What is it: Full electric version of Renault’s established van
Key features: Full electric powertrain, zero emissions, 106-mile range
Our view: Renault is gearing up for an electric future – the next year will see four zero-emissions vehicles hit the market varying from a tiny urban runabout to a five-door family hatch.
Type of review: First drive
The first, however, is targeting commercial customers for whom going electric is as much about saving costs as saving the planet. The Kangoo Z.E. is quite simply the brand’s established small van with its internal-combustion drivetrain taken out and replaced by an electric motor of 44kW – equating to 60bhp.
In terms of space, the buyer choosing a Kangoo Z.E. loses nothing over the diesel version – it offers exactly the same 3-3.5 cubic metre carrying capacity and 650kg payload, with the motor’s battery pack not eating into any of the loadspace.
The Z.E. will also be available in two Maxi crew van versions, one a five-seater, but for this initial test TheVanExpert had the basic van. It looks totally normal from the outside, and fairly standard from the inside – only when you turn the key do you get the electric message.
There is no sound of the vehicle coming to life, simply a green ‘go’ light illuminating on the dash. The gearbox is fully automatic, so you select drive, and touch the accelerator pedal, and the Kangoo glides away without a sound. We’ve driven a few electric vehicles now, but the virtually soundless progress still produces an odd feeling.
We say virtually soundless because as speed increases you do become aware of a muted whistling, as well as quite a lot of road noise, to be expected of a van especially when empty, and on our test vehicle only a mesh screen separating the driver from the payload bay.
The Kangoo Z.E. is officially capable of 81mph, which of course is enough for UK roads, and has a 0-62mph time of 20.3 seconds, six or more seconds slower than its traditionally-engined siblings. Yet paradoxically it doesn’t feel sluggish, motoring along happily, almost keenly.
Where you really feel the electric motor’s influence is once you come off the power – the ‘engine’ braking is very noticeable. Renault tells us this effect is designed for a van carrying a payload, and won’t be so prevalent in its passenger-carrying electric vehicles.
One display on the dash commands attention throughout the drive – the range. Renault quotes an official range of 106 miles for the Kangoo, regarded as sufficient for a day’s work for many companies using such vehicles.
This will be one of two vital factors for firms deciding whether to join the electric revolution, because recharging the Z.E. from empty will take six to eight hours, and for the next year at least there won’t be a fast-charge option. Plugging into a three-pin socket is not advised either (quite apart from the 11 hours or more it will take this way) – you’ll need a specific socket, with British Gas being Renault’s preferred installation partner.
The other big question mark, of course, will be cost. The Z.E. has a basic price of £16,990, or £21,038 on-the-road with VAT added. But that doesn’t include the battery – with these not necessarily having the same life as the car, a buyer leases the battery pack and gets a warranty as to its life, at a monthly cost varying from £60 to £105 dependent on the annual mileage and length of contract signed up for.
So, for those potential commercial customers some number crunching will be necessary, comparing the cost of the electric van to the potential savings in fuel and tax.
But based on our test, one aspect is certain – on the road, driving a Kangoo Z.E will be little different, and certainly no drawback, compared to a diesel Kangoo.
Model Tested: Renault Kangoo Van Z.E.
On Sale: Now
Price: £21,038 plus £60-£105 month battery hire*
Engine: Electric motor, synchronous with rotor coil
Torque: 167 lb/ft
0-62mph: 20.3 sec
Top speed: 81 mph
Range: 106 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Test date: November 2011
*= battery hire rate dependent on mileage/contract length