2017 Benelli TNT 300
Benelli put together the TNT 300 “Tornado” with both the entry-level market and the frugal commuter segment in mind. This sporty little ride brings an unintimidating powerplant to the table tucked away in a naked sportbike assembly that fits in with current styling standards and carries more than a little Italian DNA. Sophisticated enough to pass muster with the emissions folks, this ride nevertheless presents a relatively simple alternative to some of the available options on the market today. Competition is stiff in the bottom-tier streetbikes from some very well established names, and while Benelli enjoys some 100-year-plus roots itself, the name now belongs to the Qjian Jiang Group (QJ) based in China. Today I’m going to take a look and see how well the transition is working out for this storied Italian company.
Continue reading for my review of the Benelli TNT 300.
2017 Benelli TNT 300
A naked standard, the Tornado carries many of the design aspects we expect from the class, and you can still see shades of The Old Country in the curves of the lines. The entry consists of the usual isolated headlight can with a teeny-tiny flyscreen/wind deflector up top. Flyscreens don’t do much to begin with, and I have serious doubts as to whether this vestigial detail does anything noticeable at all.
A stylized front fairing adds a little flair at the front end and pulls double duty as it protects the swept area of the forks from dust and debris. A bit of pullback at the bars allows for an upright riding position, but the lines of the fuel tank allow the rider to tuck in with knee-hangers on the tank for some body English.
The subframe tapers off to nothing with a pillion pad and grab rails for a passenger or a handy place to bungee some cargo. At a glance, the Tornado pretty much toes the genre line, and it would look at home next to almost any other small-displacement naked from a distance, but fit-and-finish leaves a little to be desired overall.
Getting up close and personal with this bike starts to reveal some details that aren’t quite as polished as the competition. A trestle-type frame made of welded sections of steel tubing certainly looks strong enough, but the beads stand a little too proud for my taste. Engineered spars made of tubing is one thing, but the asymmetrical swingarm made from the same material is a little off-putting to say the least.
A set of 41 mm, usd forks buoy the front, but the ride they provide is a little on the soft side, and unfortunately, they come sans adjustment. I can’t ding Benelli for that; bikes in this range usually don’t.
The rear shock comes mounted off-center and laid over in line with the frame for a very clean look, and at least it comes with adjustable spring preload. Suspension travel at the axle measures out at 5.31-inches front, but only 1.65-inches rear, and cornering clearance is reduced on the right side due to the position of the muffler so you can expect sparks to fly in hard right turns, especially if you hit a bump while laid over.
The 17-inch, cast-aluminum rims mount an agile 110/70 up front and a 140/70 in back and the front wheel gets a pair of 260 mm discs with four-pot calipers to bind them with a single pot caliper to grab the rear disc. ABS is off the table, and while I can take it or leave it, there will be folks who could benefit from it, and for them, this might be a deal breaker. Seat height shouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings though; at 31.3-inches high, it’s near the bottom of the spectrum for the genre, but the 55.3-inch wheelbase is average so it doesn’t come off looking like small bike, just a compact one.
A four-stroke, parallel-twin engine serves as the beating heart for this sled, and though it’s rather unremarkable overall, it’s a proper screamer with a 12,000 rpm redline. The 65 mm bore and 45.2 mm stroke give us 300 cc on the nose, and a 12-to-1 compression ratio means you’ll be buying the high-octane champagne if you want to keep the thing from dieseling or knocking. Dual over-head cams time the four-valve heads, and the water jacket and radiator deals with the waste heat.
In spite of the electronic fuel injection and catalytic converters, this mill only manages to meet Euro 3 emissions standards. Bottom line here is there is a major engine redesign on the horizon for Benelli if it wants to keep selling in Europe and North America. The power figures are sort of middling with 37.6 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 20.21 pounds of grunt at 9,000 rpm. In light of the 432 pound curb weight, the power output is sufficient for a bit of fun without taxing a beginner’s skill set too much and should allow it to keep up with some of its better-known competitors out of Japan.
A standard, non-slipper clutch couples engine power to the six-speed transmission with a tough chain drive to make the final connection to the pavement.
Buyers in the U.S. can expect to pay $3,999 for this entry-level crotch rocket. It’s a budget-minded price tag, but remember that a good deal isn’t always a good deal over the long haul.
Since Benelli’s choice of design puts it squarely in the Big Four’s playground, I decided to take a look at some of the models the TNT 300 will be trying to outdo on the world stage. First off we have the Kawasaki Ninja 300 non-ABS edition. MSRP in the U.S. is a quarter-again higher at $4,999, and ABS is available for another three bills, but to be fair the Ninja isn’t quite as naked as the TNT 300, and the full front fairing makes it look like a lot more bike. Kawi runs a 296 cc mill that puts out a claimed 39 horsepower and 20 pounds of grunt, just a hair more that the 300 cc TNT engine, and close enough to be, well, close enough.
Honda makes a showing in this bracket as well with its CB300F. A relatively naked standard, the CB carries a similar isolated headlight can with cheek and chin fairings that close the front end off just a bit more than the TNT.
Instead of a parallel-twin, Honda goes with a 286 cc thumper for power and comes up a trifle short at only 30.4 ponies with 19.9 pound-feet of torque, but curb weight on the CB is only 348 pounds so it winds up closer in performance than what the raw engine numbers would suggest alone. Price on the CB300F is identical to the TNT 300 at $3,999, and in a side-by-side, the fit and finish on the Honda product is going to be a lot better, and more confidence inspiring at a glance. If that wasn’t enough, name recognition will be the final nail in the coffin for the Benelli product here, I’m afraid.
Last, but definitely not least, we have the YZF-R3 from Yamaha. Like Benelli, the Tuning Fork Company went the inline-twin route, but it punched the mill on out to 321 cc for a difference that registers on the heinie-dyno. Yamaha squeezes 41.4 horsepower and 21.8 pound-feet of torque out of the plant, and at only 373-pounds soaking wet, that extra power is immediately apparent. Not quite as naked as the TNT, the YZF-R3 closes off most of the engine with a full front fairing leaving it looking like more bike for the buck. The $4,999 tag is going to feel worth it, especially with the power of the Yamaha name behind it.
“Because these rides start out as kits, fit and finish suffers somewhat, and it doesn’t really pass muster with the cool kids to say the least. I see this bike doing well enough in areas with limited access to the Big Four, but it’s liable to take a beating if Benelli tries to go toe-to-toe with them in the U.S. market.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I agree with my husband about the fit and finish. I think if you’re going budget-basement, the price should be lower than your superior competition. However, the mechanic in me likes the idea of a kit....well...if I’m the one that gets to put it together. I like this 250-to-400 cc range for the entry-level sport bikes. They make nice commuters and can be your weekend fun bike."
|TYPE:||In-line 2 cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid cooled 4 valves per cylinder, DOHC.|
|BORE x STROKE:||65 x 45.2 mm|
|RATED OUTPUT:||37.6 hp @ 10000 rpm|
|MAX. TORQUE:||20.21 ft lb @ 9000 rpm|
|LUBRICATION:||Pressure splash lubrication|
|EXHAUST SYSTEM:||With two catalytic converter and two oxygen sensor|
|FINAL DRIVE:||Chain Drive|
|FRONT SUSPENSION:||ø 41 mm inverted forks|
|FRONT SUSPENSION TRAVEL:||135 mm|
|REAR SUSPENSION:||Rear swing arm with lateral shock absorber with spring preload adjustment|
|REAR SHOCK ABSORBER TRAVEL:||42mm|
|FRONT BRAKE:||Double floating discs ø 260 mm with 4 pistons per caliper|
|FRONT RIM TYPE:||Aluminum Alloy|
|FRONT RIM DIMENSIONS:||E 17"xMT3.5 DOT-D|
|REAR RIM TYPE:||Aluminum alloy|
|REAR RIM DIMENSION:||E 17"xMT4.5 DOT-D|
|HEIGHT EXCLUDING MIRRORS:||44.5 inches|
|SEAT HEIGHT:||31.3 inches|
|WIDTH EXCLUDING MIRRORS:||31.5 inches|
|GROUND CLEARANCE:||5.5 inches|
|UNLADEN WEIGHT:||404 lbs.|
|ROAD READY WEIGHT:||432 lbs.|
|PERMITTED TOTAL WEIGHT:||785 lbs.|
|USABLE TANK VOLUME:||4.22 gallons|