Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Test Drive

Last month, I drove both the Kangoo Z.E. and the Fluence Z.E.

These two share technology: Both vehicles have a 22kW-hour lithium-ion battery, an onboard 3.5kW charger, similar power management and a 1st generation Renault 5A electric motor. Output for the Fluence is 70kW(90hp) with 226Nm of torque available almost from a dead start. The Kangoo motor has the same 226Nm of torque but a maximum output of 44kW(60hp).

The 5A motor is made for Renault by Continental in Gifhorn, Germany. The Zoe is getting a 2nd generation 5A motor.

We drove the van first, since we are shopping for a new van. Sitting still, it looks and feels the same as a diesel powered Kangoo. Same seats, same exterior, same payload area, same payload capacity. The Interior features hard plastics and a budget feel common to all small vans.

The dash is a little different. The temperature gauge is replaced with a gauge showing power into or out of the pack. Just below that gauge is a small computer display. A second small display is under the speedometer. That one displays all the usual things, temperature, miles to empty as well as power consumption in kW. A large battery level gauge replaces the tachometer.

Controls are well laid out and easy to use except for the economy mode switch. I wouldn't have know about it if the sales person hadn't pointed it out. The parking brake lever covers one of the drink holders. Ooops.

Kangoo Z.E. dash.


Underway, it is obvious this isn't a diesel. We have driven a lot of small cargo vans recently and they are all noisy. The back of a van is a big tin can that resonates with drive train, suspension and road noise. We can't hear the radio in our Vauxhall. VW's Caddy with their latest diesel is quieter than most, but still noisy.

The Kangoo Z.E. is quieter than most passenger cars. Not only is there almost no engine noise, but there is less noise overall. Renault must have done something to cut down on the little squeaks, creaks, rattles and road noise that plague most vans. The van we drove is just about a year old. During the week the dealership uses it for parts deliveries and general service department use. Its one thing for a new van to not rattle, but no rattles or squeaks from a one year old van is worth mentioning.

The Kangoo Z.E. is the best riding small van I've driven. The battery pack is below the cargo floor, in between the axels. This puts 250kg at the bottom of the van. The battery box must stiffen the frame too. Vans don't handle well, but the Z.E. is better.

The instant torque makes for impressive starts, if you don't care about range. Power falls off noticeably above 30mph, but is still above most diesel vans. About the only thing that might beat a Kangoo Z.E. in town is a VW Caddy with the expensive 140hp 2.0L TDI.

At speed, drag starts to win over output. Don't expect to win a 50-70 race. Acceleration falls off dramatically above 50mph and 0-60 takes about 20 seconds. The van could be faster, even with the 1st generation motor. I think Renault purposely limited power to increase range. Maybe there were thermal issues. To put things in perspective, 20 seconds is faster than the Vauxhall Combo van I'm driving now.

Lifting off the accelerator switches the power electronics to regenerative braking. Regen comes on smoothly over a few seconds and puts power back into the battery pack. The braking is about the same as a gentle stop. The brake lights come on too. Once I got used to it (doesn't take long) I hardly had to use the brakes at all. I could see the brake pads lasting just about forever.

Renault isn't exactly well known for their build quality. I went into the test drive with very low expectations. Fit, finish and build quality on the Kangoo Z.E. was better than I've come to expect from Renault, better than Peugeot/Citroen and was more like what I expect from VW. I can't help but wonder if Renault is putting extra effort into quality control on the Z.E. vans.

Last thing worth mentioning are the comfy seats. A VW Caddy has the best seat but the Kangoo Z.E. is a very close second.

No comments:

Post a Comment