The TNT 300 was the first benelli that I rode, back in 2015 at the Madras Motor Race Track, and it was also in the elite company of many other interesting machines launched that year. My first impressions of the bike were mixed, but I did recommend it to my friends who were looking for style over substance in this segment. Some two years later, I’d have similar advice for potential buyers about its first-ofits-kind, fully-faired cousin, the Benelli 302R, which was launched in India late in July.

First things first. The Italian set of CKD wheels, which was showcased at the 2016 Delhi Auto Expo and offered for pre-production rides last year, has since been slightly tweaked from the outside — for the better. The dual-tone paint job and upgraded livery make the bike look quite sharp — with the Benelli lion engraved on each side, between the sexy 14-litre fuel tank and contoured fairing — and definitely sporty, with bits like the twin-pod exhaust and, most importantly, the riding stance on the 780mm-high seat. Nestled behind the neat headlamps is a well-laid out analog/digital instrument cluster that also indicates the presence of the all-important switchable ABS, by Bosch.

The familiar 300cc, parallel-twin unit, complete with liquid cooling and fuel injection, has been carried over from the TNT 300. When mated to a 6-speed gearbox, it produces the same peak power of 38 bhp at 11,500 rpm, and 26.5 Nm of maximum torque kicks in at 10,000 rpm. The power might seem sufficient on paper, but the engine takes time to respond to the throttle. That’s what makes the bike more akin to a relaxed commuter rather than a sports beast going bonkers. Similar to its naked cousin, though, you can still ride flat out north of the 8,000 rpm mark. Furthermore, the gearbox pulls off a perfect supporting act, with smooth shifts and an easy application of neutral.

The party piece remains the exhaust note. The underbelly exhaust, unlike the street bike, gets a conventionally positioned double-barrel kit and makes the 302R sound like an oldschool race bike, and the roar gets even sweeter as the revs climb up.

A kerb weight of 198 kg, a touch higher than the TNT, is felt while sliding the 302R in and out of a parking slot. Once astride, it more than makes up, and the ride is as nimble as a squirrel. You don’t feel short on confidence while committing to corners either, thanks to the steel trestle chassis, accompanied by sticky Metzeler 110/70-section front and 150/60-section rear tyres, mounted on the 17-inch alloys. Manoeuvring through city traffic demands minimum fuss, while the highway ride on the split seats, once you touch triple digits, reiterates the sports tourer characteristics over an out-and-out performance proposition.

The front suspension duties are handled by the 43mm telescopic forks with preload adjustment, just like the TNT 300. On the rear is a slight shakeup, with a preload-adjustable rear hydraulic monoshock that in its traditional attire is significantly different from the TNT. The setup comfortably swallows everything that potholes and monsoon roads throw at it. The twin discs up front and a single disc on the rear offer excellent bite, in conjunction with the ABS.

All in all, the bike is a bit lacking if you’re in the market for performance. At Rs 3.48 lakh (ex-showroom), the Benelli 302R is positioned between the KTM RC 390 and Kawasaki Ninja 300, but it fails to fully compete with (or even replicate) their capabilities. What it does perfectly is offer style, if not substance. It makes for peppy city commuting and grabs enough eyeballs, sometimes more than your pillion rider. The latest Benelli might not be the ideal sports bike, but it definitely is a confidence-inspiring tool that stands out in terms of both its audio and visuals — and the ABS might just be the clincher.

What we like: Exhaust note, riding in city traffic

What we don’t: Performance, weight

Benelli 302R

Engine:  300cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin
Max Power: 38 bhp
Peak Torque: 26.5 Nm
Price: Rs 3.48 lakh (ex-showroom)