2012 Kymco Downtown 200i First Ride

As gas prices creep ever closer to the five-dollar mark, the American public will once again look for ways to cut fuel costs. Not only is the latest escalation in the price of refined crude a reason to be frugal, but it also presents an excuse for previously hesitant two-wheel buyers to step up to the dealership finance desk. I can hear it now, “Of course I need to get this, dear; it gets much better fuel mileage than my truck.” No matter the reason or excuse, two-wheeled purchases will increase as the price as the pumps do the same.

One segment is sure to see an increase in sales is scooters (the latest MIC data already shows a 49.6% rise in scooters through Q1 of 2011). The non-threatening, easy to operate nature of small-displacement scooters make them an attractive option for the uninitiated to the motorcycle world. Throw in near triple-digit fuel mileage on the lower displacement models and reasonable insurance rates and how could you not find a reason for a small-wheeled machine in your driveway.

The 2012 Kymco Downtown 200i is a do it all scooter with great styling and above par fit and finish.

MotoUSA was recently invited to sample the latest scoots from Kymco in historic Charleston, South Carolina. It seemed like perfect timing for a test as I passed the gas station near my Southern California home and recoiled in disgust as I saw $4.99 on the board. So I packed my bags and headed for the low country of the Carolinas and some fuel-efficient fun.

When we arrived in Charleston, we were greeted with a cross section of the Kymco lineup that included arguably the best-looking scooter in the bunch, the Downtown. Introduced last year the Downtown 300i is now joined by a 200cc version for the 2012 model year. Why would Kymco build two scooters with two displacements so close together? Most likely it has to do with the tiered licenses in the European and Asian markets, but some insurance companies drop their rates significantly when the engine size is below the 250cc displacement mark.

Styled by Italian designer Massimo Zaniboni, the Downtown 200i is wrapped in sharp lines that look like they could have been lifted right off a Lamborghini. The four projector beam headlights and spacey taillights add a high-tech look to this scoot. The attention to detail on the 200i is impressive and rivals Japanese manufacturer’s quality. Chrome bezels and an LCD information screen make the dash easy on the eyes as well as functional. A large, two-person seat opens up to reveal

Underneath the large one-piece seat is enough room to hold two helmets or a bag for a weekend trip out of town.

a storage space large enough for two helmets. All the seams and gaps in the bodywork are consistent. Smaller details such as the watertight storage compartment in the dash and adjustable levers bring a quality feel that was lacking in Kymco models of the past.

Under the stylized Downtown bodywork is a dual cradle steel frame holding a downsized SOHC 4-valve fuel-injected engine. The oversquare 205cc mill sports both a smaller bore and shorter stroke than the larger 300i. The clutching on the CVT transmission has been revised to work with the smaller displacement of the 200i. All other mechanicals are identical to the 300cc model we rode last year.

Kymco blocked out two days for us to explore the Charleston area as we saw fit on the Downtown 200i and other rides in the line-up. With the weather report warning of storms on the horizon, we struck out while the sun was still shinning and the skies were clear. Making our way from stoplight to stoplight on the 200i, the decreased displacement was apparent immediately, as the 300cc version would pull away from its smaller sibling. It’s not that the 200cc version is sluggish; it’s just not as quick as the bigger bore Downtown. In comparison to other machines with similar engine size, the power is right on the mark. Once rolling along the 200cc mill purrs along with little fanfare.

As South Carolina is part of what is called the low county, there is not much in the way of turns, twists, or anything resembling a curve. The roads are dead straight, and 99% of the opportunities to get your lean on are at intersections. Luckily we were able to find a few corners surrounding a city park to test out what happens when the Downtown leans over. Laying the 200i over is surprisingly easy to do considering your legs are in front of you rather than straddling the machine, as they would be with a motorcycle. The Kenda skins wrapped around the 14-inch front and 13-inch rear wheels look wide

Once we finally found some turns we were able to test the handling of the Downtown.

but turn in nicely. Once in the corner the chassis is rock solid, although the front end feels slightly vague. Some of that numbness could be attributed to the tall handlebars underneath their swoopy cover. In a straight line, no matter the speed, the Downtown is as stable as a freight train.

Slow-speed handling for the Kymco is surprisingly nimble. The long, low sled can make easy work of the ins and outs of city traffic. Scooting around the smaller back streets of Charleston highlighted what scooters do best traffic duty. City work is so much more enjoyable when you don’t have to paw at clutch lever at every light. Throttle response was exceptional while modulating the right grip as we weaved around cars, delivery trucks and horse drawn carriages.

The centuries old cobblestone streets and uneven pavement gave us plenty of opportunities to test the suspension of the Downtown. The standard telescoping fork up front takes the bite out of potholes and speed bumps, but is a bit flexy. When balancing at a near standstill the flex is most noticeable as the front end shakes like a bowl full of jelly. The rear end is suspended with dual preload adjustable shocks that soaked up just about anything we threw at it.

So the Downtown 200i has the go, but how is the stop? A single disc clamped with a 3-piston caliper up front works with a rear disc matched with a 2-piston caliper to haul the 367-pound scooter down to speed with authority. Last year on the Scoot to Texas I remember the front lever of the 300 feeling wooden and lacking feel. However the units on the 200i models we rode had great feedback with a firm lever. The rear brake has less feel but was still above average for the scooter world.

The Kymco Downtown 200i is well suited for exploring the small streets and back roads of a city like Charleston, South Carolina.

So performance and handling is important, but for scooter usability is just as important. Creature comforts can make or break a scoot as they are more likely used for running errands and fighting snarled downtown traffic, and the Downtown delivers in some areas but misses in others. A large seat has room for two, however the passenger area could be smaller to allow more legroom for the pilot. Anyone over 5’10” will have issues with the cramped legroom on the Downtown. Just a few more inches on the seat would make a world of difference in this department. While the legroom thanks to the unfortunate seating position on the topside of the seat is a downer, under the seat it’s all good. The storage area that is exposed when you lift the seat can hold two helmets or a chicken dinner for four. That space is great for runs to the store, but is also useful for gear on long trips. Up on the dash is a weather sealed compartment with a 12-volt charger.

At an MSRP of $5199 the Downtown 200i is not cheap, but is still less than most of the 300cc models on the market. On the flip side the 150cc crop of scooters from Japan and Europe are considerably cheaper. The Downtown is priced closer to the larger displacements scoots, which makes sense as it shares 90% or more with the Downtown 300i. However time will tell if buyers will skip over the 200i and pony up the extra cash for a hundred more cubes. While I think the smaller Downtown is a great scoot with more than enough power for almost any situation, I would step up to the 300i as my insurance rates are low, and I always want more power no matter how small the wheels are.