There was a time, not too long ago, when seemingly every review of an electric vehicle included a sidebar on the relevance of electric vehicles. This is no longer necessary. The concept is valid. In five years or so, electrics will be ubiquitous enough to be seen as just another part of the two-wheel landscape—some folks like inline-fours, others are fans of triples, and others like a torquey electric. But just because the concept is valid, that doesn’t mean every application makes sense. Step forward the new Vespa Elettrica.
Piaggio introduced the Elettrica at EICMA 2017, declaring in typically Italian hyperbole that it was not simply an electric scooter but “a contemporary work of art with a technological heart.” Powered by a 4.2-kWh battery, the little scooter claims a peak power output of 4 kilowatts (about 5.3 hp for those of you playing along in the old school), and a range of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles). As with all manufacturer figures, be they for electric or internal combustion machines, it’s probably best to take those numbers with a grain of salt.
Certainly the Elettrica’s most impressive number was hard to believe when being ridden in the streets of Milan recently. The scooter’s manufacturer claims a stunning 200 Nm of torque at the wheel, or 147.5 pound-feet. It does not feel like that. The Elettrica is downright kid-friendly in its power delivery and as such sparks questions about its ability to deliver on one of the key advantages of a scooter.
In most parts of the world, scooters are the ideal weapon for finding one’s way through snarled traffic. Nimble, light, and small enough to fit through the tiniest of gaps between vehicles, they’re generally pretty good at lurching ahead at stoplights. Sure, the smallest of scoots will start to run out of puff halfway across an intersection but at least you got that head start.
The Elettrica scores top marks in its ability to dance through traffic, and, although it’s heavier than an internal combustion equivalent, its heft is entirely manageable—especially thanks to the presence of a reverse gear. It does feel a little tiny to a rider who is 6-foot-1, but there can be no questioning that it’s a lot of fun to ride. However, crack the throttle to the stop on the Elettrica and the gradual journey to its top speed of 48 km/h (or 29.8 mph) is far too gentle. It will leave many commuters fearing the impatience of fellow road users.
Piaggio says it has built the Elettrica to serve as the equivalent of a 50cc scooter, pointing out that roughly half the scooters sold in the United States are of that capacity or less. In most US states, a 50cc machine officially classifies as a moped or “motorized bicycle” and licensing requirements are more relaxed. In the state of New Mexico, for example, a 13-year-old could throw a leg over the new Elettrica with no need for license, registration, insurance, or helmet.
One wonders, however, how many 13-year-olds there are in the Land of Enchantment who have $7,499 to meet the Elettrica’s asking price. Normally, one of the selling points of a 50cc scooter is that it’s cheap.
Perhaps paper routes pay really well these days. And certainly the Elettrica is designed to serve a more connected generation. Owners are encouraged to download an app that connects the scooter with a mobile phone. This means you get a wealth of information about the scooter—trip time, remaining battery range, statistics based on past journeys, and more. You can also get this information by clicking through the menu on the Elettrica’s easy-to-read TFT display. But connecting means you can control some of your phone’s features (such as selecting music) via handlebar switches. You’ll also get notifications of texts and incoming calls on the TFT display.
Charge time for the Elettrica is roughly four hours via a 220-volt plug of the sort used in washers and dryers in the United States. Considering the hyper-urban/short-distance purpose of this vehicle that’s perfectly acceptable; most users will be charging this thing overnight. Piaggio says the battery is good for 1,000 full charging cycles before it begins to suffer reduced capacity. The Italian manufacturer reckons that works out to about 10 years of use before capacity dips to 80 percent.
The Vespa Elettrica is good looking and enjoyable to ride, but when weighing its price and performance one can’t help but wonder who it’s for. Costing thousands of dollars more than a standard 50cc scooter, it fails to deliver obvious advantages beyond the ability to be smug about using electric. It’s a solid first effort, with Vespa having nailed the elements of handling and styling one expects of a scooter, but too-soft power delivery disappoints. History suggests it’s well within Piaggio’s capacity to deliver a more thrilling experience, however, so here’s hoping for an Elettrica 2.0.