The vehicle is cheap and the reactions from the pavement are a bonus, from the disbelieving double-take or uncontrolled giggle to the frankly envious where-do-I-get-one-of-those (plus the odd pitying stare, but then this is Paris).
At first glance, Citroën’s new Ami, a playful polypropylene cube on wheels with an unashamedly Toytown aesthetic, seems hardly the kind of car to excite the passions of France’s drivers. But, perhaps because it is not a car, that is just what it is doing.
“We sold 500 in the first fortnight,” says Citroën’s Sylvie Krygier in the carmaker’s showroom in the 15th arrondissement. “It’s a recognition our transport habits and requirements are changing, and it’s accessible to almost everyone.”
Classed as a light quadricycle, the Ami is, Citroën says, an “urban mobility object”. All-electric, 2.4 metres long and 1.4m wide, with a top speed of 45km/h (28mph) and a range of 75km (46 miles), it can be driven in France without a full licence by anyone aged 14 or over.
It can be recharged from a standard home socket in three hours and, in its basic grey-and-orange edition, costs €6,000 (£5,550) to buy outright, or, with €100 down, €78 a month – roughly what most Parisians pay for an all-zone metro and suburban rail pass.
Driving it is a doddle. You sit beneath a panoramic roof in the spacious interior, turn the key, select D for drive from the three buttons to the left of your seat, release the handbrake and depress the accelerator pedal – and off you go, with a surprising kick.
In front of you is a monochrome display from the dark ages showing speed, battery level and kilometres remaining before the next charge. There is no boot, but plenty of neat storage nets for small items and room for shopping in front of the passenger seat.
There’s a rudimentary heater, and if the idea of letting a 14-year-old loose on it seems unnerving, Krygier points out that unlike with a scooter – the most likely alternative for many of the Ami’s younger potential customers – you get the stability of four wheels on a proper chassis, and are safely enclosed in a solid tubular steel frame.
The Ami hits 45km/h pretty quickly and can go no faster, but in habitually gridlocked Paris – where speed limits vary from 20km/h to a theoretical 50km/h – that is neither necessary nor, most of the time, even possible (the Ami is not allowed on expressways). The brakes are reassuringly efficient, and a standard parking bay fits two Amis.
“You could keep it in the corridor,” suggested an elderly gentleman on the rue Pierre Semard as we were manoeuvring to take photographs. “Perfect for Paris,” said a lady on the Boulevard de Grenelle. “Even I could drive that. Why would you need more?”
Some remarks were less obliging. “Shouldn’t you be in the bloody bike lane?” shouted a gesticulating delivery driver on the Avenue du Président Wilson. But on the rue Saint-Lazare, two young women stared open-mouthed.
“How did you manage to get hold of it?” asked one. “I’ve been trying to book a test one for days and it’s just impossible. I really want one. I love it. It’s practical, it’s environment-friendly, it’s compact, it’s just really … cute.”
France’s car reviewers have also been largely positive, with Le Figaro’s motoring correspondent saying the Ami had got the thumbs up from the public and was encountering “a wave of enthusiasm from seven-year-olds to 77-year-olds”.
In its inspiration and innovative design, says Krygier, the Ami most closely resembles Citroën’s legendary Deux Chevaux, or 2CV, the quirky “toute petite voiture” (very small car) conceived in the 1930s as a cheap, utilitarian model to make motoring affordable to the masses. Produced from 1948 to 1990, nearly 4m of them were sold.
There is a nice nod to the 2CV in the Ami’s flip-up windows, while other simple, money-saving ideas include identical doors (meaning one opens backwards and the other frontwards) and similarly interchangeable front and rear panels.
Besides being available through Citroën in showrooms and online, the Ami can also be bought through France’s big electronic and electrical goods retailers Fnac and Darty. Krygier says all sorts of people are buying and using the vehicle, but families with teenage children are clearly an eager market.
According to the company’s data, about half of all Ami buyers have one car and at least two children. More than 40% of those driving Amis are under 18. A majority of users say they like it because it is green, while for more than 30% of users, not taking public transport – in a time of Covid – was an important factor.
The Ami will be available in several other European countries from early next year, but there are no immediate plans to launch it in the UK. “Although, if there’s demand, that could change,” Krygier said.