First ride: Yamaha X-MAX 300 review

The third way

By Alan Dowds

I'VE always split the scooter world into two. First, there's the small-bore scoot, sub-125cc, and quite popular in the UK. Perfect cheap wheels for commuting, city work and delivering pizzas, they're steady sellers.

Then, there's the maxi-scoot – a serious, 400cc-plus proposition, that hasn't made much impact in the UK compared with the rest of Europe. Here in Blighty, we seem to go crazy if a scooter gets much over 200cc or £2k – after all, you could get a proper bike for that?!

But there's a third way: the middleweight scoot. A 250-400cc machine, with enough cojones to take in a decent motorway stint without too much pain, before slicing through town without the hassle of a giant maxi-scoot. Sales for that sector, especially the 300cc class, are booming in Europe. So Yamaha's given its X-MAX 250 a capacity boost for 2017, to try and exploit this expanding market.

We're here in Florence for the day to try out the new beastie, and you couldn't find a better spot for the job. The ancient capital of Tuscany is a proper warren of narrow mediaeval alleyways, packed with brain-dead tourists. But not far outside town, there are some fabulous country roads for a blast too. We've got a decent route mapped out for us, with some hardcore city work, rural backroads, and even a bit of Autostrada. Let's check it out.

The X-MAXs are parked up outside the hotel, glinting gently in the spring sunshine. Yamaha's given the bike a hefty cosmetic overhaul, with sharp lines, and a high-quality feel about it. It looks a decent size – big enough to deal with longer jaunts, but compact enough for the worst in city traffic.

The good impressions continue when you get on. A keyless ignition is quite a premium feature, and it's easy to use. Leave the fob in your pocket, and one dial and two buttons operate the ignition, lock, seat, fuel cap and cubby hole lid. Smart. The switchgear and clocks have a quality look and feel – but the controls let the show down a bit, with basic, non-adjustable brake levers, and no parking brake either. The seat is a teeny bit high for me – perhaps a consequence of the new, larger under-seat storage space. But if you're short, it's worth checking you'll be comfy with the height.

And we're off. Yamaha's given the motor a decent upgrade – 6hp and 6lbft more than the 250, and you're very aware you're not on a learner bike. There's loads of grunt away from the lights, and I'm easily able to keep up with the Yamaha test rider on his X-MAX 400. Throttle control is spot-on, and the fueling super-smooth.

The 300 has a new traction control system, which I scratched my head a bit about in the presentation. Traction control? On a 300 single? But Yamaha reckon it’s a benefit to less-experienced riders, and a boon on slippery urban cobbles. And it did cut in once or twice on me – over some bumps, and later on out of town, so it does work, and could be a useful safety net, together with the usual ABS setup. The brakes get a heavy work-out here too – Florence morning traffic is more like some sort of vehicle-based MMA than a method of transport, and you need to be on your toes. Add in the suicidal pedestrians, and I'm very grateful for the strong stoppers.

After some pics and a coffee, we head out of town. The X-MAX really excels here actually – the weight reduction, extra grunt, revised frame and new tyres all make for a fine-handling little scoot. I'm all over the Yamaha rider on the 35kg heavier 400 as we blast up a twisty mountain road – his scooter tying itself in knots where the little 300 just flows through the bends. There's ample ground clearance, the Dunlop rubber has loads of grip on the dry, warm asphalt, and I'm having a ball on the little Yam.

So it works well in town and country – what about the motorway? Well, we take in a 10-minute blast on the way back, and the X-MAX easily gets up to about 100mph, with more to come. It's a bit breezy though, and things feel a bit more stable and relaxed if you dial it down towards 85-90mph.

Back at the hotel, and I'm pretty impressed with Yamaha's third-way option. If you lived even 40 miles out of town, this would make a great choice for the daily grind. It's agile and fun in the twisties, works fine at moderate motorway speeds, and is a killer urban tool as well. Okay, it's nearly £5k – but you're getting a load of quality design and equipment for that cash. Bear in mind also that some folk are paying that for their annual train season ticket, without even the guarantee of a seat.

Pick an X-MAX 300 in white, add on some of the neat Yamaha accessories, sign up for a tasty PCP finance deal, and you'll have a practical quality commuter that's fun to ride – and, arguably, the best of both the scooter worlds.

Model tested: Yamaha X-MAX 300

Price: £4,949

Engine: 292cc liquid-cooled single

Power: 27.6hp @ 7,250rpm

Torque: 21.4lbft @ 5,750rpm

Transmission: V-belt automatic

Frame: steel tube

Front suspension: 33mm RWU forks

Rear suspension: twin shocks, five-way preload adjustable

Brakes: 267mm disc, twin-piston caliper (front), 245mm disc (rear), ABS

Wheels/tyres: Cast aluminium/Dunlop ScootSmart, 120/70 15 front, 140/70 14 rear

Wheelbase: 1,540mm

Kerb weight: 179kg

Fuel capacity: 13 litres

HIGHLIGHTS

ENGINE

SOHC single, with a forged piston, ceramic-coated bore, semi-dry-sump lubrication system and forged crankshaft. The cooling system's been upgraded, and a higher compression ratio boosts efficiency.

FRAME

3kg lighter than the 250, with revised engine mounts to cut vibes.

WHEELS/BRAKES

New wheels, 15" front, 14" rear. Dunlop ScootSmart tyres, twin-piston front brake caliper, 267mm disc.

SUSPENSION

33mm front forks, five-way preload adjust rear twinshocks

ELECTRONICS

Keyless ignition switch that also operates fuel flap, seat and cubbyhole. ABS, switchable traction control, full LED lighting,

COLOURS

The brown colour isn't a classic, but the white and charcoal grey options look sweet.

ACCESSORIES

Yamaha's got a range of nicely-designed options for the X-MAX 300. There's sporty stuff like an Akrapovic can and shorter screen, and touring kit like topbox, taller screen and heated grips.