Sliding into the Benelli range as the big brother to 2017's Leoncino 500, the Leoncino 800 is a big step up from its LAMS class sibling.
The Benelli Leoncino 800 range was launched late last year and alongside the more modern-style 752S offers the first taste of what the brand’s growing list of mid-capacity models has to offer.
The Leoncino 800 is offered in two flavours. The standard Leoncino 800 rolls on a set of cast 17-inch wheels, while the Trail model – which as its name suggests is set up for light off-roading – comes with tubeless spoked wheels measuring 17-inches in the rear and 19-inches up the front.
The Leoncino 800 Trail is also differentiated by its classic off-road style including a high-mounted twin exit exhaust and small fly screen. Both models are offered in the same three colours - Rock Grey, Forest Green, and Terrain Brown.
Both bikes beat to a burbly drum thanks to the same 754cc parallel-twin engine with dual overhead cams and a 360-degree firing order. The exhaust note is sonorous as you wind open the throttle to unleash the Leoncino’s full 56kW.
For a bike that retails for such a low price, I found the Benelli Leoncino 800 delivers far more character and fun than it has any right to.
Its styling is classically Italian, with a steel trellis frame proudly on display with the engine slung underneath. The seat looks great with its faux leather with ribbed stitching and unlike the 752S, the Leoncino holds its number plate and indicators in the traditional position.
The engine not only provides plenty of oomph, charging forward from about 6,500 rpm, but it also matches this with a brilliant growl that makes winding on the throttle addictive. Unlike older parallel twins, this bike doesn’t sound like a sewing machine, it roars like the little lion that sits proudly on its front mudguard.
Braking comes in the form of a pair of 320mm discs clamped by Benelli’s in-house radially mounted four-piston calipers at the front and a 260mm disc and two-piston setup at the rear. Powerful stopping is just a squeeze away, and while I did think that the front brakes were a bit lacking in the feel department at first, this did improve as the bike saw more use.
The rider ergonomics are quite reasonable, with both brake and clutch levers being span-adjustable and the seat height is very approachable at 805mm on the standard Leoncino 800. The Trail sits taller at 834mm thanks, in part, to taller suspension. The handlebars fall easily to hand and the switchgear - with the exception of the TFT controls - is a lesson in no-nonsense, easy-to-use controls.
The TFT is one area where the Leoncino 800 shows its price point. While it is a big step up on the Leoncino 500 and displays the necessary speed, odometer and trip meters in stunning clarity, it lacks the added functionality that’s often baked into a TFT such as Bluetooth phone connectivity or navigation. The switches to control it are a bit clunky too, being mounted to the mirror brackets and only being usable while the bike is in neutral.
Despite this, I came to think of the Leoncino 800 as a contender in the “first big bike” market. For riders graduating from a LAMS class bike, it offers great style and fun performance at a very attainable price point of $13,990.
With Benelli soon releasing new TRK adventure touring models based around the same engine, I’m looking forward to more from the Sino-Italian brand.
BENELLI LEONCINO 800 AT A GLANCE
PRICE: $13,990 + on roads
ENGINE: 754cc DOHC Parallel Twin
POWER: 56kW @ 8,500rpm / 67Nm @ 6,500 rpm
PROS: Sporty engine, dynamically fun, European styling
CONS: No connectivity, TFT dash’s limited functions are only available in neutral