Accusations have been levelled at the efforts of Italian motorcycle maker Benelli for its range of bikes that seem to be somewhat reminiscent in design of a certain, other, Italian brand. Benelli’s offering for the middleweight market, the Benelli Leoncino, priced at RM29,288, does resemble the ‘other’ brand, but is not the same.

With Benelli coming under the umbrella of the QianJiang group of China, its manufacturing turn around has actually caught up with modern processes, as opposed to relying on updates on the same model, over and over. What many do not know is Benelli used to be owned by Alejandro de Tomaso, along with Moto Guzzi, back in 1970s.

This led to several powerful multi-cylinder motorcycles entering the European market, including the legendary six-cylinder Sei, the world’s first production inline-six bike. With styling by Carrozzeria Ghia, both the 750 and 900 versions of the Sei earned Benelli a reputation for producing smooth, good handling sports-tourers.

But, that was then and this is now, and the reality of it is Benelli motorcycles are designed in the works in Pesaro, Italy and production is carried out in China. To most consumers, China is sometimes a little hit and miss in terms of things like design originality and manufacturing quality though it makes almost all the world’s electronics.

Does this mean the Leoncino, styled as a naked sports machine and squarely set in the middleweight class, all that bad? This is what we set to find out when we were handed the keys to the Leoncino for a two-week test.

At the first approach, the Leoncino stands tall and slim, a function of its parallel-twin engine configuration. Styling wise, more than a few have remarked on a styling similarity to Ducati’s Scrambler and, indeed, there is competition to the Leoncino in the form of the 400 cc Scrambler Sixty2 at RM49,000.

The Leoncino is as fuss-free as motorcycles get, with a minimum of doo-dads and add-ons. The 500 cc, liquid-cooled twin produces 47 hp at 8,500 rpm and 45 Nm of torque at 5,000 rpm.

Hardly stump pulling power, you would think, but we were to find out there is a little more to the Leoncino than meets the eye. With DOHC and four-valves per cylinder, fed by a single 37 mm throttle body, the Leoncino does tick all the boxes for a modern motorcycle engine’s standard equipment.

A basic, minimalist ethos does permeate through the Leoncino, with the lines of the 12.7-litre (13.5-litres including reserve) fuel tank following the trellis frame closely. Our review model came in a fetching shade of Leoncino Red – the other option being Vulcan Black – which we found quite in keeping with the bike’s character.

Swinging a leg over the 790 mm tall saddle, we found the seat itself to be fairly firm but narrow in front to allow riders to better get the feet flat on the ground. The one-piece seat includes a very flat pillion which our female passenger found to be supportive, but did remark about the vibration coming through the seat.

Reach to the 870 mm wide handlebars is close, very suitable for shorter riders and the wide bars themselves give a lot of leverage for hustling the Leoncino though the bends. The rider is placed in a very upright riding position, which is not a bad thing, and the short flyscreen supplied with our review model was there more for decoration than any real effort at diverting the wind blast.

This means a very wind in the face style of riding, in the old school manner. Tucking forward a little takes some of the effort away but keep your grip on the handlebars light as the air pressure on your shoulders can cause a weave in the steering.

Not the bike’s fault at all but for riders who aren’t used to a heavy bike – the Leoncino comes in at 186 kg, closer to 200 fully fuelled – with a shortage of top-end horsepower, be advised this is how bikes were ridden back in the 70s. You want that authentic old school feel? You got it.

Setting off on the Leoncino, clutch effort is middling and we had no issues with first gear engagement. Lever throw was a touch on the long side for our size 10 boot, but all riders should not find this an issue, with gear engagement being quick and precise for what is ostensibly a budget middleweight motorcycle.

Riding around both town and country on the Leoncino, we found the bike quite enjoyable. There is enough power in the engine’s mid-range to keep things interesting but there is not enough power to kill you.

For shits and giggles we pushed the Leoncino to the edge of its performance envelope and, yes, Virginia, it will get up there. Not quickly, but out on the open the highway, Benelli’s ‘Little Lion’ had enough grunt to stay with and cut through traffic in an acceptable fashion.

Taking corners on the Leoncino was an exercise in trust. Despite coming with 50 mm diameter upside-down forks, there is no adjustment available. Taking corners at medium speeds with pillion on the back, we could feel the front tyre being pushed, and were grateful someone in Benelli Malaysia saw fit to shoe the Leoncino in a set of Pirelli Angels.

Throwing the Leoncino around, handling right on the edge was a little ragged and we did not expect that much more from it. But, at highway speeds, the Leoncino did show that is was, indeed, capable of taking corners in an entertaining manner.

Hard acceleration through the bends would sometimes show a little flex in the frame and swingarm. A touch of the rear brake to settle the monoshock to stop the Leoncino from a slight wallow when heeled over and all was well again.

Speaking of brakes, it has to be said that we have previously been less than impressed with the brakes supplied on a few Benellis that crossed our hands. However, in the case of the Leoncino, the twin radial-mounted callipers clamping 320 mm discs did the job, although we noted some fade when pushing hard through a series of bends involving accelerating hard then braking hard enough to get the rear wheel floating.

The Leoncino felt best cruising around slightly above the highway speed limit and there was enough roll-on torque from the twin for some point-and-squirt shenanigans while changing lanes and weaving through traffic. This is what we liked most about the Leoncino, especially when in fifth or sixth gear where it was most entertaining.

We noticed vibration coming through the bars and pegs of the Leoncino while riding around but it was not annoying. We would put this down to budget considerations when designing the Leoncino and leave it at that.

In any case, we got used to the behaviour of the engine after a couple of days. When things got numb in the bum department after some hours in the saddle, we just moved around a bit to find a slightly more comfy spot and felt a little more padding might be good.

Benelli spent some thought on rider conveniences, with LED lighting all round and a clearly legible LCD display inside the cockpit, though this old rider found things a little hard to make out without the use of bifocals. The speedometer is digital, while the tachometer is a bar readout as is the fuel gauge.

For fuel economy, we got about 3.8 litres per 100 km, which is well in keeping with the Leoncino’s performance. Whacking the throttle to the stop for a high speed run consumption dropped to 5.4 litres per 100 km, again, something we expected.

A lot of thought did go into the Leoncino’s design, from the little details we noticed around the bike. The Leoncino mascot – Leoncino means ‘Little Lion’ in Italian – on the front mudguard, the Leoncino name on the grips, the Benelli logo on the seat and brake callipers – indicate that the Leoncino might be cheap as middleweights go, but it isn’t bargain basement.

So, who needs the 2018 Benelli Leoncino, priced at RM29,288? Most obvious is of course the daily rider, who wants a machine with some go to it but doesn’t want to break the bank.

The other is the young rider wanting his or her first “big bike” and is still learning the ropes. Don’t get us wrong, experienced riders will like the Leoncino for what it is, a middleweight do-anything machine.

Competition in this class includes the Kawasaki Z650 at RM35,609 and closer still, the Honda CB500F at RM31,363. Alternatives include the Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 at RM48,017 and to a lesser extent, the KTM 390 Duke at RM28,800 and the Yamaha MT-07 at RM38,388.

So, for about 30 thousand in folding money, the Benelli Leoncino is worth taking a look at. Like we said earlier, enough power to be exciting, not enough power to kill you.