Now that gas prices have smashed through the roof, interest in alternative transportation is soaring sky-high too. For a company like Kymco, known for economical and reliable scooters, those circumstances have created the perfect opportunity to go all in and ride to the rescue.
However, one of the first things Kymco USA president Eric Bondy told our throng of scooter scribes was that the corporate bigwigs at the home offices in Taiwan are admittedly a conservative lot. Thus, it came as no great surprise that the company's 2009 lineup wasn't teeming with completely new models. Still, there were some upgrades of note in the queue of shiny new scoots. After touring the company's U.S. headquarters and distribution facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, we were given a quick rundown of the '09s we'd be riding, and then we hit the road.
The morning segment of the day's ride began with a short tour of the nearby back roads aboard the smaller, sub-150cc models. While not a traveler's cup of tea, it's easy to see why these little zingers are so popular in urban areas and around college campuses. Sure, the sharply styled 50cc Sting and Super 8 models had a hard time keeping pace when the road opened up, but in a congested setting these space-saving petrol sippers offer a fun and practical means of transportation, especially with gallon and a half fill-ups netting 100 miles or better. Though prices haven't been announced, these machines for the economically minded promise to fall within a student's budget.
Following a traditional southern lunch of barbecue and sweet tea, we hit the road on Kymco's larger, street-going options. Unlike their smaller siblings, these rides are quite capable of handling any thoroughfare. Perhaps the nicest surprise and most welcome development comes in the form of the brand-new electronic fuel injection system on the Xciting 500Ri. Cold starts are quick and easy, and warm-up periods appear to be a thing of the past. From a performance perspective, top-end power feels unaffected, but there is a marked improvement in bottom-end punch with no noticeable off- to on-throttle choppiness. According to Kymco officials, the new system also promises even greater fuel efficiency. Other features of note include 19.5 liters of illuminated under-seat storage, a 12-volt accessory outlet, twin-piston brake calipers front and rear, steel-braided brake lines, adjustable brake levers, and linked brakes on the left hand lever. The spacious pillion should also keep passengers smiling.
Once on the road, the Xciting exhibited its usual back-road prowess, sucking up the sweepers with gusto. Braking is smooth yet solid, adding generously to the scooter's planted feel. I like this fuel-injected model and will be bugging the Kymco folks for a more protracted ride as these models begin making their way into the model lineup.
Those looking for all the luxury of the 500 Xciting with a little less girth may find the 250 Xciting an obvious choice. Though both chassis handle and ride largely the same, the 250 tips the scales dry at 407 pounds compared to the 473 pounds of the 500. And though the smaller X doesn't have the oomph at the stoplight or in the fast lane, it is still quite competent on every road, including the freeway. And like it's bigger brother, the 250 will also be fuel injected for 2009.
Don't think that a petrol delivery system was the only cool thing up Kymco's sleeve. They did pull out one new model that ought to appeal to urban hipsters and back-road roamers alike. The all-new Yager 200i features a DOHC, liquid-cooled, 174cc engine wrapped up in nifty, retro body lines that would surely get an approving nod from the Mods. And while "throwback" may be the theme, thoroughly modern is the machine. Like the Xciting models, the Yager features fuel injection, twin-piston brake calipers front and rear, along with a digital and analog instrument pod. Potential passengers will also appreciate the inclusion of a pillion backrest.
Official specs for under-seat storage are still hush-hush, but reputedly they are more than enough to absorb a helmet. So, whether styling on the city streets or taking in a relaxing ride in the country, the hip Yager has all the bases covered.
Kymco has come a long way in meeting the demands of the American scooter market. Their reasonably priced products are filling a growing niche for economical and reliable transportation. The current line represents a nice cross section of products, and rumors of many more interesting machines to come continue to swirl. And though it was nice to get a peek at Kymco's 2009 models, it would have been a lot more fun had the company gone ahead and opened the floodgates. If they're not careful, the demanding U.S market, especially the crowd wanting larger scooters, could just move on without them.