The maxi-scooter class has always been a bit niche in the UK. But we can’t quite work out why. Sure, they’re not very good for track riding, or doing wheelies (on private land ofc). But an awful lot of UK bike riders won’t be bothered by that.
And on paper, a comfy, touring-friendly, easy-to-ride, low-maintenance two-wheeler makes a lot of sense, especially for a longer-distance city commuter.
Add in plenty of luggage capacity and an innate capacity to keep your fancy shoes and suit clean and dry, and you can see why they love ‘em overseas.
It’s even harder to understand that reluctance in Porto this morning. Because we’re out for a spin on the new 2023 Kymco AK550 Premium: a massive upgrade for the Taiwanese firm’s flagship bike, and a very decent place to be for the day.
Now Kymco might not be a huge deal in your head – but it’s a very important player outside the UK. Set up originally as a satellite firm of Honda to produce parts for Japan, as well as bikes for the home market, it’s a few levels above mainland China in terms of engineering and design.
And in countries like France, Germany, Italy and Spain, its scooters regularly top the charts. The company is hoping to do better in the UK as well – and bikes like this AK550 Premium are a part of that drive.
I’d ridden the original AK550 before, and was a fan of its lively twin-cylinder DOHC 8-valve motor, premium running gear, and high-end tech package. Seeing proper Brembo radial four-piston calipers and USD forks, plus big-brand tyres is A Good Thing on any bike: on a scooter from Taiwan, it’s doubly impressive.
But for 2023, this Premium variant adds even more good stuff: Bosch leaning ABS and traction control, ride-by-wire engine management, electrically-adjustable windscreen, cruise control, heated grips, keyless ignition and much more.
The bodywork has also been redesigned by the firm’s Italian design director Gianfelice Marasco, who has previously worked at Honda and Ducati, on bikes including the CB600F Hornet and Multistrada 1200. It’s a good-looking, well-made piece of kit, with what seems like solid, high-quality materials and finish.
The omens are good then, as we pull out of our hotel car park on the banks of the river Douro, and head inland up the river valley. I’m used to the distinctive Kymco switchgear and dashboard layout, but there are even more controls here for the electric windscreen and cruise control.
The three-panel dash is packed with info, and if you link your smartphone to the bike via the Kymco app, you get all sorts of navigation and media functionality too.
Gizmos aside, the AK550 is great to ride. The twin-cylinder 550 engine puts out 51bhp, with plenty of grunt, and gives more than decent acceleration through the CVT automatic transmission.
It’s quick off the line, and with no clutch to juggle, a low, long-ish chassis and sticky Dunlop GPR-100 rubber, plus the IMU-assisted traction control, you really can give it proper welly with the throttle. Round town, you’ll easily catch out the odd superbike or big ADV tourer away from the lights.
On the twisty river valley roads, the handling is well up to the engine too. An aluminium frame keeps the weight down compared with other big scoots, and the 223kg dry mass is well matched by the direct-link side-mount monoshock rear suspension and USD front forks.
The brakes are outstanding too: four-piston radial Brembos which have lots of power after a softish initial bite, and the backup of a Bosch cornering ABS safety net. Add that to the sporty tyres, plus the very decent ground clearance, and the AK550 can definitely be hustled down your favourite back road to the advantage of all.
After a morning of fun on the twisties, we hit the Autoestrada highways to head back towards the city. Here, the AK550 Premium works just as well: there’s more than enough power to keep up with high-speed traffic on the motorway, and you can easily hit three figures on the dash.
The cruise control works a treat, as does the electric windscreen, and while we don’t need it today, the OE integrated heated grips will be a boon when the weather turns cooler. The riding position is comfy and relaxed, with a commanding view, and there’s enough space to move around, both on the seat itself and in the footboard area.
I’ve been able to put my camera bag under the seat, alongside some water and snacks for the day, with more than enough room to spare, and the overall impression is of a luxurious, well-appointed middleweight touring machine – that just happens to be a scooter.
So – the AK550 Premium would make a lot of sense as a middle-distance or long-distance commuter, taking you 40-50 miles into town every day in comfort and style. It’s got more than enough performance to be a laugh as well. And for the odd longer jaunt, even two-up, it will do great work.
The price is a little steep at first glance – £10,399 – though isn’t everything these days? But for the equipment and capability you get, it’s not at all bad, and cheaper than competitor machinery like the Yamaha TMAX. Will it tempt the bikers of Britain away from big ADV machinery and finally turn them on to the maxi-scooter vibe? Well maybe not straight away – but it’s definitely a start.
If you want to stray even further from the biking mainstream, then Kymco has another option for 2023. The firm’s new CV3 uses the engine from the AK550, fitted into a reverse leaning trike setup, with two front wheels.
Of course, it’s aimed at car drivers, who want something that will cut through traffic while seeming a little safer, and it’s actually legal to drive on a car licence issued before 2013, with no bike category required.
But the CV3 is good fun for fans of two wheels as well. The extra weight of the front end dulls performance a little compared with the AK550, but it’s still quite quick. Kymco’s given it plenty of high-tech equipment too, though it doesn’t have premium fitments like the Brembo brakes and electric windscreen.
Once you get used to the tilting steering, which has a semi-automatic locking system to keep it upright when stopped, it’s actually good fun to throw about through urban bends, roundabouts, junctions and the like. The CV3 costs £11,999 and is in dealers now.