First ride: 2014 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport review

Piaggio's innovative three-wheeler gets traction control, ABS, and styling revisions for 2014

IN 2006 Piaggio took a large risk by committing to the production of the MP3, the first three-wheeler of its kind. The risk clearly paid off with the Italian firm now having sold over 150,000 units globally, a success that has led to the development of competing models such as Peugeot’s recently launched Metropolis and the Yamaha Tricity.

Of those 150,000 units, over 70,000 were sold in France alone, with the next largest markets in Germany and the UK. It came as little surprise that the new model was launched in Paris then, a city that seemingly has an MP3 on every street corner.

Although it may look similar to the old model, over 80% of this year’s MP3 500 is new. Following on from the trend of Vespa’s recently launched 2014 GTS 300 Super, the MP3 gets styling revisions and both traction control and ABS, the first of its kind to do so.

The 40hp 493cc single-cylinder engine has been heavily revised too and features a new intake, ride-by-wire and two engine modes. Piaggio claim these changes allow for a 50% decrease in overall noise with an added bonus of 15% lower fuel consumption.

The chassis has been strengthened at the rear making the new MP3 35% stiffer than the old model. Seat length has gone from 630mm to 790mm, a 25% increase to give both rider and passenger more space, and to help create the 50L underseat compartment that will happily hold two full-face helmets, with room to spare.

Also fitted is Piaggio’s PMP 2.0 software, a system that allows you to use your smartphone as a customisable do-it-all dash when connected via a USB cord that sits just behind the bike’s screen. It features things like maximum lean angle, torque values, and percentage of wheel slip. It’s mostly a gimmick, however it does have some useful navigation features thrown in and a ‘Find My Bike’ app that lets you locate your bike if you happen to forget where you parked it, as you do.

Looking at the MP3 it’s clear that it’s been designed to lend appeal to not only motorcyclists, but car drivers too - which makes sense considering anybody who passed their driving test prior to January 2013 can ride the Piaggio on a car licence alone. As well as regular front and rear brake levers, you get a pedal brake in the footwell, the dash looks like the kind you’d find in your average family hatchback and the ignition key is thick and car-like too. I think Piaggio can only be congratulated for the success they’ve had with the MP3, whether people class it as a motorcycle or not, getting drivers out of their cars and onto two or three wheels can only be a good thing.

Other than being slightly less nimble, riding the three-wheeler feels surprisingly similar to a regular scooter, and it more than makes up for its lack of agility with the extra outright grip it has to offer. Around the sun-baked polished cobbled streets of Paris there’s little traction to be had but you can push the MP3 as much as you want without fear of losing the front end, it’s brilliant. Start going a bit too fast around a corner and all you’re greeted with is a smidgen of manageable understeer - no front end wash out to be found here.

The traction control system, or Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) as Piaggio call it, works too. You can feel the system reducing torque to the back wheel when feeding the power in too eagerly on slippery surfaces. With only 40hp on tap and the stability of a third wheel, it’s questionable as to whether or not it needs it, and more importantly how much it adds to the price tag, but it certainly rounds up the MP3 to a seemingly uncrashable package.

Technically, you could ride your entire journey without ever putting your feet down too. On the right side handlebar is a switch that locks the front suspension in place, preventing the MP3 from leaning over when coming to a stop. The switch emits a beep when pressed and can only be activated at speeds under 10mph whilst the throttle is disengaged, it takes some getting used to but I found the best technique when approaching red lights was to point the MP3 where I wanted, flick the switch, and let it coast up to the stop line. With over 20 journalists on MP3s side-by-side, the streets of Paris became a sonorous cacophony of cardiogram beeps as we pulled up to and away from junctions.

The two front wheels are now 13” instead of 12” and come with a smart gloss black finish on the Sport model, whilst the Business edition gets a silver finish and different colour schemes on the seat and pillion grab rails. The front brake discs have increased in size too, going from 240mm to 258mm for added bite. They’re certainly no monoblocs, but combined with the ABS system, they do an acceptable job of slowing the 260kg MP3 to a halt.

Inspecting the dash at the end of our test ride I flicked through the saved data to uncover my average speed through Paris, a snail-pace 12mph. Unfortunate really as the MP3 promo video was full of aggressive riding on track and empty shell-grip roads showing off the true potential of the three-wheeler, something I would have liked to try myself.

The Piaggio will happily hold 90mph and I’d imagine you could squeeze another 10mph out of it on a long straight, at a constant 30mph the Italian firm claim the 500 will return 70mpg, giving you a maximum theoretical range of 186 miles from the 12L fuel tank.

Riding the MP3 for over four hours posed no comfort issues whatsoever and I suspect Piaggio is keen to promote the fact that the three-wheeler has a lot more to offer than just being a short-distance city machine. Through potholes and damaged tarmac, the suspension occasionally felt under-damped, jolting more than I would have liked for a £7,632 machine, but everywhere else the Piaggio did almost everything in an exemplary manner.

The added stability from the third wheel lets you push to bike to its limits in almost utter safety, making the bike’s performance exploitable in both summer and wet winters. And with optional extras like Piaggio’s heated leg cover, gel seat, handlebar muffs and top box, you can match the bike’s capability with sheer practicality.

And if it works in Paris, it should work in London too. The MP3 is certainly different and may not get the respect of leather-clad sportsbike riders, but it’s fun to ride and has that essence of… Je ne sais quoi.

Model tested: 2014 Piaggio MP3 500 Sport

Price: £7,632 OTR

Power: 40hp

Torque: 33.5lbft

Tank capacity: 12 litres

Seat height: 790mm

Colours: Blue metallic, silver matt and black matt

Availability: June