The new Honda Motocompacto foldable electric scooter has already won your heart. You know, I know it — we all know it, so why bother even talking about practical things like ride quality, handling, comfort, and price? For me, the answer is that it’s my job, so here, allow me to tell you what it was like to ride a little electric scooter that you’re probably already in love with.
As a car journalist, my job is to enter each media event with an open mind free from preconceived notions that might taint my objectivity. But I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of journalists attending the Honda Motocompacto event at the company’s North American headquarters in Torrance, California had already decided upon arrival: The Motocompacto is cool.
You could tell by the general vibe that permeated the air as journalists rolled in with huge smiles on their faces. We were about to ride the successor to the legendary 1980s Motocompo, the little miniature folding motorcycle designed to fit tightly into the cargo hold of the also-tiny and also-charming Honda City hatchback:
The original Motocompo featured a 2.5-ish horsepower 49cc single-cylinder two-stroke gasoline engine attached via a hand clutch to a single-speed gear reduction. It was noisy, it featured a decent number of moving parts and maintenance items like oil/fuel additions and chain greasing and carburetor cleaning, and overall it was just a contraption — a ridiculously nifty little mechanical gadget that everyone loved despite its drawbacks (like instability and moderate 20mph top speed):
The new Motocompacto is definitely a modern interpretation of the old Motocompo, but it does seem to give up some of the old machine’s mechanical charm. Gone is the internal combustion engine, clutch, oil/fuel tank, and noisy muffler; in their place is a 6.8Ah battery and an electric motor driving the front wheels (the old Motocompo was rear-drive). Here’s a look at the overall setup:
With plenty of aluminum use and a simple powertrain, the new scooter is less than half the weight of the old one, at just 41.3 pounds; like the old machine, it’s got a composite body and a bunch of fun folding mechanisms to keep things compact and fun.
Top speed is 15 mph, and range is about 12 miles, down about ~5 mph and at least 25 miles, respectively. That latter figure is a pretty significant drop, though I wouldn’t want to ride this thing more than 12 miles, anyway (more on that in a second).
Honestly, many basic scooters back in the 1980s were outfitted with little 49cc two-strokes, and today’s most basic scooters feature little electric motors, so there’s no question that the Motocompacto is, at least mechanically, the 2023 version of the old Motocompo, but is it as interesting to operate? I have never driven the old Motocompo, but I’d probably guess “not quite.”
What It’s Like Riding The Motocompacto
The Motocompacto’s controls are quite simple; there’s a small thumb “throttle” on the right side of the handlebar, and on the left is a lever to actuate the rear drum brake via a cable:
A screen at the center of the handlebar tells you what speed you’re going, whether the vehicle has been properly unfolded (if it hasn’t, there will be a lock symbol, and the scooter will not move), and which mode you’re in. Mode one requires you to push the scooter before the thumb-accelerator functions, while model two will allow you to accelerate from a dead-stop. There’s an on/off switch, and an indicator of whether the LED headlight (and also taillight) is on (when the headlight is off, it blinks — this is the daytime-running-light mode). It’s a lot simpler than the old kick-start Motocompo fire-up procedure.
Riding around Honda’s North American headquarters in Torrance as a Honda rep in a high-vis vest guided us around the beautiful campus was honestly surreal. What an absurd media event, what a beautiful day, and what a load of fun with fellow media friends (in the image, that’s Chris Rosales from The Drive and Mack Hogan from Road & Track in black and white shirts, respectively)
But I won’t pretend that riding the Motocompacto wasn’t a bit anticlimactic. I’m not saying the old Motocompo didn’t feel the same way when it was new (now the noise would likely feel like a novelty), but the reality is that most younger Americans have probably ridden E-Scooters before — they’ve become such a mainstream part of our culture in a way that scooters really never had in the past — and to be honest, the Motocompacto doesn’t really feel much different. If you’ve ridden a Bird or Lime scooter, you’ve pretty much experienced what it’s like to ride the Motocompacto.
Like a Bird or Lime Scooter, the electric Motocompacto feels fairly quick from a stop, it runs out of steam at 15-ish mph, there’s no suspension to absorb any bumps, steering is just a regular T-shaped handlebar — it’s all quite straightforward, and most will find the experience familiar.
To be sure, the Honda offers some advantages over a typical E-Scooter. The most obvious one is the existence of a seat, which is a big deal; it lets you take a load off your feet, and it lowers your center of gravity. That’s not an unsubstantial benefit, though I found the seat to be quite uncomfortable. It’s a bit small, and I felt that it put quite a bit of pressure on my rather large arse in a way that I don’t think I’d like for a long duration.
I will say that I liked the foot pegs; they were nice and relaxing, though when they were folded, it became almost impossible to deploy the kickstand (to solve this, I would weld a little tab/protrusion to the ring-section of the kickstand so it juts out a bit more):
Another advantage to the Motocompacto over a standard E-scooter is that there’s substantial storage between the plastic body-sides; you can easily stack probably a full 12-pack worth of beers in that space, and I bet quite a few purses would fit there, too.
The Motocompacto can also be folded up in a way that not all E-Scooters can. I’m not sure it takes up any less volume than a typical E-Scooter (its folded dimensions are 29 inches by 21 inches by 4 inches), but it’s a nice rectangular bit of kit that you can easily stack things on top of. Plus, the way it folds is deeply, deeply satisfying, with high-quality latches that make just the right noises when you put the scooter together. Here’s a look at how to fold and unfold this charming little machine:
The biggest advantage of the Motocompacto, though, is the style. E-Scooters are typically so boring, with very little actual bodywork that they’re really difficult to individualize. The Motocompacto, though, is a blank canvas that you can make your own, and that alone is a big deal.
Here’s an idea with what we might do with ours (we’d also put Autopian graphics all over it):
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Anyway, let’s get back to the ride. Again, the seat isn’t that comfortable (you can see how small it is in the pic below), and as for handling, the little scooter was fun to throw into turns, though if you lean too far, the footpegs will rub.
If you lean even farther with the footpegs tucked in (requiring you to sort of “hover” your feet above the ground), you can bust your arse like the gentleman in the background of this photo did:
I went into a few turns too quickly and turned too hard, and — perhaps because of the bike’s lack of caster — the thing did want to snap-oversteer, but honestly, I would never ride this thing that way. I was just goaded by this autocross-type course that Honda set up, a hilarious setup that wasn’t needed given what this scooter is all about, but I was glad Honda put it together anyway:
It Might Be The Next Hot Thing
The Motocompacto exists, in part, to get you into Honda dealerships. “It was very intentional, the price point, to make Honda available to a wide Audience,” Honda told journalists at the press event, saying we should think of the scooter as the toy in the Happy Meal. Kids want the toy, not the hamburger, but they end up with a burger. In that analogy, the burger is a Honda car. In other words, the Motocompacto exists, in part, to lure you towards the Honda brand, and to ultimately get you to buy a car.
Should you check out a Motocompacto: Well, it all depends; you could buy an E-scooter with more range for less money, and heck, you could even buy one with what looks like a bigger, more comfortable seat, but they don’t fold like the $995 Motocompacto does and they’re not as stylish as the Motocompacto is.
And when it comes to little city runabouts like this, style is key. You’re riding this thing in dense, urban areas; to have something that looks like it comes from the future, that you can make your own with graphics, and that you can quite easily unfold from your tiny car, ride to your workplace, store in your office, and charge (3.5 hours from empty to full using the above charger) while you work so you can ride it back to the parking garage at the end of the day — it’s just cool.
It may not feel that different than a typical E-scooter, and it may not be something I’d ride long distances, but as a “first and last mile” solution, as Honda puts it, it works beautifully.
Oh, and most importantly, it can do a burnout:
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Note: You can pick up a Motocompacto from its dedicated website; sales start today. Our Mercedes just bought one and it’ll be delivered to her local Honda dealership. She paid $995 plus tax.
(Update: Some readers are pointing out that the online portal to purchase the Motocompacto shows inflated pricing depending on the dealership. We reached out to the dealerships pointed out. One of them told us the markup was made in error and would be corrected. The other dealership has not yet responded. If your dealer shows a price higher than $995, we would recommend calling ahead to get the correct price. -MS)