The 946 creates its appeal through iconic style and exclusivity, while backing that up with bevy of features to justify its price.
World class design
Technological tour de force
The 946 is Vespa’s flagship scooter. Rather than build upon their current designs, Vespa looked way back to 1946 (hence the name) to their original wasp concept, and worked from there to create the 946. Rather than develop a mainstream model, Vespa crafted a flagship design to inspire future models and generations in the same way the original Vespa did. The result is the 946 – a fresh interpretation of what it means to be a Vespa in the 21st century.
The 946 was first shown in fall 2011 at the EICMA show badged as the Quarantasei. This new model starts from the premise that cost is no object (and hopefully for buyers it isn’t). It asks what a scooter should be, and then pursues that in every way possible. It’s dramatic in both style and substance, with more new technology in one model than Vespa has added in the past decade. Technological advances include ABS, LED headlamp, LCD display, traction control, partial aluminum construction, front and rear disc brakes and hand sewn leather.
2016: Emporio Armani
Vespa sells the 946 in annual limited edition runs, the first of which was the 2013 Ricordo Italiano edition (below left). This first run was available in white or black, both of which included hand stitched leather accents (grips, seat). This run also has an engraved seat mount saying 2013 although it didn’t hit showrooms until November 2013 and it’s being widely referred to as a 2014 model.
Vespa has made a line of accessories available for the 946, most appealing of which is an aluminum rear rack and matching red luggage. This option contributes much needed storage to the 946 and fits well very with the style of the 946, unlike the ungainly top boxes perched on many scooters.
The second “2014” version of the 946 is known as the Bellissima (top photo). This limited edition model will arrive in a single batch of 100 units allocated to North America. The Bellissima doesn’t stray far from the Ricordo model, but it does come in two new colors (deep metallic blue or silver) instead of black or white. The other big change is to the seat, which is now a 2-piece contraption that makes added a passenger plausible. Vespa also made some minor changes to the rim design, made the rear rack standard and updated their accessory list to include a spare tire that mounts to the rear rack.
The third 2015/2016 version is the Emporio Armani Edition, badged the 946 EA. This model has a neat dark greenish grey paint job, matte accents and probably too many Armani logo’s. The blacked out rims and darked rear luggage rack and other accents are nice.
Version four offered for 2017 is a (red) edition as part of the red project to fight AIDs. Unsurprisingly, the (red) 946 features red paint on the frame, wheels, mirrors etc. and badging that identifies it as part of the AIDs project. Vespa is donating $150 for each of these sold.
The 946 breaks fresh ground for Vespa with its polemical style. It’s clearly a Vespa, yet not a clear stylistic extension of any one model. It’s slimmer than Vespa’s of the past decade, yet far more curvaceous than the 80’s – 90’s Vespa PX era. Vespa calls it a continuation of the 1946 MP6 design and while that connection isn’t explicit, there’s also no other Vespa that’s closer in style. In short, it’s an entirely new – and sharp looking – direction for the iconic Italian maker. With the 946 no one can accuse Vespa of being timid.
As a whole, the 946 design is superlative. Some argue the cantilever seat is over the top or lacking in function (no underseat storage), but at $10k this machine is more fashion statement that frugal run-about anyways. The 946 delivers a coherent shape that flows extremely well to the rear end that is more wasp like than any recent Vespa. Particularly nice touches include the graphite rims, rear taillight and billet seat mount.
Aside from the styling, the biggest news with the 946 design is the incorporation of aluminum. Vespa has constructed the side panels, fenders, seat and handlebar covers from this light but expensive material. Traditionally Vespas have used a steel monocoque body which also serves as the frame. This concept has always been heavier than competing scooters with steel frames but plastic panels, so Vespa’s use of aluminum closes the gap here.
Still, there’s a pretty big gap in weight between the 946 and most other scootes because the 946 is also quite a long machine. Its wheelbase is 55.3” with a 346 lbs total weight, while a plastic scooter like Yamaha’s Vino 125 weighs 240 lbs with a 48.3” wheelbase. So in this area, the 946 is actually not far off from a machine like Suzuki’s Burgman 200 (360 lbs with 57.7” wheelbase).
Another unique attribute is Vespa’s use of a horizontally mounted and linkage activated rear shock. By relocating the shock Vespa keeps the lines clean and makes the adjustable preload easier to access. The front suspension uses Vespa’s traditional anti-dive architecture where a swing arm and shock handle the duties. The 946 differs from other Vespas with its elongated wheelbase. The 946 adds several inches between the wheels to establish its long look and to boost stability and handling at high speeds.
Stopping the 946 is handled by disc brakes at both ends of the scooter. The use of a rear disc brake is uncommon in small scooters, and ABS is unheard of. The braking systems at both wheels are linked so pulling on the front brake applies the rear as well (for safety reasons the opposite isn’t true). While models haven’t hit the road in North America yet, the 946 ought to best the best stopping mid-sized scooter out there.
The 946 is physically small design that is initially available with a 125cc or 150cc motor depending on where you live (same motor with 52mm or 58mm bores). Most of the world is being offered the 125cc variant (which broadly meets learner regulations) but North American’s are receiving the 150cc version which meets interstate requirements across the USA. Either way the 946 is powered by a redesigned 3-valve 4-stroke that uses air cooling and fuel injection. Air cooling is the only contentious design choice, as it trades steady temperatures and finer tolerances for lower weight and simplicity.
Buyers in the USA and Canada will have 12.7 HP on tap (150cc), while overseas models get 10% less (11.6 HP). That’s a step above the fuel injected 150cc motor used in the LX and S models, which make 12.0 HP. If you’re worried about excessive wheelspin with the extra 0.7 ponies Vespa has you covered. The standard traction control in the 946 prevents wheel spin – which realistically is only going to happen when you’re headed uphill in the winter. With a 5-10% increase in power and torque over similar Vespas and a lower weight, the 946 should accelerate with alacrity and exceed the milage of its stablemates. Vespa is claiming 155 mpg, which is blatantly optimistic but it should easily best the 65 mpg previous mid-sized Vespa’s have achieved. Besides the improved milage, the 946 goes easier on the planet with the inclusion of a 3-way catalytic converter. This lowers emissions by 30% (except for C02).
With the 946 Vespa can legitimately boast having no competitors. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how you look at it. This model enters uncharted waters by creating a new “ultra premium” scooter class. Normally a mid-sized Vespa retails for around $5g, so the 946 doubles that with its $9946 tag. As other Vespas were already the priciest scooters on the market, people considering the 946 probably aren’t comparison shopping it with other makes. The 946 isn’t replacing a second car like many scooters – it’s getting parked between the Alfa Romeo and Maserati.
The 946 creates its appeal through iconic style and exclusivity, while backing that up with bevy of features to justify its price. It might not be affordable or necessary, but it is awesome and it delivers value through the inclusion of features normally found on much larger machines. Undoubtedly owners are paying for style, but they’re also getting the finest scooter on the planet. Even if you do think the 946 is crazy, it doesn’t much matter because Vespa is only selling a trickle of these. For 2014 the Canadian market is receiving a mere 26, while a couple hundred ought to land in the USA. Those should easily be snapped up by Vespa aficionados.