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250 cc Vespa scooters are top-rated

Full-size scooters, called maxi scooters, cover a wide range -- from 250 cc bikes that are just powerful enough to keep up on the freeway to 500 cc-plus bikes that can cost $9,000 or more and are suitable for long road trips.

The Vespa GTS 250 (MSRP: $6,000) is Vespa's least expensive 250 cc scooter and the critics' favorite gas scooter overall. "We flat out loved our little Vespa scooter," says Bart Madson of Motorcycle-USA.com after testing the GTS 250. "It was our summer crush. Our budget-shredding commuter. Our weekend joyride. The speedy red freeway racer that reminded us scooters really do rock."

Testers say the Vespa GTS 250 scooter is superbly built, classically beautiful -- turning even hardcore motorcyclists' heads -- and its quick acceleration and steering make it fun to drive in town. The full-sized Vespa scooter gets a manufacturer-estimated 65 to 70 mpg (60 mpg in one real-world test) and it tops out at 76 mph.

However, unlike Madson, other testers didn't feel comfortable with the GTS 250 on the freeway. "Scooters of 125cc and above are legally allowed on the freeways in California, but there's a reason you don't see many of them out there," says the Los Angeles Times' Susan Carpenter. When traffic started whizzing past her at 85 mph, Carpenter felt "like a gnat among hippos" on the Vespa GTS 250. Nancy Miller at Wired magazine agrees. "The GTS sails to 70 mph before you know it, but its small size makes for a shaky, white-knuckle freeway ride," Miller says.

Vespa's top-of-the-line, chrome-and-leather Vespa GTV 250 (MSRP: $6,900) is otherwise identical to the GTS 250, and several reviews recommend it. Others like the Vespa GTS 300 Super (MSRP: $6,200), Vespa's fastest gas scooter with a top speed of 80 mph. Italian motor scooters nearly sweep this category: Besides the Vespa scooters, the only 250 cc scooters that earn nods from more than one of our sources are both from Vespa's parent company, Piaggio.

The Aprilia Sportcity Cube 250 (MSRP: $4,700) uses the same engine as its stablemate, the top-rated Vespa GTS 250, but reviews note that the Sportcity costs thousands less than other scooters in its class. The Piaggio MP3 250 (MSRP: $7,200) is in a class by itself; it rolls on three wheels. The front wheels are set close together, and a special suspension allows them to lean like a single wheel -- except that the MP3 250 gas scooter offers better road-holding, better braking, sits upright by itself at stoplights and just generally feels steadier than a regular two-wheeled scooter, reviews say. The Piaggio MP3 three-wheeled scooter is also available with 400 cc and 500 cc engines (see below).

Piaggio's two-wheeled entry in this category, the Piaggio BV Tourer 250 (MSRP: $4,900), earns a nod from one reviewer, as do three Taiwanese scooters: the Kymco Xciting 250Ri (MSRP: $5,200), SYM Citycom 300i (MSRP: $5,500) and the SYM RV 250 (MSRP: $4,990). None of these scooters are reviewed very often.

Big, powerful scooters: Honda Silver Wing and three-wheel Piaggio

If you plan to ride your scooter over long distances or on the freeway, reviewers recommend a super-maxi scooter. At 400 cc or better, these gas scooters are as powerful -- and comfortable -- as some touring motorcycles, but testers say their automatic transmissions make them easier to drive.

The Honda Silver Wing (MSRP: $8,500 to $9,000) is such a serious machine, critics say it could draw diehard motorcyclists over to the scooter side. "I never thought that I'd be a candidate for scooter ownership, but after spending two weeks with a Silver Wing, I am seriously considering buying one," writes Jason Fogelson at About.com. He calls it "one of the best freeway bikes I've ever ridden."

The Honda Silver Wing looks like a motorcycle from every angle (the rider's legs hide the telltale scooter step-through), offers plenty of power with its 582 cc engine, and is slim and agile enough to slip between two lanes of stopped cars, Fogelson says. Testers find the Silver Wing's plush seat and cushiony suspension great for cruising. "Crank it to 90 mph on the freeway and you feel like you're cruising on a Barcalounger," writes Wired magazine's Nancy Miller. But reviews note the Honda Silver Wing is big and heavy -- the trade-off for all that comfort and stability. "Too big for city scooting and a bitch to park," Miller says. Honda doesn't publish an estimated fuel-economy rating, but the Los Angeles Times' Susan Carpenter got 46 mpg in her real-world test of the Silver Wing.

The Honda Silver Wing offers antilock brakes (ABS) for $500 extra, bringing the price to $9,000. It's expensive, but not quite as expensive as the Suzuki Burgman 650 (MSRP: $8,700, or $9,800 with ABS). Reviews usually favor the Silver Wing, pointing to the Honda scooter's exceptional build quality and reliability. Suzuki also offers a less powerful maxi scooter, the Suzuki Burgman 400 (MSRP: $6,600) that reviews say gets better gas mileage but isn't quite as confident over 80 mph.

The Honda Silver Wing scooter's main competition in reviews is actually a three-wheeled scooter, the Piaggio MP3 500 (MSRP: $8,900). The Piaggio MP3's front wheels are set close together, with a special suspension that allows them to lean in tandem like a single wheel. The result is a comfortable touring scooter with better braking and more stability than a regular two-wheeled scooter, according to reviewers. The Piaggio MP3 500 offers more power than its siblings, the MP3 250 (see above) and MP3 400 (MSRP: $8,700). Furthermore, the MP3 500's sharper styling (think Darth Vader or X-Men) attracts a lot of attention. But the Piaggio MP3 500 has the least storage space of the MP3 scooter range, reviews say.

The closest runner-up in this category is the Yamaha TMAX (MSRP: $8,000), a slightly sportier, more compact 500 cc scooter. Less expensive maxi scooters like the 400 cc Yamaha Majesty (MSRP: $6,100) and 500 cc Piaggio BV Tourer 500 (MSRP: $6,300) and Aprilia Scarabeo 500 ie (MSRP: $6,300) get fewer nods from reviewers.

Scooters Runners Up:

Vespa GTV 250 MSRP: $6,900

4 picks by top review sites.

Aprilia Sportcity Cube 250 MSRP: $4,700

4 picks by top review sites.

Vespa LX 150 MSRP: $4,400

3 picks by top review sites.

Yamaha TMAX MSRP: $8,000

3 picks by top review sites.

Aprilia Scarabeo 200 MSRP: $3,500

2 picks by top review sites.

Aprilia Scarabeo 500 ie MSRP: $6,300

2 picks by top review sites.

Piaggio MP3 250 MSRP: $7,200

2 picks by top review sites.

Piaggio MP3 400 MSRP: $8,900

2 picks by top review sites.

Suzuki Burgman 400 MSRP: $6,600

2 picks by top review sites.

Suzuki Burgman 650 MSRP: $8,700

2 picks by top review sites.

Vespa GTS 300 Super MSRP: $6,200

2 picks by top review sites.

Vespa S 150 MSRP: $4,200

2 picks by top review sites.

Yamaha Majesty MSRP: $6,100

2 picks by top review sites.

Yamaha Vino 125 MSRP: $2,900

2 picks by top review sites.

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