Microlino begins testing tiny, BMW Isetta-inspired electric two-seater

Microlino reached a major milestone in its quest to launch one of the cutest electric cars on the market. It started testing a revised version of the BMW Isetta-inspired EV it unveiled in 2016 and updated several times since.

Based in Switzerland, the start-up has followed a rocky and winding path to the auto industry. Its first prototype nearly missed its public debut

at the 2016 Geneva auto show
after sustaining damage from a forklift incident. It fine-tuned the car in the following years as it racked up several thousand pre-orders, but the two-seater never reached production. It didn’t help that Artega, one of the company’s former partners, tried selling a knock-off of the Microlino called Karolino. Both companies settled the matter out of court before going their separate ways.

An updated model should have made its debut at the 2020 Geneva show, but the event was canceled. Nearly a year later, the Microlino 2.0

is finally ready to hit the road. It benefits from numerous modifications that crucially make it much safer; the company released an image that compares the 1.0 with the 2.0, and the former looks like it has the structural rigidity of a garden arbor. We’d feel much safer in the updated model.

Full specifications still haven’t been published, but they’re not going to be impressive because the Microlino isn’t even classified as a car in most European countries. It’s a light quadricycle, like the Renault Twizy and the Citroën Ami, and it was developed exclusively for urban centers. As such, the company will offer two battery packs that deliver 78 and 125 miles of range, respectively. Power will come from a small, rear-mounted electric motor.

Visually, the 2.0 hasn’t changed much since it made its debut online in 2020. It’s still inspired by the BMW Isetta built from 1956 to 1962, so it’s equipped with a single front-mounted door. Its headlights pop out from the body, and its track is wider at the front than in back. Inside, it offers space for two passengers on a bench seat. The first prototype rides on black steelies, but series-produced models will likely receive vintage-looking wheel designs.

While the Microlino 2.0 hasn’t been driven far yet, the team testing it reported that it handles much better than the original prototype. Its body is made of pressed steel and aluminum so it’s more rigid. Engineers also made several updates to the suspension system in order to give the tiny EV a more comfortable and sure-footed ride. 

The testing process will continue in the coming months. Microlino plans to build a total of five prototypes, and it hopes to start pre-production during the summer of 2021. Series production should begin in September 2021, so the first cars will be in customer hands before the end of the year if everything goes according to plan. Pricing in Europe will start at approximately €12,000, which is around $14,600 at the current conversion rate.

The revenge of the bubble cars

BMW didn’t design the Isetta; it merely improved the car and democratized it. Bubble cars were extremely popular in Europe during the 1950s, but the segment collapsed when economy cars like the original Mini

arrived on the market. In an odd twist of fate, quadricycles like the Microlino and the Ami could pose a serious threat to electric city cars like Mini’s own battery-powered Cooper and the Honda E
. They’re smaller, slower, and they can’t drive as far on a charge, but none of these factors matter in an urban setting. What’s more important is that they’re cheaper and more practical to live with. It will be interesting to watch how the segment develops in the coming years.