Take a stroll through streets of Paris, and you'll see lots of Piaggio MP3s, the tilting three-wheelers that Parisians seem to love. It's the same on the Riviera, where the French seem to have really taken to the idea of a tilting trike. All well and good, but French manufacturing pride was dented by this popularity of an Italian scooter. Peugeot, which has been making powered two-wheelers in France since 1898, rose to the challenge and launched its Metropolis in 2014.
This followed exactly the same lines as the pioneering MP3 – two front wheels, one at the rear and able to tilt round corners like a bike and lock upright when stationary. The idea is that two front tyres give a lot more grip and stability than one, and by and large that's true. Both MP3 and Metropolis were designed with affluent city dwellers and commuters in mind, the sort who value safety, weather protection and unscuffed shoes above any two-wheel thrills. But according to Peugeot importer Three Cross Motorcycles, tilting trikes also appeal to older motorcyclists who like the idea of a bike which doesn't need balancing upright while the pillion climbs on.
Anyway, for 2017 the Metropolis gets a fairly serious update. It may not look that different from the old one (though as ever there's a family resemblance to Peugeot cars) but underneath the plastic bodywork there's a new 400cc four-valve single producing 35.6bhp – Peugeot say it's got more low rev torque than the old engine (though it loses out over 6000rpm), meets Euro 4 emissions standards and uses 7% less fuel into the bargain. The brakes are uprated with bigger front discs and a two-pot rear caliper, there are bigger 13-inch front wheels and two-mode traction control. The spring/damper rates are revised and the frame is stiffer than before. The end result, says Peugeot, is about as quick as the previous Metro but more economical, lighter to steer, quicker stopping and better able to deal with humps and bumps.
At well over two metres long, with a 1555mm wheelbase and weighing a hefty 256kg (not far short of a Honda VFR1200) the Metropolis doesn't sound like the obvious choice for convenient urban transport. But it is. The sheer length might be a handicap when the gaps are really tight, but it is narrow enough to filter past traffic queues, and most of that weight (including engine, transmission, luggage and fuel) is carried fairly low. Add in a low 780mm seat, and you have a big machine that's actually quite easy to just hop on and ride.
You sit upright on the Metropolis and it doesn't offer the space of a feet-forward maxi-scooter like the Suzuki Burgman, but it's comfortable nonetheless. Last year I rode a Metropolis 700 miles across France in a day and a half without feeling knackered when I got to Nice. It cruised at 80-90mph on the autoroute and took myself and the wife home again with a pile of luggage, so although the Metropolis might be classed as a 'scooter' it can do distance as well.
Power pickup and delivery is beautifully smooth. It hasn't got the Eco and Power modes of the current MP3, but it does all right without them, offering linear power from very low speeds. Twist the grip right back, and it picks up its skirts and heads for the horizon. With this much weight to haul around, it's surprisingly quick, and certainly has enough oomph for overtaking. That's the advantage of a twist 'n go transmission which holds the engine at 6-6500rpm at full blast – the disadvantage is you haven't got much engine braking going into corners.
But there needn't be any doubts about the handling. A tilting trike feels different to any two-wheeler, with a heavier, more deliberate front end, but the upside is tremendous grip at the front – the Metropolis has a solid feel, regardless of mid-corner bumps, broken tarmac or braking. That's also down to the supple suspension – conventional twin shocks at the back and a horizontal spring/damper at the front – which works really well, and the powerful brakes, which are linked when you use the foot pedal and unlinked on the handlebar levers. I found the levers easier to modulate, but maybe that's just years of riding two wheeled bikes.
As a transport tool, the Metro has lots of convenient touches, including good (though not class leading) underseat space, a USB socket, very informative dash and decent weather protection from the height-adjustable screen.
The Metropolis makes a good package, especially with the latest changes – comfy, quick enough and with superb handling. It's not cheap, though. The Peugeot is £800 less than a Piaggio MP3 500, but is there a good motorcycle alternative? Well I reckon the closest is the Honda NC750 with its semi-auto gearbox. With a full set of luggage that would cost about the same, offer more performance, a proper motorcycle feel and use slightly less fuel. But it would still lose out on weather protection and the benefits of three-wheel handling. Which would you have?
Engine type: Liquid-cooled four-valve single
Maximum power: 35.6bhp @ 7000rpm
Maximum torque: 28.1lb ft @ 5250rpm
Front suspension: Single spring with adjustable damper
Rear suspension: Twin adjustable shock absorbers
Front brakes: Dual 200mm discs
Rear brakes: Single 240mm disc
Front tyres: 110/70-13
Rear tyre: 140/70-14
Seat height: 780mm
Fuel capacity: 13.5 litres
Price: £7899 OTR