Renault Kangoo Maxi

Date: Thursday, September 23, 2010

No matter what manufacturers marketing departments may claim, few light commercials are truly unique. Renault’s Kangoo high-cube van is one of the exceptions.
Most unusually for a vehicle of its size, it’s marketed with three different wheelbases. As its name suggests, the Kangoo Van Maxi, which broke cover a few months ago, is the longest of the trio, with a distance of 3,081mm separating its front and rear axles.
Why bother offering three choices? It all goes back to the way in which the light commercial market is splintering into a variety of different niches just as the car market has already done.
A quarter of a century ago the options van customers were faced with were limited. Usually they had to settle for a vehicle that roughly met their needs as opposed to being an exact fit and resign themselves to living with any drawbacks.
These days they can pick a van that matches their exact requirements in terms of load cube, payload capacity, level of equipment and so on. While it’s a trend to be welcomed, the fact that customers are quite literally spoilt for choice does make the acquisition process more challenging.

Technical
Kangoo Maxi is up for grabs with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder eight-valve common rail diesel engine at either 85hp or 105hp and with a choice of two trim levels; LL or LL+. A Maxi Crew Van is available too with the lower of the two power options and the more basic trim. We opted for a straightforward 85hp van built to LL specifications.
Unlike its more powerful stablemate it bears an eco2 symbol to indicate its environmental credentials. Among them are CO2 emissions of 140g/km — our test vehicle’s level — or less.
Top power kicks in at 3,750rpm while maximum torque of 200Nm makes its presence felt at 1,900rpm. The engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.
MacPherson-type suspension is fitted at the front while a torsion beam axle and an anti-roll bar help support the rear. Our Maxi’s smartly-trimmed 15in steel wheels were shod with Continental Vanco Contact 2 195/65 R15 tyres.
ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution come as standard and disc brakes are fitted all round. Electric power-assisted steering offers an 11.9m turning circle between kerbs.
Gross payload is 800kg and Maxi can haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 1,050kg.

Load Area
Access to Maxi’s 4.0m3 cargo bay is by means of twin, opaque, asymmetric rear doors — the narrower of the two is on the offside — or through the sliding doors mounted on each side of the body. The back doors can be swung through 90°, or through 180° if you release the stays.
Six floor-mounted load tie-down points are provided plus one on each side of the rear door aperture and one at waist height on each of the cargo box’s sides.
Maximum load height is 1,252mm while maximum width is 1,473mm narrowing to 1,218mm between the wheel boxes. Rear loading height is 575mm. Maximum length is 2,115mm.
If you need to carry something that’s a bit longer, however, then you can fold the passenger seat flat — a feature that’ll set you back £50; all prices quoted here exclude VAT — then swing the section of the £175 full-height mesh swivelling bulkhead that’s just behind it forwards through 90° and latch it into place.
That way, you extend the cargo bed to 2,886mm while at the same time ensuring that whatever is placed on the extension doesn’t tumble into the driver’s lap. You also boost the load cube to 4.6m3.
Rear door height is 1,130mm with a width of 1,206mm. The side door measurements are 1,117mm and 660mm respectively.

Cab Comfort
Maxi boasts a roomy cab for its size. Oddment stowage facilities include a glove-box that’s smaller than you might suppose given the size of the lid and bins in both doors.
A bin between the seats that also doubles as an armrest costs £50.
A driver’s airbag is standard as is the ability to adjust the height of the steering column, but you pay extra for seat-height adjustment. Our test van didn’t have it but the driving position was comfortable nonetheless.
We like the built-in Carminat TomTom satellite navigation system. It’s yours for £450. However, there is the question as to whether it makes more sense both financially and from the viewpoint of practicality to buy a portable one instead and move it from van to van.
Complete with remote controls on the steering column, our test van featured an upgraded MP3-compatible radio/CD player with two 20W channels and an RCA connection for an additional £100.
We remain unconvinced by the odd-shaped handbrake lever. It employs a horizontal bar that looks rather like the shift for an automatic transmission, with a release button at one end. Design for design’s sake? We can’t help but think so.
For a further £600 our demonstrator featured an Air Con + pack, with manual air-conditioning, electric windows and electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors. Complete with body-coloured casings, the latter would benefit from a separate wide-angle section.
Good to see that the heating and ventilation system employs chunky, easy-to-use controls. Good too to see that there’s a 12v power point between the seats plus another one on the dashboard and an accessories socket given all the electrical devices that drivers carry around with them these days that require charging.  A trip computer was fitted for an extra £50.

On the Road

Anybody who opts for the less-powerful of the two engine options on offer in Maxi needn’t feel short-changed. There’s no lack of performance as you pull strongly away from rest and accelerate through the gears, and holding your own at the maximum permitted motorway cruising speed shouldn’t be a problem either.
Thanks in part to its stable, wheel-at-each-corner, on-the-road stance, Maxi rides well too. While we’re no great fans of electric power assistance — in our view it makes the steering feel somewhat lifeless — in this case it offers a decent level of feedback and aids the more-than-acceptable handling.
On the downside, however, our demonstrator suffered from a cantankerous gearchange. Notchy and clonky, it hampered our ability to get the best out of an impressive engine.
We also feel that Renault needs to do more in terms of tuning out noise, vibration and harshness. There was far more wind noise and road roar than we would expect to encounter in a modern van.
We can’t quite make up our minds about Maxi’s looks. While having a wheel at each corner plus a short rear overhang is an aid to stability, combined with the long wheelbase it makes the Renault look a little odd when viewed in profile. It’s somehow reminiscent of a stretch limousine; the sort you see transporting a shrieking hen party into town on a Friday night.
Fuel consumption is pretty respectable. It averaged 50mpg during the test period.
Remote central locking with deadlocks comes as standard — all the doors lock automatically once the vehicle is under way — while side rubbing strips protect the van from minor damage. Our test Maxi had a £330 metallic paint finish plus front fog lights for £110.
Service intervals are set at 12,000 miles and Maxi is protected by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years. Roadside assistance is provided for three years too. A 12-year anti-corrosion warranty and a three-year paintwork warranty complete the package.

Verdict
Renault’s Kangoo Maxi is a practical load-shifter that might tempt a number of operators with an under-utilised panel van to downsize. With a long cargo bed that can easily be extended, a roomy and readily-accessible load area and a respectable amount of payload capacity, it rides and handles well and certainly doesn’t lack performance. On the downside our demonstrator suffered from a poor-quality gearchange and was on the noisy side. Nor are we entirely convinced by Maxi’s rather off-beat looks. That said, it’s a useful and unusual addition to the Kangoo range; and we’re always in favour of a bit more choice.


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