In any urbanized area, parking sucks. City planners hate dealing with parking because those spaces use up land that could be productively used for housing or commercial use. Drivers hate parking in town due to the hassles of finding a scarce spot, as well as the risk of vehicle damage due to the cramped quarters. Fun fact – nearly every automaker, when signing over vehicles for testing to journalists, forbids urban street parking due to the risk of damage.
So much talk has gone into “last mile solutions” within the urban planning space. It’s the idea that commuters might drive to a decentralized parking location, disembark, and find a better way into town. Right now, the idea seems far-fetched, but a stroll through any big city reveals scores of rental scooters and bicycles mixed in with privately owned two-wheelers. There is a market there, but it remains to be seen how big the market is.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that Honda is the automaker stepping up to give this new market a try. After all, the company came here first as a purveyor of small, friendly motorcycles long before four-wheelers entered the chat. With the new Honda Motocompacto, the company is banking on the idea that individualized urban transport can possibly be cool.
[Disclaimer: Honda invited journalists to a recent event near Detroit to test out the Motocompacto, and we got to glance at a prototype of the coming Honda Prologue EV. They served food – I think I had a cookie and a Coke.]
Let’s get the hard facts out of the way. The Honda Motocompacto is a lightweight electric scooter that folds down into its own, easily luggable carrying case. It will be sold at Honda and Acura dealers, as well as on a dedicated Motocompacto website, for $995. It’s packed with a charger that will recharge the scooter in 3.5 hours via a standard 120v outlet, and the charge is rated for up to 12 miles of riding. The maximum speed is 15 mph. Like virtually every other product released in this world in the past few years, there is a dedicated mobile phone app that allows you to customize riding and lighting modes.
The electric motor produces 11.8 lb-ft of torque and 490 watts of power – which if my math works out correctly, is roughly two-thirds of a horsepower. So you aren’t riding a full-sized horse, just a two-thirds-sized one. Maybe a Shetland pony made of steel and plastic? Is it the Li’L Sebastian of modern mobility solutions? Like nearly every Honda ever, it’s front-wheel drive.
The Motocompacto, whether delivered via website or dealer, comes in a cardboard shipping box not much larger than the 29.2-inch long, 21.1-inch high, and 3.7-inch width of the scooter when folded. There is a learning curve to deploying it out to the riding position – pull and twist a lever to extend the rear wheel and then lock it, pull out the footpegs, remove and install the seat, retract and extend the handlebars – but I’m sure that within a few rides it’ll be second nature. Once in riding position, the Motocompacto is 38.1 inches long, 35 inches high, and 17.2 inches wide. The seat is 24.5 inches off the ground.
Most notably, the Motocompacto weighs 41.3 pounds. No, it’s not something you’ll want to toss in an overhead compartment on the plane, but it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to lift if you need to haul it up a set of stairs from the subway or to your apartment. The wheels still roll when the scooter is folded, after all, so you can easily drag it when you aren’t riding. The kickstand has a welded loop sized to fit a standard bike lock should you need to park it outside.
Of course, Honda has engineered as much safety into this package as they could. The control unit within the Motocompacto will not send power to the motor unless the seat, handlebar, and wheels have been deployed correctly. All of the latching mechanisms have redundant locks to ensure everything stays in place while riding.
The build quality feels stellar for something so light. Honda acknowledges that the Motocompacto is manufactured in China, like so many other inexpensive consumer devices. However, the attention to detail throughout is surprising. The stitching on the handgrips, especially, is quite pleasing.
The riding experience requires a brief learning curve. Upon sitting on the scooter, you are presented with a small display and a single button. Toggling through the screen with the button allows you to turn on and off the headlamp, as well as choose between one of two riding modes.
Mode 1 limits the top speed to 10mph. More notably, the scooter will require a push start to get moving when the controller is in Mode 1. This gives new riders a little bit of control, as immediately twisting the thumb lever throttle could send an unprepared rider careening. Mode 2, on the other hand, bumps top speed to 15 mph and lets the motor get you moving from a standstill. Within the mobile phone app, you can change the default startup mode easily.
I will note that in my testing, I didn’t see the 15 mph top speed in the coned-off area adjacent to a racetrack. The onboard display indicated 13 to 14 mph with the “throttle” button fully depressed. I’ll chalk this up to additional mass over the typical design standard – though I’m finally well below the 265-pound maximum listed by Honda. Still, at 13-ish mph, the Motocompacto moves briskly and should work well in urban bike lanes. It’s a blast to ride, honestly, and much more comfortable than a stand-up rental scooter. There’s even a bell, activated by the left thumb, to warn other riders and pedestrians.
You’ll note that many, if not all of the photos you’ll see of the Motocompacto in action show riders wearing helmets. Generally, helmets are not required – though local laws likely may vary – but Honda wants to err on the side of caution. They had loaner helmets available during our testing, and most journalists wore them. I had my own full-face helmet with me – I’d been on track in another vehicle the same day – so I’m sure I looked a bit goofy. Folks riding to the office will likely eschew the extra measure of safety to avoid helmet hair.
No, we haven’t pivoted the focus of this site. This isn’t The Truth About Non-Automotive Mobility Solutions That Sometimes Look A Little Geeky. We are still TTAC, and we still love driving here. But nobody loves driving in heavy urban traffic, especially when some cities are charging heavy congestion charges just for the privilege of driving on public roadways.
Plus, there are many places in this world where cars aren’t welcome, nor are they appropriate. As the father of teenagers, I’ve been spending more time on college campuses lately looking to help the kids figure out where they’re going in the near future. And I’m seeing more and more electric scooters and e-bikes whizzing past me as I ponder a potential six-figure investment into my kid. I can’t help but imagine that something fun, funky, and stylish that helps people get to class on time is something worth considering.
This isn’t the first electric scooter on the market, nor is it the most affordable. One can readily click and buy a number of electric kick scooters on websites and from discount stores. Where the Honda Motocompacto shines is right there in the name. Consumers know the Honda name and know the company will stand behind this product. If you need a replacement charger for a no-name scooter bought third-party from an online store, you might as well buy another scooter. Not so with the Honda, making it a smart investment for personal mobility. And a fun investment, too.
[Images © 2023 Chris Tonn/TTAC]
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