The reason this segment still exists and growing at a gradual pace is because of the Royal Enfield brand. However, there hasn’t been any rivalry to speak of, until very recently, when Benelli and Honda wanted in on the action. While RE continued to improve on the quality of their bikes, the models became popular globally. And since this turned out to be a huge seller, others decided to jump on the bandwagon. What we’re comparing here, is the new Honda H’ness CB350, Benelli Imperiale 400, and Royal Enfield’s Meteor 350.
And while the rivalry began setting in rather quickly, Royal Enfield Bikes decided it wanted to bring out something new as well. The Meteor 350 is the brand’s latest offering and it replaces the old Thunderbird. Honda H’ness CB350 vs Royal Enfield Meteor 350 vs Benelli Imperiale 400
Honda H’ness CB350 vs Royal Enfield Meteor 350 vs Benelli Imperiale 400
Looks and equipment
Modern classic bikes have a lot of buyers around the globe, but every one of these motorcycles gets its own distinct identity. The Benelli looks the most long-slung of the three, and its length can’t be ignored, along with those spoked wheels. Apart from the circular headlight and rounded tank, it also features round analog dials and fenders bigger than the other two, giving it more presence. It is also the biggest motorcycle here and lures on-lookers very easily. This bike isn’t brimming with tech; all it gets is ABS. It’s a design that’s hard to fault.
The CB350 looks more like it belongs to the ’80s. Of course, it sports a circular headlamp and lengthy seat and looks more like a cafe racer. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a looker. The dual-tone paint theme on the tank, the chrome front fender, and the huge Honda Bikes badge – all add up to its appeal. Quality is top-notch, but it gets alloy wheels and full LED lighting, giving it a modern look. Of the trio here, the CB comes packed with the most equipment, like traction control, phone connectivity, and a slipper clutch.
Now we come to the Meteor: it isn’t exactly fresh, because there are lots of hints of the old Thunderbird that can be seen. The retro appeal is here to stay, but somehow, it isn’t as cool-looking as the other two. The Meteor boasts of a windshield and back-rest for the pillion, giving it the proper cruiser look. The bike features phone-connected navigation and sports a separate dial for the navigation display.
The Benelli is powered by the biggest engine here: a 374cc, single-cylinder motor, making 20.7bhp and 29Nm of torque. The motor of the Imperiale is punchy, but because of its weight, it feels like it is putting in a lot of effort to get up to speed. The engine appears beautifully built and offers the most grunt in this segment. For city use, we recommend staying in the mid-range. The motor comes paired to a 5-speed manual gearbox, which works well in urban conditions, and even on the highway, the motor never felt strained and was, in fact, refined.
However, in terms of refinement, it’s the Honda that tops the three. It may have the smallest engine among the three, but is surprising, the most powerful. Honda has undoubtedly been known for refinement and quality – and the H’ness lives up to it. Its 348cc, the single-cylinder engine develops 20.8bhp and 30Nm of torque, since it is the lightest bike here, acceleration is impressive. The mid-range is strong, despite its insufficient low-end grunt. The 5-speed gearbox works well, but we didn’t like the tall gear ratios. The engine likes to be taken to its limit and remains silky smooth throughout. And we really like the exhaust note. However, roll-on acceleration could’ve been better.
RE’s Meteor is powered by an all-new 349cc, single-cylinder engine that produces 20.2bhp and 27Nm of torque. It’s the slowest of the lot here but offers a good low-end grunt. This new unit is so much smoother than the old ones it replaces, but sadly, isn’t as refined as the other two bikes here. Performance, however, is impressive, and it’s the easiest bike to ride in the city. Out on the highway, the engine happily thumps along without any signs of strain.
Time to pick one
All three motorcycles are appealing – and for us, we think the Honda betters the other two for quality, performance, refinement, and value, but RE somehow, comes across as the best tourer here, while the Benelli is more about beauty than anything. But it’s the Meteor that will sell in large numbers, because of the brand’s image in India.