Britons' love of retro scooters has blinded them to the charms of the Italians' own favourite runabout, says Susie Mesure

Audrey Hepburn may have immortalised the Vespa in the classic film Roman Holiday, but it is to the Liberty that most Italians turn. Strange then, that Londoners prefer to spurn what is a superior machine, seduced instead by the retro charms of the Vespa.

In an attempt to redress the Liberty/Vespa imbalance, Piaggio has relaunched its Liberty in all its wide-wheeled, nippy glory. It's a win-win situation for the Italian scooter powerhouse, since it owns both marques, but I can't help feeling that the revamped version is also good for the scooter fraternity.

I'm a 125cc acolyte (and, yes, I have a Vespa) but I surprised myself by coming round to some of the charms of the 50cc Liberty. For starters it was a shiny red, which did wonders for the festive spirits as I played at being Mrs Santa Claus while using it do my Christmas shopping.

And, if only the designers had been a little more generous with the under-seat storage space, there might have been a more of future for me and the Liberty. Leaving my helmet behind was out of the question, a problem that posed an additional challenge to seasonal shopping trips.

The Liberty's biggest plus is its wheels, which greatly enhance stability - even in the wet. Cornering is much less of a gamble than it is on some of Piaggio's smaller offerings, such as the Zip.

With 16in of wheel at the front and 14in at the rear, the Liberty also cushions the driver from the worst of London's potholes. The front telescopic forks and rear hydraulic shock absorber help with this, while the larger front headlamp improves visibility.

Another selling point is the spacious front footrest panel, which is apparently 10 per cent bigger than the old model. Crucially, it is flat, which means that you can balance even a small suitcase from the handbag clip withoutit toppling off when you go round a corner. A matching 32-litre rear top box and 40-litre side panniers are also available.

The fuel tank capacity is a problem, however. It holds just six litres, of which one litre is the reserve - I was constantly filling up at the petrol station. But, as ever with a 50cc bike, the main drawback is the lack of power. Motorbike riders detest scooters for precisely that reason and even I can see their point here. The instructor on my compulsory basic training course recently told me that she'd rather ride pillion than drive a scooter if she was given the choice, which is rich coming from someone who had said that there was little more terrifying to her than surrendering control of a bike to someone else.

Yet you have got to hand it to the Liberty: it is mighty swift. Piaggio puts this down to an excellent power-to-weight ratio. It certainly seemed nice and light, making it easy to manoeuvre into crowded scooter bays. And even when I gave someone a lift, the bike still managed to beat other vehicles at the lights. My pillion passenger reported the ride as a comfy one, and that without the added luxury of the foldaway footrests that I've since learnt "flip out". Oh, well.

It might take some time for the Vespa die-hards to come round to the joys of the Liberty, but anyone hankering after a bargain should, nevertheless, enjoy its price-tag.

The 50cc, which is also available in either a tasteful dark blue or silver, is £1,399, while its bigger cousin, the 125cc, is £1,599. Which all leaves you with that much more hard cash to put towards that weekend break in Rome.

Model: Liberty 50
Price: £1,399 on the road
Engine: Single-cylinder, two-stroke
Start: Both electric and mechanical kick-start
Front brake: 220mm disc, caliper with opposed pistons.
Rear brake: 140mm drum
Fuel tank: Six litres (which includes a one-litre reserve)
Top speed: 30mph

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