Renault has been in the vanguard of light commercial electric vehicle technology since launching the first plug-in version of its Kangoo light van in 2011.
For a long while the brand must have felt it was ploughing a lonely furrow as sales remained negligible.
While some operators, such as publicly-run or Government fleets, took on token electric vans in a bid to be seen to be green, most were not convinced by the practical or economic business case.
They were put off by prohibitively high upfront costs – despite the 20% Plug-in-Van Grant – the loss of payload due to the weight of the batteries, and range anxiety, a problem exacerbated by the lack of an adequate charging infrastructure.
But Renault kept the faith and continued to espouse the environmental, functional and economical benefits of electric vans – particularly to urban users. Steady advances in EV technology helped its case, but perhaps what is really turning the tide now is the building momentum of the anti-diesel lobby.
If operators find themselves priced out of city centres, or simply banned from driving their diesel vans into them, then they must find an alternative – and the new Kangoo Van Z.E. 33 looks like a good one.
The manufacturer upgraded the Z.E. in September last year, installing new 33kW batteries and a 44kW (60hp) motor that have increased range by 50% to 168 miles on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), or 124 miles under real-world conditions, although this can fall to 75 miles in winter conditions, especially if you don’t want to freeze while behind the wheel.
All Z.E. models come in Business specification and concerns over range anxiety were eased in the model we tested by the inclusion of Renault’s R-Link Navigation system as a £675 option (all prices exclude VAT), which can locate charging points on your route.
Renault also advises customers to use the Zapmap.com website to find public charging points. Along with the navigation system the R-Link Multimedia pack also includes DAB radio, Bluetooth, voice control, USB and aux sockets, a CD player and a seven-inch touchscreen.
Other options on our van included a central storage compartment with armrest (£50), a rubber floor covering to protect the load area (£75), an electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) cable (£414), a 6m charging cable for use with 16A plugs only (£75), a leather steering wheel (£100), the Tech pack (£350), consisting of rear parking sensors, which are always welcome on a vehicle designed for predominantly urban use, cruise control and front fog lights.
The swivelling bulkhead with folding down passenger seat (£225) increases the load space from 3.0m3 to 3.6m3.
We also got manual air-conditioning and pollen filter with a heat pump (£965). The latter is a new addition on the Z.E. that operates through the air-conditioning system without significantly reducing range in cold weather through overworking electrical components, according to Renault.
One of the plug-in Kangoo’s major selling points is that its load volume and payload of 640kg correspond to the diesel equivalent, which Renault attributes to the higher-density new battery’s compact dimensions.
Much of the jerkiness in accelerating and braking that previously characterised electric vehicles has been eliminated, and coupled with the absence of a manual gearbox this makes the Z.E. 33 a smooth and relaxing drive about town while the extended range means you can now be more confident about venturing beyond the city limits too.
The lack of engine noise also reduces driver fatigue but can pose a hazard for pedestrians who can’t hear the vehicle approaching. The Z.E. therefore, comes equipped with the Z.E. Voice: an audible low-speed pedestrian warning alert.
Renault Kangoo Van Business Z.E. 33
Price (ex VAT/after PIVG) £14,194
Battery rental £49 pcm
*Price range (ex VAT) £14,194-£16,779
Insurance group 30
Service intervals 36,000mls
Load length 1,731mm
Load width (min/max) 1,218/1,464mm
Load bay height 1,251mm
Gross payload 640kg
Load volume 3.0m3
Engine size/power 44kW (60hp)
Range (NEDC) 170mls
* The Kangoo Z.E range is also available for outright purchase, including battery, priced from £17,741 to £20,325 after the Plug-in Van Grant.
With an extended range and improved charging infrastructure the Kangoo Z.E. makes more sense than ever for urban operators.