Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E. – the electric van that can

Find out how it won our heart…

By Will Dron on August 3, 2012 4:35 PM

Not so long ago, if you bought a van there was a very good chance your running costs would include regular trips to a chiropractor to reset your spine every few thousand miles, thanks to its poorly-designed seats.

Fleet buyers and van manufacturers used to be focused purely on the practical rather than the pleasurable. Making seats capable of supporting the driver’s back over tens of thousands of miles, and adding such luxuries as air conditioning and a decent stereo? A ridiculous extravagance.

Things have improved in recent years, though, and climbing into the new Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E., the pure-electric version of Renault’s long wheelbase small van, is like lowering yourself into your favourite armchair. The driver’s seat is surprisingly soft, supportive, and comfortable – even more so than the seats of some passenger cars that I’ve driven of late.

The electric Kangoo’s cabin, too, features decently-crafted materials; the trim is plastic, but the fit and finish are of an impressively high standard – join lines sit flush, and the mottled effect is rather stylish. The standard van comes with electric windows and door mirrors, cabin pre-heating, remote central locking, driver’s airbag and immobiliser; the model I drove also features optional air conditioning, cruise control and rear parking sensors (an extremely useful addition).

There are some baffling howlers inside, though. Applying the handbrake obstructs the 12-volt charge port but releasing it renders the lower cup holder unusable, while the Eco mode switch (which reduces power to supplement the range by an extra 10 per cent) is in a very hard-to-find position under the dash. Still, generally speaking, the inside of the Renault Kangoo Z.E. is a good place to be.

You’ll notice I haven’t started by focusing on the fact that it’s electrically-powered. That’s because the Kangoo Maxi Z.E. is first and foremost a van; it just happens to have an electric motor instead of a diesel powerplant. While 90kg of payload is sacrificed over the 85hp 1.5-litre diesel’s (down from 740kg to 650kg), the load volume is exactly the same (4.6m3) thanks to the battery’s neat packaging below the floor. There are eight floor-mounted load anchorage points, left- and right-side loading doors and twin asymmetric rear doors, which open to 180 degrees.

So it’s a van… but I love it. There are some great driving dynamics, after all: it’s nippy at low speeds, with the 60hp motor producing 226Nm of torque – easily enough to spin the front wheels when the back is empty – and while 62mph comes after a leisurely 22 seconds, it’s plenty quick enough in real-world situations. The handling is pleasingly fun, and the Kangoo Maxi Z.E. dispatches bumps and potholes around town with great ease, particularly without a load on board.

And then there’s the fact that this electric version is just so cheap to operate. Without any doubt, a good number of small businesses would be able to run one or two electric small vans like this (providing their daily driving is less than 70 miles or so) and save a packet for every mile driven. The Kangoo Maxi Z.E. will set you back just a few quid for a full charge, there’s no London Congestion Charge to pay, no road tax, you get a 100 per cent first year capital allowance against tax, and on-street parking in many local authorities is free (although you’re still subject to standard parking time limits, as I found out to my cost).

The Government’s new Plug-in Van Grant cuts 20 per cent off the purchase price of the Kangoo Z.E. too, bringing the basic two-seat Maxi model (it also comes with 5 seats) down from £17,990 to £14,392 (excluding VAT). You then need to factor in the battery hire (Renault’s leasing scheme takes away any worries you might have about the battery wearing out over time). Charges for this vary depending on annual mileage and the length of your contract, but for a fairly standard 9,000 miles per year over three years, you’re looking at a reasonable £62 per month.

But I think, at the end of the day, my affection for the little electric Kangoo stems from the quirky contradictions at play. It’s a van, but it’s socially responsible. Its smooth and quiet power delivery engenders calm, not the aggression usually associated with ‘white van man’. It uses ‘clean’ power, yet it can out-accelerate diesel-powered vans from the lights (boy, does that rub their drivers up the wrong way). And thanks to its unchanged load space and high torque, the Kangoo Maxi Z.E. doesn't have a problem rolling up its sleeves and get the job done when you need it.

Bold? Characterful? Self-assured? Contrary? How very French… in the best possible way.

Read our review of the five-seat Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E. Crew (yes, it’s quite a mouthful) here.