The French are currently engaged in a game of automotive one-upmanship – and the good news is that the winners are you and me.
The big news in the car industry is that PSA, the Gallic carmaking giant behind Citroën and Peugeot and more recently the chaps in the driving seat at Vauxhall, have officially merged with Fiat-Chrysler (no prizes for guessing what it makes). I’ve no idea how this combined conglomerate, swiftly renamed Stellantis and a sort of transatlantic British Leyland for the Instagram era, is going to take on the Apples and Googles of this world for the hearts and minds of Generation Z, but one of PSA’s final new arrivals before the dotted line was signed was Citroën’s clever new electric car.
The Ami isn’t officially on sale here but Citroën’s asking the great British public whether we’d like it – and I’d have to say that the answer’s an emphatic yes. Sure, it’s a tiny two-seater that’s artificially limited to 28mph, but if the reception on the other side of the Channel is anything to go by it’s fun, cheap, a doddle to drive and it makes a Smart look positively gargantuan. What it lacks in outright oomph in more than makes up in character, even if it has about as much in common with its Sixties namesake as I do with Brigitte Bardot. Bring it on.
But Renault’s riposte, reinventing the 5, is even better. As with the Ami, it’s an old name (or in this case, number) dredged up from the depths of its back catalogue and applied to an all-electric city slicker, but in this case the prototype actually looks an awful lot like the old 5s and later Supercinqs of the Seventies and Eighties. Same squared-off headlights, same ski-slope hatchback with a massive stack of rear lights either side of the bootlid, you name it.
Champion readers with very long memories might recall that a decade or so ago I actually ran around in a Renault 5 – a 1.4 Campus with 120,000 miles on the clock, snapped up for £100 – and absolutely loved it. It was clearly ancient, and all its non-vital accoutrements had long since fallen off, but what was left over was brilliantly packaged, handled sweetly and never, ever, broke down. I still suspect it would have stood up to everything up to and including a small nuclear blast.
That – and a five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, something Renault’s rather good at these days – is the 5 Renault needs to reinvent. Zero emissions and packed with the mod cons today’s Millennial motorists demand, of course, but cheap, tough as a pair of walking boots, eye-openingly agile and able to swallow a family of four and all their luggage too.
That’s the 5 that Renault needs. Again, as it turns out…
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly