Piaggio MP3 – Test Ride

Good things come in threes – except, it seems, when it comes to wheels on vehicles. Most three-wheeled cars in recent memory (Isettas, Messerschmitts and Morgans to name a few) have been er, quirky, to say the least.

mp3_title.jpg

Test ride
The MP3 can be leaned and thus
is not an aberration.

And don’t even get me started on circus sideshows such as trikes or sidecars (and save the irate e-mails – you know I’m right). Sidecars and trikes must be steered around a corner, rather than leaned, which proves that they’re aberrations, not motorcycles.

With that said, enter the Piaggio MP3 250. No, you can’t download it and yes, it has three wheels. However, the MP3 gains The Bondo Seal of Approval because it actually leans into corners – just like a “real” motorcycle or scooter.

Watching the MP3 corner, it looks odd – but to simplify, the two front wheels are connected with a linkage similar to a parallelogram (no, it’s not a piece of gymnastics equipment) that pivot in unison, allowing the wheels to lean.

When riding the MP3, you can’t actually see the tilting front wheels, nor can you feel anything different when comparing it to the “normal” riding experience. You approach a corner, brake, lean into it and accelerate away – just like a “regular” scooter. Very smart.

The meat and two parallelograms

 

Test ride
By the time Antoine returned, the MP3 was crushed like a soda can

Piaggio is Vespa’s parent company and, seeing as there was already a perfectly good, fuel-injected 250cc, four-valve, four-stroke single cylinder sitting in the Vespa 250 GTS, it was easy to say, “That one will do quite nicely, thanks very much.”

BTW, there are two larger models on their way; The MP3 400 is almost identical in appearance to the 250 but boasts 34 hp (27 lb-ft) and will cost an additional grand at $9,995. The Fuoco MP3 500 sports different bodywork and with its liquid-cooled 493 cc four-valve single, power is increased to 40 hp at 7,000 rpm (31 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm). MSRP is $10,495.

The motor is very smooth with good throttle response over the entire rev range and, with a claimed 22 horsepower, there’s no problem taking it on the highway. One hundred km/h comes up at 6,500 rpm and at that speed there’s absolutely zero vibration with a fair bit of snap left if passing is required.

It’s easy to cruise at 110 – 120 km/h, although any remaining acceleration at that velocity is leisurely, to say the least. And, to satisfy everyone jumping on the “green” bandwagon these days, the MP3 has a catalytic converter, allowing it to meet Euro 3 emissions standards.

Test ride
Midget friendly.

The cockpit is reasonably accommodating, although it’s much better suited to those under six feet than over. My only real complaint was that the built-in mini backrest on the seat and available space on the floorboards locked me in one riding position – one where I didn’t exactly want to be.

This seems to be a Piaggio design philosophy, and hopefully, one day they’ll realize that larger people like scooters too. But, physical mutants (that’ll be those under six feet tall) will find it quite comfy as the seat narrows at the front, allowing them to place their tiny feet flat on the pavement at a stop.

The dash is very well laid out with legible analog tach and speedo with an LCD display for the dual tripmeters, time and ambient temperature.

Test ride
Neat and functional.

The right switch pod contains the unique, thumb activated, electro hydraulic button that locks the front suspension so it won’t tilt. Normally, this button is used in conjunction with the parking brake so the MP3 won’t flop over like a tranquilized rhino when you dismount. As soon as you accelerate to approximately three km/h, a sensor unlocks the tilt and you’re back to “normal.”

It’s quite entertaining to approach a red light and just before the MP3 comes to a stop, engage the “no tilt” button and stop with both feet firmly on the floorboards. When the light changes to green, just twist the throttle and you’re away. Never soil the bottoms of your boots again … or your pants for that matter.

And yes, the steering still functions with the wheel tilt in “lock” so you can still maneuver the MP3 around the driveway or in tight parking areas.

Test ride
MP3 enema.

The MP3’s claimed weight is 204 kg (450 lbs), which seems a bit lardy but is probably due to the extra pieces and complexity in the front end. For comparison, the Vespa 250 scales in at 148 kg (326 lbs), so the three-wheeler’s performance will be less sprightly but the rider doesn’t really feel the weight during normal riding.

The gas cap door and trunk are opened by pushing and turning the key in the ignition switch and I usually opened both – no matter which one I wanted to open. The gas cap itself is a rather cheesy plastic affair reminiscent of a $79 weed-eater. Despite jiggling and fiddling, there was no way for me to get a full-face lid in through the trunk, which seemed odd.

Pressing the button on the key fob allows access to the illuminated 65-liter under-seat storage area, which easily swallows a full-face helmet, briefcase, and/or laptop. All the storage on the MP3 is under the seat – surprisingly, there are no dash pockets, no glove-box, no nothing. And, for the record, I believe it’s possible to lock the key under the seat.

Test ride
12″ and insensitive. Very CMG.

The MP3’s 12-inch wheels are much less sensitive to road irregularities (such as grooved pavement) than the usual small scooter wheels, which really adds to rider confidence. Brakes are 240mm floating discs on each corner, the fronts boasting twin piston calipers while the rear has a single pot.

Under heavy braking, it has twice the front brake area, twice the front tire contact patch and the third wheel adds an extra measure of confidence in the rider’s mind.

Grabbing a handful of front brake brought the MP3 down to a controlled, safe stop in a remarkably short distance. Several times, I had both tires just a-howling and the scooter just … stopped. No muss, no fuss. Hammering on the rear lever locks up the back but the MP3 never gave any indication of losing stability.

Keeping up with the big boys

Test ride
Well suited for life in Toronto

One morning, I went for a spirited 250 km loop with some friends who are experienced sport tourers (machines included a BMW 1150GS, two Wee Stroms and a Ducati ST4) and the MP3 impressed the hell out of everyone by easily keeping up – even though they said it looked “weird” through the corners from behind. The scooter returned 3.78L / 100 km over this jaunt and I had the sucker pinned practically the entire time, so “normal” riding should see close to 400 klicks for each 12-liter tank-full.

After several hundred kilometers aboard the MP3, I came to a revelation about the two front wheels. In a nutshell, the system ensures better road grip on virtually any road surface but especially slippery, bumpy or uneven pavement.

It gives the rider more confidence bending the machine into a corner, especially if there’s a bit of sand or gravel present which could wash out and tuck a single front wheel, causing the dreaded face-plant.

One other feature of the MP3 arose during my time with it – don’t buy it unless you like meeting lots of new people and answering lots of questions.

Although the 250 cc MP3 is a bit pricey at $8995, it’s fuel-efficient, holds lots of stuff under the seat and provides good weather protection. Commuters should take note.


Spec Sheet

 

Specifications
MP3 250 Comments

MSRP
$8995.00 That’s a grand more than the Majesty or Bergman 400s and Piaggio’s own X9 400, but then you do get an extra wheel …
Displacement
244 cc … but 150 cc less as well. Be aware that there are 400 and 500cc versions of the MP3 now too.
Engine type
Single cylinder four stroke with liquid cooling As seen in Vespas.
Carburetion
Electronic fuel injection Dandy
Final drive
CVT transmission What else would you use?
Tires, front
2 X 120/70-12 Pretty normal for a scoot, but the two up front add a whole load to the stability factor.
Tires, rear
130/70-12
Brakes, front
Two X 240 mm disc with 2 piston caliper Mr. Bond thought the brakes were great.
Brakes, rear
Single 240 mm disc with 2 piston caliper
Seat height
780 mm (30.7″) Actually, that’s quite tall for a scooter, but then you don’t have to balance the thing either.
Wheelbase
1,490 mm (58.6″) A chunk less than the 400s
Dry weight
(claimed)
204 Kg (449 lbs) (claimed) About the same weight as one of the 400s
Colours
Graphite Black, Excalibur Gray, Cherry Red Excalibur Gray? Does the Lady of the Lake know about this? Maybe she rides one?
Warranty
12 months with 24 hour roadside assistance  Unlimited km
Road side assistance is always good. Two year extrended warranty is also available.

0 thoughts on “Piaggio MP3 – Test Ride”

  1. Just bought the MP3 250cc. I love it. Yhe only thing I would have liked to see is the the mirrors would be better if they were extended out a few more inches to increase visability. Other that that it is a fantastic fun ride.

    Dave.

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