Like the 125cc MP3 Hybrid introduced last year, the new 300ie incorporates both a conventional four-stroke engine and an electric motor. In this case the former displaces 278cc, and as before it can be used on its own or in conjunction with the electric motor in "Hybrid Power" mode. The three-wheeled scooter can also run solely on electric power, as I rode it from our departure point near the Eiffel Tower during the new model's launch in Paris, France.
With its throttle wound to the stop, the MP3 struggled to keep up with traffic, and my colleagues were quickly disappearing in the distance. So after a couple minutes I reluctantly gave up solely on electric power and pressed the "Hy Tech" button on the bike's right handlebar to bring the ICE engine to life. And just like that, I was shooting forward at a dramatically faster rate of speed. Within moments I had sliced through the Parisian traffic and caught up with the rest of my party.
Piaggio claims the 300ie is its first hybrid model intended for regular paying customers, as the 125 was meant for corporate fleets or companies that need a vehicle for short city trips. The new machine certainly offers more performance, at least when using the gasoline engine. The liquid-cooled, sohc single-which is also used by the new, non-hybrid MP3 300ie-produces a claimed 25 horsepower, well up on the 125's claimed 15 ponies.
The 300ie Hybrid is said to have a 12-mile range in fully electric mode. The batteries get
What's surprising about the Hybrid 300ie is that the electric aspect of its drivetrain is unchanged. The electric motor produces just 3.5 bhp, barely enough juice to push the MP3 to 20 mph. As Piaggio points out, that's fine when it's used in parks and other areas of some cities where electric vehicles are the only ones allowed. But as I discovered when attempting to ride the Hybrid in zero-emissions mode, electric power alone is inadequate on public roads.
On crowded Parisian streets there wasn't room to get the MP3 near its top speed, but on a wide avenue running parallel with the Seine River it rapidly ran up to 50 mph, with quite a bit of throttle to spare. I was hugely impressed with the 300ie's maneuverability, and grateful for the traction of that second front wheel as I arced across a shiny manhole cover. The scooter has quite a bit of sporting potential, though one must remember that cornering clearance in left-hand turns is limited by the protruding electric motor.
But there's no getting away from the fact that the Hybrid has some serious drawbacks. The first is revealed when you lift the seat and discover that the conventional MP3's storage space is crammed full of batteries. Then there's the price: When the Hybrid comes to the States this winter, it will cost significantly more than the conventional MP3 500-which is itself quite expensive compared to other big scooters, and whose bigger engine gives notably better performance.
Will there be enough eco-conscious commuters to make it a success? In this economy, it's not looking good.