After three days, the grin factor is as high as ever. And the Piaggio MP3 500ie is not just entertaining, it's also commendably useful and fuel-efficient. When the fuel gauge dropped to the top of the red reserve zone, I pumped in 10 bucks worth of premium unleaded. It only took seven and change. Eyeball estimate is between 55 and 60 miles per gallon. With a 3.2-gallon fuel tank, that's 150-plus miles between fill-ups, and, unlike many motorcycles, the tank opening takes the antivapor sheath of a California gas pump hose without any hassle.
If the 55-to-60 mpg figure doesn't measure up to the 100 or more of a smaller scooter, the 500ie is much more versatile, and fully capable of doing distance on the highway at real highway speeds. It's not life in the slow lane, and wind protection is very good, as is seat comfort.
Usefulness? For helmet security while shopping, there's locking space under the seat for a full-face helmet. Once you put your helmet back on, there is plenty of space groceries, and a light makes seeing into the chamber at night easier. It does get warm in there, so you might not want to put the ice cream in there. A power point can be used to recharge a cell phone or other small electronic devices, including, presumably, an MP3 player. And there is a "No Pets" sticker at the front of the compartment. Legal disclaimers are everywhere...
Add the built-in rack behind the seat and the grocery bag holder above the parking brake, and the big MP3 500ie works well as a car replacement. It's easier to park, too, although planning ahead to get it out is a good idea, as it does weigh well over 500 pounds. I haven't tried, but there is more than adequate room and power for a passenger.
A short conversation with Piaggio/Vespa brand manager Kevin Andrews cleared up some questions I had. The MP3 name comes from "moto projecto 3", which translates to something like "moto project with 3 wheels," and has nothing to do with music players. The lineup consists of 250cc, 400cc, and 500cc models, with the 250 and 400 sold throughout the world under the Piaggio name and sharing a more traditional scooter appearance. The 400 is larger and more refined. The 500 is the Gilera Fuoco in Europe, and its more aggressive looks are meant to make it more attractive to non-scooter riders, i.e. motorcycle people. Motorcycles and scooters in the same household? Hey, Mods vs. Rockers was a long time ago, and largely exaggerated by the press anyway.
I wonder how the MP3 500ie would look with a few extra mirrors?
Up: Power, handling, brakes, fuel economy, front-end lock-up for security while stopped or parked, rider comfort, wind protection, looks, and attention.
Down: Weight (538 lbs. dry) makes backing it out of a parking space exciting, especially for shorter riders. It's manageable, but can be a workout. Looks (and the attention from same) could be a problem, if you don't want to be noticed.