Bidding farewell to our plug-in van, James Dallas assesses whether the path to an electric future is clear.
I’ve now said goodbye to my Kangoo Maxi Z.E. having lived with it for more than half a year, a period that highlighted the pros and cons of running a plug-in van in an urban environment.
The good news is that the pros are in the ascendancy. The Kangoo Maxi Z.E. and its little brother the Kangoo Z.E. are capable and practical vans boasting impressive load-lugging chops and, with the latest batteries installed, they can now go further and longer between charges.
With the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) going live in London this month (April) and with other conurbations set to follow suit with similar schemes, the case for delivery businesses and indeed small traders to go electric is becoming more compelling.
It’s no longer just those wishing to be seen to be green who are choosing electric vans, with diesels being priced out they are becoming more financially viable too. Having pioneered the technology since launching its first plug-in Kangoo in 2011, Renault will be confident its time has finally come.
In 2017 the manufacturer upgraded the Z.E., installing new 33kW batteries and a 60hp motor that increased range by 50% to 170 miles on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), or a claimed 124 miles under real-world conditions, although the brand admits this can fall to 75 miles in winter, which I can vouch for having seen how quickly the charge gauge can fall in cold conditions.
Full battery charging time from empty has been reduced from eight to six hours and although a one-hour top-up charge can deliver an extra 22 miles, this is not really adequate unless you follow a rigid and predictable timetable.
For fleets that can charge up overnight and then top-up at lunchtime to complete their afternoon assignments it’s fine, but for those needing more flexibility it’s restrictive. A fast-charging facility, such as that on the Nissan eNV200, which enables charging from 20% to 80% in under an hour, would be useful.
There are wider charging issues too, which result from the lack of a unified strategy.
Renault supplied my Kangoo Maxi Z.E. with a thick wallet of cards to cover all the different charging networks, Source London being the one I used most frequently, but other companies, like Podpoint, work via a smartphone app.
If you have to rely on the public infrastructure then prepare for range anxiety.
In residential areas or high streets points are often occupied, usually by a hybrid vehicle in my experience, or broken or fitted with an incompatible cable, so make sure you carry one in your van.
But these problems will, we trust, be overcome and on urban routes the Z.E.’s one-speed automatic transmission makes for a serene and stress-free drive, a feeling enhanced by the near silence of the ride.
Instant torque leads to zippy acceleration while regenerative braking means you don’t have to use the brake half as often as you do in a conventional vehicle because the van slows itself automatically when the throttle is released.
The Maxi Z.E.’s cabin is basic but the controls are big and user-friendly.
The seven-inch touchscreen, however, is positioned a long way from the driver’s seat so is difficult to use, but it does display clear information about the van’s energy usage.
A large dial on the dashboard directly in the driver’s line of vision also supplies details of the battery’s charge status, and a button on the steering column provides a click-through menu that tells you how many kW per mile the vehicle is using up and how many miles of range remain. There are issues to overcome, but overall the Kangoo Maxi Z.E. makes sense in the city.
Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E. 33 Crew Van
Official range 170 miles (NEDC)
Our average consumption 3.2mi/kWh
Price Range (ex VAT, inc. PiVG) £14,194-£16,778*
Price (ex VAT) (inc PiVG) £15,334*
Service intervals 2yrs/36,000mls
Load length 1,361mm
Load width (min/max) 1,145/1,219mm
Load bay height 1,129mm
Load volume 2.4m3
Gross payload 539kg
Engine power 60hp
Gearbox 1-spd auto
* Plus battery rent from £49 pcm
City driving = 4/5
The Z.E. is easy to manouevre and offers decent load-carrying capacity to urban operators.
Cabin = 3/5
The switchgear is a bit dated but generally easy to use with good info about the Z.E.’s energy usage and mileage range.
Range/Charging = 3/5
The extended range of the Z.E. 33 keeps anxiety at bay but there is room for improvement in the fragmented recharging network.
Load bay = 3/5
The Kangoo Maxi Z.E. offers practical and versatile load-carrying solutions.
Versatility = 3/5
Cold temperatures can expose the Z.E.’s limitations – but it still works as an urban runaround.
Real-world practicality = 4/5
The Maxi Z.E. is a competent and practical urban van, but a fast-charging facility would make it even better.
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