Home » The Microlino ‘Electric BMW Isetta’ Is A Huge Piece Of Crap But I Still Love It

The Microlino ‘Electric BMW Isetta’ Is A Huge Piece Of Crap But I Still Love It

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It’s been over seven years since we first saw the adorable Microlino, a Swiss company’s modern interpretation of the BMW Isetta — the lovable front-door-having post-World War II German microcar. Now the Microlino is actually here, and you know what? My heart thinks it’s absolutely fantastic, but at the same time, my head realizes it’s quite terrible. Here, let me explain.

I’m currently attending the always-excellent German Car of the Year event near Frankfurt, Germany, meaning I have access to 70 fantastic automobiles, so get ready for a bunch of Micro-reviews (in this case, literally!). If you’re an Autopian member, you can actually tell me which vehicle you most want me to drive, and I’ll go drive it! Most requested by members was the Microlino, which is a mini-car/quadricycle (and thus doesn’t have to pass as strict crash tests) built in Italy but engineered by Swiss small vehicle-maker Micro Mobility Solutions. Here’s a pitch-slide from a Microlino presentation about how it’s trying to clean up the earth by getting people into its small vehicles:

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Image: Microlino

And here are the 17 horsepower, 8ft 3inch-long Microlino’s basic specs:

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Image: Microlino

And here’s a look how the chassis has changed during the car’s (Microlino doesn’t like to call it a car) rather long development cycle:

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Anyway, so those are the basic specs. 17 horsepower, about 1000 pounds without battery (1300 to 1400 with battery), up to 143 miles of range with the big 14 kWh battery on the European WLTP cycle (In the summer) — it all sounds good. But despite that and the Microlino’s great looks, the car is still deeply flawed.

I’m not a huge fan of “It’s good but also bad” headlines, but the Microlino really deserves this one. I’ll explain.

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Getting into the car involves pressing the little button between the key hole on the right side of the car and the “Microlino” text. You can see the key hole, squishy black button, and text on the black trim piece above; it sits just below the right headlight, the back side of which acts as a side mirror. Pressing that switch pops open the front door latch; a pneumatic strut pushes the door open slowly:

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The open door reveals a bench up front and a steering column that, unlike on the BMW Isetta, does not move away with the door, but rather remains in place on the left side of the vehicle. To get to the driver’s side, you enter the front right side of the vehicle and shift over into the driver’s seat.

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There’s actually quite a bit of room inside. There’s a cup holder and storage cubby on the right, along with a bluetooth speaker jammed between that cubby area and the seat. On the left side is a rotary dial shifter, and there are a few other small storage pouches, plus a hazard switch in the center on the back side of the front door, and USB outlets below that (there are also USB outlets in the cubby on the right).

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There’s no airbag, and there’s also no horn on the steering wheel — that is found on the turn signal stalk to left of the column. Also to the left is the rotary dial, which you can see here:

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Up front, the gauge cluster shows battery state of charge, distance traveled, time, date (which is wrong in the image below), vehicle speed, and gear shift position. On the bar to the right of the gauge cluster are four HVAC touch-screen buttons to turn on the fan or the heater.

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Overall build quality seemed…just OK. There were some ill-fitting trim bits like this one to the left of the shifter, on the vertical surface; but overall, it wasn’t horrible:

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To drive the car, you have to put the key into the ignition, turn it, place the shifter into neutral, then into drive, then release the park brake (that’s a regular hand brake to the left of the bench), and then, upon pressing the accelerator pedal, you’re off. Here’s some driving footage:

Right away, what becomes obvious is that the Microlino is quick, but also loud — really loud. Like, Shouldn’t-Be-This-Loud-Isn’t-This-An-EV? loud. All the noise comes from the rear under the cargo area, where the motor and gearbox sit. Here’s a look at the drive motor and rear independent suspension:

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Here you can see the front suspension:

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And here you can see the bottom of the battery tray. The battery sending power to the 17 horsepower motor can be had in 6 kW, 10.5kW and 14 kW variants.

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The suspension is fine on smooth streets, and handles well enough around turns, but over cobblestone roads, which are frequent in old cities in Europe, where the Microlino would be at its best otherwise, the ride gets rather jarring.

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Forward visibility is good, except when you have to turn. You’re supposed to look ahead to where you’re headed, and if you do that while turning left or right, you’ll be looking directly at a giant pillar. It’s not ideal:

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Rear visibility is OK, but the lack of a rearview mirror is unacceptable. Just put a small one at the center of the windscreen; it won’t take up that much room. What’s more, this car should have a backup camera:

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Backing up isn’t that hard, but the issue is that it’s hard to know what’s down below the rear glass; where is that rear bumper relative to another car or, say, a wall? I’m sure one would get used to parking this vehicle without a rearview camera, but it’d be nice, especially for $20,000, which is what the basic model costs.

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Actually, this one that I was driving, which is the “Pioneer” with the mid-size 10.5 kWh battery, costs in Germany closer to $25,000 when converted from Euro. That’s more than a Ford Maverick; there should definitely be a rearview mirror and a backup camera for that price.

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Hell, there should probably also be air conditioning. As nice as that manually-retractable sunroof is (the sliding side windows are…fine), I bet things would get toasty in that Microlino in the summer, especially in traffic down south in say, Italy, where the car is built.

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So the Microlino is a bit loud, it doesn’t ride that well, it’s got some blind spots, it doesn’t have AC, it doesn’t have a rearview mirror, it doesn’t have an airbag, it doesn’t have a backup camera, and its interior quality could be better. But its most egregious fault has to do with opening the front door, which is extremely important, since it is the door one must use to exit the vehicle unless you want to squish yourself through the sunroof or go through the rear door. Look at the photo above; look very carefully. Can you figure out how to get out?

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I couldn’t. It took me forever. In fact, I had to be shown how to get out, because, for whatever reason, it appears that Microlino intentionally hid the button behind the front HVAC bar:

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I tried jamming my phone back there to take a photo of the button; here’s what I snapped:

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See the little black nub on the back side of that bar? That’s how you get out of the car through its only door.

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Lord is this nonsense. And such an unforced error that could be easily fixed with a two cent sticker.

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So it’s $25 grand for a fun, but deeply flawed microcar that can do about 110 miles of range (again, the bigger 14 kW battery can apparently do 143), doesn’t have a rearview mirror, doesn’t have an airbag, doesn’t have AC, doesn’t have a backup camera, rides poorly on cobblestone roads, is loud, and hell, I haven’t even mentioned how mediocre those manual brakes are.

And yet, I’d still love to own one. Not at that price, but definitely in a few years if I can snag a used one for about half that. Just look at how happy that random pedestrian is in the photo above. He wanted to sit in the Microlino; why? Because it drips with soul, and that makes up for all of this machine’s rather numerous deficiencies.

 

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago

“Did I do that?!”

AnDe
AnDe
10 months ago

Even my Wuling Hongguan miniEV in China is better than this. And costs 1/4.

Marc Johnston
Marc Johnston
10 months ago

It seems like parking the Microlino would be a tad difficult. You pull too close to a parked car in front of you, you can’t get out of the car. You park behind a car on a city street, you can’t get out of the car.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Isetta and this, but seems you’d really get good at backing into parking spots.

Sbzr
Sbzr
10 months ago
Reply to  Marc Johnston

like the smart it is allowed to park perpendicular to the curb with it

Kevin Baggiore
Kevin Baggiore
10 months ago

Man, how did we ever survive without backup cameras? Not knowing where your bumper is relative to other cars. Wow

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
10 months ago
Reply to  Kevin Baggiore

It’s different here because the car is such a unique size and shape. David owns a fleet of cars without electric anything

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
10 months ago

I get that it’s cute, I get that it’s retro…. but…just looking at this from a crash perspective kills the idea that the “front door only” idea is a good one for egress in an accident.

BMW probably had some packaging/cost reasons for this in the 1950s, but in the modern era of safety it’s stupid.

Cerberus
Cerberus
10 months ago

It makes more sense to think of it as an all-weather scooter, but that price is too high. I’m well aware that it’s expensive for a small operation to build vehicles, but most people are going to look at value for money and this can only really work for a small number of people who are enamored with the design. Sometimes a great idea just doesn’t have enough profit potential to follow through with building, though I wish them success.

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