Road test: It's a bike, it's a car, it's a Piaggio MP3
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Piaggio’s MP3 has been rolling to a different beat since 2006 — long before the new wave of three-wheeled scooters and motorcycles came to market.
As such, we can essentially thank the team at Piaggio for bringing the utter brilliance that is a dual front-wheel steering system into the mainstream. Not only does it add significantly more grip to the front while cornering, it also means that here in New Zealand the MP3 can be registered as a car.
Yes, you heard us correctly, the MP3 — which on the face of it is a premium European scooter — falls into the same category as the Yamaha TriCity. That means it can be registered as a car (saving the owner a considerable amount on ACC levies) and it can also be ridden with a regular car licence. That means the rider doesn’t need to go through the rigmarole of sitting a Class 6 licence again.
That said, there are drawbacks to not going through the licence and motorcycle registration, but we’ll get to those later.
When I last rode a Piaggio MP3, I was enamoured with the odd little Italian three-wheeler, going so far as to call it “a top pick for the urban jungle” in early 2016. But now, three years on, our Piaggio hero has hit the gym and is now bigger and better than ever.
Now sporting a 330cc single-cylinder powerplant and a corresponding jump in overall size, the MP3 is a lot of scooter for tackling the task at hand — and it should be as it sports a $14,490 price tag.
On the face of it, 14 and a half grand is a lot for a scooter, but you get a lot of bike for your money with the premium MP3 scooter.
In terms of comfort, the MP3 not only boasts a large luxurious seat for the rider, but it also has pillion accommodation some full-sized touring motorcycles would be jealous of. The functional fairing features a large tinted windscreen to keep the elements away, while also adding to the visual presence of the MP3.
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Even the dash has been given some upmarket touches with a glovebox featuring a USB charging port for devices and soft touch material on the dash in front of your knees as you would more likely find on a car’s dashboard.
Underseat storage is respectable, with space for two full-sized helmets — or in my case, one full-sized helmet, an overnight bag, a large bottle of water and two bottles of premium cider.
With its 330cc single-cylinder engine and CVT transmission, the MP3 offers plenty of go for effortless riding around town. On the motorway, cruising along at 100km/h is a breeze and even trips between major cities isn’t beyond the ability of the funky Italian.
However, there are those drawbacks to keep in mind should you choose to forgo the motorcycle licence and registration when you buy.
Firstly, you’ll still be required to wear a helmet (and you’d be mad not to) and your MP3 will need to be fitted with numberplate up front as well as at the rear, which does hinder the pleasing aesthetics of the bike.
The biggest problem with going the car registration route, however, is that unlike every other scooter you won’t be able to exploit perks of motorcycling such as being entitled to ride in marked bus lanes.
It is a philosophical problem that requires serious consideration before you ride off the dealership, but once you’ve ridden away the MP3 is quite a joy.
Thanks to the twin front-wheel assembly, front-end grip is confidence inspiring, especially on slippery roads.
Braking is also above average with the ABS-backed brakes doing a bang up job of hauling the heavy front end up in a pinch.
But by far the best trick up the MP3’s sleeve is its ability to lock its suspension system up and remain upright without the need of a centre stand — all at the push of a button. I’ll happily admit it was incredibly fun to approach traffic lights, hit the switch to lock the front suspension up and coast to a halt without the need to put my feet down. Then, when the lights turn green, applying the throttle automatically unlocks suspension allowing for normal riding.
The MP3 has gone from a mid-sized scooter with a twist, to a true premium offering in a short time.
However, the MP3’s biggest rival isn’t found in the rest of the scooter market or even the motorcycle market for that matter.
Although it is one of the best scooters on the market in terms of packaging, ability, versatility and build quality its price point approaching $15,000 once you pay your on road costs means the reality is many Kiwi motorists will overlook it in favour of second-hand import car.
And that’s a shame.
Engine: 330cc single-cylinder
Pros: Comfortable, well appointed, easy to use, self-supporting
Cons: Executive style begets executive price