Towards the end of last year, What Van? was handed the chance to take part in the second Brighton to London Future Car Challenge in our new Van of the Year – Renault’s Kangoo ZE.
It was the first time the production version had made it to UK roads, and it really was cutting it fine, with the Kangoo not actually making it to Brighton until just before 9pm on the day before the event. Renault had to liberate a vehicle from a massive EV training event in Europe that had hoovered up all the firm’s other available units.
But fortunately it was fully charged and ready to go for the obscenely early Saturday morning start (around 7.30am) when 65 low-emission cars and vans crossed the startline on Brighton’s Madeira Drive. The array of powertrains covered low-CO2 diesel engines, electric power, hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids, range-extender models and hydrogen fuel cells, with both production models and those still in the development stage entered into the event.
The Kangoo, one of a disappointingly small light commercial vehicle presence of just three models in a car-dominated field, was number 45 across the line, one behind a certain Kevin McCloud of TV’s Grand Designs fame in a slightly more glamorous Delta E-4 Coupe electric sports car.
The approximate 60-mile run up to the centre of London shouldn’t have taxed the Kangoo ZE’s 100-mile-plus range, although we were given a cautionary word of warning not to drive like idiots. It wouldn’t look good for Renault if the Kangoo hadn’t completed the route, although to be fair it would have been a challenge to use enough battery power to fail. In Brighton, the readout was showing 139km (86.3 miles) to zero charge ahead of the 100km route, with the distances being in the continental measurement due to the vehicle having been nabbed from Europe ahead of right-hand drive supply making it over.
The first part of the journey, towards the coffee stop at Mid Sussex College in Crawley, is the one where the Kangoo ZE, like all electric vehicles, was less than in its element. Rolling, hilly countryside punctuated by villages isn’t exactly an EV’s ideal environment, with the hills inhibiting progress as we tried to retain as much energy as possible. Red lights also become a game when you’re trying not to stop, and on a couple of occasions it would have been beneficial to speed up slightly to make it through a set of lights rather than having to stop and then get going again. But we made it to Crawley with another 49 miles of charge left for the second leg of 33 miles, and safe in the knowledge that the stop-start nature of the looming traffic as we picked our way through south London would help the Kangoo’s regeneration system that recoups energy from deceleration to top up the electric power supply.
And so it proved ­– certainly with the traffic at least. Crawling through outer Croydon and towards Streatham showed the Kangoo ZE’s strengths in terms of minimising energy use in low-speed crawl, although the harsh regenerative recuperation of energy meant a little forward planning replaced the need for touching the brake pedal. Heavy traffic also pointedly illustrated how it’s significantly more relaxing to drive an electric vehicle, with progress silent yet with enough power on tap to pick through traffic or onto busy roundabouts whenever needed.
From the remaining range of 49 miles in Crawley, we then covered another 33 yet had enough predicted battery power for a further 25 miles, which meant an overall range of 82 miles compared with the 86-ish predicted by the Kangoo’s system in Brighton. We were driving like absolute saints and employing every tactic to maximise range, most notably keeping the speed down on the open sections of the route’s early roads, but to actually cover 57 miles and have another 25 in hand bodes well for the ZE’s predicted range.
The electric Renault Kangoo’s first trip on UK roads ended up with a parade onto a crowded Regents Street where it was displayed with the other 64 low-emission models to crowds of shoppers and motor fans, alongside some of the vintage cars set to take part in the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run the following morning.
It’s a shame that there weren’t more light commercial vehicles in the 2011 RAC Future Car Challenge, but at least Renault’s Kangoo ZE did its bit along with entries from Hyde Electromotive and Electric Vehicle Company to prove the LCV sector is looking to develop and embrace future technologies now.