Over a year since its original launch at the Amsterdam commercial show in 2007, Renault’s new Kangoo has at last made it to the UK; and has driven straight into a massive overall decline in light commercial sales. The delay in its arrival was because the French giant wished to address demand in left-hand drive markets before it turned its attention to right-hand drive countries such as Britain.
One cannot help but suspect that Renault’s UK arm wishes that its needs had been treated as more of a priority by France so that its dealers could have scored a few more registrations with new Kangoo before recession bit. Its belated appearance means that it is being pitched into a desperate battle for business in which price may be treated as far more of a priority by customers than a particular product’s key selling points.
That would be a pity, because the latest Kangoo has got a lot going for it. For a kick-off, and unlike its predecessor, it’s available in both short and standard wheelbase guise, and with a wide choice of engines.
The short-wheelbase Compact can be ordered with a diesel 1.5-litre dCi 70 or 85 engine — the figures represent the maximum power output — or with a 90 1.6-litre petrol lump. Its standard wheelbase stablemate is up for grabs with these engines too, plus 105 versions of both of them. Two trim levels are offered and the newcomers feature some distinctively different styling features.
We elected to get to grips with a standard 1.5-litre dCi 85 Kangoo Van in entry-level ML trim. Top power kicks in at 3,750rpm while peak torque of 200Nm starts to bite at 1,900rpm and the four-cylinder eight-valve engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox. CO2 emissions are set at a, commendably modest, 137g/km.
Borrowing some of its running gear from the Scenic car, Kangoo employs MacPherson-type front suspension with a torsion beam back axle plus a 15mm anti-roll bar. Our demonstrator sat on plain 15in steel wheels shod with Continental ContiEco Contact 3 195/65 R15 tyres.
Electric power steering is fitted offering a 10.7m turning circle between kerbs and ventilated disc brakes — 280mm-diameter at the front, 274mm at the back — are installed all round. ABS is a standard feature along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.
With a gross weight of 1,918kg, our demonstrator could cope with a 650kg payload — other Kangoos are available that can shift up to 800kg — and haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 1,050kg.
Access to the 3.0m3 cargo area is by means of twin unglazed rear doors. They’re asymmetric — the narrower of the two is on the offside — and can be swung through 90° or through 180° if you release the stays. Nearside and offside sliding side doors are available if you go up to the next trim level.
For your money you get a full-height steel bulkhead fitted as standard — something that’s definitely in Kangoo’s favour — plus six load tie-down points. The bulkhead boasts a couple of coat hooks on the cab side.
You’ll have to budget for a load area lining kit, however. Although the doors, sides and wheel boxes sport some protection against minor damage, it’s nowhere near comprehensive enough. Good to see a big cargo bay light on the nearside door pillar; not everybody loads and unloads vans in broad daylight.
Maximum load length is 1,476mm. Maximum width is 1,486mm, narrowing to 1,218mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,251mm. Rear loading height is 588mm and the door aperture is 1,200mm wide and 1,143mm high.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to create a distinctive cab interior, but it’s a trick that Renault has pulled off; and with some style. That horizontal bar you’re looking at mounted between the seats isn’t a shift for an automatic gearbox. It’s the handbrake lever, believe it or not; you press a button at one end to release the anchors. Renault reckons that such an arrangement imposes less of a strain on the driver’s wrist.
Style can sometimes triumph over practicality, however. Release the lever and it lowers to obscure the 12v power point between the seats, rendering it just about useless. We’ve no criticisms to make of the dashboard’s styling, however, and we’re impressed by the amount of in-cab space. It feels even roomier as a consequence of the distance between the driver and passenger and the windscreen.
Oddment storage facilities include a lidded box between the seats, if you’re willing to spend a further £100, with a cup-holder in front of it, a lidded glovebox and a full-width shelf above the deep windscreen. There are bins in each of the doors plus a shelf on top of the facia.
A moulding that bulges out from the front of the dashboard plays host to the gearlever. Few people will find cause to complain about the well-proportioned driver’s seat, although they might raise an eyebrow at the £50 additional charge for seat height adjustment. Fortunately the steering column is height-adjustable too, and that’s a standard feature. So is a driver’s airbag, but not one for the passenger.
A radio/CD player with remote controls on the steering column is included in the price. However, the radio reception was so poor that we concluded that either there was a fault somewhere or that Renault ought to think about upgrading its standard in-cab entertainment. We were rather happier with the controls for the heating and ventilation system. They’re chunky and easy to use.
Our Kangoo was equipped with an air con plus pack for £550 which includes air-conditioning, electric windows and heaters for the exterior mirrors — electric adjustment is a standard feature — along with bodied-coloured mirror casings. The trip computer sets you back an extra £50; all prices quoted here, incidentally, exclude VAT.
Don’t be fooled. While oil prices are flat on their back at present, longer term they’ll go up; and with the government desperate for funds thanks to all the money it’s shovelled into Britain’s incompetent banks, our bet is that the tax on fuel will soar longer-term as well; they’ll say it’s to benefit the environment. That’s why the most important figure attached to Kangoo is the 55mpg we averaged; not a bad fuel return at all.
While you’re contemplating the impact of that figure on your bank balance, don’t forget that Kangoo rides and handles well too. We’re no fans of electric power steering — in our experience it’s usually woefully sloppy — but on this occasion it provided plenty of feedback. Renault reckons that it improves fuel economy by around 3.5 per cent compared with its hydraulic equivalent, so that’s a further reason for applause.
On the downside the entry-level Kangoo could benefit from a lot more sound insulation — noise levels were far too high — and while our demonstrator performed perfectly adequately around town, the story wasn’t so good outside congested urban areas.
It seemed to run out of puff at around 50mph and needed a lot of persuading to maintain the maximum motorway cruising speed. With 85hp on tap that struck us as odd and one can only hope that things will improve with a few more miles on the clock. Maybe a few more miles will loosen up the slightly stiff gearchange too.
Good to see that side rubbing strips protect Kangoo’s sides from minor damage, especially given that the silver metallic paint finish that graced our vehicle adds £330 to the final invoice.
Remote central locking comes as standard — the doors lock automatically when you pull away from the kerb — service intervals are set at 12,500 miles and Renault’s new baby is covered by a three year/100,000 mile warranty. A roadside rescue and recovery service is provided for the full duration. A 12-year anti-corrosion perforation warranty is provided too.
Better late into the UK than never, in 85hp guise Renault’s new diesel Kangoo is fuel-frugal, rides and handles well with surprisingly responsive steering and boasts a distinctively different and roomy cab interior. A practical cargo carrier — good to see a full-height steel bulkhead fitted as standard — it’s well put together into the bargain. On the downside the base specification model would benefit from extra sound insulation and our demonstrator felt a little sluggish at mid-range and motorway speeds. From the fuel economy viewpoint alone it’s worthy of a second glance — diesel prices will start rising again some day — and the newcomer represents a useful addition to the Renault line-up.