It’s a car killer

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Piaggio, like BMW with its C1 scoot-with-a-roof, has realised the future lies in targeting people who wouldn’t normally consider buying a scooter rather than just poaching customers from rival firms. And the most obvious group to go for is the car driver.

So why should you be interested? Well, for one thing it means there will be more motorists out there who have some idea about life on two wheels. And secondly, the X9 is much more like a real bike than it is a scooter. From the front it resembles a superbike with jowls rather than some variety of pizza delivery equipment.

The trouble with car drivers is they’re a fussy lot. According to Giuseppe Boni, director of Piaggio’s two-wheel division, car drivers are considerably more demanding than the firm’s traditional scooter buyers: " They expect much more, and in particular want their technology to be both advanced and yet with all the technical bits hidden away. "

Boni says the company has also recognised huge growth in the maxi-scooter market, led by machines such as Yamaha’s Majesty. Between ’97 and ’99, sales in the class have increased from 200,000 to 450,000, but until now Piaggio had nothing to offer.

Hence the X9, which is designed to address all these factors. Sit on the thing, look at the dash, and you’ll see exactly how Piaggio has gone about it – there are more lights here than on a night-time approach to Heathrow. In fact there are two levels of instrument console.

Nestling inside the fairing are a speedo, fuel gauge, engine temperature gauge and a useless-but-entertaining tachometer (not a lot of point on an automatic... ). Nearer the rider are two curved lines of lights (reporting on indicators, engine warnings and so on) along with an LCD information display which can tell you (and make sure you’re sitting comfortably): Miles since fuel reserve, total and trip mileage, average and maximum speed per trip, clock, calendar, chronometer (hours and minutes), ambient temperature with ice warning and, finally, maintenance reminders in the form of three icons for oil, service and the drive belt. I wasn’t fussy enough when I bought my last car, as it doesn’t have half of that lot.

But the X9 is more than just a glitzy two-wheeled computer. For a start, the build quality is visibly better than previous Piaggios (those pernickety car drivers again) but, equally important, it rides very well. The engine is a Honda unit, the same 249cc four-stroke single which powers the Foresight, albeit with slightly lower gearing to suit the weightier X9.

It’s not the most exciting engine around, but it’s fast enough for the job with a top speed of 75mph, just enough for motorway use and sufficient acceleration away from the lights. The engine is smooth and responds predictably with the auto transmission taking up drive seamlessly, lending the X9 exactly the sophisticated air the designers hoped for. It’s also capable of 90mpg which, in combination with the huge 14.5-litre tank, gives a range getting on for 300 miles.

The chassis behaves impeccably, too, with a good balance of stability and agility. It’s nippy enough to make twisting roads a pleasure, yet sufficiently secure not to scare an inexperienced rider should he hit a pothole. All credit to the well-damped suspension and decent-sized wheels.

The car thinking extends to the brakes, where one of the pair of front Brembo calipers is linked to the rear disc. Squeeze the right-hand lever and both operate together, the front’s action being slowed deliberately by a delay valve to improve stability. The second front disc works from the left-hand brake lever. ABS will be available in a year or so, but it’s not really necessary.

Other options are available now (as car drivers will expect). You can specify an electrically-operated centrestand, heated grips, a taller screen, radio and intercom system plus a 45-litre top box if the underseat storage isn’t enough (it takes a full-sized briefcase or full-face helmet).

It even looks pretty good, the curved lines banishing the ungainliness of many maxi-scooters. At £3699 on the road, it undercuts the Suzuki Burgman as well as the costlier Majesty, and of course betters the BMW C1 which has an engine half the size. And in targeting car drivers so directly, it’s the C1 which is arguably the X9’s most serious competition.

PIAGGIO X9

Cost: £3699

SPECIFICATION

Engine: 249.4cc four-stroke single

Weight: 162kg (356lb)

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MCN Staff

By MCN Staff