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Renault Fluence ZE 2011 review: road test

By 2020 it's predicted that 1 in 10 cars will be electric vehicles. At the moment there's only a smattering of electric vehicles or EVs as they are called in Australia and not all of them are for sale to the public yet.

There's the tiny Mitsubishi i-MIEV, the Lotus-based Tesla sports car and Nissan's hatchback LEAF, 16 of which are being trialled by the Victorian Government.

Joining them soon will be the Renault Fluence ZE, an electric, zero emissions version of the French car maker's mid-sized sedan. The big difference between Fluence and other EVs is that it's entire battery can be swapped for a fully charged one greatly extending its range.

Range or more specifically lack of it is one of the major drawbacks of EVs that can normally travel only 100km or so before they need to be recharged.

Also, being new technology, until now EVs have been prohibitively expensive. Due to to arrive in showrooms towards the end of next year, we travelled to Portugal this week where we were able to drive the Renault Fluence ZE.

VALUE

Renault has not set a price yet but has indicated it will be under $40,000 and that it will be generously equipped. To that figure, however, must be added the cost of the battery which will be supplied separately under a lease arrangement by Better Place based in Melbourne.

With branches in the Israel, Denmark and the United States, the company has been formed to provide the necessary infrastructure that will make electric vehicles possible.

It's not talking prices either, but overseas customers are paying $110 a month which includes the power itself but there could be an additional charge for the home charging station. The power by the way is all `green' power.

TECHNOLOGY

At 4.75m the ZE is 180kg heavier and 13cm longer than the standard model. The extra length accommodates the battery which sits vertically behind the rear seat. The electric motor generates 70kW of power and 226Nm of torque.

There's no gears or gearbox as such, just forward and reverse and it has a top speed of 135km/h. Full torque is available from zero revs and it can accelerate to 100km/h in 13.0 seconds (petrol model does it in 10.1).

With a capacity of 22kW/h the car has a range of 185km on a single charge, but this varies a lot depending on conditions and the way you drive. Apart from a smallish boot, it's in all other respects just a normal car.

DRIVING

Not bad. It's certainly no golf buggy. It feels and performs like a real car, not some pretend one and could easily replace that gas guzzler in the driveway. It's much quieter of course and throttle response was slow at times but generally okay, providing you're not expecting a V8. It can even be punted hard through corners without coming unstuck.

We particularly like the braking effect provided by the engine going downhill. But we suspect the hard, low roll resistance Goodyears could be harsh on our roads. A sophisticated GPS-based management system keeps track of power usage and let's you know when and where to find a charge or battery swap station if needed.

RECHARGING

Renault and Better Place believe 90 per cent of customers will charge the car when they get home at night. This takes from 6 and 8 hours but for longer journeys the idea is to call into one of the Quick Drop stations that will be established where a depleted battery can be replaced with a fully charged one, a process which takes about five minutes.

Both the power supplied this way and at home is provided free as part of the lease deal. If you spend $80 or more a week on petrol Better Place claims it will save you money.

VERDICT

You better get used to the idea. It's the way of the future and as the technology gets better so will the cars (and their range). The price of oil is only going to go up, not to mention the environmental consequences of continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.

The very fact we've been driving this car suggests the change is closer than you think. It's simply a matter of making the decision to switch.

Pricing Guides

$7,330
Based on 6 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$6,990
Highest Price
$7,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Dynamique 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $6,950 – 7,990 2011 Renault Fluence 2011 Dynamique Pricing and Specs
Privilege 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $5,940 – 8,360 2011 Renault Fluence 2011 Privilege Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$3,990

Lowest price, based on 8 car listings in the last 6 months

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