2007 Piaggio MP3 250

At a stop light, the twenty-something pretty young blonde sitting in the passenger seat of a jacked-up Dodge Ram Hemi pickup truck looks wide-eyed at my demo scooter.  In an instant, she’s leaning precariously half-way out the passenger window, squealing, “Ooooooh, what iiiiiiiiiss that?  It’s sooooooooooo cool!!”  “It’s a Piaggio – an Italian scooter”, I say.  “I love it!” she squeals again, as the light turns green and the truck re-joins the parade of vehicles cruising the avenue.

Love or hate the concept, there’s no question the Piaggio MP3 has style that draws attention like a Highland steer wearing a red negligee.  People stare, and motorcyclists give themselves whiplash when they see this 3-wheel scooter.

Piaggio Scooters (part of the Piaggio Group, which claims to be “one of the world’s top four players” in the two-wheel transportation industry) astonished everybody by launching this 3-wheel scooter earlier this year.  Apart for its unique chassis configuration, the MP3 is like most scooters.  It has a ‘step-through’ body, floorboards with plenty of space for even size 13 Nikes, offers good protection from the elements, has ample storage space, automatic transmission, and is powered by a quiet, liquid-cooled 4-stroke fuel-injected engine.

But it’s the dual front wheels that make the MP3 a head-turner.  The front suspension is comprised of a parallelogram, allowing both front wheels to tilt, enabling the MP3 to lean into turns, just like a motorcycle.

At first glance, three wheels would seem to make the MP3 an ideal machine for beginners, but Wolf Hatheway of Top Gear Scooters/Vespa Edmonton says its just too big and heavy for new riders.  And he’s right. At 450 lbs., the MP3 outweighs the middleweight BMW F650 GS motorcycle by 64 pounds and is only one pound lighter than a Triumph Bonneville T100.

Getting the MP3 started and rolling is typical scooter standard operating procedure:  Ignition ‘on’; brake ‘engaged’; and hit the starter button.  The 250 c.c. fuel-injected engine lights instantaneously.  Here’s where the MP3 differs from the norm:  Release the parking brake lever and release the front suspension locking mechanism by hitting the handlebar-mounted ‘Lock/Unlock’ button.  (Careful!  Although the suspension locking mechanism holds the MP3 upright, once it is released, the scooter CAN fall over!)  Now twist the throttle to go, and the automatic CVT transmission accelerates the machine smoothly and quickly enough to satisfy any urban guerilla commuter.

I aim the MP3 for the river valley and up Groat Road to test the Piaggio’s handling mettle, and it’s surprisingly good.  It leans just like a motorcycle, and hitting bumps in mid-corner doesn’t upset the suspension.  Acceleration is decent, given the MP3’s portliness, but that weight translates into a reassuringly solid and stable ride that borders on luxurious.  One of the advantages of the 3-wheel layout is the MP3’s suspension locking mechanism, which can be activated any time the vehicle is stopped.  At any stop, you can sit with feet up.  An electronic sensor automatically unlocks the suspension when the throttle is applied.

Besides the automatic suspension locking mechanism, there are many other thoughtful convenience feautres.  A large, digital ambient temperature readout features prominently on the dashboard (which includes two trip meters and a day/date calendar);  the key has a remote release for the ‘trunk’ (large enough for an open face helmet); and there’s a storage compartment under the comfortable double saddle (Piaggio claims this space is large enough to fit a fullface helmet, but mine wouldn’t fit); and a swing-out hook allows a grocery bag to hang between the rider’s knees.

On returning the demo unit to the dealer, I have coffee with a Gold Wing- riding friend of mine, Jeanne.  Viewing the Piaggio 3-wheeler through the cafe window, she innocently asks, “What’s the purpose of the third wheel?”  That’s a good question.  Piaggio literature claims the two front wheels offers “more than 20-percent” shorter stopping distance than ‘normal’ 2-wheel scooters.  That’s a huge safety advantage.  Also, three wheels offer increased cornering traction when the road surface is less than ideal (such as in the rain or if there is debris strewn in the middle of a turn.)  Finally, three wheels provide a margin of increased stability at low speeds over rough surfaces.  (Even though the MP3 will fall over if not supported by the rider, I found there is sufficient friction in the front suspension to give some resistance to tipping over.)

So who’s the target customer for Piaggio’s unique MP3  3-wheeler?  For the right person, the MP3 has compelling features.  First, it’s adorable.  Think of it as the Smart car of scooters.  Everybody loves it.  It’s a fashion statement.  If you want to be seen and love meeting people, buy one.  Second, if you’re an urban commuter, there is no other production vehicle on the market that will give you the full, leaning, motorcycle experience AND the convenience of simply thumbing a button to make the scooter hold itself upright every time you stop.  Finally, the MP3 is quite fuel efficient.  I didn’t measure fuel consumption precisely, but $5.00 dollars worth of regular unleaded was enough to fill half the tank and take me about 100 kilometers.  The manufacturer estimates fuel consumption at about 52 mpg/5.4 l/100 km.

As of mid-June, the MP3 is sold out across Canada, but Sue Kuruvilla, spokesperson for importer Canadian Scooter Corporation, says a new shipment is expected to arrive within days, and a third shipment is very probable later this year.  For more information on the Piaggio MP3 250, see the Piaggio Canada website:  www.piaggiocanada.com.

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