Its the three-wheeled scooter for the urban executive, so how does the Piaggio MP3 stack up against the more traditional competition? We take a closer look in busy Auckland City to find out...
Words and Photos by Mathieu Day-Gillett
Long before the Japanese cottoned on to the idea of popularising the modern three-wheeled motorcycle, Italian firm Piaggio was already leading the dual front wheel charge with the MP3 scooter.
The 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 for 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.
Yep, no bull, you did read that right.
The MP3 – which to the untrained eye is a premium European scooter – falls into the same category as the Yamaha TriCity and can be not only be registered as a car saving the owner a considerable amount of money on ACC levies, but it can also be ridden with a regular car licence. That also has the bonus of the rider not needing to go through the rigmarole of setting a licence again. That said, there are drawbacks to not going through the Class 6 licence and motorcycle registration, but we’ll get to those later.
When I last rode a Piaggio MP3, we were quite enamoured with the odd little Italian three-wheeler, going so far as to call it “a top pick for the urban jungle” back in early 2016.
Back then the MP3 we tested was the 278cc Yourban sub-model, which was not only of a respectable size and boasted devastatingly good front end feel thanks to the signature dual front wheel setup of the model. 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 now sports a $14,490 price-tag.
On the face of it $14.5 grand is admittedly quite a lot for a scooter, but as we’ve already said, you now get a lot more bike for your money with the premium MP3.
Starting with rider comforts, the MP3 not only boasts a large and luxurious seat for the rider, but it also has pillion accommodation some full-sized touring motorcycle pillions would certainly be jealous of.
The fairing has also grown and now features a large tinted windscreen to keep the elements away from the rider which also adds to the visual presence of the MP3 to boot. 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 quite like you would more likely find on the dashboard of a car.
The MP3 really has gone from a mid-sized scooter with a twist, to a true premium offering in a short amount of time. Everything feels high quality, with no hint of the cheap, flimsy plastic found at the opposite end of the scooter market, minimal-to-no engine vibration making its way to the rider, and plenty of comfort to make even the longest trip through city traffic untaxing.
Underseat storage is respectable, with space for two full-sized helmets – or in our case, one full-sized helmet, an overnight bag, a large bottle of water and two of premium apple cider for our host as thanks for putting us up during our stay in the big city.
With its 350cc single-cylinder engine and CVT transmission, the MP3 isn’t exactly a powerhouse of performance but offers plenty of go with minimal effort 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 at the time of purchase.
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 somewhat.
The biggest problem with going the car registration route, however, is that unlike every other scooter on the road you won’t be able to exploit common perks of motorcycling such as being entitled to ride in marked bus lanes.
It is a philosophical problem that requires some serious consideration before you ride off the dealership lot, but once you’ve ridden away the MP3 is quite a joy.
Thanks to the twin front wheel assembly front end grip is sublime, making tipping into corners confidence inspiring as the bike holds its line with minimal effort.
Braking too is also above average with the ABS backed forward petal-style discs clamped by single-piston calipers 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. Much like the Yourban I tested back in 2016, 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, you simply get on the throttle and the suspension unlocks allowing for normal riding.
It's simple and easy motoring, and while the beeping of the suspension locking system does get a little annoying in stop-start traffic it does go a long way to alerting other traffic to your presence.
The MP3 offers much more than a scooter in many ways and it does go some way to address the bike's premium pricing.
With the only scooter the MP3 truly competes with being the aforementioned cheaper and much smaller Yamaha TriCity, the MP3 sets itself apart with its quality build and more powerful engine. The latter is capable of propelling the MP3 to above the posted open road speed limit. The MP3 even features a USB charging port built in to the waterproof glovebox which is incredibly useful.
However, the MP3's biggest rival isn't found in the rest of the scooter market or even the motorcycle market for that matter. It is hands down one of scooters on the market in terms of packaging, ability, versatility and build quality. But with a price point approaching $15,000 once you pay your on road costs the reality is many Kiwi motorists will overlook the neat package that is the MP3 in favour of cheaper second hand Japanese car imports and that's a real shame.
PROS AND CONS 2019 PIAGGIO MP3
ENGINE: 330cc Single-Cylinder
PROS: Comfortable, well appointed, easy to use, self-supporting
CONS: Executive style begets executive price...