They’re heralded as the great city nipabout, the climate-friendly, low-cost, low-stress way to dash about town without getting your hair wet or your trousers caught up in a greasy bike chain. And I’m sure the new Citroen Ami – a sort of Lego e-car, a moped with a sense of humour and opposable doors – will do that job with perfect grace. It’s small and manoeuvrable and, with a potential top speed of 28 mph, goes just fast enough. In France, the Amis are already the Boris Bikes of Paris, parked outside Gare du Nord, sweetly waiting to take Eurostar passengers across the City of Light without so much as a sacre bleu from a surly French taxi driver.
Yet, when the Ami was launched this week in the UK with a Union flag-wrapped model tootling about London landmarks, curious countryside parents like me were also wondering if that plastic box – with a top range of 43 miles per full electric charge – could be the answer to our prayers. Could the Ami actually mean freedom for us from being parent-chauffeurs, trapped in a loop of taking sixth-formers to college, to their friends, to the nearest McDonald’s drive-thru, this beach, that party, another part-time job waitressing that doesn’t end till 1am?
Bien sur, French parents might say, secure in the knowledge that, in their country, teens as young as 14 are legally allowed to drive an Ami. For Brits, though, licensing rules are tougher, meaning that the Ami is only permitted to be driven by those aged 17-plus with a full driving licence or a Category AM license (the sort you need for quad bikes and mopeds).
The questions hovering over the Citroen Ami for non-urban teenagers are surely about safety, cost and, crucially, the cool factor. To answer these points, I recruited 17-year-old Freddie Riley, who passed his driving test on Thursday morning, and is already a brakes-and-gears veteran thanks to his motorbike. I also called on my daughter, Rowena, 17 but not yet driving, to see whether she would set foot in one.
The Ami itself turned up on a transporter. It wasn’t one of those jumbo things you see on the motorway, but a ramp, easily towed behind a Range Rover. At about 7ft (2.14m) long and weighing in at 471kg including battery, it really is that small and light.
With only two Amis presently in the UK, we were hoping for the red, white and blue version but our little car was battleship gray with an orange trim. I keep writing ‘car’ and then remember what I was warned by Citroen: this is not a car; it is a quadricycle, which means a four-wheeled microcar. Still, car makes more mental sense and is easier to say, so let’s stick with that, shall we?