The Citroen Ami is a potentially brilliant idea for inner-city and inner-urban transport, and looks cute as a button into the bargain. It may be a touch pricey to buy outright, but once someone gets a rental fleet of these onto the streets, the whole idea will make much more sense.
In the metal
Honestly, have you ever seen anything quite so cute as the Citroen Ami? Put ears and a nose on it and it would win Crufts, no contest. Basically, it's a plastic bathtub, identical at both ends (the headlights and rear lights are the same size, just different colours, which helps to keep the costs down) with a roof, a pair of doors and a pair of seats. Even the doors are interesting - they're identical on both sides, even down to the hinges, which means that they open in opposite directions; the driver's door (on the left in this case as we're testing a right-hand-drive model) opens rearwards, while the passenger door is front-hinged.
You can have any colour you like so long as it's the grey-blue plastic from which the Ami is made, but there are sticker options so that you can jazz up the exterior a bit to your tastes. The glasshouse is, like the body, symmetrical in shape, but has a little stuck-on plastic panel at the back with a small spoiler for some sort of low-speed aerodynamic purpose (probably just to keep the rain off the rear screen) and some stripes that look a little like the venetian blind effect seen on the Citroen C3 Aircross crossover. The side windows are fixed in place, but have a hinged, flip-up lower section, like those of the old Citroen 2CV.
Inside, there are two rigid plastic seats (memories of secondary school just come flooding back) with fairly thin plastic cushions. There's a simple steering wheel, a small digital instrument display that gives you your battery range and speed readouts, and two banks of buttons. The ones near your right hand control the tiny heater and hazard lights, while three more down by the base of the driver's seat allow you to select Drive, Neutral and Reverse for the dinky 6kW (8hp) electric motor.
Power for that motor comes from a 5.5kWh battery, which is recharged by a domestic-style plug that unfurls, vacuum-cleaner-like, from inside the passenger door jamb. It takes around three hours to charge fully from a home socket, although Citroen Ireland says that it's working on an adaptor to allow you to access public charging points. It won't fast charge, though, so don't even try...
Luggage space? Actually, yes, there is. The passenger seat is set further back than the driver's and is separated from the pedals by a simple net partition, so you can stash stuff down there, while there's more space behind the two seats. Not a lot, but enough for a modest trip to the shops or a few small suitcases. Obviously, luggage space expands dramatically if you're not carrying a passenger.
There are three cupholders mounted up on top of the dashboard, plus some storage cubbies, and there's a holder for your mobile phone, along with a USB-A socket for charging. If you want to listen to tunes, you can connect your phone to a built-in Bluetooth speaker.
We should point out from the start that the Citroen Ami is not a car. Technically, under French regulations, it's a quadricycle, which means teenagers can drive one with a bike or moped licence from the age of fourteen. Don't expect any such special treatment in Ireland, although Citroen Ireland says that it is working with insurance companies to offer some preferential rates for Ami owners.
The incredibly light doors flip easily open and you simply sit down, twist an old-fashioned key in an old-fashioned ignition and the Ami whirrs off. With 8hp, you're not in contention for Traffic Light Grand Prix glory, but 40Nm of torque is loads in a vehicle that weighs a mere 485kg. In fact, hammer the accelerator from a standing start and you'll get wheelspin on a damp road...
The hooliganry doesn't last long, though. With a top speed of 45km/h, the Ami is soon rumbling along at its v-max. In town, 45km/h is plenty as most city-centre traffic doesn't get much above 25km/h on average. However, on more open city roads, even those with a 50km/h limit, impatient Irish drivers will soon be zooming angrily past you up the inside in the bus lane. Which is entirely their problem of course, and hopefully they'll all get tickets soon... In fairness, it's the only adverse reaction to the Ami that we noted, as pretty much everyone else pointed, smiled and even waved at us. Don't buy one of these if you're not comfortable with attention.
The unassisted steering is light, if not very quick, but offers surprisingly good turn-in and even a bit of feel. It's not square, the Ami - it's actually almost a perfect rectangle - but it's tiny and light, so slipping around tight corners into small gaps and especially into dinky parking spaces is an utter joy. It even rides tolerably comfortably. With 14-inch wheels and short springs, it's not exactly cosseting, but it actually soaks up the worst urban scars and is more forgiving than you'd expect over speed bumps.
Refinement is pretty awful - the body is essentially an echo chamber and there's no sound deadening - and those seats aren't great. Much more than half an hour in an Ami and you'll be getting a numb bum. Then again, that's the point. This isn't a long-haul car (although it clings onto range better than you might expect) and is designed for short urban hops only.
What it is though is huge fun. Not so much for steering precision and chassis balance (it only barely has a chassis...), but because it feels so beautifully suited to its urban environment. You feel less vulnerable than you do in a Renault Twizy, and you're certainly better-protected from the weather. The Ami feels sturdy enough that you don't feel threatened when larger vehicles come rumbling past, either (although we shudder to think what the NCAP rating might be).
What you get for your money
We don't actually have a price for the Ami yet, but Citroen Ireland reckons it will be in the €10,000 ballpark, or about the same as a Renault Twizy. That sounds like a lot of money for a car that's not even a car, and can only take you for a maximum of 75km on one charge, but that's not really the point.
You will be able to buy one outright - Citroen Ireland's dealers are massively excited to start actually selling Amis come next summer, when the first cars should arrive here - but really the idea is that hire companies will buy fleets of these and have them parked at strategic points around town. You simply rock up, press the buttons on an appropriate app and off you trundle. In that sort of milieu, the Ami makes tremendous sense. Hopefully, someone will establish just such a setup in Ireland's major urban centres.
The Citroen Ami is the best solution we've yet seen to short-range, low-carbon urban transportation. Yes, a bicycle or e-scooter would be technically more efficient, but you are physically much more vulnerable on one and, in Irish weather conditions an Ami owner/user is going to be drier and happier. The Ami itself is such a cheerful little thing, so good at what it does (admittedly within its limited bandwidth) and just so darned cute that it's impossible not to love.