Driving Renault Fluence ZE, Kangoo ZE

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Drove both the Renault Fluence ZE saloon and Kangoo Van ZE yesterday; took a couple of circuits in both at EcoVelocity last year, but this time around got to spend a bit more time behind the wheel. The Kangoo is the more practical vehicle of the two, with usual load-carrying capacity intact; it’s offered in standard and long-wheelbase Maxi/Maxi Crew variations from just under £17,000 (incl. govt. grant) with battery hire (an all-in warranty/maintenance package) at an additional £62 a month (over four years, 9,000 miles a year). It’d suit small businesses operating around a fixed base with recharging facilities, though I suspect that the claimed 106-mile range may be optimistic in cold-weather conditions – in yesterday’s around-freezing temperatures the indicated miles remaining fell rapidly to suggest a range of less than 50 miles from a full charge. Top speed is 81mph, and it’s fast enough to keep up with urban traffic and trundle around rural lanes.

The Fluence, meanwhile, is a compact saloon, more elegant-looking and upmarket in feel than you’d expect from a booted Megane. Its bodystyle will, of course, limit its appeal for British buyers who invariably prefer tailgated hatchbacks, but it could find a niche amongst company car drivers or even as a small around-town minicab/chauffeur-drive vehicle – two each have already been delivered to private-hire firms Climatecars and Green Tomato Cars. That boot’s big enough to take a couple of largish bags, the rear bench seats three (just about, widthwise, though the legroom’s acceptable) and the cabin is kitted out with all the usual gadgets and conveniences.

It’s not the most exciting drive, with slightly stiff- and vague-feeling power steering and softish suspension putting paid to any remotely sporting credentials, but is a perfectly usable solution and as quick off the mark as any other 95hp car of this size; lift off and the speed falls away, due to the regenerative braking system, but you soon become accustomed to this and compensate accordingly. Top speed is a modest 84mph. The single-speed transmission is low-hassle and the ride’s probably pretty good in the back, too, which will be the main concern of most clients so far. Fluence prices start from just under £17,500 (after the £5000 government grant’s deducted) with battery hire from £76 a month (over three years, 6000 miles a year). The claimed range is 115 miles though again, this is going to suffer in cold weather and adverse conditions.

The most striking thing about both of these very differently-focused vehicles is how conventional they feel – beyond the range indicators and some unique dash displays, and the lack of engine noise, there’s really very little about them that is scarily odd or off-putting. As with any EV, if the range is enough for your daily commute/business usage, you can plug in overnight (Renault’s supplied ‘box’ isn’t a fast-charger) and the high purchase price isn’t a deterrent (offset by tax breaks, lower energy costs and exemption from the London congestion charge, don’t forget), then either could make good sense; these are ‘proper’ cars engineered and equipped to all the usual standards of the Renault range. Full spec details, pricing etc. at Renault’s dedicated ZE (Zero Emissions) website.

Renault  will expand the ZE electric range further with the UK launch of the Twizy two-seater in April/May, and the Zoe city car following in the autumn; the Zoe – arguably the most interesting model in the range and the one with the widest appeal – will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show next month.

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