The Microlino Is a Modernized Electric Isetta

It combines retro bubble-car aesthetics with an efficient electric drivetrain.

byJustin Hughes| UPDATED Apr 5, 2018 10:47 AM

The Isetta was an Italian designed microcar that was licensed to other manufacturers, most notably BMW. You may also remember it as TV-character Steve Urkel's car from Family Matters. The car's purpose was to be a small, affordable car that would help get Europe mobile again in the aftermath of World War II. Today, Swiss company Micro Mobility is preparing to build a modern small car with many of the same goals and has directly drawn on the Isetta as inspiration.

The original BMW Isetta that inspired the Microlino., Getty Images

The Microlino shares its basic design with the Isetta, a two-seat bubble-shaped microcar with a single door on the front. But under the skin lies not a modified motorcycle engine but a modern electric drivetrain. Lithium-ion batteries with either an 8 or 14.4 kilowatt-hour capacity power on an electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Its range is either 75 or 134 miles, depending on which battery it has. It will fully charge off a household outlet in four hours, or from a specialized charger in one hour. The Microlino's horsepower is not stated, but Micro Mobility claims a  to 31 mph acceleration time of five seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 55 mph.

Micro Mobility

Functionally, the Microlino bears a striking resemblance to the Eli Zero. But while the Zero takes a futuristic approach to electric mobility, the Microlino is decidedly retro, mimicking the appearance of the old Isetta rather than a modern vehicle. But the design shares some practical aspects with the Isetta as well. For example, it is short enough to park across a standard size parking space, enabling the driver to pull straight in and exit to the side of the road through the front door.

Neither the Isetta nor the Microlino would pass the modern standards for a passenger car. But the Microlino qualifies for Europe's category L7e as a "heavy quadricycle." This category is vaguely similar to our Neighborhood Electric Vehicle class, though with different standards. It seems like all it would take to qualify the Microlino for use as a low-speed vehicle in the U.S. would be to restrict its top speed to 25 mph, a requirement for this class. 

However, Micro Mobility told us in an email that while it is considering this market, there are no plans to bring the Microlino to the U.S. at this time. It intends to start in Switzerland and Germany, then expand to wherever it can find licensing partners—again, like the original Isetta.