Hopping on a scooter and setting out on a daily commute happens every day in cities across Europe. In the States--especially in the Midwest--that same commute can be daunting in a full-size sport-utility vehicle, let alone on a smaller-than-a-Smart scooter.
Against that backdrop, it was with some trepidation that we agreed to add the Piaggio MP3 500 scooter to our long-term test fleet. Granted, the MP3 500 is no ordinary scooter. Packing a 493-cc, 40-hp, 31-lb-ft, four-stroke one-cylinder engine and weighing 538 pounds, the MP3 500 sits atop the Piaggio range, a "maxi" among scooters. But the $8,899 MP3's three-wheel configuration--two 12-inchers up front and one 14-incher at the rear--sets it apart from lesser two-wheeled brethren.
The dual front wheels provide significantly improved stability and road presence, while an electro-hydraulic locking mechanism allows the scooter to stand upright while at low speeds or when stopped. Used properly, the system technically allows a rider to pull up to a stop and never have to put his or her feet down to hold up the bike, but it takes practice--and it's impossible with a passenger on board. Probably the best feature is that the locking suspension does a great job of holding the scooter upright without a kickstand when it is parked.
Our Demon Black-trimmed MP3 500 sports black wheels and a five-lamp headlight system make it look more like an extra from a Mad Max movie than a granola-cruncher's green machine. Others on the staff think it looks like a cricket.
Our MP3 500 is fairly utilitarian as cycles go. A cavernous, lockable under-seat storage compartment is big enough for a laptop bag or a backpack AND a spare helmet, and there's a handy between-the-legs hook for carrying purses, groceries or take out.
Out on the road, the scooter is perfect for quick errands and running around town. Despite its heft, the three-wheeler is nimble and responsive, giving it a great edge in traffic. Longer jaunts require planning, because our scooter isn't fitted with the optional windscreen. Also, our cool, matching leather-trimmed Piaggio helmets (not shown) afford no face protection. So we have found that surface streets with top speeds in the 45-60-mph range are comfortable for cruising, but freeway rides can be a little daunting.
It's not that the scooter can't handle the work--the "twist and go" continuously variable automatic transmission and steady torque curve make it quick off the line and responsive at all speeds. The three-wheel suspension provides a stable ride right up to its stated 89-mph top speed. The brakes are equally good, especially the dual front discs that slow the action in a heartbeat.
Foul weather soon will arrive in the Midwest, meaning we'll be packing the Piaggio away. But we'll be looking forward to getting back in the saddle as soon as spring arrives. By then, who knows how much gasoline will cost, but at 40-50 mpg on the scooter, we won't mind.
SPECS & DATA
PRICING & OPTIONS
Base (includes delivery): $8,899
As-tested price: $8,899
Wheelbase: 61 in
Length/width/seat height (in): 85/30.5/30.9
Curb weight (lb): 538
493-cc four-valve one-cylinder
Power: 40 hp @ 7,250 rpm
Torque: 31.1 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
Fuel requirement: 91 octane
Transmission: Continuously variable
Front: Parallelogram composed of four aluminum arms supporting dual steering tubes, cantilevered suspension; electro-hydraulic suspension locking system
Rear: Two dual-effect hydraulic shocks, four-position spring preload
Dual stainless-steel 240-millimeter discs and floating two-piston caliper (front), single stainless-steel 280-millimeter disc and floating two-piston caliper (rear); aluminum 12-inch/3.00 tubeless 120/70-12 front, aluminum 14-inch/4.50 tubeless 140/70-14 rear
MFR/AW observed: 53.0/46.0 mpg
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