Oh, to be 19 in Rome. That’s the age Vespa turns officially with its newest incarnation of the GTS scooter, given that the Granturismo line was born in 2003. It gives poetic significance to Ernest Hemingway’s famous adage: “One doesn’t grow old in Rome, but they grow up quickly.”
What better way to become indoctrinated to the new Vespa than with total immersion in the adoptive home of this iconic brand. The advantages scooters offer in urban situations was on full display in Rome’s notoriously jammed streets. Weaving in and out of gridlocked traffic, I fully grasped the pragmatic roots of this deeply beloved and histrionic machine.
In America, we tend to equate the Vespa with whimsy, but it evolved out of necessity. Following World War II, plane manufacturer Piaggio faced manufacturing restrictions, so Enrico Piaggio made the decision to transform the factory and create an affordable means of transportation for war-weary Italy’s recovering masses. The result was the Vespa, which earned its name from its resemblance to a wasp.
Ruggedness was built into the Vespa to withstand Italy’s war-torn streets and roads. In the years since, the Vespa has become a worldwide phenomenon. Imbued with romance, exuding style, and offering a sense of freedom, the brand has ascended to exclusivity as a premium scooter. Yet at its heart is a practical, fun, and amazingly rideable machine.
The Granturismo Range
Vespa offers the 2023 GTS in multiple configurations—Classic, Sport, SuperSport, and SuperTech, each presented in either 125cc or 300cc configurations. The differences between the models are primarily cosmetic—tasteful color schemes and accents—with the exception of the SuperTech, which has a TFT dash screen. The other three models sport a redesigned analog LCD dash.
Although exuding modernism in terms of design and technology, engineers have managed to retain the classic lines and established Vespa character with uncanny loyalty. With a focus on comfort, the Vespa retains the signature step-through design and flat floorboards, augmented by a redesigned, ergonomically-sound seat for the rider and passenger. The seating position, at 31.1 inches, allows for limited knee bend, while reaching the slightly wider bar—which grants better leverage—is incredibly comfortable.
Vespa’s MIA connectivity system comes standard on the SuperSport and SuperTech models, allowing smartphone calls, notifications, voice commands, and music through Bluetooth. The SuperTech has a 4.3-inch full color TFT screen which doubles as a navigation system, with easily readable pictograms enhancing directions.
Vespa’s most powerful engine to date (on the 300 version) puts out 23.8 hp—if you want to rev it to 8,250 rpm. The 278cc SOHC high-performance single-cylinder engine is fuel-injected and liquid-cooled with four valves (the 125cc is badged with the moniker of “i-get,” for Italian Green Experience Technology). Both configurations are Euro 5 compliant. The 300 delivers a delightful punch, with torque peaking at 19.2 lb-ft at 5,250 rpm, while being predictable enough to not intimidate new or beginning riders. The automatic dry centrifugal clutch and torque server transmission with vibration dampers is reported to be more durable and provides exceptionally smooth operation. The power available on the 300 pushes the claimed curb weight of 348 pounds right along.
Designers re-worked the famous necktie that runs down the front of the body screen and brought a more modern flow to the bodywork, giving the machine a sleeker look without disturbing the legendary lines. The tail light has been completely redesigned and the placement of the new LED turn signals has changed. They’re now sleekly worked into the leg cowling. The new lateral grids maintain that signature Vespa look. The brand has managed to modernize the beloved scooter without losing any of the original character.
The Vespa gets a new frame for 2023 but retains the time-honored sheet metal body construction with welded reinforcements for structural strength. In this day of green awareness, it should be noted the materials are 100% recyclable.
The new keyless system adds ease to starting and accessing the under-seat compartment, as well as activating the steering lock. There’s also a bike finder, which illuminates the turn indicator lights—a nice touch when you’re in a city overrun with scooters.
Stylish 12-inch five-spoke wheels have single 220mm discs front and rear, utilizing industry-leading Brembo calipers, which provide exceptional stopping performance. Vespa’s signature, patented single-sided front fork system has been highly modified, resulting in lower friction to smooth out the slide action. The change provides exceptional front end response and increased stability. At the rear, double hydraulic shocks with four-way adjustable spring preload provide personal tailoring. The Vespa provides a plush ride that smoothed out the worst of Rome’s cobblestone avenues—provided you avoid the biggest potholes, of which Rome has many. Hitting nasty divots will bottom out both ends.
The Streets of Rome
In a city that embraces and rewards the holeshot at stop lights, the Vespa GTS 300 delivers. The responsive throttle will definitely get you ahead of traffic, while the ABS and ASR traction control (ASR is only available on the 300) served the Vespa well on the slippery stonework of backstreets, as well as on wet roads. The GTS 300 has compliant, balanced manners in terms of turn-in—a far cry from the original Vespa scooters that were horrifically lopsided due to the engine placement.
It’s stable and comfortable at speed and highly maneuverable in slow, tight situations. There was an unexpected test of the ABS system when I rounded a blind corner into dead-stop traffic. Grabbing both brakes with a good deal of pressure resulted in a fast and controlled stop with impressive stability. The Vespa never lost its composure.
The madness of Roman traffic was somewhat subdued by the ease at which I could navigate the streets aboard the agile GTS, splitting traffic and dashing through the maze of the city’s many sights. There’s nothing quite like riding a scooter in the place it was designed for. An energetic scooter for an energetic crowd, the Vespa is a great deal of fun, and its impressive level of performance takes it well beyond a plaything. It’s a sensible and practical steed, possessing immense ridability.
I was left wanting for nothing with the GTS 300. It does everything it’s intended to do and does it extremely well. The miles chalked up in the countryside outside Rome spoke volumes to the GTS 300’s ability to provide a platform for a weekend getaway with a passenger—the notion bolstered by Vespa’s aftermarket front and rear luggage racks. Fuel capacity on the 300 is 2.24 gallon with an estimated (factory) 71.2 mpg, rendering a potential range of about 150 miles—depending on how liberal you are with the throttle. That’s enough to get you out of the city and into some greenery or off to a lake. These are the types of romantic wanderings the Vespa inspires.
The attributes and performance of the GTS 300 translate well to a number of American cities, making it a viable commuter and sensible urban vehicle. As scooters find increasing acceptance stateside for their ease of mobility, as well as the inherent saving in gas—not to mention a viable tool against congestion—it may not be long before the U.S. develops its own love affair with Vespa.
The price point of the 2023 Vespa ($7,799-$8,499) definitely elevates it to a luxury item. That said, the ride, performance, and build quality, as well as the iconic status of the brand, are thoroughly justified. And with a total of 14 striking paint schemes (spread over the entire range) you’ll certainly find a color that moves you.
2023 Vespa GTS 300
+ superlative performance for a scooter, bolstered by legendary lines
– underseat compartment will not accommodate a full-face helmet
Distributor: Piaggio Group Americas
Engine: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke, 4-valve, electronic injection
Power: 23.8hp @8,250rpm; 19lb-ft @5,250rpm
Transmission: CVT w/ torque server
Seat Height: 31.1in
Fuel Capacity: 2.24gal
Fuel Consumption: 71.2mpg
Colors: Verde Amabile, Nero Convinto