Microlino electric bubble car review: urban delight

“Wow, what an entrance!” said a well-coiffed woman as other patrons seated at the sidewalk cafe, now standing, began to applaud my exit from the electric bubble car like I was stepping out of a limousine.

That really happened in one of Amsterdam’s wealthiest neighborhoods, on a street dotted with Range Rovers and a G-Class Merc costing nearly ten times as much as the little BMW Isetta throwback I was driving. What followed was a bevy of questions I had already answered dozens of times in my one week with the car: What is it? How much does it cost? Can I drive it on the highway?

It’s an Italian-made Microlino from a Swiss-company called Micro with prices starting at around €18,000 (about $19,500). Yes, it’s highway legal. 

While cars in general are embiggening, in some cities a new breed of electric microcars are trending. They’re cheaper to own, easier to park, consume less public space and energy, and maneuver around obstacles that would otherwise block big SUVs and snarl traffic.

And you know what? Some, like the Microlino, are so much fun that maybe, just maybe, they’ll help reverse the trend of people buying increasingly larger and heavier cars. Assuming they’ve fixed a software issue that bricked my test car at the end of the review (more on that later).

The Microlino next to an Opel Rocks, aka, the Citroen Ami in other markets. So small.

Let me start by saying that I don’t own a car, but I do regularly drive one. I’ve long subscribed to a car sharing service with a dedicated fleet parked in dedicated spots around town, that lets me select the right car for my current need: compact, wagon, or panel van; gas or EV. But not everyone lives in a city that spent the last 50-odd years trying to break away from car dependency to perfect multimodal transport, so the desire to own a large car that can do all the car things is understandable.

Yet even here in Amsterdam — a city dominated by bicycles with easy access to good public transportation — there are still lots of privately owned cars suffering from autobesity, just sitting there on the street unused 96 percent of the time, by some accounts. That’s space that could be used for public walkways, cycleways, benches, cafes, greenery… or about three microcars parked side by side. 

On this day, I added 6.16kWh taking it from about 40 percent to 100 percent charge in about three hours. It cost $2 on a nearby public 11kW charger.

The midtier Microlino Dolce I reviewed starts at €20,000 (about $21,700) and is an absolute joy for quick trips to the market or dropping a kid at school while staying warm and dry in bad weather. It has a top speed of 90km/h (55mph) and range of up to 228km (142 miles) for destinations well beyond the city center. 

Last weekend, I drove my wife and dog to the sea and back and then returned to the dunes for a trail run the following day before needing to recharge the Microlino, for a real-world range of about 110km. I plugged it in at one of the 12 public 11kW AC chargers in the parking lot with about 20 percent remaining, and returned from my run 90 minutes later to find a 50 percent charge — more than enough for the 30-minute drive home.

The Microlino’s no speed demon, but it’s still an EV and so lightweight that I’d beat unsuspecting taxis off the starting line and “win” the merged lane. The small and responsive steering wheel and super stiff suspension contribute to a go-kart feel when whipping around corners and through traffic circles at I-should-know-better speeds. “It feels like a real car,” is how one owner of a €15,000 (about $16,300) Biro — one of the first and most popular electric microcars to seduce Amsterdammers — described driving the Microlino.

In Sport mode (redder display and flame out my ass) driving at the Microlino’s top speed of 90km/h.

The mechanical sunroof can be quickly opened and closed.

A surprisingly spacious trunk that can hold three crates of beer, Micro says.

The hinged front makes it very easy to get in and out of the microcar, even in the tightest of spaces.

It’s not without its faults, however. To start with, there’s a lot of plastic inside the Microlino (but the windows are all glass unlike some microcars). One plastic clip helping to keep a plastic service panel in place snapped off in my brief time with the car, which I received with just 10km on the odometer. The motor has a distinct whine, the phone holder rattles when empty, the wiper motor is noisy, and the fan has two settings: loud or louder. The only thing that isn’t loud is the included portable Bluetooth speaker.

I also watched the main display reboot once while driving but without any impact on the motor or controls (thankfully!). And while the front door has a nice soft-close mechanism, the trunk requires a solid slam to catch. The sloped-back roof also exposes the interior to rain when the door is open, and I experienced some drips while driving around curves due to water that must have collected in the door closure. 

The “vegan” (fake) leather on the seats and steering wheel were nice touches on my Dolce Edition, as was the intuitive mechanical sunroof, but overall I’d describe the fit and finish of the Microlino Dolce as basic. At least until I drove a top-end Biro and realized just how superior the Microlino was by comparison. A Microlino is a tiny expensive car, whereas a Biro is a tiny expensive golf cart.

The Microlino did, however, suffer a total failure after sitting on a 11kWh public charger for about four hours. When I returned to what should have been a fully charged car, it wouldn’t power on. After hauling it away on a trailer, Micro identified the issue and assures me it won’t affect future cars. They blamed the problem on a system that protects the car against peak voltage from the charging station, which “was not adjusted correctly after a software update.”

Micro tells me that my poor little guy is fine after the update. Good, but such a failure would have been a huge hassle if I was the vehicle’s owner, and without the priority attention afforded to journalists.

Still, despite the mishap and all my nitpicking, none of the aforementioned issues are enough to dissuade my enthusiasm for the Microlino — it’s that much fun


Small as a ladybug.
Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

As much as I enjoyed my week with the Microlino, I’m not yet a convert — there’s simply no faster, more convenient, or healthier way of going door to door than on a bicycle in cities with good cycling infrastructure, despite the rain and cold for which I can dress. And less capable but very appealing microcars like the Opel Rocks (sold as the Citroen Ami in some markets) can be had for half the price at €8,700 (about $9,470).

The Microlino isn’t for everyone. Hell, microcars aren’t even for most people. But they are for anyone who wants a vehicle that’s more nimble, efficient, inexpensive, and fun to drive than a full-sized car.

Fun… there’s that word again. I can’t help but return to it even if it’s impossible to quantify. But anecdotally, my time with the Microlino delivered more smiles per city kilometer — both inside and outside the car — than any car I’ve ever been in, and I’d wager more than any new car available today, no matter the size or price.

Photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge


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