Review: Hands-on With the Stella 125 Auto

This year marks a new chapter in the Stella story. The Stella 125 Automatic, or “Stellauto” as it’s coming to be known on the boards, is one of the most highly-anticipated new scooter models to come along in quite some time. The appeal is easy to understand. You get vintage, Roman Holiday looks, but without all that pesky clutch and shifter fuss. For many, the Stella has been their aspirational scooter, but shifting gears was a barrier to actually pulling the trigger on a Stella purchase. With the success of the Genuine Buddy 125, a twist-and-go Stella makes a lot of sense, but would it actually be any good?

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Matching a modern, CVT-enabled engine into a chassis designed 40 years ago isn’t exactly a straightforward operation. Since we first heard rumors of the Stella 125 Automatic’s existence, my big question was not why, but how? How would they pull this off in a way that wasn’t just an improvised mess? Would the CVT make for a scooter that was impossible or obnoxious to service? Would a twist-and-go Stella be too convoluted — too improvised — to be a viable market product? Or was this just an exercise in wishful thinking?

All those questions and more got answered at Genuine’s unveil event. With a healthy litter of Stella 125 Automatic demos on hand for riding and one unit up on a pedestal for closer examination, Genuine seemed bound and determine to show just how clever this new little scooter really is. Let’s start with the easy stuff.

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Chassis

The Stella 125 Automatic is basically identical to its predecessors from the rear swing arm bolt forward. It’s the same stamped steel monocoque, the same front suspension and brake, same fender and horn cast. It’s the same seat, same headset, same glove box, same taillight and same indicator lights. The headset even still has the gear indicator dimple — because it’s literally the same part.

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Visually, the only thing to differentiate the Stella 125 Automatic from the 4T (or the original 2T) is a pair of underbody vents that peak out under the leg shield, some Super-style louver vents in the side cowls, and a single “automatic” badge on the glove box door. Peak under the left side cowl and you’ll see that familiar CVT outer casing, but otherwise there’s nothing about the Stella 125 Automatic that screams “I’m a fundamentally different scooter!” That’s because with one key exception, it’s not.

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Engine and transmission

That exception, obviously, is the engine and transmission. Developed in-house by LML, the Stella 125 Automatic’s power-plant is something we’ve seen photos and renderings of on the European model, the Star. What’s difficult to appreciate in photographs is just how clever this new motor really is. While certainly folded in there tightly, there is nothing about the Stella 125 Automatic’s drivetrain that makes it seem like an afterthought. It’s not improvised and held together with twine and chewing gum. Instead, the single-cylinder CVT has been re-oriented specifically for use in this chassis.

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Where most GY6-style scooter engines have their transmissions parallel to the ground and the “jug” of the engine pointed forward around 45º, the engine in the Stella 125 Automatic has been brought back, and rotated up. The engine cylinder sits vertically, right under the seat. In fact, you can actually pivot the seat up, remove the cylinder cover, and do the Stella 125 Automatic’s valve service from above. More on clever serviceability in a moment. With the engine vertical, the transmission angles downward at a sharp angle to keep the driveline package as compact as possible. Bottom line: this was no mere retrofit. This is an engine/transmission redesigned specifically to fit in this chassis.

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This macro reconfiguration of the engine has a domino effect on the drivetrain’s other components. For example, with the engine cylinder more-or-less where the fuel tank was originally, the tank has been been relocated to the right rear corner of the scooter, under the side cowl. This means that the fuel can no longer be gravity fed to the Stella 125 Automatic’s carburetor. To combat this, an electric fuel pump has been added, which pumps fuel from the main tank into a small fuel reservoir located under the seat. Fuel can then gravity feed to the carb from there. Any overflow from the reservoir is fed directly back into the fuel tank via the filler spout.

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I was surprised to learn that the Stella 125 Automatic is still carbureted as opposed to fuel injected. Yet the system is actually much more advanced than the typical carburetor combo you’d find on the Stella 4T or other two-wheelers. The Stella 125 Automatic features an ECU, oxygen sensor and throttle position sensor, just like a fuel-injected bike. In fact the only component missing for full fuel-injection is the injector itself. As the engine runs and demands are made on it, the ECU takes readings from the various sensors and uses a valve in the intake tract to vary the amount of air coming into the carburetor as needed. Because the carburetor is a constant-velocity type, the overall air-to-fuel ratio can be tweaked on the fly as the Stella’s onboard computer varies the flow of air into the carburetor. Changes in altitude, humidity and other factors can now be accounted for on-the-fly based on data from the oxygen sensor, and the system is able to minimize emissions and maximize fuel economy based on the rider’s throttle input and other environmental conditions.

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The more we learned about the Stella 125 Automatic’s engine, the more we realized just how clever it really is. Yet these creative solutions to a rather demanding packaging problem weren’t the only smart aspects of the new Stella’s engine design. The Stella 125 Automatic comes with a maintenance-free gel battery as standard. Key maintenance components such as the starter relay and the regulator/rectifier are mounted right out in the open for easy access. The engine oil drain is the most easily accessible of any scooter I’ve ever seen. And as mentioned earlier, the valve service can be done from under the seat. LML clearly had serviceability in mind when they designed and packaged this engine — much more so than really any other scooter I’ve ever seen. The entire back end of the scooter comes apart easily. An experienced mechanic could probably have the engine out and half apart inside of 20 minutes.

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There is one significant casualty to this reconfiguration, however. The Stella 125 Automatic does not carry a spare tire under it’s side cover anymore. That little gray cover is a fake — a nod to an earlier time. If you want a spare tire along, you’ll have to go with a backrest-mounted version.

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Fit and finish

At the launch event, we saw Stella 125 Automatics in Black, Blue, Red and Cream. One thing that really stood out was the quality and shine of the paint finishes. The Blue and Red bikes especially were noteworthy simply by how much metal flake was in the paint. While not at bass boat levels, there was definitely a hot rod amount of sparkle to these two new colors. The Black and Cream were more conventional finishes, but the execution of all the paintwork seemed a real step forward for what was already better than you’d expect to find on relatively inexpensive scooters sourced from India. This is one of many areas where the Genuine/LML partnership has really paid off — they’ve really helped LML care about the quality of the Stella’s finish. It looks as good one could ever expect for any machine produced on 40 year-old tooling, however there are still opportunities for that to get better. For example, the “automatic” badge on the Stella’s glove box door was straighter on some of the demo bikes than it was on others. I have a feeling the average prospective “Stellauto” buyer is going to be less forgiving of a bike that is anything less that modern-machine perfect.

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Overall impressions

I honestly didn’t know what to expect with the Stella 125 Automatic, yet the execution has definitely won me over. (That, and the ride, but we’ll get to that in another post.) This is a machine that for many, only existed in their imagination. It was the conceptual perfection of vintage scooter looks married to modern twist-and-go convenience. While it’s still an old-fashioned scooter, the Stella 125 Automatic is the realization of that dream, and at an expected asking price of less than $4,000, it’s a dream many will finally be able to make come true.

Stella 125 Automatic Launch Gallery:

See more photos from the launch event on Instagram.

Special thanks to Genuine Scooter Company for inviting us to the Stella 125 Automatic launch event and providing us with demo models for evaluation. Additional thanks to ScooterWorks Chicago for hosting the event.

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