant is just exceptional and will happily do anything you need with plenty in reserve when you reach legal limits. Handling, particularly on the open road is great, and those wide ‘bars offer a bit of leverage, with ideal low speed maneuverability, U-turns while doing photos were exceptionally easy and confidence inspiring.

The bike is heavy to roll around by hand in your garage, but it’s also quite low and I never really felt that weight while riding around.

Good fuel economy, strong performance, cool looks and plenty of character, the Leoncino really impressed

Good fuel economy, strong performance, cool looks and plenty of character, the Leoncino really impressed.

So all up the Leoncino really ticks all the boxes, $8,990 ride-away is a competitive price, and it’s a characterful bike that really speaks to its Italian heritage, even if it’s now owned by a Chinese company.

If you like the styling and the price keeps you interested, definitely give this machine a go, it’s got the goods and is worthy of a look in, if you’re in the market. It’s ideal for a learner, and won’t be grown out of like some of the smaller capacity options, and if you’re fully licensed but want something a little more constrained, but fun, relaxed and with enough go to have fun, the Leoncino is ideal.

Benelli have put great effort into their badging and it really shows

Benelli have put great effort into their badging and it really shows.

Benelli Leoncino – Second Opinion with Jeff 

I had a quick spin on the Leoncino (Lion, or Lion Cub) and came away impressed, although I’m not a huge fan of the name! I’ll just call it the Benelli 500! My very first look at the bike was when Kris parked it in the carpark we use for BikeReview HQ. For a bike made in China, the quality is impressive, the Italian design unmistakable. The finish is nice and the welds and machining neat. I love the styling, aside from the number-plate holder, and after having a spin around my local area I’m looking forward to spending more time on the 500 when we get our long termer in a few weeks.

The Leoncino has a torquey, eager power curve that won’t stretch your arms but is impressive for a LAMS bike and on par with the best of the parallel twin 500s. It pulls from low revs yet spins up fast and is thrilling enough to put a smile on the dial of even experienced riders like myself. Clutch action is smooth but heavy and the gearbox positive although I would say it is slightly agricultural in shift, as pointed out by Kris.

 

Kawasaki Versys 1000 SE

 

Ergo-wise the Leoncino has big bike feel with a non-intimidating seat height and the ‘bars to ‘pegs to seat triangle are a really comfy fit and natural layout. The seat is stylish, but rock hard with sharp edges that dig in. Vibes are not bad for a parallel twin and much better than on the TRK 502 sibling, which shares the same platform.

2018 Benelli Leoncino

2018 Benelli Leoncino

I was impressed by the brakes on the Leoncino. They have just the right level of initial bite not to unsettle things yet loads of power as lever pressure is applied more heavily. The rear is strong and offers good feel as well, and I am a heavy rear brake user so appreciate that. As mentioned, we get our long termer shortly so stay tuned for lots more on the Big Cat.

2018 Benelli Leoncino

2018 Benelli Leoncino

2018 Benelli Leoncino 500 (LAMS)

benelli.com.au

Price: $8,990 On-Road (Ride-Away)
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometre
Colours: Leoncino Red, Vulcan Black, Steel Grey, Terrain Brown

Claimed power: 35kW(47.6hp)@8500rpm
Claimed torque: 46Nm@6000rpm
Dry weight: 170kg
Fuel capacity: 15L

Engine: Liquid-cooled, in-line two-cylinder, four-stroke, DOHC, four-valves per cylinder, 499.6cc, 69 x 66.8mm bore x stroke, 37mm throttle body, 11.5:1 compression ratio, Delphi MT05 ignition, NGK CR8E spark plugs
Gearbox: Six-speed
Clutch: Wet

Chassis: Steel tube trellis frame, steel tube trellis swingarm
Suspension: 50mm USD forks, preload adjustable, lateral rear shock, preload & rebound adjustable, 112mm travel
Brakes: Bosch ABS, dual semi-floating 320mm rotors, radial four-piston calipers, single 260mm rear rotor, single piston floating caliper
Wheels & Tyres: Aluminum alloy, 3.50 x 17in, 4.50 x 17in, 120/70 – R17, 160/60 – R17

Dimensions:
Seat height: 785mm
Wheelbase: 1443mm
Overall Length: 2139mm
Overall Height: 1120mm

Instruments: LCD display

2018 Benelli Leoncino Gallery

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