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Renault Kangoo ZE 2011 Review

EXPERT RATING
8

There's no vehicle better suited to go electric than the small delivery van. Vast numbers of them spend their days idling around the cities and their nights sitting idle back at base - or at home, if they're owned by a small business. Most of them never stray far from town, their strongest features are practicality and economy, and their drivers would rarely spend red lights planning a screeching track start.

So Renault has high hopes of success for the business case they're mounting to bring the Kangoo ZE plug-in van here. Of the three vans available in Europe, the most likely to arrive is the smallest two-seater, with the Maxi two-seater also on the wish list and the five-seater very much an outside chance.

VALUE

As with the Fluence ZE, you buy the plug-in van but then enter into a 'battery subscription' with prices rising according to how much distance you buy.

It's similar to buying a mobile phone and subscribing to a pre-paid plan - except that in this case the phone battery is part of the lease from the carrier. While that sounds awkward, it would be great if mobile phone batteries came with the Kangoo's guarantee of maintaining charging capacity and roadside breakdown assistance.

There's no indication yet of what the plug-in van's price point will be in Australia, where - despite a succession of governments braying endlessly about the environment -- we still don't look like getting any tax incentives to drive green.

In Europe where the pollies seem to be genuinely interested in advances other than salary review, a ?5000 deduction means the short wheelbase Kangoo ZE comes in at ?15,000 - the same price there as the internal-combustion version - with subscriptions starting at ?75 ($100) per month.

So in Australia the little plug-in will have to fend for itself, arguing mainly on the basis of running costs. It will likely come in with a price above $30,000 but will be facing off against cheaper and cheerfully dirtier rivals - including the incumbent Kangoo, at $24,490 for both the 78kW/148Nm 1.6-litre petrol that uses 8.3L/100km and the 63kW/200Nm 1.5-litre turbodiesel (5.2L/100km).

The bottom line is going to balance out sooner for those with high kilometres. But the running costs payoff includes about 20 per cent less in service costs with an electric motor, while medium to large businesses that have an emissions reduction target can use the Kangoo's zero output against their green bottom line. That will doubtless make them feel and look good, but in the end it's the dollars that count.

TECHNOLOGY

Behind the grille is a 44kW/226Nm electric motor powered by a 22kWh 400V lithium-ion battery pack - which Renault says has a 10-year lifespan.

The 260kg pack is in a low central position under the rear floor, so there's nothing stolen from the 650kg payload and 3000-litre capacity (up to 4600 for the Maxi depending on the number of seats).

The front wheels are driven via a CVT automatic - which is going to be welcomed by a lot of business drivers who find a manual shifter just adds to the day's chores in city traffic.

Range is claimed to be 170km, but that will be with careful driving and unladen. Just as with petrol and diesel, carrying more weight will empty the 'tank' faster.

However, unlike the fossil fuels, the erratic on-off pedal work of city traffic can help build reserves by capturing energy as you decelerate, although the Renault system doesn't scavenge during braking like the hybrid systems that are more familiar here.

An 'eco' mode further conserves the charge by limiting the motor's torque, and shutting down the airconditioning, which means the button won't get touched during Aussie summers -- if ever.

Recharging takes six to eight hours from the dedicated charge points, which increases to 10-12 hours from a standard household socket. But even an hour will top you up with about 20km range, Renault says.

DESIGN

From the outside, you can't tell it apart from any other Kangoo until you spot that there's a 'filler flap' in the grille for the charging socket - and that it's missing an exhaust system.

In the cabin, the instrument cluster includes gauges for load and remaining charge, while you can keep an eye on the reserve of range through the trip computer.

Built on the Scenic people mover platform, it's configured with choices of short or long wheelbases -- with the latter having a five-seat option - with a single sliding door and rear barn doors accessing the cargo area.

The load floor height is a very accessible 575mm, which means it should continue to be popular for wheelchair mobility conversions.

SAFETY

It doesn't have an ANCAP crash rating yet, and it's not reassuring that it only gets a single driver-side airbag - the passenger one is an extra option. However there are anti-skid disc brakes with brake assist for urgent stops and brakeforce distribution to compensate for the extra needed at some wheels when loading is uneven.

DRIVING

You slide into a high seat, but it's an uneasy spot with no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and no rear-vision mirror on the 'blind box' smaller wheelbase of the two versions we tested.

That leaves you relying entirely on side mirrors for reversing and parking. It's a manoeuvre that delivery vans do a lot of, and in the little European Kangoo it's not easy, but Renault Australia guarantees ours will have rear windows.

Take-off is silent, with the motor giving a rising whine as speed climbs. But it's still very quiet at lower speeds, so an optional louder noise system is available for those who aren't keen on bouncing pedestrians off the bodywork.

Both the short and long versions were quick to get going, but the smaller one kept the action up and switched direction more readily - although with a touch of jitters that suggested it would benefit from a load in the back.

No surprise that the longer wheelbase felt calmer, but it was also a bit more reluctant to keep tipping in toque so smartly. It's just 160kg heavier, but it makes a noticeable difference, which suggests that the shorter wheelbase will be similarly less urgent with freight on board.

The Renault electric system's 'motor braking' is so strong that the lift-off deceleration is often enough to slow you down by itself. We went for quite a while without hitting the brakes both in some urban stretches and a patch of gentle downhill bends.

The steeper uphill runs meant jamming the throttle pedal to the floor to maintain speed, and that's going to suck up the charge and slash the range. But overall the Kangoo was an easy drive - even a fun one in the short wheelbase.

VERDICT

It's going to do nearly everything the any other small van can -- except for more than 200km without stopping. If it comes in at a price that pays for itself in a reasonable amount of time, you'd have to consider it. That will change to 'buy it' if the government ever puts our money where its mouth is.

RENAULT KANGOO ZE

Price: $30,000 + (est)
Warranty: 3-year 150,000km (est)
Engine: 44kW/226Nm electric motor and 22kWh 400V lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: CVT, FWD
Body: 2-door plus rear doors, seats 2
Safety: no crash rating, 1 airbag, ABS, EBD, BA
Thirst: 0L/100km; 0g/km CO2
Top speed: 130km/h
Range: 170km
Recharge: 6 to 8 hours (16amp) 10-12 hours (10amp)
Payload: 650kg, capacity 3000
Weight: 1410kg
Dimensions (mm): length 4213mm, width 1829mm, height 1805mm
Wheelbase: 2697mm, tracks front/rear 1521/1533

Pricing Guides

$9,570
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$7,920
Highest Price
$11,220

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.5 DCi 1.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $7,920 – 11,220 2011 Renault Kangoo 2011 1.5 DCi Pricing and Specs
1.6 1.6L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $7,920 – 11,220 2011 Renault Kangoo 2011 1.6 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Pricing Guide

$7,920

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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