Piaggio is the largest manufacturer of scooters in Europe, and Vespa is its premium small-wheel brand. Topping the eight-model 2010 line is the sleek, chic and speedy GTS 300 Super.
Conceived as basic, affordable transportation for crippled post-WWII Italy, the first Vespa with its pressed steel monocoque body and protective leg shield was a hit. Follow-ups were larger and more powerful, and soon drew worldwide acclaim. Today's clean-running Vespas differ greatly from the smoky two-strokes of the past; thrust now comes from fuel-injected four-strokes equipped with catalytic converters. Styling remains largely true to the shapely original.
Priciest Vespa to date, the $6199 GTS 300 Super runs on the same liquid-cooled, sohc, four-valve Single that powers the $200-less-costly GTS 250. There is, however, one important distinction: A 3mm larger bore accompanied by a 3mm longer stroke bumps displacement from 244cc to 278cc. While claimed peak torque is only slightly higher (16.5 foot-pounds versus 14.9), it comes at 5000 rpm as opposed to 6500 for the 250.
Other differences: Instead of the 250's semi-digital dash, the Super has a simpler, fully analog design with a large, easy-to-read speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, plus an odometer. The locking glovebox remains, but the folding luggage rack is gone; a chromed passenger grab handle takes its place. Further differentiating the two models from each other is a vent in the right-side engine cover, homage to early air-cooled models.
On the road, the claimed 326-pound Super flat goes. Acceleration is quick, and merging with traffic is easy, even on busy freeways. Ride quality and stability (indicated top speed is more than 80 mph) is excellent for a stubby machine with short-travel suspension and 12-inch wheels. Tubeless Pirellis in 120/70 front and 130/70 rear sizes grip well enough to ground the centerstand tang in left-handers. Hydraulically actuated disc brakes (the right handlebar-mounted lever controls the front brake; the left lever handles the rear) provide smooth, sure stops.
Unlike many scooters, the Super welcomes six-footers. There's knee room aplenty, and the thickly padded two-place seat is comfortable for rider and passenger alike. Large, widely set mirrors offer vibration-free rearward views. A removable plastic underseat bin swallows lots of stuff, shamefully just not a full-face helmet. Passenger footpegs swing out from the body when needed.
Criticisms? Gassing up can be messy. The cap for the tank is located under the seat, and the filler tube is narrow and black as night, making topping off a guessing game, particularly after dark. A transparent filler would help. A drop or two of Premium on your boots aside, two-wheel urban transport doesn't get much more user-friendly—or fun—than the GTS 300 Super.