17.12.2020Citroen Ami first drive
I should open this review with a spoiler - the Citroen Ami is a fairly useless car. But then it’s not technically a car - it’s a quadricycle - and judging it by normal ‘car’ standards would be unfair. Instead, the Citroen Ami is intended as an urban mobility solution, and we should look at its strengths and weaknesses on these terms. We’ve had the chance to drive a left-hand drive model in the UK before the Ami is even confirmed to arrive on these shores.
Review by Chris Lilly
Citroen’s launching two electric models at the same time, and it would be difficult for them to be further apart. The Citroen e-C4 is a spacious family hatchback with a good range, fast charging capabilities, and decent performance; the Ami isn’t. Powering the Ami is a 6 kW electric motor, which puts power to the front wheels, and is good for a 0-62mph time of . . . never. The Ami has a top-speed of just 28 mph and it will get there at its own pace. There’s none of the harsh acceleration that some electric vehicles can offer, instead the little Citroen will move briskly up to speed. It’s not possible to take the Ami on motorways, and even non-motorway fast roads should be approached with some trepidation, as drivers are in a small car with little in the way of performance. There’s enough to the electric motor to make it well suited to city streets however, and driving to the local shops for example - largely on 30 mph roads - sees the Ami perform well. It’s got just enough pace to prove useful in built up areas.
Like the Ami’s performance, enjoying the Citroen quadricycle’s handling is best kept to compact streets and 30 mph-zones really. It can’t get up to any real sort of speed, but judging by the suspension set-up, you wouldn’t really want to be testing out ride comfort at 50 mph, even if it could get to that speed. This helps with the car’s agility, and instead, the Ami is as perfectly suited to running about small streets and built up areas as its main rival, Renault’s Twizy. It’s nimble, with a tiny footprint and wheels effectively pushed a little past each corner. As such, you can have a lot of fun in the Ami and all at low speeds. Compared to a conventional city car the Ami can’t hope to match up to even the least refined model, but in this urban mobility-quadricycle market, there’s little to compare against, and allowances must be made. Whatever your thoughts on comfortable suspension, the suitability for purpose with the Ami’s ride and handling is spot on. It’s perfect in tight streets, cramped car parks, and is an ideal runabout, particularly in large cities, especially with its tiny turning circle.
The Citroen Ami is not traditionally stylish, but then there’s good reason for that. Its design is extremely clever, and Citroen has kept costs down by developing a number of features that at least partly explains the vehicle’s looks. To reduce manufacturing and repair costs, many of the body panels are identical to those the other side of the vehicle. So the front bumper, light surrounds, and ‘bonnet’ panel is the same as that used at the rear. The doors too are the same, with the driver’s door (on left-hand drive models) rear-hinged and the other hinged at the front. There are changes for lights and an addition to the rear window section, but essentially the Ami is symmetrical. It’s designed to be cheap to build and cheap to repair, so its quirky looks can be forgiven as an example of function over form. Since the Ami is a one-box shape, it’s fairly spacious inside, though there is no boot to speak of. The seats are placed almost at the rear of the Ami, and there’s a bit of storage space to tuck things in behind, but the main ‘load area’ is a designated spot forward of the passenger’s feet and beneath the dashboard that will fit a large suitcase or similar. Because occupants sit so far back, there’s a lot of space forward of them with a practical dashboard featuring a host of handy cubby holes. Equally, space inside is excellent for two adults, even considering how small the Ami is, with plenty of head and leg space for each.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Interior quality is utilitarian to say the least. Plastics are hard and the interior is essentially easy to clean. This all fits with the Ami’s brief to be offered as a car-sharing option for inner-city users. The ability to quickly and easily prepare a car for use by another driver makes life easier for the car-sharing operators, and the Ami will be easy to maintain in this regard. Although the interior quality isn’t up to car standards, as has been mentioned, we can’t truly judge the Ami the same way, and looking at the Renault Twizy as a rival, the interior feels of a higher quality - partly because you get actual doors with the Citroen, the luxury! Controls have been thought out to maximise interior space, so the drive selector is placed down by the driver’s left leg on the seat edge. It means there’s nothing needed on the dashboard to deal with driving the car barring the steering wheel and instruments. There’s no infotainment system - again due to a combination of costs and car-sharing service. There’s a phone cradle which most will use to play music and use as a navigation system, some heating/ventilation controls, and that’s about it. It’s all you need, and therefore just right for Ami owners’/users’ requirements.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The Citroen Ami has a range of around 43 miles on a charge, though I’d guess in reality you shouldn’t expect more than 35. That’s because you’ll be driving with your foot to the floor more than just about any other vehicle on the road. Our test around a chilly Coventry didn’t give us the chance to really push the range, but we ran around the city centre and travelled out a bit with no anxiety as to driving range. It will cover most urban trips with ease, and the Ami isn’t really designed for further distances. Considering the average UK daily drive is around 18 miles, the Ami has this to spare, and thanks to a small battery, it won’t take long to charge either to get back on the road.
Citroen has designed the Ami to be lightweight - it weighs just 485 kg - and a significant part of that is the compact battery fitted. This improves efficiency because the battery is often the weightiest component fitted to an EV and also shortens charging times. A Tesla battery alone weighs more than an entire Ami, whereas the battery Citroen has fitted weighs only around 60 kg in total. Charging takes around three hours from a three-pin plug for the 5.5 kWh battery, and the on-board cable is found inside the passenger door frame. There is brake energy recuperation fitted to help extend the range, and of course you can’t go particularly fast anyway so range doesn’t drop massively when going at top speed as most EVs would.
Customisation is a key element for buyers of the Ami, since standard kit is very simple. Buyers will essentially get all they need to drive a car, and little else, so the ability to fit different storage options, and alter exterior colour schemes/designs is key. Accessories include a central separation net, door storage net, mats, storage tray, bag hook, smartphone clip, and device to connect to the MyCitroen app. Four main colours are available - grey, blue, orange, and khaki - though stickers and graphics can be added to alter the appearance further. Seats are moulded plastic with a bit of padding, windows split in half horizontally and the bottom part folds up a la Citroen 2CV, and there are so few controls that there isn’t even a headlight switch - they are always on when the car is.
Citroen’s Ami certainly won’t be for everyone, but it will be perfectly tailored for a great many people. It’s got a character and charm that can’t be denied - at every turn on the test drive people were smiling, pointing, and waving at it - and it will get two people from A-B in built up areas better than just about anything else with more than two wheels. Then there’s the cost to consider, which is incredibly low. In France, the Ami costs around 6,000 euros (£5,400), though subscription/rental services see costs start from less than £20 per month. There is one caveat to all this in that the Ami is not (yet) coming to the UK, but there is a website to register interest, and with enough signatures, Citroen UK reckons it will be able to officially bring it across. My advice; register your interest. The Ami is a quirky, brilliantly thought out vehicle that would add a highly affordable option to a number of households across the country.
Model tested: Citroen Ami
Engine / CO2: 6 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Only one
On-road price: TBC
In the showroom: TBC
Review rating: 3.5 Stars