The launch of the 2016 BMW C650 Sport/C650 GT scooter is something of a serious departure for CarAdvice. You’ll no doubt have noted the ‘car’ in ‘CarAdvice’ and yes, these BMW scooters are two wheels short of our usual fare. However, BMW is keen to emphasise that many maxi scooter owners come to two-wheeled transportation directly from the car world and are not dyed-in-the-wool bikers like motorcycle owners usually are. With BMW assuring us that the maxi scooter craze is now a genuine entrée to two-wheel ownership, let’s take a closer look at whether the new BMW scooter can deliver on that promise.
With a full suite of electronic safety gear – that actually works in the real world – like ABS and traction control, the step across to two wheels is nowhere near as daunting as it once was for new riders either. We can say the systems work, because we watched numerous demonstrations of both the ABS and traction control in loose gravel, and the advantage these two systems will give the novice rider is immeasurable.
I’ve recently purchased a motorcycle with ABS (the first I’ve owned with the system) and I love it, especially on wet roads when an emergency stop is required. Ride a motorcycle equipped with traction control back-to-back with an earlier model that doesn’t have the electronics and once again, the difference is stark. Experienced riders often claim they prefer the raw connection of the older motorcycles, and that might be true, but new riders won’t know what they’re missing, so they can simply rejoice in the safety.
Add an optional top box with pillion backrest, and the whole riding experience for both rider and pillion is a lot more comfortable than it used to be too. The GT model even has a heated seat and handgrips – very un-motorcycle-like and a useful addition for cooler cities around Australia.
I attended the original launch of the BMW scooter range back in 2012, and it was evident then that BMW was taking its move into the scooter market quite seriously. As such, the two models we test here have been lightly revised rather than redesigned compared to those first two models. BMW knows it won’t sell these scooters in bulk numbers but fans of the brand now have a scooter option if they do want to crossover, rather than just motorcycles.
Neither model is cheap, with pricing starting from $14,150 (plus on-road costs) for the Sport and $14,990 for the GT, but the old saying you get what you pay for is true even in the scooter market. In a sea of ‘brand X’ cheap, plastic knock offs, the BMW scooters feel solid, sturdy and well built. It’s obviously hard to predict how something will last once you start using (and in some cases abusing) it, but the way these scooters are built seems to be to the standard of the BMW motorcycle range. We’ve heard the argument that you buy the cheap garbage, beat it to death, never service it, only check brakes and tyres and then effectively throw it away, but that doesn’t match the ownership experience you’ll have if you plan on keeping a quality scooter longer term. Buy a known brand and you’ll still be riding it many years down the track.
BMW also wants its scooter owners to head off on longer rides with these two models – the GT especially. Whether owners will do that or not is something that’s hard to nail down, but you’d feel a lot safer heading out of town on a BMW than you would riding a no-name cheapie that’s for sure. BMW’s reputation for bulletproof reliability – think GS enduro motorcycles – means you can assume there won’t be too many issues. We spent nearly 200km in the saddle at launch and the scooters were certainly comfortable.
BMW’s engine plant in Taiwan churns out scooter engines for various brands and build to exacting specifications for BMW’s Motorrad division. The 650cc parallel-twin is paired to a CVT, which works so much better under a scooter than most cars – you’ll be left wondering where some car manufacturers are going wrong. It’s drive is immediate, without any delay or slurring and the combination gets both scooters up to speed rapidly. You’ll nail most cars off the mark at the lights if you’re quick with the throttle, making carving around town a breeze. Not having to worry about a clutch makes launching the scooter easier than a bike in fact.
You might question the logic of a German powerhouse like BMW sourcing engines out of Taiwan – I did originally too – but the reality is this; the Asian market is awash with scooters that get hammered over their service life, rarely serviced and consistently overloaded, meaning if an engine can survive in most parts of Asia, it can survive anywhere. Added to that, four years on from the BMW’s original launch, we’ve seen nothing to indicate any intrinsic problems with the unit that BMW uses.
Taking a look at both models before we head out for a ride, the cockpit is cleanly designed and well laid out, so that the gauges are easy to decipher even in direct light and the main controls for indicators and high beams are within easy reach of the handgrips. We liked the LED DRLs that you can turn on and off via a switch mounted at the top of the left-side switch console. We’d leave that on all the time for safety’s sake.
The GT with optional top box makes all sorts of sense in terms of storage and the expandable under-seat area means you can drop the floor down when stationary to store two helmets. The pocket effectively rests on the rear tyre, so there’s plenty of extra storage once you do expand that section. Both models have clever pockets hidden behind doors ahead of the handle bars too – perfect for wallets, phones and keys. With the top box added, you’ll be able to stuff plenty of shopping under the seat and into the box to take home also, another advantage of the maxi scooter sector. The top box also adds a comfortable backrest that most pillions will really appreciate.
Styling is very much a subjective thing of course, but the Sport and GT have a sharp, angular appeal to them that garners plenty of admiring glances on the street. There really aren’t too many scooters you could call genuinely beautiful, apart from some of the retro Vespa designs over the past decade or so, but the BMWs definitely look edgy enough to keep people interested.
Both Sport and GT share the same 650cc engine, so that means 44kW at 7750rpm and 63Nm at 6000rpm. Driving through that aforementioned CVT, BMW has tuned the engine to deliver improved performance low in the rev range, a higher 180km/h top speed, and consumption of 4.6L/100km at a constant 90km/h.
The redesigned exhaust system delivers a throaty growl even at idle, but we’d almost certainly opt for the optional Akrapovic system. I’ve run two motorcycles with the Slovenian brand’s systems fitted and the quality, not to mention the soundtrack, is second to none. More noise means you’re more likely to be heard on the road too, which is no bad thing.
The immediacy of the pickup from standstill is impressive, and you’ll find yourself slicing around town effortlessly not long after you saddle up. The brakes are likewise excellent, and pulling the scooter up from highway speed to a dead stop doesn’t ever result in white knuckle terror. In car terms, the power and torque figures don’t sound like much, but remember that with the sport for example, you’re only moving 249kg with a full tank of fuel on board. Add an extra 100kg with my tubby frame in the seat of course, but these scooters don’t weigh a huge amount.
The reality is that the two BMW scooters we’ve tested here offer the comfort and convenience of a maxi scooter with riding dynamics that are way more like a motorcycle than a traditional scooter. Even the seating position makes you feel like you’re sitting down into the frame rather than up on top of it. They might be a touch too big for shorter riders, but they really do offer a practical entrée to the world of two wheels. Of the two, I prefer the GT even though both chassis’ are effectively identical.
There’s something about the seating position that makes the GT feel like a bigger scooter and the Sport isn’t that much sportier that I’d be willing to buy that model over the GT. The Sport is definitely a little sharper in twisty sections and feels more nimble, but you can still hustle the GT along with plenty of gusto and I like its list of standard equipment. Some of the highlights include the heated seat and grips, an electrically adjustable front screen and front wind deflectors. At highway speeds, the GT offers more protection from the wind with the screen extended up. Either scooter is comfortable though and both benefit from a low centre of gravity, which gives you plenty of confidence to tip them into corners at higher speeds than you might have thought possible.
Our test models were shod with quality Pirelli tyres, although BMW Australia told us to expect up to three different tyre manufacturers when we see the scooters in dealerships. The main reason is to cater to regularity of supply and servicing, but the Pirelli’s were exceptional, especially over a few slippery sections of shaded national park roads.
Neither Sport nor GT is cheap, but I suspect the potential buyer will sign on to BMW scooter ownership for the long haul meaning the initial purchase price might be less of an issue. Regardless, maxi scooter ownership doesn’t come cheap no matter which brand you choose. If you’re new to riding, you’ll love the BMW’s approachability and safety coupled with the impressive storage capacity.
If you’re an experienced rider, you’ll love the dynamics, balance and riding prowess from something that is so much more practical than a motorcycle. Those of us who like to pretend we’re tough guy bikers might not want to admit that scooters make a whole lot of sense, but they do. And when it comes to maxi scooters, the BMW is right at the top of the food chain.