Microlino Makes 1950s Flair Useful Today

Swiss entrepreneur has reimagined the classic Italian bubble car as an electric quadricycle. In this market niche, the Microlino car has great potential to thrive over the next years

Side view of the 2023 Microlino Dolce
Microlino car in the Dolce trim

Enthusiasts will get the idea instantly. The Microlino car is a modern interpretation of the Isetta, the Italian bubble car designed in the 1950s which attracted the attention of other automakers. Parallel to that, non-enthusiasts will get another idea instantly. The Microlino is a tiny vehicle designed to make transportation easy in big cities. And, as everything in these days, it features charming design and electric powertrain.

Was that confusing? Let me explain. The true beauty of the Microlino is not its retro design or its modern build; it is pairing those two. This manufacturer brought a concept designed seventy years ago, made just a few adaptations, and managed to render it as appropriate for today as the original one was back then. Such an impressive feat of design and engineering is what made it deserve an article on AutomoBible.

Rear quarter view of the 1955 Iso Isetta
1955 Iso Isetta (credit: Darin Schnabel)

First, what is the Isetta?

The original car arrived in 1953. Italian firm Iso would already build machines of other types, but wanted to venture into urban cars. It is not hard to see why the Isetta took everyone by surprise. The bubble style was 2.29 m long and 1.37 m wide yet had room for two people. Besides, it used a tiny two-cylinder engine which Iso already used on its motorcycle line. That transportation marvel had many tricks up its sleeve.

The single door is actually the very front end. The panel swings outwards and takes the entire dashboard with it to make access easier. The sunroof came standard to provide extra ventilation and to double as an emergency exit in case of an accident. The rear axle is so narrow that it does not need a differential. And that motorcycle engine uses two cylinders with the same combustion chamber so as to become smaller.

Front quarter view of the 1954 Iso Isettacarro
1954 Iso Isettacarro (credit: Darin Schnabel)

What happened to the Isetta?

Such innovative concept made it a success. People could drive it everywhere and park it everywhere; it is short enough to cross-park on parallel spots. However, sales went down once Fiat renewed the 500 a few years later: it brought typical car comfort and convenience at similar prices. Iso eventually discontinued it in 1958, but that was definitely not the Isetta’s end. It attracted the attention of many other companies.

In 1954, VELAM acquired the license to build it in France. One year later, Romi did the same to build it in Brazil; it even became the first city vehicle manufactured in the country. In 1959, the car went to Argentina as De Carlo. But the most important case was BMW’s. The German company bought the Isetta’s complete tooling and redesigned it with its own parts. It even created a long-wheelbase version with four seats.

Front quarter view of the 1957 BMW 600
1957 BMW 600 (credit: Darin Schnabel)

Was there a successor?

There have been many other compact cars, but definitely none similar to the Isetta. The reason is simple: it could no longer comply with newer standards. Cars have become increasingly complex over time: more comfort and safety items, countless electronic devices, stronger structures… Everything takes up space, so it would be impossible to preserve that tiny footprint, let alone to manufacture it at a reasonable price.

Then again, market demand changes all the time. Cities have only become more crowded than they were in the 1950s. Vehicle ownership has become incredibly expensive. And governments have been forced to make emission and safety laws tougher. Such pressure has made people and the industry open to new solutions, and one is to work around the concept of car. This is where the Microlino comes to the rescue.

2023 Microlino Pioneer Series
Microlino electric car in its Pioneer Series

The fully electric Microlino car

Here, the most striking feature is the design, of course. Cars like the VW Beetle and the Chevrolet Camaro were modern products loosely inspired in their predecessors. The Microlino “perfectly translates the motif of the original Isetta into the modern age”, to quote Car and Driver. There are cleaner lines and LED lights but the essence is the same. It even has that front door, although the steering wheel stays in place now.

The Swiss manufacturer did a great job at bringing the cabin up to date as well. The trim quality is much better, there are small gauge screens, climate control, and a canvas sunroof again. This time, it is made by Magna CTS and has impressive quality. It seats two, just like its predecessor, and offers enough room for them not to feel cramped. Now, if you are thinking that this is another glamourized car, keep reading.

Dashboard of the 2023 Microlino
Dashboard of the electric Microlino car

The Microlino is not a car

As we stated before, the Isetta never had a direct successor because it would be impossible to fully adapt its concept to the modern day. Microlino’s manufacturer dealt with that by making it a quadricycle rather than a regular car – you can even see that on its website‘s tab title. The main benefit is that it falls under much looser regulations. Besides, it can compete in an emerging market niche that has few rivals so far.

At a first glance, the lack of an airbag, the manual windows with partial opening, and the lack of a Parking mode on the transmission are disappointing. The trick is to remember that it does not intend to compete with Corsas, Polos or Zoes. The vehicles that should worry about it are the Citroën Ami, Mobilize Duo and Opel Rocks, to name a few. They fall under the same category, which is more limited than typical cars.

Microlino quadricycle and Microletta scooter at an auto show
Microlino car in Dolce trim next to the Microletta, an electric scooter

What people does the Microlino target?

Residents of major cities, above all. People who want a small vehicle to run errands and commute to work or school. While the car seats two, it is easy to see that you should only accept a passenger in short trips. When it comes to performance, the Microlino’s engine is good for a top speed of 56 mph, so you should not expect intense emotions. It has three battery options with official European ranges up to 143 miles.

This vehicle comes in four versions. The Pioneer is limited to the first 999 units. Dolce adds retro style and Competizione uses a modern look. The entry version is named Urban and will be available later this year. While the upscale trims are charming, it is important that the vehicle offers simpler ones in order to lower its base price. Just like any other new venture, the Microlino needs high sales volumes to remain viable.

2023 Microlino in gray
The electric Microlino car in the Competizione trim level

The Microlino has done a perfect job at reinterpreting the Isetta’s spirit seven decades later. Now, it is up for the manufacturer to work on its marketing and prices to make it sell as it should. Otherwise, it is going to become a premium rarity, and that is not the way a vehicle stays in the market for long. Have you ever considered owning a quadricycle, whether as your only vehicle or as a secondary option to a regular car?

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Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.