IN THE 16 years it’s been on sale, Yamaha’s TMAX has managed to define itself as the big scooter to turn to if you’re after something with more personality than your average big Burgman, Honda Integra or bulbous BMW C650GT. It’s the scooter to be on if you want comfort, convenience and a splash of attitude.
As someone who spends a lot of time in and around London, the TMAX is only an occasional sight on the city’s streets, but its homelands are Spain, France and Italy, where it’s the maxi-scooter de jour, mange tout.
In fact, the TMAX is the best selling maxi-scooter in Europe but what you need to know is that the 2017 model is the sixth generation of the TMAX. The latest incarnation has received a raft of changes and Yamaha says that it benefits from better acceleration, agility and lower weight. It’s also got a more sporty design with LED lights a great finish (with particularly nicely textured plastics) - it definitely looks more stylish and makes its competitors look reserved. It’s not short on functionality either, and that was obvious before I’d even ridden it, thanks to the keyless ignition system.
The TMAX range has also expanded; it’s now made up of three bikes: the standard TMAX (below in black), the SX (below in white) and the DX (below in blue).
We’re only getting the standard model (£9,399) and the DX (£10,699) in the UK; strip the heated bits, adjustable screen and power modes from the DX and you’ve got the base model TMAX. Price-wise, the DX is more expensive than the Burgman 650 Executive - £8,999 but its price is comparable to the BMW C650GT, which starts from £9,900, but has a price that soon start to grows once you begin adding speccing it up to the TMAX DX’s level. However, more than £10-large for a scooter is a serious amount of money.
I rode the DX but on the test ride in and around a roasting hot Cape Town. At first, I could have happily ridden the standard bike because who needs heated grips and seat when it’s over 30 degrees outside? No one wants their plums or punani reaching such dangerous temperatures.
I gave the heated bits a whirl and both seat and grips (each with multiple settings) quickly got warm. I know the seat worked well because soon after pressing the button, I felt that familiar sensation that led me to question whether I’d wet myself or if, in fact, the seat was doing its thing. (It was the seat).
The DX’s other gadgets give it a similar level of luxury. The electronically adjustable screen works superbly and operates faster and smoother than my mate Gareth in Wetherspoon’s on a Friday night. With the screen in its tallest position, all windblast and noise is eliminated – just the thing to make long motorway rides feel like less of a slog.
And the TMAX will happily handle a long, fast motorway ride; I’d happily take one to Scotland or some other equally far-flung and mythical place.
There are a couple of reasons for that, not least the engine.
The TMAX’s 530cc parallel-twin still makes the same 45hp and 39 lb/ft torque as before, but it’s now Euro4 compliant and thanks to a new airbox, injectors, and thermostat cover, it’s no slouch in town or on an open road.
Ready to roll, with its 15 litre tank full up, it weighs 216kg wet. It’s not exactly light, but swap the 6 and the 1 around, and you’ve got the wet weight of the C650GT, which means the 15 extra horsepower the BMW has over the Yamaha isn’t a big deal. It’s the same story with the Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive – it makes 55hp, but weighs a hefty 277kg. The Yamaha might have the smallest capacity and power of this bunch, but its numbers work for, not against it.
After 115 miles that at times was bordering on a journalist scooter race, according to the figures on the dash, the TMAX returned an average of 48mpg, so I’d expect that figure to be over 60 in town and with less thrashing.
Cutting through the centre of Cape Town immediately revealed that there’s plenty of poke for rapid traffic light getaways and swift urban progress. When that dual carriageway becomes a motorway, if you really need to hit triple digit speeds in the fast lane, the TMAX is happy to oblige and from 4-5k there’s always enough power at the ready to make a quick overtake.
Along with the Euro4-related engine changes, all the new TMAXs have traction control, which works by controlling the ignition timing and fuel injection. Don’t scoff – this bike makes enough power to mean you could lose it as you accelerate away from a slippery roundabout or junction drowned in diesel. Traction control is key to making this bike so ready face up to whatever conditions await on the other side of the garage door and on a sandy stretch of road, I got to feel it working hard to keep things in order.
The DX has two riding modes. Riding modes! On a scooter! This is all getting a bit silly, isn’t it? Said modes, which Yamaha terms D-Mode technology, are: Sport (S) and Touring (T). Both deliver the same power, but T mode gives you a much softer throttle map. Switching between modes can be done while riding, with the press of a button.
At the end of the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s a gimmick. In Sport mode the throttle response is so precise and crisp that I can’t see why you’d use Touring mode. I tried Touring for a mile or two in the centre of Cape Town and for those couple of miles, the TMAX felt flat, like it should be called the TMIN. There’s an argument for it in the rain, but with such a crisp, smooth and predictable throttle response and lovely fuelling in Sport mode, plus the traction control to help if the tyre-tarmac interface becomes fraught, I’m not the person to be making the case for it.