Time for change

Words & Photographs: Stan | Additional Images: Piaggio Press Office

Vespa promised that their High Performance Engine would herald a new era for GTS 300 riders. Stan discovered whether it’s HPE or hype.

Some scooterists will never accept autos, but no one can argue that the GTS 300 is anything other than a superb piece of machinery, and that’s been Vespa’s problem. If anything, the GTS is too good.

Consider my seven-year-old 300 Super Sport. A few weeks ago I realised that the MOT was due. I rang my local dealer and got an appointment straight away. I did no more than gather my gear, fire it up and set off. I hadn’t ridden it in almost two months, due to other machines in my stable getting a winter hammering. It passed without a single advisory.

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Why on earth would I want to change it? That question’s also haunted dealers as, other than the unholy trinity of theft, rot and accident damage, there’s been no real reason for anyone to replace their GTS. Until now.

First impressions

When I first saw it in Milan last year, I was underwhelmed by the new GTS. The cosmetic changes seemed minor, and even Piaggio seemed to ignore it in favour of hard selling the Elettrica. I think my cynicism was understandable.

Fast forward a few months, and as Britain froze I headed off for Italy’s stunning Ligurian coast where I had an appointment with the new GTS 300. First order of business was the technical briefing, when I was led through the machine’s finer points.

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The most noticeable cosmetic change is that the GTS now joins its relatives in wearing Vespa’s three chevron ‘tie’ horn casting. Less noticeable is a re-profiled lower leg shield, which gives a much softer profile to the radiator surround.

Elsewhere, there are new side panel skirts, a revised grab rail, new grips and brake levers. Lighting has been upgraded to LED and there are several new chrome accents. All well and good, but so far my GTS was safe from being traded in.

Getting acquainted

The big changes are mechanical. Piaggio claim the new model puts out 23.8BHP and 26Nm of torque, an improvement over the outgoing model. This has been achieved by a complete re-design of both the top end and the transmission, whilst all that’s required for Euro 5 compliance is a re-map of the new Electronic Control Unit.

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Not content with more power, Piaggio claim increased fuel economy, and thanks to a re-designed transmission cover, a much quieter ride. Unfortunately, on the topics of security and rust prevention, there’s no news. In fact, the technicians seemed surprised that British owners have problems with rot. My cynicism returned.

I was offered a choice of machines and with 12 colours in the range, plumped for a titanium grey Super Sport. Halfway through the day I discovered that the Super Sport isn’t being imported to the UK, so swapped to the standard GTS.

Later still I discovered that it’s actually the mid specification Super, which will form the backbone of British sales, but as they’re all identical mechanically I didn’t switch again. The only machine that wasn’t available for test was the Supertech, which is just entering production and should be available in UK showrooms sometime in April.

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I hadn’t left the car park before realising that the new GTS is a different beast to its predecessor. The increased torque was obvious even at car park speeds; this was a scooter raring to go.

Thanks to the insulated transmission case, it wasn’t making a big noise about it either. In fact, I didn’t hear any roller ‘chatter’ whatsoever.

Falling in love

Pulling on to the road, I wound open the throttle and found that power delivery was instant. At 50mph and thinking of my own GTS, I opened the throttle to go for one car overtake. The GTS leapt forward and I cleared not one, but two cars before nipping in with room to spare.

Between 40-50mph the GTS was in its element and responded crisply to any request for extra power. Although its suspension remains unchanged, the extra power seems to have settled the GTS. The new model feels comfortable in its skin, as if its finally emerged from the shadow cast by the legendary PX’s demise.

The reason I enjoy this stretch of coastline is because the roads sweep ahead in glorious curves and every bend reveals another stunning view. It’s perfect GTS country, and the combination of balanced wheels and factory-fitted Michelin City Grip tyres ensured excellent grip. This pairing also seems to have finally condemned the GTS’s front wheel ‘shimmy’ to history.

One thing which puzzled me was the stand. Motorcycle journalists aren’t known for treating test bikes gently, yet a quick inspection revealed that none of the Press fleet showed any signs of them grounding. Despite denials that anything had changed I’m convinced this must be down to some small improvement rather than it simply being a case of ‘must try harder’.

As the ride ended I tried to curb my enthusiasm and find fault with the new design. Nothing’s perfect and there are some minor niggles. The indicator switch isn’t positive in its operation, and that’s compounded by a rather insipid indicator warning light on the dash.

Overall, the finish is excellent, but every GTS I rode had an unsightly gap between the handlebar grip and headset. Trivial complaints admittedly, and perhaps a measure of how impressive the new model is.

I’m still concerned that rot doesn’t seem to be on Piaggio’s radar, but hopefully they’ll respond to feedback. It’d also be nice to see Piaggio UK repeat their recent tracker offer on new machines.

On a more positive note, thanks to the use of new materials in consumables, service intervals have now been extended to 10,000 miles, and that’s a bonus for both commuters and long-distance riders alike.

On the subject of range, fuel capacity is indicated on to be down to seven litres, although the under-seat bin will accommodate two ‘jet’ helmets. Unfortunately, a full face still won’t fit. I can’t be the only one who’d happily surrender some storage space for a larger tank.

I’d embarked upon this test with low expectations, but came away with my cynicism dispelled. The HPE proves that Piaggio are still capable of pushing the boundaries of scooter design. For years riders have struggled for a reason to buy a new GTS, now it’s hard to find one not to.

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