Do cute cars have it easier than ugly or aggressive ones? Do adorable headlights and fun proportions make a vehicle better able to win hearts or earn forgiveness when something goes wrong? Who knows, but the new all-electric Microlino bubble car might be able to discover the answer.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on InsideEVs Germany. It’s been translated from German to English and edited for clarity. Units have been converted from metric to imperial and all specifications are for the European domestic market. Prices were directly converted from Euros to US dollars using the conversion rates available at time of publication. To see the original post on InsideEVs Germany, click here.
What Is It?
The Microlino’s development had a happy ending, but it wasn’t ever a sure thing. The Swiss company Micro Mobility owes its success to high-quality pedal scooters for adults. It showed the first designs for the Microlino in 2015, and then introduced a design study in 2016 at the Geneva Motor Show. An enormously positive response followed, and the company went to work on a production model.
But a messy legal dispute with its first production partner forced the company to develop a new Microlino 2.0 from scratch, complete with a unibody architecture instead of a tubular frame. As if this troubled gestation weren’t enough, well, we all know what happened in March of 2020. But despite it all, this egg on wheels has been rolling off the production line since 2022.
Visually, the Microlino draws a lot of inspiration from the legendary Isetta. While the itty-bitty city car was built under license by BMW, it was originally a product of Italy’s Iso (Isetta literally means “little Iso”). The new Microlino is assembled in Italy, too, at a factory in Turin built by Micro and its partner CECOMP.
Interior And Space
Okay, let's take a closer look at the car. Did I just say car? Big mistake. Although it has normal license plates, the Microlino is a light vehicle of the European L7e class, its manufacturers are quick to point out. This puts it in the same league as the Opel Rocks-e or the Renault Twizy, but the Microlino scores points with its self-supporting body, which is unusual for an L7e. This provides more safety, but also pushes up the price, as we will see. An airbag is not mandatory, so the small sports steering wheel goes without.
What stands out at first glance? The Microlino is very small: 8.3 feet long, 4.8 feet wide, 4.9 feet tall. An egg-shaped cube with a 56-mile-per-hour top speed makes clear that this is a city car first. Highway? For one or two exits at the most. Incidentally, the Microlino stands on 13-inch wheels.
I stand in front of the Microlino and ponder how the large refrigerator-style front door opens. There is no handle on the outside. Unlock with the key, then press a button under the left exterior mirror. As if by magic, the flips slides open. I crawl in and pull the loop inside, but don't slam the door shut, because it closes electrically via soft-close.
The bench seat can be moved fore and aft, but at six feet, two inches I sit well behind the wheel. It is (or perhaps I am) a touch too high, since the manually adjustable exterior mirror in the headlight housing is not really in my field of vision. The wheel well nestles against my left leg, and the rotary knob for the automatic transmission is enthroned there on the driver's side. An arm rest would be nice, but the handbrake lever is located there.
I'm looking in vain for an interior mirror, although I'm probably not alone in this; the people behind the Microlino promise a remedy via suction cup. What about the space in general? Better than expected: Two people can sit well on the bench, although it gets snug there. The Microlino is just narrow. Considering the size of the vehicle, the trunk is quite impressive: 8.1 cubic feet or three crates of water. Or a dog.
And what else? A small display behind the steering wheel for battery level, speed, and recuperation. To the right are small, elongated touch displays for ventilation, heating of the rear window, and opening of the tailgate. Of course, there is no air conditioning, only the sliding side windows and a manually operated folding roof provide fresh air. And navigation is via smartphone.
To be frank, it’s quite refreshing in these days of screen orgies in electric SUVs weighing almost three tons. By comparison, the Microlino weighs just 959 pounds without batteries. The interior is dominated by hard plastic and simple solutions, while fabric enhances the ambience.
How Does It Drive?
After the first few meters, a clear driving noise reaches my ears. It spontaneously reminds me of a streetcar. The Microlino isn't quiet, especially since its shape and size don't allow for much insulation. The electric hum is always present, and the single windshield wiper’s motor is clearly audible when it rains. The makers are well aware of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). The accompanying music comes from the transmission, and engineers are already looking for another supplier.
Apart from the background noise, the Microlino naturally feels quite at home in the city. This is where it belongs, where it attracts attention. It takes some getting used to for the driver – the vehicle already ends in front of the legs and you have to step on the brakes quite hard despite actually having good recuperation. Casual one-pedal driving is not possible. And when stationary, you have to crank harder on the steering wheel due to the lack of a servo.
The Microlino is powered by an electric motor in the rear, which develops an output of 17 horsepower (12.5 kilowatts) and a maximum torque of 66 pound-feet (89 Newton-meters). It doesn't sound like much, but it's perfectly adequate for city driving. The car quickly reaches 31 mph, but you shouldn't expect a Porsche Taycan’s rocket-like acceleration (although the Microlino does have the Sport mode).
According to the manufacturer, the power consumption according to WLTP is between 10.7 and 9.4 miles per kilowatt-hour, depending on the battery size. The Microlino is available with three lithium-ion pack options: 6 kWh for a range of 56 miles in the basic version, 10.5 kWh in the medium version for up to 110 miles and, as the largest solution, 14 kWh for a maximum of 143 miles (although do remember, these are WLTP figures).
A J1772 plug is on board, and with the appropriate cable the Microlino can be charged at AC charging stations and wallboxes as well as at a household socket. The onboard charger has an output of 2.6 kW (1.3 for the smallest battery), which means that an empty battery can get to 80 percent in three to four hours. A DC fast charging function is not provided in view of the small batteries.
What else is noticeable when driving for a longer time? Well, there isn't much suspension comfort with a wheelbase of just under 5.1 feet. "Pothole finder" spontaneously comes to mind. At least cobblestones and potholes are passed on to the inside. On the only moderately upholstered seat, it can pinch the back.
What Does It Cost?
The pricing is also a bit of a pain. At the market launch in Germany, the lavishly equipped Pioneer Edition will initially be available in 400 units. It features LED headlights, an LED strip at the front and rear, and is available in Atlantis Blue or Torino Aluminum. Price: from $25,008 (22,690 euros) and available to order online.
The entry-level Urban model and the more colorful Dolce and Competizione variants will follow later. The Urban, which will be the least expensive Microlino, will only have a 6.0-kWh battery and a closed roof (the folding roof adds $650 [590 euros]), but will still cost at least $19,497 (17,690 euros).
The $21,701 (19,690 euros) Dolce edition will be available with all three battery variants, while the $23,906 (21,690 euros) Competizione can choose between the medium and large battery versions. The surcharge for the next largest battery is $1,653 (1,500 euros) in each case. Not exactly a bargain when you look at the more full-fledged Dacia Spring, with which you can also venture onto the highway from time to time. Minus all premiums, this one already starts at $17,634 (16,000 euros). And the small Ari 902 is already available from $15,430 (14,000 euros).
The old Porsche motto "Nobody needs it, everybody wants it" applies to the Microlino. It is certainly the king of the light vehicles in terms of design, but at a high price. Rationally speaking, a Dacia Spring is the better choice, but will it win you any sympathy? In the case of the retrotastic electric, the heart triumphs over the mind.
The Microlino is probably too expensive as a city runabout for care and pizza services, but outside of that it makes a perfect advertising vehicle. After all, it attracts plenty of glances. Anyone who has fallen in love might be well advised to wait. The Microlino will be successively optimized and perhaps even made cheaper as production increases.
And globally? Europe is firmly in sight. But North America is still a hope rather than a guarantee. It will probably take a little longer due to other licensing regulations, according to reports.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the Microlino was built under contract by CECOMP. This was an error in translation. The Turin factory where the Microlino is built belongs to Microlino Italia, a company established as a partnership between Micro and CECOMP. The story has been edited to reflect this info. We regret the error.
Gallery: 2023 Microlino: First Drive
2023 Microlino Pioneer Edition