Creating a whole new class of van is quite a challenge, but it’s one that PSA — Citroën and Peugeot — and Fiat on the one hand, and Renault on the other, have managed to rise to. What they’ve done is introduce models that slot neatly between car-derived vans such as Citroën’s C2 Enterprise and high-cube vans such as Peugeot’s Partner.
Between them PSA and Fiat have come up with an all-new design in the shape of Citroën’s Nemo, Peugeot’s Bipper and Fiat’s Fiorino. Renault’s approach has been to launch a truncated version of the new Kangoo and name it the Kangoo Compact. It all serves to underline the way in which the light commercial market is emulating the car market. It’s gradually splintering, with a van available to fill almost every niche you can think of; and one or two you didn’t even realise existed.
Kangoo Compact is up for grabs with two different engines; a 90hp 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder, eight-valve diesel at either 70hp or 85hp and there are two different trim levels. We opted for the most powerful diesel and the more upmarket SL+ trim. Maximum power kicks in at 3,750rpm while peak torque of 200Nm bites at 1,900rpm. Whichever version you pick, you get a five-speed manual gearbox.
MacPherson-type front suspension is fitted along with a torsion beam rear axle with an anti-roll bar.
Decorated with smart plastic covers, our Compact’s 14in steel wheels were shod with Dunlop SP30 185/70 R14 tyres. Brake discs with a 258mm diameter are to be found at the front while drums provide the stopping effort at the back. ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution come as standard, as does power-assisted steering. It offers a 9.6m turning circle between kerbs.
Grossing at 1,760kg, which means that the driver is subject to car speed limits rather than the lower commercial vehicle limits that come into force above 2,000kg, our Compact could handle a 500kg gross payload. It could haul a braked trailer grossing at 1,050kg.
Access to the diminutive 2.3m3 cargo area is by means of twin asymmetric unglazed back doors, with the narrower of the two on the offside. They can be opened through 90°, or 180° if the easy-to-unlatch stays are released.
Sliding side doors aren’t fitted — nor are they available as options — but that’s not too big a drawback given that at 1,282mm, the load deck isn’t all that long. Maximum width is 1,486mm, narrowing to 1,218mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum height is 1,130mm. Rear loading height is 577mm while the door aperture is 1,200mm wide and 1,143mm high.
For its size the little load-lugger is well endowed with cargo tie-down points. You’ll find four mounted on the floor plus four more at waist height. If the load shifts, then the cab’s occupants are protected from injury by a full-height steel bulkhead. It’s standard on all models and that’s definitely a welcome feature.
A tailored rubber mat covers the load bed for an extra £75. Plastic mouldings and panels guard the sides, including the wheel boxes, and the doors to half their height against minor dents and scratches for another £80. All prices quoted exclude VAT.
A decent-sized interior light is mounted on the nearside inside the back doors. That’s just what you need if you’re loading or unloading late at night.
For its size Compact boasts a roomy and remarkably comfortable cab. It also features a peculiar handbrake lever that looks rather like the shift for an automatic transmission. That might explain why we forgot to apply it on a couple of occasions. Renault seems to be trying to be different for the sake of it and we’d rather it went back to a more conventional design.
There’s no shortage of storage space. With SL+ trim you get a capacious lidded bin between the seats. That’s in addition to bins in each of the doors, a full width shelf above the windscreen, shelves on the dashboard — one of which will take an A4 clipboard — and a deep, lidded glovebox. You’ll find a couple of cup-holders between the seats plus a tray for small change.
With the switch for the hazard warning lights prominently positioned next to it, the gearstick is mounted on a moulding that projects from the front of the dashboard. The steering wheel and the driver’s seat are both height-adjustable and the driver is protected by an airbag.
Good to see such chunky, user-friendly controls for the heating and ventilation system. Good too to see such large, clear dials on the instrument panel. Remote controls for the radio/CD player are mounted on the steering column and other in-cab features include a 12v power point.
Our test vehicle was equipped with an Air Con + pack, including manual air conditioning and electric windows and electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors for £550. The mirrors are big, but don’t have a wide-angle section, and the controls that govern them are on the driver’s door.
Any van that grosses at less than 2,000kg yet has 85hp on tap isn’t going to lack performance and our Compact was no exception. It flew away from rest and buzzed along very nicely thereafter, dealing as competently with dual-carriageway work as it did with shuttling around urban centres.
It handled well too, with a decent level of response from the steering despite the fact that it’s electrically, rather than hydraulically, assisted; electric power steering usually lacks feedback. The van’s tight dimensions and turning circle mean that it’s a doddle to park in confined spaces, which makes it ideal for delivery work in the inner cities.
Drawbacks include a ride that’s nervous at times even when you’re running half-laden, and excessively high noise levels.
Turning to fuel consumption, we averaged a more-than-respectable 58mpg during the test period. CO2 emissions are set at a lowly 129g/km and this particular Compact wears Renault’s eco 2 symbol to denote environmental friendliness.
Remote central locking that allows you to lock and unlock the rear doors separately forms part of the deal and all the doors lock automatically when you drive off.
A three year/100,000 mile warranty is provided with no mileage limit in the first two years and roadside assistance for the entire duration. The package also includes a three-year paintwork guarantee and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals are set at a slightly disappointing12,500 miles.
Representing a new size of van, Renault’s Kangoo Compact boasts the kind of dimensions and manoeuvrability that make it ideal for delivery runs in urban areas. It handles well, and the 85hp 1.5-litre diesel in the one we selected meant that our demonstrator wasn’t short of performance. Good to see a full-height steel bulkhead fitted as standard, good to see plenty of load tie-down points and good too to see such a roomy and well-equipped cab. On the downside Compact’s ride is on the nervous side at times and the little Renault would benefit from a bit more insulation against noise. On balance though — and despite the fact that it really and truly would look like Postman Pat’s van if you sprayed it red and sat a black-and-white cat next to it — we liked it. It’s certainly a far more practical cargo carrier than one or two of the car-derived hatchback vans that some prospective buyers may be contemplating purchasing instead.