As we said in our hands-on review, the Stella 125 Automatic from Genuine Scooter Company is a more sophisticated and cleverly-packaged scooter than we expected. This melding of the vintage and the modern is something a lot of scooter fans have been looking forward to for quite some time. With the details examined, it was time for the rubber to literally meet the road.
ScooterFile West Coast Correspondent and Senior Editor, Eric Almendral, and I were granted a pair of metal-flake blue Stella 125 Automatics to demo during the launch event. Besides the louvers and the single “automatic” badge on the glovebox door, there’s nothing at first glance to tell one Stella from another. In a lineup of 2Ts, 4Ts and Automatics, the average person would never be able to tell the difference. That similarity would set the tone for our ride since the primary question I felt like we needed to answer was this: Is this still a Stella? In the looks department, that’s a resounding yes.
Even on that cool Spring morning, my Stella 125 Automatic fired right to life. Like any modern twist-and-go, starting this bike requires the depression of either brake lever before pressing the starter button. The fast idle of a cold Chicago afternoon soon gave way to a contented, throaty idle. Sitting astride the Stella 125 Automatic and rocking it off the center-stand (there is currently no side stand), the bike felt like all its older siblings. It’s light, compact, off balance to the rear and left, and eager to roll.
The moment of truth was with that first twist of the throttle. With no manual clutch in play, what would pull away be like? With an assertive twist of the right grip, the Stella 125 Automatic strode forward confidently out of ScooterWorks paddock. Pulling out onto Damen Ave, I was surprised just how much torque the 125cc CVT was able to produce. While it certainly doesn’t pull as hard as say, the Blur SS220i, the more immediate power availability alleviated any concerns I had about the Stella Auto being 125cc instead of 150cc. Sure, you might miss that extra 25cc at the ragged top end, but this really isn’t that kind of scooter. This is very old fashioned chassis, running old fashioned suspension, and still rolling around on 10″ wheels. Even if the Stella 125 Automatic could do 90 mph, I don’t think I’d want to pilot it at those speeds.
Don’t let that sound like a bad kind of limitation though. As we cruised around Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, the enduring charm of the Stella platform shone through very brightly. The bike still feels like a Stella 100%. The steering is very light and almost too responsive thanks to the bikes rearward center of gravity and short rake. That’s typical Stella. The suspension is adequate but unsophisticated. Again, typical Stella. Where the Stella 125 Automatic stands out is in available power and braking.
Eliminating the shifting from the Stella hasn’t robbed it of any character. What it’s done is made the bike more responsive by simple virtue of always being “in the right gear.” When you’ve only got so much power to work with, gearing is everything. The relationship between variator weights, slope, contra and clutch spring rates appears to be spot on. Roll-on acceleration is peppy and a big handful of throttle will get the Stella 125 Automatic surging forward with all the “I think I can” head of steam it can muster. The engine is focused on torque over outright horsepower, which suits the Stella 125 Automatic’s old fashioned sensibility, but also keeps it very fun to ride. I also loved the exhaust note. There’s a very pleasant growl to it, with none of the “angry lawnmower” drone you get in a lot of modern scooters (such as the Blur SS220i, for example). Under effort, the Stella 125 Automatic sounded like the world’s smallest Spitfire. There was a distinctly vintage and especially european “warble” in the sound of the engine.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Stella 125 Automatic’s riding dynamics were the brakes. The surprise? They actually work. They work very well, in fact. Where on any properly vintage Vespa or even the Stella 4T, you’re planning your stops well in advance, the Stella 125 Automatic will stop with much more confidence and control than any bike to ever share that chassis. The key difference is that rear brake. An assertive, smooth pull on both levers will bring the bike to an enthusiastic halt. While not as powerful as the Blur, for example, these new brakes are about as powerful as you could ever make use of on 10″ wheels. They’re finally fully matched to the other capabilities of the bike. It’s now much more difficult to over-drive the available braking power.
Riding around on the Stella 125 Automatic, it was as chipper and inviting as the Stella has ever been. As Eric and I dodged the massive potholes littering Chicago’s streets from this winter, the charm of the Stella 125 Automatic couldn’t be denied. More than that, though, what Genuine has here is a much less intimidating Stella in every respect. By eliminating the need to shift, I have two fewer control points (clutch and gear selector). By moving the rear brake to the left hand control, I don’t have to change my body posture to stop. With better brakes and better access to engine power, all I have to do is ride. I go. I turn. I stop. It’s simply easy. As intended, there are fewer barriers to my simply enjoying what is still a mostly vintage machine.
I can’t emphasize that last point enough. Despite better braking and an automatic transmission, the Stella 125 Automatic is still as old-fashioned feeling as it’s ever been. There’s no mistaking it for a Buddy or other modern twist-and-go scooter. There’s no comparing it to a modern Vespa LX or Primavera. The Stella remains from another era. It’s unbalanced, it’s immoderate, and it takes a lot more skill to ride one well than similarly sized modern scooters. Not shifting gears doesn’t change how alive the steering is or what a wild ride 10″ wheels will always be. The bike still begs for upgraded suspension components and it’s still using outdated switch locations on the hand controls.
For Stella fans, hopefully that’s good news. This is still a Stella. The soul of the scooter is intact. For those who simply wanted the ride of a Buddy 125 in the aesthetics of the Stella, your expectations may need to be realigned. That said, the Stella 125 Auto is a boatload of fun to ride and looks just as romantic as she always did. While the level of sophistication has certainly gone up a notch, it’s in just the right places.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis from Eric, who in addition to simply having his own opinions, is a long-time Stella 4T owner.