Piaggio MP3 Hybrid

Gas-Electric Hybrid Technology: Not Just For Prius Owners Anymore

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Carving through Rome's ancient, bustling streets on Piaggio's MP3 Hybrid, I'm more aware than normal of honking horns and rumbling buses. That's because the MP3's electric motor makes almost no noise at all.

I don't want to get left behind, so without slowing down I press and hold a button on the right handlebar. Suddenly the Piaggio is transformed, accelerating with the benefit of both gas and battery power. After one short burst of near 250cc big-scooter speed, I'm back in the pack

It's an impressive debut by a machine that brings a new era of environmentally friendly technology to the motorcycling world. Piaggio-which has invested $14 million on the project over the last four years-has adapted the hybrid gas-electric concept for two wheels. Or in this case, three

The Hybrid looks almost identical to a regular MP3. It's attractive by big-scooter standards, with an aggressive twin-headlamp stare, metallic-white paintwork and a thick dual-seat with pillion backrest. The big difference is the powerplant, an air-cooled electric motor that generates 3.5 bhp and 11.1 lb.-ft. of torque. It's joined by the 124cc, liquid-cooled combustion engine.

Our test began in Rome's Villa Borghese, a large park criss-crossed with narrow roads and paths. Top speed in electric mode is theoretically limited to 20 mph, but I quickly managed 26 mph downhill. That's quite enough when mixing with bicycles and pedestrians.

Electric mode wasn't really good enough outside the park, in Rome's gladiatorial traffic. It didn't feel dangerously slow, but it was no fun being overtaken by cars and conventional scooters.

Despite its 531-pound weight, the Hybrid rumbled up to about 50 mph quickly under the power of its gasoline engine. It felt pleasantly smooth and effortless, suggesting it would cope with main road use quite well. And it gained a slight boost when I pressed the "Hy Tech" button again to select Hybrid Power and add the electric motor's output to the mix.

Handling was excellent thanks to the revolutionary MP3 chassis with its closely spaced front wheels, but can inspire a little too much confidence-as one journalist discovered lapping a roundabout. Ground clearance is limited-especially on the left side, where the low-slung electric motor sticks out-and can easily lever the rear wheel off the ground.

But if the Piaggio requires caution from quick riders on good roads, it's brilliant for less experienced pilots on bad ones. It retains the excellent ride quality of previous MP3s, as the independently suspended front wheels soaked up bumps that would have jarred on a normal small-wheeled scooter. Braking was also very good, thanks to 240mm discs on each wheel, with twin-piston calipers for the front pair. Although the Hybrid gets better gas mileage, the extra motor means less storage space than with a normal big scooter. The lockable rear compartment holds a full-face helmet- just barely. But there's no spare room under the seat.

The MP3 Hybrid goes on sale in late September, and is likely to be 50 percent more than the regular 250cc. You'd have to save a lot of gas to recoup that extra investment, and need to consider battery life and the cost of replacement as well. For all Piaggio's clever technology, the Hybrid is simply too expensive for most people right now and too slow in electric mode unless you want to ride where normal vehicles can't go.

tech
SPEC
Price na
Engine type Liquid-cooled single, permanent magnet motor
Valve train SOHC, 4 valves
Displacement 124cc
Transmission Automatic
Claimed horsepower 15 bhp @ 8500 rpm (engine), 3.5 bhp (motor)
Claimed torque 11.8 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm (engine), 11.1 lb.-ft. (motor)
Frame Tubular steel twin-cradle frame
Front suspension Articulated quadrilateral with four aluminium arms
Rear suspension Twin shock absorbers with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Twin piston calipers, 240mm discs
Rear brake Single piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire 120/70 x 12 Michelin Gold Standard
Rear tire 140/60 x 14 Michelin Gold Standard
Seat height 30.7 in.
Wheelbase 58.7 in.
Fuel capacity 3.1 gal.
Batteries Lithium ion
Claimed dry weight 531 lbs.
Contact www.piaggiomp3.com
VERDICT 3 stars out of 5
Great for environmental activists and image-conscious
Prius driving movie stars. Not quite zippy enough for the rest of us.
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