Steve Banner bids farewell to the light van from Renault that has helped to rehabilitate the manufacturer’s reputation in his eyes.
Past ill-fortune has caused me to be a little wary of Renault vans, and worry that if they don’t break down at an inopportune moment then various important bits will drop off somewhere along the way. However, experience with a long-term-test Master and more recently with a long-term Kangoo, which has just departed, has exorcised this particular demon.
During almost 5000 miles of mixed driving encompassing everywhere from congested central London to the pot-holed lanes of rural Herefordshire, not to mention the smoother-surfaced motorways of the Republic of Ireland, the Kangoo gave no serious trouble whatsoever. A bit of trim worked loose in the passenger footwell, the suspension gave the odd squeak of protest after some hard driving around County Cork, and that was about it.
Even after the first few miles of driving it was clear that the latest Kangoo is far better built than its predecessors and that is probably due to Mercedes-Benz’s influence. The Citan is based on the Kangoo and both models go down the same production line in France – and Mercedes is not known for its willingness to compromise where quality is concerned.
Our 90hp 1.5-litre diesel Kangoo rode well, handled well and the gear change impressed us with its precision, which is not as good as what’s on offer in Ford’s Transit Connect, but not far off. There were times, however – usually on the motorway – when we were desperate for a sixth gear; five gears just aren’t enough on a long intercity run.
The Renault turned out to be fuel-frugal too, although greater use of the ‘Eco’ button might have resulted in a better mpg figure. Pressing it is said by Renault to cut diesel usage by up to 10% by dint of measures such as limiting the available engine torque.
If you are running lightly laden down a dual-carriageway in flat-as-a-pancake Cambridgeshire then there will be no discernible impact on your performance. Tackle some of the steeper hills in Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean, however, laden down with bagged gravel and making full use of the van’s 600kg gross payload capacity, and you will soon find yourself switching off the Eco system.
One major irritation was the high level of wind noise and road roar at anything like speed – after a couple of hours the unremitting droning became really wearing. On the other hand we were delighted by the Kangoo’s versatility as a cargo carrier. But to achieve this versatility in its 3.0m3 cargo area you have to be willing to pay for a couple of options: the swivelling bulkhead that enables you to extend the cargo bed into the passenger footwell so you can carry extra-long items, and the girafon flap that allows you to poke them through the roof instead. The former is the better bet – just so long as you don’t want to carry a passenger.
The extra traction afforded by Grip Xtend proved to be a boon when we were obliged to scramble around a few muddy rural tracks. Okay, so it doesn't have the capability of four-wheel drive, but it doesn’t attract the same cost penalty either, and it will certainly help you to extract yourself from the odd slippery patch.
The satnav system was equally welcome given its ability to find a way around traffic jams, although keying in postcodes proved to be a hit-and-miss affair. Sometimes it worked fine; sometimes (most times) it led to a lot of cursing, although that was probably due to a serious and prolonged case of sausage fingers on my part rather than a fault with the system itself.