Wednesday, 6 June 2012 9:56 AM
It's the end of the Jubilee bank holiday so it is appropriate to start this review with mention of my husband and I. But unlike Her Maj and Prince Phillip, my husband and I are simply up to our ears in home renovations and we're trying to save money by doing a lot of it ourselves. This inevitably involves many trips to places like Wickes and Homebase and as we don't own a car at the moment, we have had the fun of lugging items such as tins of paint home on buses.
But for a weekend, we had the benefit of testing the all-electric, zero-emissions Renault Kangoo Z.E van and as such, we put it to work. It is a compact van but there is a decent amount of cargo space behind the back doors. Or via the handy side door, if you prefer.
Our first mission was to find somewhere to dump three old electric storage heaters, ideally in an ecologically sound manner. Laid out atop a dust sheet, the decrepit heaters fit perfectly in the back of the van, along with an old fluorescent light that we'd redacted from the kitchen. Minus sat-nav, we followed the road signs to a recycling centre in Croydon only to be turned away because we lived in the adjacent borough.
Never mind, we thought. We were dangerously close to a giant Next homewares store so we stopped off there to pick up curtains. And an awkwardly shaped impulse-buy photo frame. The only real drawback to driving through some narrow streets en route to the Next mothership was getting awfully close to a few buses. But once I sorted out my spatial awareness - and reminded myself that I drove a beefy Mitsubishi Pajero for five years - the old brain adjusted to the slightly wider wheelbase and all was fine.
On the way home, I had to do a cumbersome three-point turn in another narrow road and discovered the Reverse gear is very close to Park - like many electric cars, it is set up to look like a standard automatic gearbox even though you get max torque from the get-go. It was very easy to slip into park by mistake but it emits a handy beep when in reverse and soon we were on our merry way again.
We realised there was a recycling centre embarrassingly close to our house so we slipped the Kangoo in there and felt very virtuous as we got rid of old heaters and lights in an environmentally sound way while driving a zero-emissions vehicle. Buoyed by how easy that all was, and singing the praises of Merton Council, we then headed to a charity shop to pick up a bookcase we'd been eyeing off for a few weeks.
Like all electric cars, the Kangoo is exceedingly quiet and this did cause a few pedestrians to be taken by surprise, but the silence issue is something all electric car manufacturers have to deal with.
My husband asked me what the electric car is like to drive. To put it crudely, it's a bit like asking someone what sex feels like after the wedding - it's much the same and the main differences are psychological rather than physical. The Kangoo seats two people and the dashboard layout, gear selector and very comfortable seats make it easy to forget you're driving a little van. It's just the lack of a central rear vision mirror (there's no point - there's no back window) which means you need to rely on the thankfully large wing mirrors and the black cage wall that separates you from the load that reminds you it's not actually Renault's latest passenger car you're driving.
However, on our second trip to the Morden Council recycling centre, we were reminded that we were well and truly in a van. After being impressed with the helpful staff on our first visit, we returned to the centre with bits of board and wood from a dismembered cupboard, a defunct doorbell and the remains of an old shower. It was not a massive load but it fitted nicely in the Kangoo.
We dutifully queued up again, only to be turned away because we had arrived in the "no vans or trailers allowed" hours. Getting turned away from a recycling centre while driving a small, zero-emissions electric van, while a Range Rover was allowed in, almost made my irony meter explode. I was barked at by the same man who was very polite only two days earlier and he didn't even check my load.
A somewhat hapless Twitter conversation with Merton Council revealed that council taxpayers (er, that'd be me...) shouldn't have to subsidise builders and the like dumping large loads at the centre (er, that wouldn't be me...). So there you have it - I was turned away in case I was a builder dumping the remains of a loft conversion.
That jobsworth recycling centre debacle aside, the Renault Kangoo proved to be a very able workhorse over the course of the weekend. If I was to own one, I'd definitely upgrade to get sat-nav - I'd forgotten how stressful it can be driving through unfamiliar streets in a big, bad city. But that is a minor quibble. It was easy to drive and park and the charge usage was pretty close to the 103-mile range quoted by Renault. I travelled 20 miles on less a quarter of the full charge - and that involved some horrendous stop-start traffic, waiting at lights and, of course, waiting at a recycling centre. As a bonus, there's a lovely long lead for charging which minimises the need for an extension cord if you need to charge it via a household socket.
Compared to some other EVs on the market, the Kangoo Z.E is pretty competitively priced at £13,592 excluding VAT but including the government's plug-in vehicle grant. Battery hire is £62 per month. With a full charge using around £3 worth of electricity, it represents better value than running a petrol-powered vehicle based on today's prices.
If you don't have kids and it's usually just you, or you and a companion, in the car, the Kangoo Z.E could be a very handy car to own. And for businesses who need a van and tend to keep their activities fairly local, it has the potential to be an eco-friendly money saver. Just mind you observe those council-mandated van hours at the recycling centre and all will be merry.
By Georgia Lewis
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