Citroën Ami test drive. Is this the mobility of the future?
Presented by Citröen as the "100% electric mobility solution designed for everybody" the Ami Electric is a vehicle with equally lights and shadows
When Citroën introduced the original Ami 6 in 1961 as an upmarket and quirky saloon built on the chassis of the humble 2CV, i'm sure nobody could think that sixty years later that moniker could revive in a vehicle as different and unusual as the Ami Electric.
Offered only in that unpainted gray plastic tone, the Ami looks modern and interesting. Some would say ugly.
Citroën says that the Ami is not a car, but a "mobility solution", but what does exactly means? Is it a car? Is it a four wheels scooter? A big toy car you can register tax and drive on public roads? The fact is that the Ami is none of those, but at the same time, it's all of that.
It is a car, or better said, what French calls "Voiture sans permis" A kind of car, limited to 45 km/h that can be driven by people without driving license, and only around the city or secondary roads. It's a four wheel scooter as its intended as a more comfortable alternative to an electric motorbike to be used in urban journeys, and it's also a bit like a big electric toy car, as it can be driven by youngsters starting 16 years old and its funky, plasticky aesthetics make it look like a real life Matchbox.
I am not a journalist, nor a test driver, so i don't have access to the PSA press fleet cars, but thanks to my Free to Move car sharing account, i could take one of these vehicles for a test drive. Below are my conclusions about this little friend on wheels.
Exterior: Plastic galore and brilliant simplicity
The Ami is not a vehicle that goes unnoticed. Released just some months ago, it still turn heads like a Pagani Zonda, although for different reasons.
The first thing that catches the eye is the body. The Ami is completely symmetric and in fact, the body only uses four parts, one for the front and rear end, two for the sides and one for the roof. All the body panels are made of unpainted plastic, which makes the Ami look a bit like a car made of just bumpers and wheels. It's quite strange, but not necessary ugly. In fact, it has quite a lot of charm, and its quirkiness make it stand out among the traffic.
The use of just those four parts for the body panels implies that the front end and the rear end are exactly alike, with the only difference in the white or red LED lights for the head and tail lights respectively. The use of the same panel for the sides is very clever in cost terms, but at the same time, gives the car its peculiar look, as the driver door opens against the wind, like a 1930's car (Or a modern Rolls Royce, for that matter) while the passenger door opens normally.
The door opening is one of the most striking features of the Ami
The upper part of the body is almost entirely made of glass, giving an strange sensation when combined with the plastic lower part. A bit like if a trash container and a phone boot would have had a child after a night of unchained passion. Still, thanks to all that glass surface, the visibility is acceptable, and could be better if the door mirrors weren't so small and useless.
As a small wink to its past, Citroen has given the AMI the same window opening system the 2CV used for 42 years. It's cute and retro, but is also quite useless, as the enormous amount of glass surface turns the car into a greenhouse, especially during the Madrilenian summer, and the small opening of the side windows does not help to evacuate the heat that accumulates in the interior.
The Ami is not available in any colour except this crude grey plastic with black roof, although there are four versions available: "Ami Ami", very basic, with no decals of any kind and black steelies, "My Ami", available with the nice alloys seen on the tested car and available with orange, grey, khaki or blue accents and finally as the top of the range, the "Ami Pop" and "Ami Vibe", with small black moldings, different stickers and other details.
Interior: Austere, clever and very very hot.
The windshield is very far away from the driver. The panoramic glass roof makes the interior very hot.
The big plastic doors give access to a very minimalist interior. Inside the Ami, you will not find anything beyond the strictly necessary. There is no radio, roof lining or courtesy lights. There are also two points that surely will surprise the driver the first time it climbs aboard the little Citroen.
First of all is the absence of an interior mirror, something that given the small size and poor performance of the door mounted ones makes the driver a bit uncomfortable, as it's not easy to be fully aware of the surrounding traffic.
The second thing that surprises on the Ami interior is its grey-ness. Only a few orange accents on the dashboard and on the fabric-made door opening pull handles brings a bit of colour to an interior completely made of charcoal coloured plastic. Not what you could expect in a car with such a funky exterior.
There are not many parts on the Ami cab, but the minimalist interior offers some interesting solutions. For example, the dashboard design is quite clever and innovative, as it offers a lot of storage space that can be even be personalized with the different accessories offered by Citroën, and at the same time, helps to mask the enormous gap between the driver sitting in the middle of the vehicle, and the windshield that is quite far away. It also includes a phone holder that combined with the optional bluetooth speaker, allows the users to enjoy some music while driving.
There are lots of storage places around the interior, apart from the ones found in the dashboard, for example in the door cards, or in front of the passenger seat. Behind the seats there is space for a cabin luggage size suitcase.
The quality of the plastics is relatively good, and look resistent and hard wearing. The fitting is also correct, with not too many strange squeaks or noises.
The seats are very uncomfortable, even for short trips.
The seats are not the strongest point of the car. Entirely made of hard plastic, with just two thin cushions wrapped in black leatherette, they are just uncomfortable, even in a car where the distances that can be covered are very low. They dont offer any kind of lateral or lumbar support and the leatherette upholstery will make you sweat as soon as the sun is up due the poor ventilation of the interior and the big amount of glazing. While the driving seat can be adjusted in distance, the passenger one is fixed. Citroen also offers an Ami Cargo version where the passenger seat is replaced by a plastic chest to carry goods. The steering wheel, made also of plastic, has the typical not round shape we get lately in many models and does not include an airbag.
Behind the Ami wheel: Slow ride, take it easy.
Speed, charge, gear and lights / handbrake warning lights. That's all the Ami gauge cluster offers. More than enough.
Driving an Ami is an strange and quite different experience. The driving position, the absence of sun visors and interior mirror, the enormous sunroof, the lack of power... nothing is exactly normal behind the wheel of this Citroën.
Let's first make clearly why the Ami is how it is. Citroën developed this car aiming for a growing niche market: the Generation Z, a generation of people who were born in a connected and environmentally conscious world. As many of them are still underage, Citroen made the Ami an electric quadricycle or VSP (Voiture Sans Permis) what means that in its homeland, it can be driven by people as young as 14 years old. As VSP have to complaint with some rules, the vehicle is limited to 45 km/h and is banned from highways. In Spain, the Ami is labeled as a heavy quadricycle and therefore, uses small yellow license plates and the minimum age to drive it is sixteen.
Now, fully aware of the limitations of the vehicle, let's see how it drives. First of all, the driving position is very strange. The driver is seated exactly in the middle of the vehicle, what means that the windshield is quite far away but the rear screen is a bit too close. Choosing a driving position is easy, as there are not many options: The steering wheel cannot be adjusted, and the seat only features longitudinal adjustment. Take it or leave it.
Adjusting the mirrors is easy, but annoying, as they have to be manually adjusted and it's very easy to move them out of the desired position by opening the window, as it's not difficult at all to hit them with the lower part of the opening glass.
Unlike many modern cars, the Ami has to be started by turning an ignition key. Half of a key turn and the 8 hp electric engine will come to life. Yes, you read it right: The Ami has 8hp, one less than the first Citroen 2CV, and while we all agree that is a very low figure, the Ami is very light, weighting only 485 kilograms including the batteries. Is that enough to move it reasonably fast?
Placed in a very unusual way, the button operated automatic gearbox has just three positions.
Once the car alerts us that the electric motor is running, with both a beep and a displaying a "Ready" sign on the small electronic speedometer, the Ami is ready to be driven. Old style handbrake lever down, and... One moment. Where is the gearbox? Well, placed in the most unusual place you could ever imagine. Citroen has placed the push-button controls of the one speed auto gearbox in the lower left part of the driver seat, a place where you would normally find the controls for the electric seat adjustment. It has only three positions, neutral, drive and reverse, therefore lacking the P (parking) position, meaning that the gearbox doesn't lock the wheels like other auto transmissions. Don't forget the handbrake every time you park!
With the car moving, the first thing we will notice is how noisy the electric engine is. I'm used to drive EVs, i have been doing it for the last five years and this is the first time the whining of the electric motor has caught my attention. It's loud and persistent as the Ami is made to be driven pedal-to-the-metal in order to keep up with the traffic.
The whole driving sensation is very old school, and not only for the noise. The steering is not assisted, and while is not heavy, is not what we expect from a modern car. The brakes are not assisted either and doesn't have ABS. However, the power sent to the front wheels is not exactly overwhelming, so they are enough to stop the car properly.
Are you coming or going, mon ami?
A car of this size and weight will always have to make some compromises. The ride is in this case one of them. The suspension is quite firm and in a big city like Madrid, where not all the streets have the same pavement quality, it can get bumpy, choppy and uncomfortable. The noise coming from the tyres, mounted in 14 inch wheels, is also noticeable, almost as much as the motor.
With the car in the middle of the Madrilenian summer traffic, we discover that 8 hp is enough to move the Ami lively, as long as we go full throttle. The little Citroën moves in an agile way among the buses, bikes, mopeds and cars, and can get out of a traffic light faster than many other. However, the electronic speed limit to 45 km/h, below even the city speed limit of 50 km/h makes the Ami a very slow vehicle.
And let's be honest, while we all are aware of the speed limits, in big cities with wide, multi lane avenues, nobody abides them. Once the limiter hit, i was overtaken by cars, motorbikes, moped, buses and food delivery riders on bikes. It's not that i care about being overtaken, but that limitation makes the Ami hard to drive in real life conditions, as changing lanes for example can be dangerous due to the low speed and the useless exterior mirrors. Not exactly the best for some of the people who can drive this: underaged and unexperienced teens.
Although the Ami cannot fight the fight the traffic jams like a motorbike, it can be parked as easy as one. With a length of just 2,41 meters, the little Citroën can be parked literally anywhere, as it can squeeze into the smallest gaps. The visibility, mirrors aside is good, so park it is a piece of cake. As the Ami is electric, it can be parked in Madrid without having to visit a parking meter. As it happens in many other European big cities, it can also be driven and parked inside ULE zones. Charging it isn't a problem either as the battery size of 5.5 KW/h make it fast and cheap to recharge. In a 220v domestic socket it takes only 3 hours, which is good as the range, in ideal conditions is about 70 kilometers.
Wrapping up: Is this the future of the automobile?
The Ami Electric is without a doubt, a bold move by Citroën. A 7200€ electric quadricycle, designed to appeal to a generation who will probably see the demise of the internal combustion engine, and with a limited use within the city, doesn't seem to foresee a very bright future for the automobile.
So, while as a harbinger of the future, the Ami is quite hopeless, as an urban mobility solution for today it can perform better. The battery powered Citroën offers interesting advantages on the city driving: It's easy to drive (mirrors aside), it can park literally anywhere, it's fast and cheap to recharge, and it's plastic body make it resistent to those small hit' n bumps son common in urban driving. However, its limited speed, the lack of safety features and limited range are disadvantages that could drive some customers off.
The Ami is aun unique proposal, better suited for city driving than a normal VSP like the ones built by Ligier or Aixam, it's also more capable and comfortable than an electric motorbike, but it's way behind in every measurable way of other more expensive alternatives like a Smart Fortwo EQ, a proper car, that also requires a proper driving license. An 80 km/h version, like it was offered in the Renault Twizy could give some fresh air to the Ami, broadening its customer base while addressing its biggest defect.
However to me the Ami biggest enemy, especially in crowded cities is not the motorbike, the car, or the bike. Is the public transport network. If a city does have a good public transport, it can be a better and cheaper alternative to the Citroen Ami.
While i'm sure that in the future, travelling and moving around our cities will be made in a different way, i don't think the Ami, per se, it's gonna be the way to do it. But maybe, offered as a shared ride like the one i tested, it can be part of that alternative
Only time will tell.
Citroen AMI Electric (2021)