There are at least 2,000 reasons Yamaha built the new 125cc NMAX. That’s roughly how many Honda PCX scooters were sold in the UK last year putting them right at the top of the 2014 sales list, and unsurprisingly, Yamaha wants in.
In similar fashion to the MT-07 and MT-09, Yamaha wants the NMAX to offer more for less. More tech, more power and more reasons to buy one for less than money than the PCX - makes a lot of sense.
Priced at £2,599, £100 cheaper than the PCX, the NMAX is already on to a good start so we headed to the bustling city of Lisbon, Portugal, to find out how the little scoot copes in a true urban environment.
There’s only so much technology you can squeeze into a 125cc engine but the Yamaha’s still manages to impress. It has four valves, two more than the PCX for smoother pick-up and improved throttle response and a new variable-valve timing (VVT) system. It was only a few months ago we were hyped to see VVT on Ducati’s new Multistrada, now we’re seeing it for the first time on an entry-level scooter.
The VVT system helps get the most out of the little engine - torque at low rpm without sacrificing performance and smoothness at high rpm. It’s hard to get excited over the 12hp power figure but it’s more than the PCX’s 11.5hp and according to Yamaha gives the NMAX two-and-a-half bike lengths over the PCX in a 200-metre drag race.
On a short stretch of motorway I nudged the NMAX to an indicated 67mph and it still had a small amount left to give. Given another 100-metres and I reckon I’d have seen 70mph, useful for those inevitable motorway journeys. Jousting in-between lorries at 65mph in the inside line is never fun.
Valves, VVT and geek stuff aside, the engine has a lot of character. It’s reminiscent of the engine in the much sportier MT125 and R125 - fast-revving, very smooth, and happy to be held near the limiter without making a complete racket.
From the rider’s seat it makes a lot of sense as an urban commuter. At 5ft 11’ I could either sit upright, or place myself further back and stretch my legs out on to the footboards for a more relaxed riding position. Other riders several inches taller than me didn’t have any issues with comfort either.
The huge steering angle, tall bars and low 127kg wet weight means you can easily turn on a sixpence without the bars knocking into your knees, in fact slicing through traffic is so easy it becomes a game more than anything else. The light weight also means mpg doesn’t suffer (Yamaha claims 129mpg) and it takes barely any strength to roll the bike onto the centrestand.
And there’s another trump card up that NMAX sleeve - ABS brakes as standard. There's no doubting the system takes the fun out of pulling skids, but I’d opt for ABS on a scooter any day of the week, you’d be mad not to. The ABS was a nice feature on the sun-baked cobbles of Portugal and I suspect will be even more useful on wet leaf-covered roads throughout winter.
Scooters are clearly designed to excel at a number of things: economy, practicality, and comfort, to name a few. The Yamaha has the first two nailed but I’m not sure I could call the NMAX comfortable. It’s certainly no torture rack; the riding position is just right and the seat is well-padded, but the suspension is relatively firm for such a city-focused machine. I found myself standing up over speed bumps or when I couldn’t avoid potholes. It’s worth noting that some of Lisbon’s streets were particularly bad, so it may be much less of an issue elsewhere in Europe.
For the most part, the NMAX gets it really right and I can’t see why it won’t do some serious damage to PCX sales. It has a smart LED front light, a fancy digital gauge packed with info, enough space under the seat to fit a full face helmet, and there’s another storage compartment below the handlebars large enough to carry a phone, wallet, or in our case a 500ml bottle of water.
It comes with a large 110-section Dunlop front tyre for extra grip and improved ride and the 6.6L tank should, in theory, see off at least 160 miles per tank.
Without comparing the PCX and NMAX side-by-side it’s almost impossible to say which is best, which is exactly why we’ll soon be putting the two head-to-head in an upcoming episode of Bike World TV.
In the meantime, the NMAX is available from the end of June in Red, White, Black and Titanium for £2,599.
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