AS A RULE, commercial vehicles don’t do much for me. I’d much rather test drive a car than a pick-up or a van.
Earlier this week, though, while catching up with some new Renaults, it was a van I wanted to drive most: the Kangoo Z.E.
Z.E. stands for zero emissions (from the exhaust pipe at least), since this Kangoo is powered by an electric motor. Unlike petrol-electric hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius, there’s no internal combustion engine at all – the Kangoo is 100% electric.
Driving the Z.E. is a strange but rather enjoyable experience. The absence of engine noise takes some getting used. At low speeds the quiet is quite eery, although once up to 40-50mph wind and road noise make their presence felt.
On paper, the Kangoos Z.E. is dreadfully slow, taking over 20 seconds to reach 62mph. On the road, though, it doesn’t feel as sluggish as that figure suggests. Acceleration from a standing start is brisk, although it does start to peter out at higher speeds.
What feels like strong engine braking is quite an eye-opener. Lift off the throttle and it’s almost as if you’ve accidentally pressed the brake pedal. It takes a few miles to learn to ease off the throttle gradually to slow smoothly, often without needing to apply the brakes at all. This is because the Kangoo is recovering energy to charge the battery as the van decelerates. The effect is so pronounced that the brake lights illuminate when slowing down even if the driver hasn't pressed the brake pedal.
You can buy a version of the Kangoo with five seats, called the Maxi Crew, which could be used a family car. However, because it is classed as a commercial vehicle it’s not eligible for the £5000 grant which makes the price of the electrically powered Nissan Leaf a little more palatable. That’s something Renault is lobbying the government to change. As it stands, the Maxi Crew costs £23,078, on top of which the battery needs to be leased from Renault with prices starting from £60 per month.
Even if it had the grant, the Kangoo would be a non-starter for caravanners as it hasn’t been homologated for towing. The claimed range of just 106 miles also counts against it, although it’s not such an issue for the light commercial vehicle users who are the Kangoo’s target market.
However, the days of towing with all-electric cars can’t be too far away. After my test drive in the Renault, I’m rather looking forward to it.