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Load star: New 100% electric Kangoo van does the business

Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van is a green, cost-saving alternative for anyone who needs a mid-sized business vehicle, says Paul Connolly

Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van is a green, cost-saving alternative that isn't just for eco-warriors.

What's new?

Renault unveiled a boost last year for its Kangoo Z.E. electric van - a new motor and battery package that increased the model's driving range by more than 50 per cent.

This gave the Kangoo an ideal-conditions range of 168 miles, and an official real-world range of 124 miles, which gave it with a significant advantage over rivals.

These are the sort of range figures that manufacturers could only dream of a few years ago.

And with battery technology galloping ahead at a quickening pace, range anxiety - the syndrome where electric vehicle drivers worry about running out of power - will start to become a thing of the past.

Until then, vans like the Kangoo Z.E. will be for businesses that don't do big miles daily - or who do more miles but have ready access to commercial-grade rapid chargers.

What's it like?

Unless you look closely, the Kango Z.E. 33 closely resembles a 'normal' Kangoo van but one with an electric motor and batteries under the bonnet instead of an internal combustion engine.

My review model, courtesy of Charles Hurst Renault, was a longer wheelbase model with lots of load space in the rear.

Electric vehicles have several advantages over regular models, chiefly, very low fuel costs, low vehicle maintenance costs, zero emissions, and a lovely driving experience.

After last year's upgrade, the Z.E.33 boasts a new, higher density 33kWh battery (hence the name 'Z.E. 33').

This means the new van can travel a longer distance between charges. The available payload of up to 640kg (100.7-stone) remains unchanged.

The new Z.E.33 also benefits from a new, more efficient, R60, 44Kw (60hp) electric motor.

As well as improved range, it boasts improved charging capabilities - charging from 0 to 100% in six hours, compared to eight hours (for a lower range) on the previous version - thanks to a new 32 amp charger.

How does it drive?

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Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van
 

Really well, actually. I'm a fan of the electric driving experience because I love the rapid, gearless deployment of high torque, the smooth-as-silk travelling, the silence, and the low fuel costs.

Plus, I love how they don't poison asthmatic kids, nor do they contribute unnecessarily to climate change.

What's not to love about that? Electric cars will be the future (unless they lose out to something even greener like hydrogen fuel cells).

The way electric cars drive is of course rather different than normal, and it's not just the absence of a gearbox.

With the Kangoo Z.E., the key dashboard features are a battery indicator and a power indicator which tell you how much power is stored, and what your ongoing power consumption is.

There is also a range indicator which makes a stab at guessing how many miles you have left in the tank, so to speak, but due to the complexities of these complications, it's not always hugely reliable.

This is not because it is set to be deliberately over-optimistic, but because the only way it can attempt to calculate is by using your recent driving history.

So, if you have been driving uphill or downhill for the previous 10 miles, for example, the indicator may well either under- or over-estimate the next ten miles.

The simple antidote to this is to also watch the power meter, so you know exactly how much power you have.

There's not the rapid deployment of torque that you see in many electric cars, which is sensible as vans frequently have heavy weights in the rear and this would lead to front wheel slip (and costly tyre wear).

For a van, it's a joy to drive in a city setting: quiet, calm, relaxing but with that instant response under foot. Even the long wheelbase model has a tight turning circle.

It's unlikely you will manage that 124-mile range in complex urban environments, mind. And certainly not with a heavy load on board.

What are the advantages?

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Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van
 

Apart from the green benefits, and your clearer conscience, there are significant other advantages.

You'll normally charge at a professionally-installed home charging point (£249, but well worth it), which means you'll top the van up every night for about £1.75 - giving you a weekly fuel bill of less than a tenner.

You can purchase the battery, but most people rent (from £49 a month) - which gives added protection should it malfunction or become less efficient.

The absence of an engine means less moving parts and so lower service costs and no road tax.

You'll use the brakes much less; the regenerative braking system recovers energy so in urban driving at least you mostly just glide to a halt. It has been unofficially estimated a set of brake pads could be good for 80-100k miles.

The disadvantages? Nothing, of course, in this world comes for free. There is a premium over the price of a 'normal' Kangoo, but I'd expect that to be offset over time by the lower running costs.

Also, if you have unpredictable, longer journeys then range anxiety might kick in.

What's it like inside?

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Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van
 

In a word, spacious.

It's available in a range of body styles, including Kangoo Van Z.E.33, Maxi Z.E.33, Maxi Crew Van Z.E.33 and Maxi Crew Van Cab Z.E.33.

Normal load volume is 3m3, rising to 4m3 in Maxi versions. Crew variants allow you to travel in a crew of five, whilst retaining a load volume of 2.4m behind the rear bench.

The review van came professionally panelled in hard-wearing plywood, and access to tools and other equipment is easy due to sliding doors on either side as well as full-opening doors at the rear.

There are a wide range of partitions offered: tubular, full steel bulkhead, glazed steel bulkhead, swinging mesh partition or a multi-positional mesh allowing a second row of seats or additional load space on the Maxi 5-seater.

It's a van, so no-one expects car-level luxury. The cabin is hard-wearing, functional and easily cleaned. But you can spec a range of Renault extras like R-Link multimedia, cruise control and metallic paint.

Who would buy one?

This is not just a van for eco-warriors or organisations seeking to minimise their carbon footprint.

A significant value proposition lies in a use-case scenario involving daily urban usage patterns that don't involve long journeys.

Or potentially a company or organisation using longer journeys which has access to commercial rapid chargers (these can now charge vehicles to 80 percent within 30 minutes).

The range starts from £14,799 on the road including government EV grant and excluding VAT.

My longer wheelbase review model costs £15,939 on the road also including the grant and minus the VAT.

As battery technology improves, and demand for electric vehicles grows, manufacturers will enter a virtuous circle, prices will come down and you will see more electric vehicles on our roads. Watch this space.

The Renault Kangoo Z.E. range is available from Charles Hurst Renault (charleshurstgroup.co.uk/Renault) and other Renault dealers

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Renault's Kangoo Z.E. 33 electric van

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