Neither was I raised in Europe, nor am I a 1960s’ child. And yet, like many other Indians, just say the name Vespa, and I instantly have images of pizza from Napoli, cappuccino from Milan or, indeed, Audrey Hepburn raising hell on the streets of Rome. There are few brands that manage to transcend the product and achieve cult status—the Vespa name is one of those few. Making a reappearance in India after decades, the Italian scooter, which is part of Piaggio’s two-wheeler portfolio, launched its first product a few weeks ago. I was keen to give it a go, and after several delays and broken promises, finally did get my hands on a beautiful little LX 125, dressed in buttercup yellow. What’s more, I even had a matching old-style, yellow helmet to go with it!
Now at the outset I have to say that the cute retro look and the Vespa name lend this scooter a certain charm that no rival product in our market can match. But I was keen to set that brand allure and nostalgia aside, and also test the Vespa for what it is—a scooter. So I set off along the crowded and often challenging roads of the one city that can easily claim the crown of India’s two-wheeler (or more accurately, scooter) capital—Pune. I chose some rather crowded sections, some broken tarmac, and also went on to the city’s outskirts, to a few small ghat sections.
The first thing I noticed was the stares I was getting. Part of that was probably because I seemed to be the only idiot in a helmet! But of course the scooter was getting its fair share of attention too. And then I noticed how despite its small overall size and its relatively small wheel-size, the Vespa was nimble and comfortable. The LX 125’s suspension, and therefore the ride quality, was better than I had expected it to be. That is indeed a good first impression. After having spent some time riding, I also felt the riding position itself was pretty comfortable—despite it being a fairly short scooter to begin with. The handling is also acceptable, though not the best in the class, and even though I felt the brakes could have been a bit sharper, overall I found myself rather enjoying the ride.
Sunshine: Despite its small size, the Vespa is comfortable to ride
I was also happy to see that besides the vintage badging, all the chrome and retro rear-view mirrors, the LX 125 has some neat features. There’s a hook embedded at the front of the seat which you can pull out to hang your shopping bags, and storage under the seat which is big enough to stow away that matching Vespa helmet I was talking about.
So what’s the problem? you ask. The LX 125 is priced at Rs 68,257, ex-showroom Delhi. Now compare that to other 125cc scooters in the market and you realize you will be spending around Rs 20,000 more for the Vespa. So does that even begin to make sense? Well, if you think about it—it does. But only for some people.
The people who will want to buy a Vespa won’t necessarily be seeking a commuter scooter in the first place. It’s like those who buy a Mini or a Beetle in the car space want “that” car, isn’t it? Granted, the LX 125 doesn’t have a cult following, but its cute retro look, and surprising capability will still earn it some fans. Piaggio could have priced it more competitively, but instead of selling more, the company seems to be looking at greater profitability.
Will there be more Vespas? Yes, the company has promised other models in the future. So, the LX 125 is just the start of more to come—but we do hope that while we get similarly well-built scooters, they come at more affordable prices. And maybe more people then can feel a bit like Gregory Peck or Audrey Hepburn every time they ride off to work, or simply to get themselves a good cappuccino!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor, Auto, NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org