Benelli 654 Turismo
Benelli 654 Turismo
Four stroke, transverse four
cylinder, DOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
603.9 cc / 36.9 cu in
Bore x Stroke
60 x 53.4 mm
4 x 22mm Dell'Orto carbs
Mechanical breaker points
44.7 kW / 60 hp @ 8700 rpm
5.1 Nm / 5.1 kgf-m / 37 ft-lb @ 7000 rpm
Swinging arm, adjustable shocks
2 x 265 mm discs
Single 260 mm disc
190.5 kg / 420 lbs
12 Litres / 3.2 US gal
Review Which Bike?
The Benelli 654 is full of surprises. The
handbook, in Italian, has a page headed caratteristiche techniche. A-Level
Italian or a moment's thought will give you the meaning. You may not grasp
alesaggio e corso, which features on the same page, but the adjacent figures are
self-explanatory: 60mm x 53.4mm. Now, four times Pi r² where diameter equals 60mm. . .
Wait a minute, here's what I'm looking for, the cilindrata totale or engine size
to you, Giacomo: 603.94cc.
That is, id est, 604cc. It's not a 650 at all.
And you thought the Japanese were cunning.
You may wonder, too, why Benelli want to enter the field of the middleweight
transverse four at all, when there are already some 25 models in that range,
more than half of which are four-cylinder machines. The answer, of course, is
that Benelli produce the only range of transverse fours in Italy, where high
import tariffs neutralise Japanese competition.
The question should properly be directed towards
TKM, the new Benelli Concessionaires' parent company. They've chosen to import
Benellis into Britain, created 40 new dealerships to improve spares and
servicing (and spares are already being dramatically reduced in price, though
this probably has more to do with the strength of sterling) and mounted an
aggressive campaign in the bike press to promote the new venture.
You've probably seen the legend "The Benelli
Brothers never made Pizzas" - I'm sure they didn't, but their bikes cost a lot
of dough. At £1,999, the 654 is £450 more than the Honda 650Z, its nearest
counterpart among the Jap fours, and £600 more than Kawasaki's 650B, which has a
double overhead cam. So, what do you get for your money?
To start with, you get a motorcycle which,
despite its effectively Japanese engine, looks and feels unmistakably Italian.
Where the 504 has definite sporting tendencies, the 654, with its higher bars
and footrests mounted slightly forward, offers more of a touring position, but
the square styling, small fly-screen and cast wheels emphasize the sports
breeding. The finish is excellent and the attention to detail reassuring (the
colour has been described by one road-tester as a 'dull, brick-red' — the
handbook calls it Amaranth'; either way, it drew many favourable comments).
The seat is broad but rather shallow, as is
the tank, so at first the bike feels bigger than it looks. The switches, while
sensibly laid out, look like rejects from an Italian Monopoly game in shape and
colours. The designers have also chosen to cap the rear wheel nuts with a
rubber, a fanciful idea which serves no purpose other than to complicate the
chain-adjustment procedure; to get the caps off you have to remove the
silencers. . .
The 654's compactness gives it a
heavyweight look despite its clean lines. Certainly it feels heavier than the
4001b dry weight claimed by the manual, but this initial reaction may well be
caused by the problems of manoeuvering the bike in a small space, a process not
helped by the slightly restricted steering lock. The flimsy ignition key is
inserted into the handlebar-mounted switch: a touch of the progressive choke and
a dab on the starter button and the engine rustles and whispers into life.
There's no need to check that the sidestand is up — it won't start if it's down
— so I wait a moment to allow the last of a shower of rain to die away and then
I'm out onto the road.
The day is hot and muggy, the road already dry after the shower. The bike feels
tight, but the throttle is responsive and the engine zips punchily through the
gears. I feel I'm going faster than I am, an illusion most fours create when
they're kept in the lower half of the rev band but, with only 1,100, miles on
the clock, I'm reluctant to use whatever acceleration lies above the 6,000rpm
mark. Even so, I feel a little disappointed; there's still that sensation of
weight, as though the bike has a hidden load somewhere.
Just as I think I might open it up a little, a
cloudburst forces me to take shelter. I don my lightweight oversuit and set off
into the gloom and the Benelli, suddenly and surprisingly, becomes a joy to
ride. I sweep into roundabouts, cross white lines with abandon, brake firmly
without problems and roll at less than walking pace between lines of cars to the
head of traffic queues. The roadholding, steering and balance are exceptional. I
reach home in sunshine again, and take a closer, less dismissive look at the
The Michelin M38s are an obvious contribution to
the roadholding; they've replaced the less rain-worthy Pirellis. The Brembo
brakes are linked a la Guzzi, and I found no difficulty in adapting to using the
rear brake pedal only (for those who don't know, the pedal operates the front
left disc and the rear disc simultaneously, giving 70 per cent of the load to
the front and 30 per cent to the rear; the right-hand disc is operated
traditionally, and is used for heavy braking or extra control). They worked
perfectly in the wet but the discs, being cast-iron, left the front of the bike
covered in a solution of rust and water.
The duplex frame and tubular swing arm offered no
clues as to why the Benelli handled so well, though Marzocchi suspension helped.
But if it handled so well in the wet, 1 thought, what would it do in the dry?
Using the Benelli as a commuter bike, there was
little opportunity for me to stretch the motor's claimed 60bhp. Around town,
fuel Consumption Averaged 46mpg, though a leaking petrol tap gave one reading of
38mpg. The pilot bulb failed after 200 miles. The mirrors remained
vibration-free up to 50mph, and were still more than useful above that speed.
The light clutch and precise steering gave an easy ride in traffic, though the
steering was slightly heavy on corners. Acceleration was always smooth and, as
you would expect, gear changing was unnecessary for most overtaking in town. The
oil warning light flickered capriciously and the indicator warning light showed
"on" after the leftside indicators packed in at 1,350 miles: the idiot light
panel is theatrically pointless anyway.
The toolkit, in its nasty plastic roll, is
reasonably inadequate - the screwdriver is a bad joke and there are no alien
keys — but then it's hidden under the seat after all. There's no helmet lock,
and the rear indicators are integral with the grab rail, demanding a complete
rethink for the fitting of carriers. However, these problems didn't affect town
riding which was always pleasant, although towards the end of the 400 miles I
covered in and around London two faults developed. One was disconcerting, but
not serious: the motor began cutting out on the overrun, especially on corners.
The second, while only a nuisance, suggested
future problems: the gear lever required two hooks of the left foot to change
up. No amount of clutch adjustment improved matters, and though clutch-less gear
changes were easily effected from third gear up at speed, second to third needed
the clutch and some care if the inevitable false neutral were to be avoided.
A motorway dash to a cricket match in Bath gave me the opportunity to test
the engine, which was now spinning freely, and the whole machine to the limits.
A couple of blasts down the A3 had already indicated a pair of potential
trouble-spots: the centre stand grounded much too easily, and the front
suspension seemed a little soft. Two up on the M3, however, the suspension
caused no problems whatever the speed, as the broad bends demanded little Ground Clearance.
What motorways do show up, though, is top end
performance. And in that respect the Benelli 654S is lacking.
Acceleration was steady up to an indicated 85-90mph. From there the bike gained
speed — you could hardly term it "accelerated" — to an indicated 110. And that
was as far as it would go. Not very impressive, even if we were driving into a
strong headwind on an exposed road, because the usually-generous speedometer
error hid a top speed of just under the ton.
The engine seemed under no strain, however. Petrol consumption worked out at
exactly 50mpg, and no oil was used. During a break in the cricket I took our six
foot, 12 stone wicket keeper for a run up half a mile of private road alongside
the ground. Here, too, the Benelli accelerated smoothly up to 95 but no further.
My passener was impressed with the machine's stability which, it's true, was
scarcely affected by his weight.
I took the A4 back to London. The conditions were
perfect; a late summer's afternoon, warm and sunny, with a light tail wind, and
female pillion passenger. We were in no hurry, but the empty roads invited high
speeds and the Benelli's precise handling and bedrock road-holding helped make
the run pure joy. The engine's power characteristics allowed effortless 90mph
cruising on the open roads as well as coping with walking-pace speeds in the
centres of villages and towns. Where the motorway had been a slog, the journey
back felt like flying.
The 654 redlines at 10,000 rpm, which would give 120mph. It also has a yellow
line at 8,000 which no-one could explain. Maximum power is a claimed 60bhp at
8,700, or 105mph,and the top gear will pull cleanly from 2,000 revs (25mph). As
the frame far exceeds the engine's demands on it, all the Benelli's broad spread
of power is useable. We did see almost 120 on the clock coming back and I'd
guess that, when the motor's fully run in, a true 110 mph would be quite possible
without recourse to a dry track, racing leathers, etc.
The bike again returned 50 mpg and used no oil.
The lights proved poor, which was only to be expected from the low-rated
electrics, while the low Ground Clearance restricted the scratching that the
handling could offer.
Yet, for all that, the ride was immensely
It would be tempting at this point to make out a case for a comparatively
low-performance spec machine such as this, especially as I liked it, but it
would cloud the issue. Put at its simplest the Benelli is, like most
motorcycles, a collection of compromises. Unfortunately, more than most, it
falls between several stools. With its outmoded sohc engine, it's clearly not a
sports bike. Nor is it a tourer: its light weight and chain drive are evidence
of that, as are the smallish capacity tank, giving 150 miles between stops, and
the general sporty styling.
At 600cc it's no town bike. It will probably be
considered as a sports tourer, but in the light of Suzuki's shaft-driven
16-valve 650 the Benelli's lack of a positive designation is cruelly
highlighted. I'm afraid that, between them, Italy's Ales-sandro de Tomaso and
our own TKM are backing a loser.
Mr de Tomaso may not be too worried; the 654 could sell well in Italy where it's
protected from competition and, besides, he's also Mr Ducati and Mr Moto-Guzzi,
among other things. But TKM have a struggle on their hands with this model.
Benelli's 250 and 350 fours at least have the cachet of
exclusivity to compensate for their necessarily high purchase price. At £2,000
the Benelli 654S is an expensive way of remaining anonymous.