The 2018 Kymco AK550 | ROAD TEST
It’s fair to say Kymco are back with a bang in the UK after a turbulent 2017. They’ve got a new distributor backed by Kymco Taiwan, they’ve also got a fresh dealer network, scooters and parts are arriving around the country. Oh and they have this new flagship model, the AK 550…
We’ve been waiting to swing a leg over the AK 550 since summer 2017. The rest of the world got it just as MASCO, the previous UK Kymco importer went bust, so it slowed things down by six months or so but was the AK550 worth waiting for?
I’d seen the AK 550 up close at Motorcycle Expo in January and wasn’t to be disappointed when it arrived a few weeks ago. Like all maxi scooters, it’s big and heavy, (most maxis are heavier than a comparable motorcycle) but it carries its weight low down. It’s also a great looking scooter, with build quality to compete with any of the Japanese giants.
Kymco as a manufacturer aren’t to be underestimated. Remember they are entrusted to build the engines for the BMW GT650 and C600 scooters. They also build the rebadged Kawasaki J125 and 300 scooters.
The AK550 has taken Kymco’s prowess to the next level. “
The AK was dropped off by the nice man from Kymco and he set me up with the Noodoe app, showed me the keyless ignition and the various screens on the dash, also the positions for the keyless control dial and various bits and pieces then left me to it.
It’s not really a new thing in the world of cars and it’s becoming more common in the bike world but is keyless ignition just a gimmick? The Kymco system uses a fairly hefty fob that you place in a pocket, place it in a front pocket to impress the ladies (if you’re an AK 550 owning lady you’ll already be impressing the boys, fob or not). With the fob in range you can press the ‘on’ button on the scooter, twist the dial and start the engine on the button. To be honest it’s probably quicker and easier to just insert and turn a key, then press a starter.
I could see a benefit if you could use the keyless fob to disable the scooter if it was stolen (you can’t). You can actually ride away without the key once the scooter is running.
I found myself pressing the on button on numerous occasions, then trying to open the seat by turning it off again by accident. Something you get used to the more you live with a machine, as with anything but irritating at times.
I also managed to leave the seat ajar after my first ride and the underseat light drained the battery. Thankfully after trying unsuccessfully to find where the battery was located, I found a YouTube video to help out. The battery is actually in the front of the scooter, under the screen. To get to it you have to remove the screen, followed by the support arms and a plastic panel, then the battery cover. It’s only a five minute job in reality but makes life harder if you want to leave the scooter on a trickle charger over winter. Sticky also managed to drain the battery accidentally when he took the Kymco to Cadwell so I’m not the only stupid one.
For me it’s when I walk back to a scooter when it’s parked up that I appreciate it’s beauty. The Kymco is one of those scooters you catch a glimpse of and feel a sense of pride. It looks great, mean and moody. Matt black paintwork always looks mean (when it’s clean and new at least) although if I was buying one I’d prefer a gloss black option, gloss carries on looking good for a lot longer than matt (gloss isn’t an option).
With its horizontal rear shock in full view and fat Brembo brake calipers up front this scooter has attitude and the ability to rip things up out on the road.
It’s fair to say the styling has unmistakable TMAX DNA, I wouldn’t like to get this machine paternity tested on the Jeremy Kyle show. The AK 550 designers undoubtedly used the mighty Yamaha as inspiration. Even the rear opening seat is Yamaha inspired, as is the battery position, fuel tank location, exposed belt drive (even though the Kymco has a fatter belt than the TMAX). The list of similarities is endless but they’re both fantastic scooters in their own right.
This scooter is a hefty investment, it’s priced not too far behind its big Yamaha rival, which is a big statement from the Taiwanese company. The AK 550 comes with three-position heated grips as standard, it also comes with the Noodoe system, which links to your smartphone to allow you to customise the central full-colour dash. You can upload your own photos as a screensaver, build your own custom clocks using the app and when the scooter is stationary your messages/alerts/push notifications appear on the screen. At the minute Noodoe is more of a gimmick really but will include GPS and other features as the software is developed.
**UPDATE July 2018: Noodoe now comes with navigation **
The dash is fully loaded and a bit confusing really. You get three different screens, the left-hand screen has tyre pressure sensors a rev counter and various battery condition/service/oil/temp features. The functions can be flicked through using one of the buttons on the handlebars. The central screen houses the customisable speedo, that can be flicked through using the right-hand button and can be swapped for a clock (you can build your own in Noodoe), or use any photos you care to upload. The right-hand screen has a large digital speedo, various warning lights and the fuel gauge. More about the fuel gauge later. When I got the scooter the right-hand screen was set to MPH, I somehow swapped it to KM but couldn’t work out how to change it back. Without a handbook and a degree in programming, you struggle to work most modern vehicles out on your own. It’s handy to stow a small child under the seat in case of such emergencies.
The 550cc, liquid-cooled DOHC inline-twin produces 53bhp and 41 ft-lb of torque. It uses a crossplane crankshaft system to help reduce vibration. In a crossplane crank, the pistons move in opposite directions in the cylinders, smoothing things out. Yamaha first used a crossplane crank in the 2009 R1 and if you’ve ever ridden one you’ll know it gives a characteristic sound, the AK 550 also sounds noticeably different to the TMAX.
The Kymco engine uses a wet clutch to reduce friction and a dry sump to remove the interference effect of lubricant. It all sounds good on paper at least…
Other than a slight transmission lag as you open the throttle the power is linear and strong. This is a fast scooter (you’ll be able to see how fast when we put it up against our TMAX long-termer head to head soon on SLUK).
Brakes and suspension
Brembo brakes aren’t something you usually find as standard fitment on a scooter so top marks to Kymco for upping the spec to include these. The AK has four pot Brembo calipers and twin 270mm discs up front, it also uses a top spec Bosch 9.1 ABS system (the lightest on the market) and a 260mm rear disc, the ABS works on both wheels and isn’t too intrusive. The brakes give the Kymco the finest standard braking system on any maxi scooter. The brakes are stonking.
You can’t moan about the suspension either, 41mm upside down forks and a good quality adjustable rear shock gives it a plush feel on the road. The rear suspension uses three-stage reducer technology which separates the weight of the engine from the transmission. It helps to reduce the unsprung weight. The chassis and running gear have been designed to offer the lowest centre of gravity in its class according to Kymco, with a near 50/50 weight distribution. It’s a very stable scooter for sure and handles superbly at any speed. Add in a set of Metzeler Feel free tyres and you can really have some fun on this thing. A big scooter can live with most bikes on a good twisty road.
What’s it like to ride?
You’ve probably already gathered that I like this scooter and the more miles I covered, the more it grew on me. My first ride took me up into the Peak District. Start it up and it sounds meaty, it has a different engine layout and characteristics to the big Yamaha so it sounds different but the Kymco’s exhaust note is lovely. I imagine with a Malossi exhaust it’ll sound even better. It’s quick as well, wind the throttle on and it’ll shift a bit. Three figure speeds are fairly easy to come by and it maxed out at a clock speed of 115 mph (at our secret test facility). That transmission lag I mentioned earlier isn’t anything to worry about, it’s just something you notice when you whack the throttle open. If it did bother you it could easily be ironed out with an aftermarket variator kit, Malossi already do one for the AK 550. You can see the full Malossi AK parts list at VE (UK) here).
This scooter glides around fast corners, just point and go. It’s a beast that you can have great fun riding. It handles really well, has plenty of ground clearance and those brakes are superb. If you need to cover long distances or want a multi-function scooter that can be used as a weekend plaything you won’t be disappointed.
It’s a roomy scooter, the seat is huge, comfortable for both rider and pillion and the lumbar support can be adjusted backwards and forwards by using a clasp underneath the seat. It’s nice not to need tools to adjust it. There’s plenty of leg room as well, I can almost stretch my legs out if I want to.
The standard screen can be adjusted, although it’s a tools out job to move it (aftermarket sports screens are also available). I found the standard screen on the higher setting was fine for me, you get a bit of buffeting at speed but it’s not overly noisy or turbulent. Kymco could have scored extra brownie points by fitting an electrically adjustable screen though.
Talking of long distance, it has a healthy sized 15-litre fuel tank and a fancy customisable dash so is there any reason for the fairly useless fuel gauge? It has four big chunky countdown blocks on the right-hand screen, I had the light flashing at 80 miles after a motorway journey. Then when I filled up it only took 8 litres of fuel, which means it had almost half a tank left. Surely Kymco can come up with something more useful, like a countdown to empty for instance?
Not knowing how far to push it before you have to actually physically push it is a bit disconcerting.”
I want to be confident knowing how much fuel is left in the tank. When a fuel gauge is flashing it’s hard to relax, even if you are fairly sure there’s plenty in the tank. Sort it out Kymco.
Living with it
We had the AK 550 for a few weeks and the biggest day out was around 250 miles (it’s comfortable for any distance). A few things, like the fuel gauge and keyless ignition, irritated me slightly but overall it was a very enjoyable machine to ride and live with.
The underseat space is fairly roomy and can take a full faced lid but the actual shape of the seat base means you have to store things carefully. If what you’re storing is too high the seat won’t close. The downside to a bike or maxi scooter is if you want to load one up for a weekend away two up it’s not as easy as it could be. You could bungee a bag in between the handlebars and seat but it’s not ideal with a raised central tunnel design. You could also bungee something to the rear grab rails behind your passenger, again it’s not ideal. Thankfully Shad and Givi do luggage racks for the Kymco and three-piece hard luggage so it’s well worth investing in those if you want to make this scooter more practical and save any headaches if you want to go touring on it.
That goes for all maxi scooters, not just the Kymco. I have the same issue with the TMAX. Even so, obviously a scooter is still much easier than a bike to store things and load up. There are also a couple of cubby holes up front, one with a 12v charge point inside.
The Kymco AK 550 ticks pretty much every maxi scooter box. It’s fast, handles and stops well, has plenty of features and gimmicks and looks great. The finish is good, almost on a par with the competition. Matt black is popular at the minute but it’s tricky to care for and soon looks tired, I’d prefer a gloss black personally.
The thing that is a little hard to swallow is the £8879 price tag. Judged on its own merits it’s a fantastic machine but is priced a little too close to the TMAX to make it an attractive alternative. Just £1120 separates the two, although admittedly the Kymco has a better standard spec, with Brembo brakes, the Noodoe system and heated grips as standard, you’d have to spend extra to spec your Yamaha up to match the AK 550.
That £1120 saving could be used to buy yourself a set of luggage and still have enough change for a little touring holiday so it’s not to be sniffed at. If you like to save a few quid, would be happy with a scooter from the leading mainstream opposition and like the looks of the AK 550 you’d better find your nearest Kymco dealer and have a look up close.
Words and photos: Iggy, action shots/additional images: Sticky
Kymco AK550 specifications
Engine: 550.4cc, in-line twin cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valves
Power: 53bhp and 41 ft lbs of torque
Suspension: Front 41mm upside down forks, rear horizontal trailing arm
Chassis: Aluminium twin-spare frame
Tank Capacity: 15-litres
Brakes: Front 270mm twin discs, with Brembo calipers, rear 260mm single disc
Tyres: Front 120/70-15, rear 160/60-15
Contact: Kymco Healthcare
Kymco AK550 gallery
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