Check out the latest Life on Cars

Check out the latest Life on Cars

by David Simister (February 2022)

LIKE the last Lighthouse Family song that you listened to, or a distant planet discussed in hushed tones by Professor Brian Cox, the Citroën C1 is reassuringly impressive but – let’s be honest – you’d completely forgotten about it, hadn’t you? 

That, I suspect, is why the French carmaker’s decided to turn the lights out on its smallest model. Since 2005 and over two generations it’s shifted more than 1.2 million of them, but it’s decided, just as Ford did with the Ka+, Renault has with the Twingo and Vauxhall has with both its Viva and Adam, that the numbers on something even smaller than a supermini don’t make sense right now.  

There are all sorts of logical reasons for Citroën pulling the plug but it still left me slightly sad, because I’ve always liked the C1 (even if it is, whisper it quietly, a Toyota Aygo donning a beret). When I tested a first-gen version for The Champion a decade ago I reckoned that it “made a virtue of being small and simple” and “while it’ll do motorway work easily enough, it’s when things get narrow and congested that it really shines”. That still rings true today, and those are qualities that put it up there with some of the great city slickers that the French seem to do the particularly well. Maybe not quite as entertaining as a Peugeot 205 on a quiet backroad, but not far off. It’s a shame they never did a C1 hot hatch. 

Happily, the C1’s being replaced not by one car, but two. For those of you who like the idea of the smallest car possible but still occasionally need to venture onto the M6 with a weekend’s worth of clobber, it’s brought out a new, bottom-of-the-range version of its bigger C3, called the You! (no, really), and yours for £12,995. 

However, the one that Citroën’s really hoping will take on the C1’s mantle is the new all-electric Ami, which goes on sale later this spring. Lots of people, me included, have already raved about what a clever bit of kit this is, but it’ll be genuinely intriguing to see if a tiny two-seater with a top speed of 28mph can pull in the same sort of people who might previously have gone for the C1. 

However, the real bet long-term is that the Ami’s advocates won’t be owners at all; they’ll be people who borrow it once in a while, on a pay-as-you-go basis. For all the talk about cutting emissions, the really big chatter among the carmakers is what the experts call urban mobility. In other words, winning over hard-pressed people living in increasingly congested cities who aren’t all that interested in cars. Where the VW Up used to be the main contender, now it’s Uber, increasingly sophisticated public transport, and working from home. 

It's a very tough nut to crack. It’s why VW’s invested a small fortune in a ride-pooling service called MOIA, why SEAT now makes electric scooters and why everyone in the car industry is terrified that Google or Amazon will get there first. 

It’s a bold vision of the future that the C1 just doesn’t fit into. Which is a shame, because I’ve always rather liked it. 

David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly

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