2019 Vespa Elettrica and 2020 GTS 300 HPE Review: Scoot Over Milan
The American alligator is a fascinating creature. Biologists estimate that the toothy-grinned animal has existed on this hunk of rock we call Earth for roughly 245 million years. In that time, the endearing reptile has resisted the beck and call of evolution, toughing it out with its current quaint charm in approximately eight million revolutions around the sun. It has evolved, but not in a little while.
For the sake of context, humans started appearing in the Middle Paleolithic era or, for those that don’t remember the most exciting parts of elementary school, about 200,000 years ago. In the modern era, the alligator is as strong as it ever was and, perhaps, it just doesn’t need to evolve beyond what it is now—a somewhat comical looking apex predator.
In 1946, Vespa rolled out the Vespa 98 for production and created what we could easily call a phenomenon in transportation. Seventy-two years after Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Casini designed the steel step-through unibody aesthetic that we’ve all come to associate with the brand immediately, Vespa is still churning out hundreds of thousands of buzzing two-wheeled vehicles that are incomprehensibly simple to ride. If you can fog a mirror, have eyesight, opposable thumbs, and maintain any discernable level of self-perseveration, the scooter is for you.
Vespa’s original design set the bar for what a scooter should look like. As a thought experiment, imagine what the average non-motorcycle or non-scooter appreciating American would draw if they were asked to create an artistic representation of a scooter. I can almost assure you that it will closely resemble a Vespa. They’re that iconic, and it’s something that the Italian maker will never let go. It has changed over time, but the core traits are still there; a Vespa will always appear to be a Vespa, first and foremost.
The scooter is the king of its domain, that domain being congested cities across the globe. It strafes through traffic keeping the greasy wheels of commerce turning the world over. It is the vehicle of the proletariat, giving physical and economic mobility to countless lives since Vespa began waving their buzzing beasts out of their factory doors.
What does the American alligator have to do with Vespa? Directly, probably not much. Scooters and alligators aren’t known for their cohabitation. Alligators can’t even ride, or purchase motor vehicles, and most banks would probably deny one a line of credit.
What Vespa and the American alligator share is an undeniable resilience in the face of everything that makes up life—time and influence. As the world changes around it, the scooter and the alligator have remained the absolute masters of their domain by never deviating from their goals. One lurks the shallows and eats things indiscriminately, the other sprints around major cities.
Vespa, just like water lurking reptilian creatures, has evolved, though not as much as you might think. Okay, it is as much as you think when it comes to technological advances. They’ve moved from noisy two-stroke powered scooters, onto four-stroke machines and, as of this year, the 2019 Vespa Elettrica marks another milestone for the Italian brand—it’s their first go with an all-electric powerplant.
With Vespa throwing its hat in the electric scooter game, that isn’t a signal that it has wrapped the brand in green flags and organic locally sourced produce. Vespa is still happily producing scooters that guzzle fuel by the thimble-full like the 2020 Vespa GTS 300 HPE. For all of you spec-sheet warriors out there, it is the most potent scooter Vespa has ever produced, claiming a staggering 23.5 horsepower. I kid, yet it packs plenty of punch and can easily travel at freeway speeds and beyond.
To truly test a scooter, one must ride it in its natural habit. To do that, I took a trip to the Piaggio Motoplex in Milan, Italy where I would not only be getting some tasty snacks from the coffee shop, but also be testing Vespa’s Elettrica and GTS 300.
My short adventure through Milan began with the hotly anticipated 2019 Vespa Elettrica that boasts some impressive specs. Piaggio Group, the parent company of Vespa, didn’t take the easy route and merely license an electric motor from a current manufacturer, it was developed in-house.
The powerful 3.5 kW (4kW peak) brushless motor claims to produce an earthmoving 147 ft/lbs (about the same as a Triumph Rocket III) and comes equipped with a two-level Kinetic Energy Recovery System to help recharge the battery when coasting off-throttle. Level 1 of KERS has heavier engine braking, and level 2 is lighter. It’s like riding a two-stroke or four-stroke scooter, essentially.
The clever trick with the Vespa Elettrica is that it’s meant to mimic the performance of a 50cc scooter. By doing so, the Elettrica will fly under the radar of regulation due to its top speed figures by being classified as a moped. With a maximum speed of 32 mph, the Elettrica can be ridden in 27 American states without a motorcycle license. For reference, the Vespa Primavera 50cc scooter has a top speed of 40 mph.
Piaggio has achieved these performance goals with two riding modes, Power and Eco. Power mode caps the top speed at 32 mph and offers a soft throttle response off-the-line that ramps up once you’re in the thick of it, quickly reaching its peak speed.
It is instantly easy to wrap your head around, and control since the throttle lacks any aggression to it. In the mean cobblestone streets of Milan, there is enough oomph to quietly skitter through molasses-dense urban traffic, showing car drivers your scooter-based superiority.
As far as range goes, you can expect to see a claimed 49 miles on a single charge when running it strictly in Power mode.
However, with the electric motor governed, it lacks the pep to outrun that same traffic when the four-wheeled herd thins and they begin stretching their legs. It needs a little more headroom to do so, but if Vespa took that route, that would curb its plans of global domination via regulation loopholes.
Eco dramatically reduces the motor’s punch and softens an already soft throttle response. If Power mode can easily be described as what most motorcyclists would perceive the common Rain mode, Eco mode would be half that. It culls the motor’s Herculean strength even more, so it lacks the power to escape urban threats due to a top speed of 19 mph. It does have a benefit in that it can achieve a claimed 62 miles on a single charge, though.
Thanks to the nature of electric motors, you also have a reverse mode. Electric motors can be flipped in either direction with the press of a button, so maneuvering the Elettrica around tight spaces is a breeze.
What isn’t a tight space is the under-seat storage capacity. It isn’t as much as your average maxi-scooter, but it should fit your average half-helmet, books, a limited amount of groceries, or anything else small you might need to carry.
Looking at the Elettrica from the perspective of someone who has never touched a scooter or motorcycle, it would be difficult to see that new customer having a hard time making use of the power on tap here. It certainly won’t shock them.
The battery uses a 4.2 kWh lithium-ion battery that will survive 1000 charge cycles and 60,000 miles before showing signs of degradation. The Elettrica boasts an impressive four-hour recharge time, but that is on 220V circuits that are standard in Europe. In the United States where we use 110V circuits, you are looking at eight hours, roughly. Like many electric devices, it will reach 80 percent capacity in about a third of that time. Given that the average urban commuting distance is below ten miles, you should be alright in terms of range.
Our journey lasted about 10 miles in total and that soaked up about 23 percent of the battery in my case. Keep in mind; we had to continually test the Elettrica’s straight-line acceleration, as our bum-dynos needed recalibration after all those long-haul flights. Jokes aside, battery consumption is going to be directly reflective of how aggressive you ride.
Rounding out the niceties is a full-color TFT display that’s easy to explore and interesting to look at. Included is a graph bar showing your battery regeneration, as well as the stress put on the battery due to your throttle inputs. It’s all easy to read in and out of the sun.
As we made our way past Duomo di Milano or, for you non-Italian speaking individuals, Milan Cathedral, the Elettrica was able to show its handling prowess. Its comfortable step-through design features a cushy seat and short 31.1-inch seat height that should allow any teenager or adult to plant their feet on the ground. From there, I was able to command the ridiculously easy to ride Elettrica around the streets, gently turning into corners with loads of stability.
On a relatively smooth surface, the Elettrica is a pleasant ride. With cobblestone at play, it’s tough to claim that and to be fair, any mode of transportation that isn’t being carried in a litter by your doting servants because you’re a Roman ruler will be uncomfortable on cobblestone.
The Elettrica weighs in at 225 pounds—15 pounds less than the Vespa Primavera 50— and the weight is distributed so low that is might as well be on the ground. Most of the bulk is spread over the rear wheel, which makes for some interesting braking dynamics. The hydraulic front disc brake lacks power, feel and bite, but does feature ABS, while the mechanical rear drum will slow the futuristic grocery getter.
With a US MSRP of $7499, Vespa is asking quite the respectable sum of coin for its new electric vehicle. What Vespa is attempting to do with this vehicle isn’t as direct as its other offerings though. The Italian scooter maker is quite literally trying to attract new riders by giving them unfettered access to transportation—no licensing could mean no insurance, depending on the state you live in. Yes, the cost is notable, but so too, are the intentions of Vespa.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition of riding something so technically advanced in a city with buildings that predate the United States as a whole. The Elettrica, despite some of its shortcomings in performance, still has a place in scooterdom and the streets. But where Vespa has knocked it out of the park yet again is with the 2020 Vespa GTS 300 HPE.
To date, the GTS 300 HPE is the brand’s most powerful 278cc scooter, producing a claimed 24 horsepower and 19 ft/lbs of torque. The CVT-equipped whippersnapper has a predictable throttle response and enough power to have you hanging with the big boys on the freeway. Although, there is something extremely unsettling riding next to large tractor-trailers on a step-through two-wheeler, making the average European commuter far braver than I.
With the ampler headroom, we were able to leave the confines of Milan and run out to Monza, where yes, we were able to see the famed Monza circuit. The higher top speed meant that we weren’t necessarily restricted to extremely dense urban centers. If you owned one of these, hopping over to the next city isn’t a fright and, with a 1.8-gallon tank, you have some range, too. Our journey on this bike was substantially longer and put a minor dent in the fuel gauge.
The big story with the 300 HPE is the refined engine and gearbox, which is more than apparent from the moment you set out. The CVT’s operation is almost imperceptible—that’s most likely thanks to the new drivetrain, which features a new belt and assembly. The bottom line—it’s smooth.
There are no power modes, but the 300 HPE doesn’t lack technology. It features switchable traction control (on/off) and ABS all-around that cannot be disabled. You may be asking yourself, “Why would a machine that makes modest power and is CVT-equipped need TC?” Well, friend, I would love to show you how slick ancient cobblestone is when wet, but it’s something that needs to be seen to be believed. Treacherous is a decent description.
Just like the Elettrica, the 300 HPE’s weight is carried low, making it remarkably easy to ride and control. Together, their behavior is precisely what a scooter should be—light, playful and impressively agile. The suspension does a much better job of soaking up Milan’s renown cobblestone roads, while the extremely forgiving handling will allow riders to come into their own quickly.
Thanks to the steep steering angle, short wheelbase, and 12-inch tires, you’ll never have to worry about dicing your way through traffic. Simply turning through blocks of cars as if you’re playing the Snake on an old Nokia phone is done with staggering ease. Of course, like all scooters, the rear-stand tends to steal a bit of lean angle, but let’s not forget what we’re doing here. There is also a 5V USB charging port for your various devices.
This year, Vespa redesigned the plastics, although it isn’t something apparent to me as a scooter neophyte. I see the 300 HPE and think “Vespa!,” which is probably a testament to their design team. However, you are getting bright LED lighting, front and rear, which gives it a more modern touch.
Getting the Vespa GTS 300 HPE stopped lacks all drama, too. The 220mm rotors at each end and Vespa-branded calipers do a good job of preventing you from ending up underneath an Italian rail car. Feel at the levers is commendable and, in my experience, it’s best to use a bit of both when stopping in a hurry. Otherwise, you’re more likely to over-brake and prematurely engage the ABS. Overall, I was left impressed.
The scooter needs to do several things well – be accessible, easy to ride, small enough to fit in a broom closet and be financially accessible. The 2019 Vespa Elettrica and 2020 Vespa 300 GTS HPE do just that—save for the Elettrica getting a bit of the Early Adopter tax; it’s new tech and going to cost a bit more until the market begins equalizing.
The Elettrica has its limits and they are obvious ones. You’ll need consider where you’ll be riding—if it’s jammed city-centers, the Vespa Elettrica is a viable option. If you need more of everything, the 300 is better suited. The 300 will run $400 less than the $7499 Elettrica.
The charming thing with Vespa is that the company has stayed true to its roots for nearly 75 years and built a legacy on that. Vespa still checks all the scooter boxes with ease—one-dimensional in that regard, and that isn’t a critique, that’s a strength. That’s something that the alligator, if it had the ability to articulate language would probably note, too; it seems that they both got it right the first time and now, we’re just seeing improvements on a good thing.