We were snuggled into a conference room in the upscale Aloft hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, when PR man Peter Jones kicked off Kymco’s 2018 new-product launch by telling us that scooters in the U.S. market are “such a small thing, they’re not even really a thing… scooters and soccer, they’re just not a part of our culture.”

But the lack of scooter culture has made Taiwanese manufacturer Kymco itself a thing. After staying doggedly in the American scooter market for the better part of two decades, Kymco has a coast-to-coast dealer network, a good reputation for reliability and value, and is basically the only purveyor of value-priced, high-performance maxi-scooters.

¿Que? That’s right, Kymco’s flagship model is the new-for-2018 $5,999 Xciting 400i, and as far as I can tell, Piaggio’s $6,399 Beverly 350 is its only competition, showing how the market has changed in the last decade. Suzuki’s Burgman 400 retails for $7,999, but Suzuki didn’t import them for 2017; dealers may have leftover models. Vespa’s GTV and GTS look gorgeous and ride like champs, but their air-cooled mills don’t have the testicoli to keep up with Kymco. Honda and Yamaha have dropped all their mid-sized scooters from their 2017 lineups – like Mr. Jones says, selling scooters to us gringos is just not enough of a thing.

2018 Kymco Xciting 400i in the rain

Riding in rain is uncomfortable but feels safe on the Xciting, with its ABS brakes and solid, easy handling.

So what’s the thing we’re riding? The Xciting 400i ABS is replacing the Xciting 500Ri ABS. I’ve ridden that scoot many times over the last dozen years, and it was a good, solid bike, but it didn’t stand out – it was heavy and had an old-fashioned feel eclipsed by more modern designs. Kymco greatly revamped the engine, frame and suspension, delivering a modern and fun scooter that can run proudly with European and Japanese designs.

There’s a long list of improvements over the 500. The 400’s engine is a liquid-cooled, four-valve, fuel-injected Single rated for 34.5 horsepower at 7,500 rpm – very gutsy for this class. The steel-tube frame is new, as is the front fork and rear twin shocks. It’s restyled and offers an aggressive 42 degrees of lean angle, according to Kymco. Slick Kymco-branded twin radial-mount front brake calipers and Bosch’s small and light 9.1M ABS are standard, and the rear brake has a parking lock function. But maybe the biggest improvement is how lean and mean the 400 is at 425 pounds of claimed wet weight, compared to the 500’s portly 462 pounds.

So how is it to ride? Well, my only experience on the big fella was riding it in heavy spring rains on the winding country roads near Asheville, so I wasn’t able to really push the limits, but the limited riding I did revealed a fun, fast and capable scooter.

2018 Kymco Xciting 400i front

Kymco’s in-house design studio is catching up with its Japanese and European competition.

The Xciting is big. Big enough to accommodate two big people, and big enough to intimidate smaller riders with its wide stature and 31.9-inch seat. It’s heavy for a scooter, making low-speed maneuvering noticeably more challenging than smaller scoots – there are better choices for smaller and/or less experienced riders. Once you’re moving, especially at high speeds, the Xciting feels noticeably lighter than the 500 it’s replacing, but it’s very stable and steers easily, with more of a motorcycle feel.

More motorcycle feel, but still not a motorcycle. Yamaha’s TMAX (no longer available in the USA) and the Burgman 650 mount the motor between the wheels, isolating the motor’s mass from the rear suspension, but Kymco still follows the standard scooter model of an unsprung engine doubling as the rear swingarm. That makes it feel back-heavy and reduces the effectiveness of the front brakes and suspension, but luckily the rear shocks are well damped and do their job. I was also pleased with the rear brake’s power and feel. Some real engineering and development have gone into this model and it shows.

Power is impressive as well. The big Single is smooth and quiet, starting quickly and revving without flat spots. Thanks to the CVT, the power is always on tap but flat, so you won’t stretch your arms when you twist the grip to the stop, but it does build power all the way to redline, making high-speed passing safe and fun. This is a machine built for long-distance commuting and mild touring, with a responsive, sporty motor.

2018 Kymco Xciting 400i

The Xciting is big on amenities for this price point.

It’s sporty but not short on amenities. I liked the big underseat stowage (big enough for a full-face helmet and more stuff) and hydraulic struts that lift the seat. Sitting on the bike, I liked the firm, supportive seat and big, comfortable lumbar support. Wind protection is okay – the “sport” screen sends wind right at your chest – but there is lots of room on the seat and floorboards to adjust your body position on long rides. The rides will be long, too, with a 3.3-gallon tank and claimed 64 mpg.

At $5,999, the Xciting 400i offers a lot of features and performance for the money. Is it enough to make scooters a Thing? Probably not, but Kymco may be the last man standing when it comes to offering a high-performance, affordable middleweight scooter in the USA.

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