On Monday, Piaggio officially announced their MP3 400 ie three-wheeled scooter. Coincidentally, on Saturday, I finally got to ride an MP3 250, so finally, I can write about the MP3 with a bit of first-hand experience.
Piaggio claims 150,000 MP3s were sold in the last nine months. It appears only a small fraction of those sales were in the U.S., where a $7,000 (MSRP) 250cc scooter is a hard sell, especially with a well-publicized 400cc version on the horizon. Even a tech-junkie with a fat wallet would be happy to settle for a Vespa GTS until the MP3 400 ie arrives. Sadly, Piaggio’s 4-stroke, 4-valve Master engine (with liquid cooling and electronic injection) is not currently available in any U.S. models, so it’s unclear if and when we can expect the 34 HP 400cc version here (though we can still be thankful we’re not stuck with the seemingly-pointless 125cc version).
The 400cc model appears to utilize the same frame as the smaller models. The Gilera Fuoco, a 500cc version with a sportier body, is also in the works — but even less likely to be sold in the U.S.
I had the opportunity to ride the 250cc version this weekend, and I was suitably impressed. It’s certainly an attention-getter, even in Henry Ford Black, Corporate Fleet Silver, and Executive Maroon, the less-than-a-rainbow of colors provided for the U.S. market. While riding along with Phil from Pride of Cleveland Scooters, dozens of drivers and pedestrians asked about the extra wheel, and many more rubbernecked as we passed. At the Lake Erie Loop campground, it was the center of attention despite the wide range oddities present.
After a brief lap of a parking lot, I had the chance to take the MP3 250 for a spin. As a vintage scooter lover recently introduced to the marvels of modern scooters via the Genuine Blur, I’m a fan of smaller bikes in the 150-250cc range. The MP3 felt large and heavy compared to other 250s I’ve ridden, such as the Kymco Bet and Win 250 (which is no longer made). Ergonomically, it was well-designed, and it had a huge storage area that ran from under the seat and out the trunk. This area could store a three-year-old and perhaps some lumber, but surprisingly not a flip-up full-face helmet.
Once on the road, I rode conservatively, not wanting to drop a $7000 scooter, but it did seem to hug the road admirably. In the “unlocked” mode, it handled like a scooter, which is what it’s supposed to do. It’s easy to believe that the extra wheel gives you more grip and allows you to push the envelope a bit, but in most situations, it doesn’t feel different. That’s a plus, I guess, but a little hard to justify the price. As I’ve stated over and over since the MP3 was unveiled, it’s not a trike, and it can be dropped on it’s side just about as easily as a regular scooter if you aren’t properly trained and experienced. In an earlier story, I described the “locked” and “unlocked” hydraulic modes, but I now realize they were described to me a bit wrong. The “locked” mode does not automatically level the bike and lock the suspension as you slow down, the button must be pressed as you slow down to do so. This action, and watching for the warning light to tell you to press the button, sort of seemed like unnecessary extra steps to someone accustomed to putting his feet down. Still, it’s a neat feature.
On the highway, the bike was much faster, and infinitely more stable than my Blur, but I’d imagine most 250cc bikes would be. Still, I think the extra wheel and weight contributed some piece of mind. It did not feel underpowered at all, considering the size and weight of the scooter. Interestingly, I noticed that at higher speeds, the usually-subconscious act of countersteering was suddenly hyper-conscious, the only way to get it to turn was to push the opposing handlebar, firmly. Braking and suspension felt great, it was a clean ride with tight stops when needed. Controls and mirrors were well-placed.
The extra wheel is a welcome novelty and could accurately be described as a “benefit,” but is that benefit equal to the cost, weight, and technical complication? I’d think most people would be happier saving their cash and looking at other options in the same displacement range. While Piaggio marketing suggests that beginners could benefit from the locking feature, I’d think beginners would do best to learn on a standard bike and perhaps choose a more disposable bike as their first (can you imagine the cost of a front-end collision repair?). I see the target market of this scooter as tech-savvy well-capitalized types (already being a scooter fanatic couldn’t hurt) who must have the latest and greatest (and the attention that comes with it.) It’s a comfortable bike that would make a good commuter, or weekend tourer, but the price seems too high for most people, with many more-or-less comparable bikes priced much lower. The locking feature could be a big selling point for older riders or riders with leg-strength issues, but even they will find they still need to put a foot down now and then. Time will tell if the MP3 is ahead of its time, or just an expensive gimmick.