What's this, another weird electricmobile?
Weird yes, electric no. It's a petrol-fed, twin-cylinder featherweight city car that claims 65mpg. On paper the vital stats of the Microcar seem to make sense: low weight, low emissions, low insurance, low running costs and tepid performance. Hell, it's not even classed as a car – it's a quadricycle.
Doesn't sound like a familiar car company. Who are they?
The Microcar is manufactured by the Groupe Bénéteau, a French company better known for boat building. It started building small cars when France introduced a law that states you don't need a licence to drive certain small cars. They seem to be popular in rural Spain and other places where people basically want a scooter with a roof. For Almond farmers and ambitious/stubborn families, there is a LWB four-seater version available, which is 275mm longer. Or a LWB two-seat version if you're greedy (pictured above).
Built by a boat maker? Is it clinker-built with a rudder and mast?
Similar to the Smart, the Microcar features an alloy 'safety cell' skeleton with composite ABS bodyshell and panels. The Microcar website refers to the MC1 and 2 as possessing 'seductive elegance' and 'flowing lines'. They must have been looking at another car, drunk, blind or just blind drunk. To these eyes at least, this is no looker. If the sinful front panel fit and sickening cockpit shudder is anything to go by, I wouldn't set foot on one of the Bénéteau Group's seagoing vessels. There's insufficient headroom and the interior is 100 percent Care Home. Tasteless patterned fabric and fablon wood grain that looks like it's been printed out and glued on. At idle, the whole steering column wobbles. That's not right in a car.
Is it a 'choppy' ride?
Actually, it drives slightly better than it looks. Featuring a water cooled 505cc twin cylinder petrol engine that delivers a toy-town 21bhp, the Microcar feels fairly nippy thanks to a kerb weight of just 355kg – half that of a Smart ForTwo. The variable automatic transmission feels like a self-propelled lawn mower system. It pauses before engaging drive, so you can't creep like normal autos. Cornering ability is probably the Microcar's best characteristic. Mind you, the independent McPherson struts don't have much force acting against them.
So hang on, can you drive it in the UK without a car licence?
Oh yes. Because the Microcar falls within the weight and performance limits of existing B1 licence legislation, you can drive one on a bike licence a la the Reliant Robin. Learner motorcycle riders with a provisional 'A' can drive one on L plates without the need for a CBT (Compulsary Bike Training). Even 16-year olds with a disability allowance can drive one. It isn't a car and it doesn't feel like one when you're sat in it. Or when you see the rear disc brakes are smaller than those on a beefed-up downhill mountain bike.
Can it out-smart a Smart at anything?
Hmmm, certainly not when it comes to build and ride quality. Microcar does win the turning circle Top Trumps, however: its 4.10m easily trumps the Fortwo's 8.75m. Before we dismiss it for lack of dealership back-up, Microcar also claims there are 800 agents across the UK. Look, I'm a fan of emissions-friendly bubble cars, but they have to be well rounded and cleverly packaged. Just ten miles felt like an ordeal in the Microcar. Motorway driving would be near suicidal. No amount of body coloured plastic, alloy wheels or halogen quartz headlamps could tempt me.
I'll be brutally honest, the Microcar is charmless. It was never going to be bought by car enthusiasts, but by bargain hunters who simply want comfort; which would be fine if the Microcar was actually comfortable. To pay money for one when you could spend less and get a far superior (far more motorway usable) Smart Fortwo, Hyundai Amica, Chevy Matiz, Suzuki Alto or Proton Savvy would be upsetting. It's simply not cheap enough. As for residuals and Euro NCAP safety blankets? Let's not go there…