Americans don't like tiny cars. Some fear they may not be safe. Some think they'll look silly driving them. Others say they're bad values, offering far less than a normal car without actually saving you much money.

The Micro Microlino microcar is susceptible to all these problems and more. But it's so cute, fun and quirky that it wooed me into overlooking most of them.

With its loud motor, bouncy ride, difficult access and high price, it doesn’t make sense as a sensible purchase. However, its manufacturer seems to have been able to imbue it with a certain je ne sais quoi that is often missing from bigger, more expensive cars, and it provides such a unique driving experience that it's bound to charm you.

My biggest concern before driving the Microlino was safety. It's a tiny thing with no airbags or crumple zones, so in the event of an impact with another vehicle at speed, the outlook seems grim. However, its makers boast that they gave the Microlino an automotive-grade safety cell made out of steel clad in an aluminum body. That's a far cry from the thin tube steel frame covered by a cheap plastic body that we normally associate with this kind of vehicle.

Last week, I spent a few days driving a Microlino here in Bucharest, Romania, the big and congested city where I live. Bucharest is in many ways similar to New York with its often entitled and aggressive drivers. It's not the ideal place for a tiny, underpowered bubble car. But the Microlino felt surprisingly solid and surefooted and its performance was just enough for me to keep up with the flow traffic.

Driving

Microlino


As a driving enthusiast who loves loud cars with raspy exhausts, whenever I drive most modern EVs, I get out thinking that there could have been a bit more motor noise inside the cabin. Well, perhaps I should have been more careful what I wished for because the Microlino is the loudest electric vehicle I’ve ever experienced.

There appears to be no motor soundproofing, so whenever you accelerate, it is accompanied by a loud whirring sound that is still present even when you keep your speed constant. The best way I could describe it is that it’s like listening to a racing transmission with straight-cut gears but without any engine noise, right down to the slight stutter you get when lifting off.

The motor calibration also seems a bit rudimentary. When you accelerate, lift off, and then accelerate again at low speed, you may hear a clunking noise coming from the motor. This will also translate into uneven and jolty power delivery.

The source of all that incessant whirring and whining is a small 16.7-horsepower motor with a little over 65 pound-feet of torque. It’s located under the trunk floor, and it drives the rear wheels, one of the reasons its makers claim the Microlino has “sports car genes.”

Sprinting from a standstill to 31 mph takes just 5 seconds, and it will top out at 56 mph to allow it to qualify in Europe as an L7a quadricycle. This makes it more powerful and faster than L6 quadricycles like the Citroen Ami. According to European legislation, the L7a category allows for a motor power of up to 15 kW (20 horsepower). I think the Microlino could have used the extra oomph.

Microlino

It weighs over 1,000 pounds, so its power-to-weight ratio isn’t especially good. You can feel this when accelerating, especially when you floor it while already doing about 30 mph. Driving it in the crazy traffic of Bucharest, full of aggressive drivers that drive way too fast, the Microlino’s power output just barely allowed me to keep up without being honked at every two seconds.

Driving on the highway flat out at 56 mph was a lot less scary than I anticipated. Even though it weighs about one-third as much as a modern compact car, the Microlino didn't seem unsettled by the odd gust of wind or crazy driver speeding past in a box van. It takes a while to reach its top speed, but it has no trouble maintaining it and making you feel reasonably safe in the process.

While the power is a bit disappointing, there’s nothing bad to say about the steering. It is completely unassisted and remarkably accurate, allowing you to place the vehicle on the road with absolute precision. The brakes are also unassisted, and you have to stomp on the pedal if an emergency stop is required—it doesn’t have ABS, but I tried hard braking a couple of times and I never got the wheels to lock.

It also doesn’t come with any form of traction control, so on slippery roads, you may find that it spins away what little power it has without too much forward progress (or any warning flashing in the gauge cluster).

Through the corners, though, it feels surprisingly sporty and stable. It has independent suspension on all four corners, and even if you chuck it into a bend, it will hold on much better than you might expect for a vehicle of this type. Part of this sure-footedness is achieved by having quite a stiff suspension, which, in combination with its tiny wheelbase, results in an often bouncy ride.

Forward visibility is great, but when you have to turn and shift your view to the sides, the very thick A-pillars create big blind spots. This is not ideal and I found myself shifting my head from side to side to look around the pillars to make sure I wasn't going to run over anything.

Battery And Charging

Microlino

The Microlino comes with three available lithium-ion NMC battery packs. My tester had the middle option, a 10.5-kWh pack that should provide up to 177 km (110 miles) of range. Fast charging isn’t available, so peak charging power doesn’t exceed 3 kW; charging from flat to full should take around 4 hours.

Driving the Microlino, I was pleasantly surprised by its strong regenerative braking. Whenever you lift off, you feel the vehicle start to slow down noticeably. There is no way to adjust the level of regen, and it doesn’t deliver a one-pedal driving experience, but it seems perfectly calibrated for this application.

Practicality

Microlino


One of the Microlino’s coolest features is its single front-opening door. You press a button on the side of the body, and a gas strut pushes the door up, allowing access into the cabin. This is directly borrowed from the classic Isetta. Unlike in the original, the steering wheel doesn’t move with the door, so climbing aboard is a little bit harder in the Microlino—you have to first sit in the passenger’s spot and then scooch over.

Once aboard, though, a six-footer like myself found there was plenty of space. Even two six-footers can travel in relative comfort in a Microlino, although you are sharing a relatively narrow bench seat with the passenger, so don’t expect too much elbow room.

There are a couple of elastic bottle holders and pockets on the sides, and I found these adequate for storing my daily knick-knacks.

The bench seat is adjustable—you can slide it forward or back—and you can find a pretty good driving position. The steering wheel can’t be adjusted, though, so you can’t even come close to an ideal driving position, but you can still find a good compromise. My only gripe was that I had to keep my right leg quite bent to keep it on the accelerator pedal, and this started straining my knee after a while.

With 230 liters (8.1 cubic feet) of cargo room in the back, you have more than enough for the weekly shopping run. 

Features

Microlino


If you compare the Microlino’s features to what you might find in an actual car, it looks pretty disappointing. It has no electronic safety aids, no air conditioning, and no electric windows. Its sound system is a small, cylindrical Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t sound too good, so you may want to bring your own, like I did.

The driver gets an LCD digital gauge cluster, which has decent graphics and two layouts to choose between. When you put the Microlino in Sport mode and then accelerate hard, it shows the rear of the vehicle with flames coming out of an exhaust that doesn’t actually exist. There’s also a small central touchscreen, which allows you to go through all of the car’s functions, including climate, resetting the trip information, or turning on the cabin light.

Both side windows can be slid back to open, and the fabric roof is very easy to open and close. The Microlino also features two USB-C ports for charging, as well as a pair of USB-As, and the button to open the door is hidden behind the central screen. If you didn’t know it was there, it would be very difficult to find.

One glaring omission was a central rear-view mirror. There's plenty of room to stick one onto the windscreen without obstructing forward visibility and it would complement the tiny circular side mirrors. Though it's a small vehicle, the Microlino could also use a blind spot monitoring system and a backup camera.

Verdict

Gallery: Microlino Dolce


With a price in Europe of about €20,000 ($21,580 at current exchange rates), depending on the version, the Microlino is not cheap. You can almost get a Dacia Spring EV for that much money, and that’s an actual car with four doors and a lot more practicality, and you will get more help from the government when buying one.

The Microlino doesn't feel like higher quality or more premium than the Dacia inside, though, and it offers a lot less comfort and fewer features. It isn’t a sensible purchase, but rather one that you make with your heart. You need to be won over by the cutesy styling.

It looks adorable, and it strikes a great balance between retro cues borrowed from the Isetta and modern design. While driving the Microlino through traffic, one person stopped me to ask what it was like to live in the year 2100, alluding to the fact that to their eyes, it looked like a futuristic transport pod, not something whose design can be traced back to the 1950s.

The essence of the Microlino is that while it’s far from perfect and a bit expensive for what it offers, it somehow manages to put a smile on your face. It also makes others smile, and it starts conversations like nothing else I’ve ever driven. It’s not a vehicle for introverts who want to blend in.

Micro has already sold the first 1,000 Microlinos and production is underway at its factory in Turin, Italy. It is most popular in Switzerland, Germany and Italy

Micro says on its website that the Microlino isn’t certified to drive on US roads yet and that it would need “a few adjustments." That's probably an understatement. The Microlino is missing plenty of required safety features, including air bags, ABS and a back-up camera.

If it did make it to the US in its current form, we'd expect it to be classified as a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) and limited to local roads, unless Micro can get it to pass the US crash-testing regimen.

If you could, though, would you buy a Microlino in the States? Let us know in the comments.

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