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Testing the Aprilia Atlantic

Published: 28 January 2002

Super scooters can cost as much as a 2002 Hornet 900, but this new Aprilia changes all that.

The Atlantic 500 costs just £4719, over a grand less than big-bore rivals such as Yamaha’s Tmax and Honda’s SilverWing. At 460cc, it fills a capacity gap between those and Suzuki’s Burgman 400, which costs £4349.

But who is prepared to spend that kind of money on a scooter? The answer lies in the inspiration behind the Atlantic’s design. The engineers took their cues from executive cars and that’s the key market – the businessmen who want to beat those ever-growing traffic jams.

Just 150 Atlantics are coming to our shores and Aprilia believes the typical buyer will be the sort of person who appreciates the quality and convenience of a scooter, but with the power and comfort of a big bike. And after sampling one at the world launch in Sicily last week, that’s exactly what they’ll get.

The styling apes that of Aprilia’s Futura V-twin sports tourer. It even has three halogen lights and back-lit blue clocks. The chrome highlights, which run along the flanks of the Atlantic, not only make the scooter more eye-catching, but they also serve as replaceable crash guards.

The relaxed riding position could come straight from the lounge of a posh gentleman’s club. It’s a comfortable, feet-forwards slouch, at first strange to anyone more used to sports bikes.

In a glove-box-style compartment at the front there’s enough room for that essential mobile phone and FiloFax and there’s a 12v outlet so riders can keep the phone charged between meetings.

The underseat storage is even more impressive, with over 47 litres of space. In practical terms, that’s one full-face lid and one open-face, as well as a few files. It even has a light in it. If you need more luggage space there’s an optional topbox that replaces the pillion backrest.

Hoiking my legs around into the footwell, the Atlantic feels strange – like sitting at a desk. Your feet are flat on the footboards, your legs out in front of you. It’s odd to someone who’s spent years on big bikes, but it will be far more comfortable to people who’ve never ridden before – like Aprilia’s target market.

Pulling away is a very smooth affair – with just a whiff of throttle the revs rise and the automatic clutch engages. Acceleration is brisk, even from a standstill. The single-cylinder Atlantic will beat any hot hatch away from the lights and is only a sniff away from the class-leading twin-cylinder Tmax.

The 460cc fuel-injected motor may have been designed for fuel economy, but its dohc four-valve head and modern design have ensured that it’s no slouch. The Atlantic uses Piaggio’s engine from the 460cc single-cylinder X9. That was launched nearly a year ago for the same market, but unsolved high-speed handling problems have delayed its launch until the end of February.

No such problems with the Atlantic, however. Thanks to its 15in front wheel – the largest in its class – and adjustable steering damper, the 500’s handling is on a par with any of its rivals. It takes corners comfortably and it’s only when you push hard that the bars start to feel nervous. But that’s unlikely to happen in the hands of Aprilia’s target riders.

A lack of ground clearance on both sides encourages you to take wider, more sweeping lines. Compared to a traditional bike, scooters like this will always harbour far less cornering potential. But that doesn’t stop them from being well behaved and loads of fun.

Like the X9 and Honda’s SilverWing, the Atlantic uses a linked brake system, with the rear lever operating one of the front calipers. Similar systems received mixed reactions on big bikes, with some claiming they rob the bike of feel. But on the Atlantic they are superbly efficient.

They require a bit more lever effort than a sports bike, but they are among the best brakes you’ll ever find on a scooter. Even after miles of winding downhill hairpins, the relatively small brakes show no sign of overheating and nor do I notice any discomfort in my fingers or wrists after an afternoon’s riding.

And you don’t need to be an economist to work out the Atlantic makes good financial sense.

Using the bar-mounted controls to access the trip computer, it revealed a 51mpg average over 100 miles. That compares to 45mpg for the Tmax. You won’t find an executive car that could come close to that. I reckon the Atlantic could do even better – possibly as much as 60mpg.

These figures will endear themselves to any commuter and, for the environmentally-conscious, there’s a catalytic converter which helps the Atlantic easily exceed the latest emissions laws.

At just £4719, the Atlantic makes a lot more sense than its rivals. It’s cheaper to buy, it sits in a lower insurance group (the Tmax is group nine) and it’s more frugal.

Aprilia hopes that, for the ever-stressed businessman, these factors will be all the reasons they need to hand over their money.

And when you consider that commuters often pay up to £5000 a year just to stand on a platform waiting for a late train every morning, Aprilia should have no trouble convincing people to switch to two wheels – which is good news for all of us.

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