SF Review: The Stella 4T

The Stella 4T is an old-fashioned scooter.
If you’re the sort who’s charmed by antiquated machines, then Stella 4T deserves your attention. The gadget set need not stick around for the Stella, but come back for our Blur 220 review. The Stella 4T is, near-as-makes-no-difference, a vintage scooter that just happened to be manufactured this year. It’s an analog bike in a digital world — the latest album from your favorite band, but on vinyl. With that comes all the endearing trappings of vintage two-wheel motoring, but with a couple key modern upgrades. Which is why in evaluating the Stella 4T, there’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s too new, too well built, and too well equipped to really compare to vintage. But I can’t match the Stella 4T against modern scooters either. That’d be like scrambling a WWII fighter against a modern jet. It’s not a fair fight, and it’s not a fair evaluation on the value and capability of the Stella 4T.

Nope, all I can do with the Stella is evaluate it for exactly what it is: a new, old-fashioned scooter.

Fit and finish
Stella is a pretty name for a pretty girl. There are scads of modern scooters that try and fail to emulate the classic Italian lines of vintage wasps. Their efforts nearly always ring false — a shameless, saccharine stab at La Vita Dolce. And while the P-series scooters from which the Stella gets her curves aren’t the prettiest that ever left the hive, she at least comes by her looks honestly. She had better looking older sisters, but Stella’s still beautiful in her own right. There’s no mistaking the heritage and only those in the know are aware just how young she really is. Young girl or no, she’s still an old soul.

I appreciate how the Stella 4T is still made out of stamped and welded steel. Only the front mud guard, horn cover, and headset are made of plastic. The monocoque construction keeps the bike light at just 260 lbs, while making it exceptionally stiff for its size. Engineering aside, it’s an essential aspect of the Stella’s old-fashioned charm. It just wouldn’t be the same bike if it were tubes and plastic — even if it retained its lines. That’s been tried elsewhere, and the effect is not quite as nice.

The people at Genuine Scooter Company pride themselves on the quality of finish they’re able to wrangle for the Stella, and rightfully so. Here in The States, the Stella 4T is mostly a curiosity and a discretionary way of getting around. In its native India, it’s a much more practical mode of transportation. As such, the quality of fit and finish is less critical for such utilitarian usage. Genuine has worked very closely with its Indian counterparts to make sure that the Stella 4Ts coming to these shores have a level of quality, fit and finish that people here would expect in return for the $3,699 MSRP. In my opinion, they’ve succeeded.

Everything about our Stella 4T review bike was tight, precise, and in full working order. There was nothing sloppy about it, and yet, the Stella 4T retains plenty of character that can only be had with old-school design and manufacturing. It’s imperfect and old-fashioned, but therein lies the truest appeal. Looking at the gear indicator on the left-hand control, for example, the numbers look hand-stamped by tools that were sharp a long, long time ago. There’s a hand-finished quality to the Stella 4T. I’d be shocked to find a welding robot on the assembly line.

Bottom line, though, the fit and finish of the Stella 4T earns its price tag, which is something I can’t say about every scooter for sale in America. Its hand-finished quality makes it more sculpture than appliance, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Engine and transmission
Beyond its old-fashioned nature, the Stella itself is not a new machine. LML has been making a version of this bike since 1986 and Genuine Scooter Company began offering their two-stroke version here in America in 2003. What’s significantly new about the Stella 4T is the four-stroke powerplant introduced in 2011. Providing both California emissions qualification and reportedly a nearly 50 mpg boost to fuel economy, the Stella 4T’s engine is a major step forward for a machine that is otherwise old the day it’s born. The concept of the four-stroke engine is not new in and of itself, as Bajaj offered the 4-stroke Chetak P-series clone long ago, but this is an engine unique to the Stella 4T.

This new four-stroke engine, for all that it brings to the Stella, is still a relatively simple mill. Mated to a small-ish, economy-oriented CV carburetor, the Stella 4T isn’t going to win any drag races at just 8.3 hp. That said, the 148cc single-cylinder thumper makes more than enough torque (8 ft-lbs) to move the Stella 4T along briskly. While not immediately punchy, there’s power there once you learn to access it, and all while making a very pleasant growl. It’s not the throaty grumble you can get out of a Prima pipe on a Buddy 125, but it’s a nice note nonetheless.

For all its relative modernity, the Stella 4T’s engine is still relying on pretty old-fashioned tech. No fuel injection, for example. You’ll still have to choke it to get it started, and like any air-cooled four-stroke of yore, it runs rather cold-blooded. On anything but the warmest days, I had to leave the choke on (out) until I was down the road a mile or so. Otherwise, it would die on me at the first stop sign. This is no big deal, just one of many old-fashioned things one must understand in order to properly “operate” a Stella 4T. Attention to detail is rewarded, however, once the engine comes up to temperature. The Stella 4T, while still slower than its modern CVT counterparts, makes more than enough speed to be a lot of fun. Acceleration off the line will have you out ahead of all but the most enthusiastic traffic, and roll-on acceleration is more than adequate provided you’re in the correct gear.

The ratios in the transmission are well-matched to the engine’s power, with second and third gear being your real money gears around town. For normal city traffic, I found myself wanting to get out of first and into the Stella 4T’s taller second gear as soon as possible, wring it out a little, then up into third to cruise along with city traffic. The torque of the Stella 4T’s happy little thumper made gear selection pretty forgiving. I could get decent acceleration without always having to downshift, but more aggressive overtaking meant going down a gear. Matching revs for smooth downshifts became yet another fun aspect of operating the Stella 4T. Small though it be, the engine is very smooth, but I would have really appreciated a tach so that I could know when/if I was red-lining the thing.

While more than adequate in stop-and-go city traffic. It’s on longer cruises that the Stella 4T’s powerplant really shines. Because of the engine’s torquey character, I was able to just leave it in third gear and regulate my speed with throttle alone. It was in these longer, middle-speed rides that the Stella 4T’s charms became completely apparent. The shifting can get a little fussy if you’re in a constant, stop-and-go traffic situation, but get the Stella 4T out onto the back roads and it comes alive. The quiet, torquey little mill just churns away happily behind your feet — leaving your mind free to take in the countryside and play tag with the road’s irregularities. In this respect, I definitely recommend the Stella 4T more as a weekend wanderer than a daily, stop-and-go commuter.

Suspension, brakes and ride quality
In the list of things that make the Stella 4T old-fashioned, the suspension setup is included. It’s unsophisticated. The front shock absorbs just enough road errata to keep you on course, but that’s about it. This is not a cushy ride. The rear shock was nearly bottomed out under my large frame, yet I never found the Stella 4T outright uncomfortable. I’d hit my butt limit in about two hours of riding, and frankly, that’s good for any two-wheeler. I have motorcycles I can’t sit on that long. But the Stella 4T’s limited suspension capability means you’ll be dodging pot holes if you know what’s good for you. Although on 10″ wheels, that’s a good idea no matter how capable your suspension is. All in all, the ride is adequate, but with upgraded, adjustable shocks available for both the front and the rear of the Stella 4T, that’d be money very well spent. It’s one aspect of this old-fashioned machine where a bit of modern tech can make a profound, positive difference in the riding experience.

Less old-fashioned are the Stella 4T’s brakes. At least the front brake, that is. The hydraulic front disk gives the Stella 4T very competent braking power. While lacking in feel, the front disk most significantly sets the Stella 4T apart from her vintage ancestors where virtually all the braking power was actually in the rear brake. The front-to-back weight balance of the Stella 4T is not any different than her older PX cousins — which is to say it’s a butt-heavy bike — but the addition of the front disk helps bring the front/back braking power from 30/70 up to something closer to 60/40. The biggest thing hurting these more capable brakes is the nearly complete lack of feel in the front brake lever. While this doesn’t affect the brake’s actual stopping power, it definitely affected my confidence in using it. Where’s the limit? How hard can I squeeze this lever before locking up that front wheel? It’s something that can only be felt out and intuited over time. The capability is there, but accessing it with confidence is a challenge only time and experience will overcome.

As much as I like it, the Stella 4T is deeply flawed. By modern standards it’s slow to go, slower to stop and slow to get used to. It’s a fussy thing and it can be difficult to ride it well. Between the manual gears and the powerful-but-wooden front brake, the Stella requires that much more attention and forethought to get the most out of it. All the extra control cables and fussy switches mean it’s also a bit higher maintenance than its modern cousins. Anyone considering the Stella 4T really must keep these limitations in mind.

That said, I wouldn’t have this scooter any other way.

In a world full of pretty faces and easy rides, it’s nice to encounter a little character. There is great satisfaction found in matching the revs in a good downshift and tucking the thing into a quick right-hander. There’s a special enjoyment in conserving your forward momentum and keeping your speed up because there just isn’t that much power there. There is reward in mastering the machine’s many quirks. For all its fussiness, the Stella 4T is supremely enjoyable — especially on long and winding roads. Show it some countryside and it’ll reward you with a riding experience a modern bike simply can’t offer.

As a bottom line, I consider one question above all others in evaluating a scooter. Would I spend my own money on it? In this case, would I throw down $3,700 on the Stella’s flawed vintage flair? The answer is yes. Absolutely. Paired with Genuine’s two-year warranty and roadside assistance, it’s worth every penny.

I think the Stella 4T would make a perfect addition to nearly any fleet. It wouldn’t be my first choice as the only two-wheeler in my garage, but were I in the market for a second bike to supplement another scooter or motorcycle, the Stella 4T would be at the top of my list. Not because it’s so capable. It’s not. But because the Stella 4T scratches all the vintage scooter itch I’ll likely ever have. In my view, it’s everything great about an old-fashioned scooter but with fewer of the drawbacks that come with real vintage riding. The best of both worlds? A more modern motor, modern front brake, and available upgrades make the Stella 4T an “old” bike you can actually live with and rely on. Yeah, I reckon that is the best of both worlds.

Lastly, the Stella 4T is as brilliant for what it is as for what it represents. It’s a touchstone to the past. It’s a branch of a tree that reaches all the way back to the beginning of scooters as we know them. For all its flaws, after spending a few weeks with this scooter, I can’t help but love her. Call me a romantic, but this is a scooter for romantics. You can’t be cynical on a Stella. She’s the last of her kind — the last (mostly) all metal, manual shift scooter you’ll probably ever be able to buy. In that sense, owning a Stella could almost be thought of as a conservation effort.

In any case, it’s a scooter that deserves consideration. If you’ve ever romanticized riding a vintage scooter, but aren’t ready for all the uncertainty of running an old machine, then Stella might just be the girl — er, scooter for you.

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