2015 Yamaha Smax | FIRST RIDE

Freeway Legal Fun Meets 80 mpg

When Yamaha 's presentation on the new-for-2015 Smax declared the 155cc scooter ready for freeway travel, the doubt in the room was palpable. Squeezing freeway performance out of some 250-class motorcycles can be about as much fun as trying to strangle a bobcat, so what hope did a 155cc scooter have? To Yamaha's credit, the first few miles of our test ride were along a two-lane highway with a 65-mph speed limit, and the Smax was displaying 70mph before anyone had time to say, "this is never going to work." One box checked, then.

The 2015 Smax has two color options; Matte Titan (left) and Ultramarine Blue, for the same $3,690. Mechanically the scoots are the same, but the blue colorway get red brake calipers. Snazzy!

The Smax is a new addition to the US lineup in 2015, settling into the significant hole in Yamaha’s scooter line between the 125cc Zuma ($3,390) and the 395cc Majesty ($6,850). Significant mostly because California state law asserts that engines below 149cc are not allowed on freeways. Also significant because California is the largest market for scooters (and motorcycles, for that matter) in North America, so offering a scooter rated for the highway for less than $7,000 was a priority. Also, clearly Yamaha has one eye on the competition, and wants a slice of the market being served by Honda's PCX150 and Suzuki's Burgman 200 ($3,499 and $4,999 respectively). The Smax will sell for $3,690. Two boxes checked.

While it’s never been a huge compliment to say one is good at filling in holes, the Smax seems to fill out Yamaha’s scooter line nicely for a decidedly fair price and compares favorably to the competition. Building the Smax in Taiwan saves Yamaha money, but it was also designed there, where registered scooters number roughly half of the population of the country. What the consumer gets, according to Yamaha, is a scooter built in Asia for the Asian market (where they know their scooters) but held to the quality standards of Yamaha Motor Corporation.

A sensible three-face meter shows all pertinent data. Under typical acceleration the tach sits between 7,000 and 8,000 rpm.

As far as we can tell, that’s exactly what the Smax delivers. The motor is peppy, emitting a polite purr from the low-slung exhaust via extremely refined fueling and CVT (continuously variable transmission) clutch engagement. The chassis is solid, and feels more agile than its claimed 328-pound curb weight would suggest. Unlike some step-through scoots there’s plenty of ground clearance when the sides of the 13-inch tires are asked to grip, and the suspension soaks up bumps willingly considering there’s only 3.1 inches of travel in the fork and 3.6 inches in the shock.

Fear no freeway! The Smax was verified via GPS at 77mph; not bad for 155cc.

Disc brakes front and rear add a touch of premium to the Smax’s personality, too. Neither the 267mm front or the 245mm rear brakes offer loads of feel, but there’s enough power to lock both wheels or, if you’re not a hooligan journalist, bring the Smax quickly to a halt. As with the mechanical bits, aerodynamics are surprisingly good. The prominent windshield deflected air away from all but the head and neck of this 6-foot-2 tester, and because the floorboard is completely flat (a true step-through design) the riders legs have room to hide from wind and weather. There’s nothing extraordinary about the Smax’s performance; mechanically, it’s simply good without being surprising.

32 liters of under-seat storage locks securely and was spacious enough for the author's helmet, gloves, and armored jacket during stops.

But perhaps most satisfying is that it never feels cheap. Yes, it’s small and doesn’t include ABS, or any adjustability for aerodynamics or ergonomics. But in the context of a sub-$4,000 scooter, quality is high. A sharp, well-designed dash displays speed, time, and trip info digitally, while engine rpm and fuel level are shown with analog dials. Lifting the seat exposes 32 liters (8.5 gallons) of storage space, engineered to fit a full-size helmet with room to spare. The gas cap is located opposite the ignition in the cockpit, which means no need to go under the seat and put the fuel pump near your cargo. Also, the cap swings down on it’s own pivot instead of inducing fits of rage by popping off in your hand (Honda, we’re looking at you).

Problems? Yes, a couple. The non-adjustable windshield works well, especially on our test ride which saw temps in the mid-60s, but it also means riding in a hot climate could get stuffy. Long legged riders might experience the same issue of handlebars hitting knees that yours truly struggled with, though everyone else will be glowing at the Smax’s awesomely tight turning radius.

When in Little Italy... remember not to take yourself too seriously.

Needless to say, nits are hard to pick. The Smax bombed along city streets, kept up with freeway traffic, swallowed a set of riding gear during lunch, and got 81mpg (claimed) doing it. It’s nice to see Yamaha invest in this segment of two-wheeled transportation, and do it with the same type of gusto that makes the company’s naked and sport bikes fun to ride. Getting the Smax together with comparable scoots from Honda and Suzuki to see which one is best is an exciting prospect (well, some of us are excited). Stay tuned...

The Smax in it's natural environment; suburbs. Note the completely flat floorboard which leaves lots of foot room, and even an accessory bag that sits in the footwell for extra storage.
The 2015 Smax has two color options; Matte Titan (left) and Ultramarine Blue, for the same $3,690. Mechanically the scoots are the same, but the blue colorway get red brake calipers. Snazzy!
Fear no freeway! The Smax was verified via GPS at 77mph; not bad for 155cc.
A sensible three-face meter shows all pertinent data. Under typical acceleration the tach sits between 7,000 and 8,000 rpm.
There's no ABS, but the Smax's disc brake setup works well. If you get the Smax in blue the calipers come in red.
The Smax cockpit. In-dash storage doesn't lock (or close) but is still handy. Note the gas cap's convenient location, opposite the ignition.
An LED taillight adds a touch of quality to the Smax, not to mention safety. It's very bright.
The Smax headlight is flanked by LED "position" lights.
The 155cc engine is compact but strong, cooled via the gills in the plastic shroud to feed the diminutive radiator. Note the passenger footpeg, which tucks neatly away when not in use.
32 liters of under-seat storage locks securely and was spacious enough for the author's helmet, gloves, and armored jacket during stops.
When in Little Italy... remember not to take yourself too seriously.