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First Times Ride: All-new Vespa 946

The Vespa 946 is the first new scooter model for Piaggio in six years.

The legendary Italian motor-scooter company Piaggio has pulled the covers off the Vespa 946, its first all-new scooter model in six years. It could be an instant classic.

Hand-built of welded steel and aluminum alloy in Piaggio's Pontedera factory, and "inspired by" the original MP6 Vespa prototype from 1946, this machine has classic Italian lines. The rear end looks like something off a vintage Bugatti.

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But this is no exercise in nostalgia. This is the first Vespa with ABS and electronic traction control. The 12-inch wheels are stopped by front and rear 220-millimeter disc brakes, the engine is fuel-injected and the transmission is a super-smooth CVT system that distributes the power very harmoniously.

The 946 is said to be capable of a top speed of 60 mph, and fuel consumption of over 100 mpg. Because it has a longer wheelbase than other Vespa models, it's very stable on the road, with none of the steering wobble that some scooters produce.

It's a pleasure to ride. I took an hourlong cruise down Sunset Boulevard, from downtown to the beach, and then rode back -- and could happily have kept riding.

Earlier this year, I rode and really liked the Vespa GTS300SS, which differs significantly from this model. The 300 has twice the engine capacity, meaning it's legal on the freeway and can zip in and out of traffic with confidence.

This city slicker is a little more ... urbane. It doesn't come off the line fast, and it doesn't hit the hills with much muscle.

But it's an elegant delight that is going to turn heads.

The 2014 version of the 946 will be followed by a new model, in a new color, every year. This one comes in gloss white with red seat and hand grips, or gloss black with gray seat and hand grips. Each year and color will also feature an alluring array of accessories, including a flyscreen, color-coordinated leather seat, helmet bag and hand grips, and a chrome luggage rack.

Those will be useful for buyers with anything left over after the purchase price, which is a hefty $9,946.

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