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499: Environmental charge
The futuristic electric-and-gasoline hybrid Toyota Alphard aims to take the financial strain out of owning a large van, while reducing emissions to boot. Justin Gardiner takes one for a cruise.
497: Thrills and spills
The next two weekends feature Japan's two biggest Grand Prix races, the Pacific Moto GP, and the final round of the Formula 1 Championship. Justin Gardiner gets pole position.
495: Time warp
It was christened the Japanese Ferrari when it was launched way back in 1991. Justin Gardiner reckons the intended compliment still doesn't do justice to Honda's NSX.
493: Point to point
Just how much faster is a 1,000cc superbike than a 50cc scooter in our sprawling megalopolis? Justin Gardiner borrowed a few Aprilia bikes to find out.
491: Future classic
The Audi TT Roadster has become the archetypal convertible of the decade, with good looks matched by great handling. Justin Gardiner gets behind the wheel.
489: Name value
Toyota's Lexus is one of the most respected brands in the West, but almost unheard of in its home country. Justin Gardiner wonders why.
487: Revolutionary ride
Mazda proudly proclaims that its RX-8 is peerless, and for once the claim is more than marketing hype. Justin Gardiner revs it up.
485: Thinking big
What’s behind the astonishing popularity of oversized scooters on Tokyo’s roads? Justin Gardiner and three veteran motorcyclists aim to find out.
483: Off the beaten path
Honda’s Element harks back to the days when a 4x4’s interior could be washed down with a hose. Justin Gardiner goes for a spin.
481: Track days
Tokyo offers amateur racers the chance to prove that they’re the next Michael Schumacher. Justin Gardiner hits the speedways.
479: My Fairlady
The Datsun 240Z changed the fortunes of Nissan Motors back in 1969. This year, the new 350Z heads up their international line-up for the 21st century. Justin Gardiner reports.
477: Small is better
Justin Gardiner gets the scoop on scooters to fit every taste and budget.
475: Two for the price of one
Justin Gardiner drives two cars that can fit into a single parking space, the Smart K and the Suzuki Twin.
473: Multiple personality
In a world of nigh-on-identical minivans, Fiat’s Multipla dares to be different. Justin Gardiner drives the distinctive import.
471: Days at the races
Honda, the traditional Japanese champions of motorsports in Japan, are facing a tough challenge on their home turf. Justin Gardiner looks forward to what promises to be a bumper year for racing enthusiasts.
469: The ride stuff
Just in time for spring, Don Morton tells you how and where to choose the perfect bike.
467: Most impressive
Justin Gardiner tools around in Subaru's Impreza, the automotive equivalent of a mild-mannered bloke who turns unruly after a few pints.
465: Outside the box
Justin Gardiner mourns the passing of the Toyota HiACE, a campsite favorite and the best of a dying breed.
463: Cyber Cypha
Justin Gardiner finds that Toyota's latest super-mini not only takes you out to dinner, but helps you decide where to go.
461: Award magnet
Mazda's new mid-size Atenza is attracting accolades the world over. Paul Thompson zoom-zoomed along to find out why.
459: Down the road
After a year of cute cars, 2003 promises more power, pace and raw sex appeal. Justin Gardiner peers into his crystal ball.
453: Fleet of foot
Japan's convoy of quirky emergency vehicles includes everything from mopeds to the country's fastest cars
451: Truck and treat
Paul Thompson tracked down the latest automotive trends from the 36th Tokyo Motor Show


Point to point

Just how much faster is a 1,000cc superbike than a 50cc scooter in our sprawling megalopolis? Justin Gardiner borrowed a few Aprilia bikes to find out.

From left: the 50cc Mojito scooter, 1,000cc RSV Mille and 200cc Atlantic scooter

The "race" was run from Yokohama Station to Ginza, using 35 kilometers of non-toll roads, on a weekday just after rush hour. The entrants rode a 1,000 sports bike, a 200cc Atlantic Ÿber-scooter and a 50cc Mojito scooter, but were not permitted to speed or jump lights any more than they would normally; this being Tokyo, where such behavior is pretty much de rigueur.

The Mojito Custom 50 is a very large scooter, at first glance looking more like a 125cc or larger bike. The wheelbase is at least a foot longer than its domestic rivals, which results in a smoother, more comfortable ride, but cuts into the bike's turning circle, making it far harder to weave through gaps in traffic.

The ultra-cool faux chrome steer-horn handlebars are a fair bit wider than is usual for a bike of this size too-even wider than the RSV's-nixing any plans of creeping up the inside of buses at stop lights. But they do have very well-proportioned and -placed mirrors attached, making rapid lane changes safer and less of a pain in the neck. Even the rear of the chromed headlamp provides a useful reflection of what is going on around the rider, as well as a chance to check that they themselves look cooler than surrounding bikers.

What the Mojito doesn't have is get-up-and-go. By the third traffic light from the start of our course, the other two bikes were but a distant memory, and at each successive light domestically produced two-stroke 50cc scooters repeatedly left the Mojito standing. But that doesn't really matter. No one buys a retro-look scooter for its performance, they buy one to get noticed, and there the Mojito Custom delivers. Contemporary galloping gourmet Jamie Oliver has one, and likes it so much it features on the cover of his book, which about sums things up.


Speed demon
The Aprilia RSV Mille has a very different type of coolness. Ten times more engine capacity in each cylinder than the scooter, ours was predominantly black with red-and-white stripes, and everything about its design said, "Get out of my way, I'm faster than you." With 130PS of power coupled to a featherweight aluminum frame, there are indeed few, if any, machines on sale capable of keeping up with this super bike on an open road.

But our course was far from open, and despite heart-stopping acceleration away from lights, it simply could not shake off the Atlantic before the inevitable next red signal loomed. However, there can be few more exciting ways to signal hop. The sound of the 60¡-V twin cylinder engine, fed through a double-bore monster exhaust, is impressive to bystanders and astonishing when felt through the chest of the rider crouched over the fuel tank. That racing position encourages the rider on the move to point and squirt-simply aim the nose in the direction you wish to travel, blip the throttle, and you are there.

Measuring up the Tuono (left) against the competition

Unsurprisingly, that position, and the geometry of the bike, are less conducive to the slow-speed maneuvers necessitated by picking one's way through standstill traffic, so as the lead pair left Kamata, heading for Shinagawa, the Mille rider was dismayed to watch the nimble Atlantic slip out of sight.

A 200cc four-stroke engine fed through a clutch-less automatic transmission to undersized, but easily steered, wheels proved to be the combination of the day-which probably explains the incredible popularity of large-bore scooters on Tokyo streets. The Atlantic arrived at Ginza Crossing 55 minutes after leaving Yokohama station, five minutes ahead of the Mille, which in turn beat the Mojito by a further five minutes. Not such a large differential in time, which perhaps shows that speed should not be a deciding factor for prospective bike buyers who spend all their time in the Big Mikan.


Finish line
Sure the Atlantic covered the distance in the shortest time, but the rider was bored by the experience. Even the Mojito provided more fun, in part thanks to the curious and admiring glances from surrounding bikers. Of course the Mille rider enjoyed the experience most, even enough to nullify the back pain he suffered the next day.

There is, however, a way to avoid that delayed payment for illicit biker fun. It would not be right to test Aprilia's extensive range without mentioning the Tuono-essentially an RSV Mille with most of its fairing removed and a higher, more comfortable riding position. Our Tuono test rider wasn't able to join the race, which is a pity, as the sit-up-and-beg handlebars are not only good for posture, but give the rider more leverage and enable them to take in their surroundings more easily; handy attributes in heavy traffic.

When we did finally get the Mille and the Tuono side by side and started those throbbing engines concurrently, it became clear what inspired Aprilia's moniker, "Emotion on two wheels."

To hear the rumble yourself, contact Bernd Kestler at Aprilia Japan 045-477-2605


Price points

Atlantic 200 - ¥449.000

Mojito Custom 50 - ¥249,000

RSV Mille - ¥1,490,000

Tuono - ¥1,250,000

Photo credit: Justin Gardiner

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