Editor Score: 85.5%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 7.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score85.5/100

Maybe somebody beat you with a kickstand when you were a child, and you carry an irrational fear of them? Let it go, with the MP3 you can relax, you don’t need one. With a little practice, you can flip the right-thumb button inward just as you’re coming to a stop, which clamps the caliper to the ¼-of a brake-type disc which holds the MP upright. The people in the cars look at you with even greater suspicion. As soon as you twist the throttle to blast off, the lock releases and in town, most of the time, you’d never really know you had two wheels up front. (If you’re rolling backwards, though, the upright lock won’t release until you thumb the lever!) The lock-up mechanism even has its own ECU.

Things that can go wrong include: You can be creeping slowly ahead in traffic with your feet up, just fast enough to disengage the upright lock without realizing it, and you can then topple over sideways in the middle of two lines of cars waiting to turn left. I don’t know if the MP3 will fall all the way onto its side, but it definitely falls far enough that you need both legs off that side to heave it back upright ASAP, red-faced. And it ain’t light; 577 pounds dry is Piaggio’s claim. That’s about the same as the contestants in our 2013 Uber Scooter Shootout, but then you sort of expect a little extra heft since the Piaggio gives you an entire extra front wheel and suspension.

051614-2014-Piaggio_MP3_500_Tor_Paris-8-633x388

Our Euro correspondent Tor Sagen during the launch of the updated MP3 500 in 2014.

It’s also a good-sized scooter, plenty big for two, with good storage, and it’s pretty cool that it gives you all that for $8,999–quite a bit less than a BMW C650GT and fully $2K less than a Suzuki Burgman 650 ABS (the MP3 also has ABS and even traction control). As a matter of fact, Piaggio hasn’t brought the MP3 to the U.S. since 2010, but it’s back for 2016 with a raft of improvements.

2014 Piaggio MP3 500 ABS/ASR Review

Its 493cc liquid-cooled four-valve Single is now fully ride-by-wire, and puts out a claimed 40.1 horsepower and 45.5 Nm (34 lb-ft) torque. Piaggio says that’s enough to push the MP3 up to 89 mph (don’t tell anybody I saw 98 indicated). Nobody will be able to complain about throttle abruptness, thanks to the CVT transmission.

Forty horsepower are plenty for a scooter; dropping the hammer when the light turns green leaves everybody in the dust and drowns out the annoying “beep” the MP makes when the thing that keeps it upright stops doing it. In spite of Peter Egan’s observation that the real purpose of a trike is to allow you not to miss any bumps in the road, the MP3’s 16.5-inch track means you can avoid a lot of them just like on a motorcycle. And it deals with the ones you can’t avoid pretty well thanks to nearly four inches of wheel travel up front, and 4.25 inches out back, controlled by a pair of preload-adjustable shocks.

A new three-channel ABS system developed with Continental manages each wheel independently to prevent lockup. Strangely, the MP needs a lot of lever pressure to get the tires chirping, with a wooden feel TR described last week in this three-wheeler comparison. Now there’s ASR, Piaggio-speak for traction control, disable-able with a dashboard button.

Front wheels are up from 12 to 13 inches, and now pack one 258mm brake disc each. There’s more room for both rider and passenger now,  more accessible underseat storage, and there’s a new glovebox atop the new dashboard with a USB port. The front’s been given a facelift and an LED running light, the rear end is completely redesigned.

IMG_5431

Speedo, tachometer, trip computer, glovebox with USB port… not bad. Brake levers are non-adjustable though.

To 5-foot-8 me, it’s all pretty swell; the broad seat’s not low, at a claimed 31.9 inches, and not narrow, so it’s nice to be able to just lock yourself in the upright position, which you can do with the button below about 2 mph.Taller people complained about the seat bolster (which is removable but leaves two holes visible), but the bolster’s there to solve a complaint from the previous model of passengers sliding forward. The new adjustable windshield, in its middle position, lets people my height see right over, and is remarkably aero and quiet at freeway speed – and the fairing is wide enough to keep your body out of the windblast, too.

You can squeeze one full-face and one open-facer under the seat, where there’s a light, a 12V outlet (180 watts) and a nice hydraulic prop to hold the seat up. The weird bulge at the top of the photo covers the emissions stuff needed for CARB compliance.

You can squeeze one full-face and one open-facer under the seat, where there’s a light, a 12V outlet (180 watts) and a nice hydraulic prop to hold the seat up. The weird bulge at the top of the photo covers the emissions stuff needed for CARB compliance.

Around town, surprisingly, you can still lane-split through gaps about as easily as the average sport-touring bike, which is a must-have for us California riders – the bike is narrower than the handlebars. Speaking of California, we were hoping for some el Nino to kick in so we could try the MP3 in the rain; it’s real reason for being is so that you’ll never lose the front end again in a low-traction situation.

What we found instead of water was a beach parking lot full of sand; you actually can get going 10 or 15 mph and throw the MP3 on its side in a way that would have you instantly down on a two-wheeled scooter; it countersteers just like a motorcycle. The MP just does a few side-shuffles  and carries on, no problem. When one front wheel’s losing traction, maybe the other one isn’t. And when both are losing grip, the simple triangulation of the thing keeps you up until you cease doing the stupid thing you’re doing.

IMG_5417

A physicist would need to tell us if the MP has twice the front grip of a normal scooter, but I did throw it into a few experimental tight corners faster than I would’ve dared on anything with one front wheel. The MP’s front tires were totally unfazed, and Piaggio says the thing will lean as much as 40 degrees. The only weirdness is that you feel input from two front wheels not always 100% in agreement, which is an easy thing to get used to given the payoff. The front end is so planted, you can get the traction control to hiccup out back if there’s a bump midcorner. On the other hand, you can turn off the TC in a big dirt parking lot, and it feels like it wouldn’t take much practice before you’d be performing power slides that would make Jay Springsteen jealous. (It would, however, take more practice than I could get in that day before one of the dog walkers also in the dirt lot was gonna call the cops.)

Sexy in that full-figured way, no? The redesigned rear end vaguely reminds me of a Porsche 928...

Sexy in that full-figured way, no? The redesigned rear end vaguely reminds me of a Porsche 928…

Here in the modern Dust Bowl, an extra front wheel might not be a big advantage, but I could totally see the attraction if you lived in a walk-up apartment with street parking in a foggy old-world city full of damp cobblestones, and had no choice but to send the wife out in the snow for supplies and to drop the kids at school. You don’t have to spend much time in places like Milan to understand the many reasons you’d rather not own a car, along with the other many reasons the MP3 makes more sense than a two-wheeled scooter, some of them for safety and some just for fun. Piaggio, in case you didn’t know, is the world’s largest manufacturer of scooters last time we heard, and has sold a ton of these in Europe.

2016 Piaggio MP3 500ie
+ Highs

  • Maybe you can’t lose the front?
  • Peppy for being nearly 600 pounds
  • Nice to be able to lock yourself in the upright position
– Sighs

  • Brakes could be stronger
  • Seat feels higher than spec says
  • Ineligible for flat-track competition

All politics are local, so are all scooters. If you live where it’s damp a lot and like to ride like the wind, the MP3 is a tough scooter to beat. Even where it’s parched, come to think of it, it’s a lot of really safe, really unique scooter for $8,999, and EiC Duke even says “it’s one of just a few scooters with a solid cool-factor rating.”

2016 Piaggio MP3 500ie Specifications
MSRP $8,999.00
Type 492.7cc, Single-cylinder 4-stroke, 4-valve
Fuel System EFI
Ignition Electronic
Valve Train 4 valves per cyl.
Horsepower (claimed) 40.1 hp
Torque (claimed) 33.5 lb-ft
Transmission CVT
Front Suspension Articulated quadrilateral consisting of four aluminum arms sustaining two steering tubes, and leading arm suspension geometry with offset wheel axle. Electro-hydraulic suspension locking system. 3.7 in. travel
Rear Suspension Two dual effect hydraulic shock absorbers, preload adjustable to four positions. 4.3 in. travel
Front Brake Stainless steel double disc, 258 mm
Rear Brake Stainless steel disc, 280 mm
Front Tire 110/70-13
Rear Tire 140/70-14
Wheelbase 61.0 in.
Seat Height 30.9 in.
Dry Weight (Claimed) 577 lb.
Fuel Capacity 3.2 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy 52 mpg
Available Colors Silver, Black

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  • Old MOron

    To anyone who trades his cage for an MP3: welcome to the club! Now find a sand lot and practice your power slides.

  • Vrooom

    Living in Portland I commute via bike in the rain a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever not done it or crashed due to lack of front end grip, tires are better than 30 years ago, and one is a bit more cautious in the wet. However there is the front end power slides.

  • Stickyfrog ✓justified

    I have been riding an MP3 since 2008. First a 250 then the 500. They are really fun to ride but working on them is a bit hard with all the plastic that needs to come off. And last year I rebuilt the top end on mine after a piston failure and had to break the bike in half to do it.

    But I have to say this new model has me itching for a test ride. :) Dig the front glove box.

  • spiff

    Cool scooter…I have a favor. I don’t know if we all get the same ads or not, but i am tired of looking at Miranda and her ex boyfriend. Can you put a new ad there?

  • Ducati Kid

    JB,

    PIAGGIO with their ‘MP3’ Series has locked up the Three Wheeled vehicle market – suing everyone – Globally.

    Currently doing VESPA scooter work, they representing scooters to our Globe, a PIAGGIO nameplate.

    This market will prove interesting going forward …

  • Buzz

    These things are a must on Rome’s cobblestone streets, especially when you’re riding wearing your fancy Italian loafers.

    BTW, the MO website is a hot mess on an iPad.

    • DickRuble

      It’s a mess on a windows 8.1 phone too…

  • Tod Rafferty

    Ain’t checked in a few years, but last time I looked the 250 was 80 pounds lighter than the the 500.

  • Craig Hoffman

    A thorough and hilarious test. Would expect nothing less from JB.

    “And when both are losing grip, the simple triangulation of the thing keeps you up until you cease doing the stupid thing you’re doing”.

    That one nearly resulted in coffee on the keyboard syndrome…

  • DickRuble

    The redesigned rear end vaguely reminds me of …
    http://41.media.tumblr.com/58d481003a3ef80b1a147c595981db4b/tumblr_nd5n95weTR1rvcputo1_540.jpg

    BTW: Does it have cruise control?

  • DickRuble

    “A physicist would need to tell us if the MP has twice the front grip of a normal scooter”.. probably more than double because of the forks flexing differently due to their relative position vis-a-vis the turn.

  • johnbutnotforgotten

    As noted in the article, two wheels up front increases the likelihood of a front tyre being on a decent surface during braking and cornering so this improves stability and traction. The extra weight on the front end also helps more than the extra contact patch area, as traction is a product of downforce/surface area (more surface theoretically decreases traction) Most scooters tend to push the front end because there is too little weight up front. As not noted in the article, you can actually coast downhill (forward or backward) with the front suspension locked on the MP3 (i’ve got about 20,000km on my 250 and seldom put me feet down) but i wouldn’t let it get over about 5kph, as it’s like riding a tall, heavy shopping cart and steers exactly the opposite of the way it steers when you unlock the front end (transitions from one to the other can feel and look pretty aukward.)

  • John A. Stockman

    Great write-up Burns. A viable choice for someone like me who’s joint cartilage has been destroyed by my own immune system. Even tougher growing up in a family of accomplished motorcyclists and racers and not being able to spread your legs apart enough to even straddle a motorcycle seat by the age of 14. Numerous joint replacement surgeries and years of tortuous physical therapy was my ticket to ride again in 1983. I got to ride a 250 Piaggio MP3 when they were first available and it was easy to get used to, perfect for someone like me who was looking for ways to keep riding. Thanks for the cool review.

  • JerryMander

    Man I don’t think you’re supposed to ride those things on sand.

  • Chiaroscuro

    ‘I don’t know if the MP3 will fall all the way onto its side’ Trust me on this, I rode one from Florida to Alaska and back twice, they will fall ‘all’ the way over.

  • Randy Pancetalk

    my gf has one of these. They’re really a lot of fun in the twisties and super easy to ride around town. Very dorky looking, though.

    BTW, yes they do fall all the way over. My GF has dropped/crashed her a half dozen times. Needs frame sliders to protect the plastic.