Three wheels made even more attractive and fun.
MP3, the three-wheeler that tilts its front wheels and leans into corners like a motorcycle, is one of the smartest vehicles that Piaggio has ever produced. Rain or shine, the MP3 will never backfire on you; I can’t think of a safer “two-wheel” urban commuter. In fact, the MP3 responds like it has just two wheels, and that is where the fun starts. In poor weather conditions, this nimble, narrow-track machine remains absolutely surefooted, with solid directional stability, safe steering response, and great stopping power from its triple-disc brake system.
On a wet and very cold afternoon in Berlin, with a mix of rain and snow making the stone-paved Unter den Linden shine, I was testing the Gilera Fuoco, a more aggressive-looking 500cc derivative of the MP3, when a guy aboard a BMW R1200GS passed me. When we approached a wide roundabout, I easily out-braked him and, while still leaned over, opened the throttle, causing the rear tire to slide. I countersteered to control the drift then slowed just to see the astonished look on the other guy’s face. That was a lot of fun, but it also demonstrated how relaxing riding through town can be on the MP3—rain or shine.
Piaggio unveiled the latest, slightly updated version of the MP3 at the EICMA show in Milan, but media attention was focused on the Vespa Primavera. More recently in Paris, the MP3 had the floor all to itself. Paris is a special place for the MP3 because the French capital has the highest concentration of three-wheelers, which are enormously popular for their ability to sneak safely through congested traffic.
For 2014, the MP3 comes in two versions: LT and LT Yourban. LT stands for Large Tread and indicates the MP3 family has undergone an increase in front-wheel track to comply with European regulations that do not require a specific driving license for three-wheeled vehicles with a track greater than 460mm; both MP3s now measure 465mm (18.3 inches). Thus, MP3 is now in an even stronger position in Europe, making it accessible to middle-age motorists who don’t want to spend hours in traffic but would never attempt to get a motorcycle license.
While MP3 LT Yourban remains almost untouched in 300cc trim, MP3 LT has a slightly revised exterior design, with new turn signals and a driving light at the base of the grille. Major innovations all come in the technical department, starting with a new foot-operated “integral” braking system and introduction of a 500cc version, replacing the previous 400cc model.
The new powerplant is a substantial evolution of the 500cc single that has been on duty with various Piaggio and Aprilia scooters. Power remains unchanged at 40.1 hp at 7,250 rpm and 34.4 pound-feet of peak torque at 5,250 rpm, but the main change is a twin-spark ignition that improves combustion, smoothness, throttle response and, above all, fuel economy. The result is an MP3 with performance potential like never before and better mileage than the previous 400c version.
Capacity of the underseat luggage compartment has been increased to 50 liters as a consequence of the increased wheelbase, which now spans 60 inches, 2 more than the 300cc version. Though heavier, the MP3 500 remains very agile while becoming much faster (100 mph) and quicker off the line. Maybe this improved performance will trigger attention from the American public and lead Piaggio to introduce this excellent machine to the US market.