Improved real world range
Improved fast charging
Eerie noises from tyres and road
Misleading NEDC range claims
The problem with electric vans is that they’re expensive. The problem with electric vans is that they can’t carry all that much. The problem with electric vans is that they’re always going to run out.
One of those statements is untrue, but which one? It’s the last one, and not just because people who run electric vans only use them for small journeys. No, electric vans are now useable for the majority of users on a daily basis, and that’s because the pioneer of the electric van sector, the Renault Kangoo ZE, has upped its game and introduced a new battery.
The Renault Kangoo ZE 33 is the latest EV in the van range, but will be joined by the Renault Master ZE next year. This meant Renault had to develop a better performing battery in order to fuel the larger van. In the meantime, the 33kWh battery has found its way into the Kangoo ZE city van. Developed in conjunction with LG Chem, the new lithium-ion battery has a greatly improved energy density that means it fills the same space as the original battery while providing 60% more range. That gives it a 170-mile range on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) compared to the official 106-mile range of the previous 22kWh battery.
While the NEDC is a notoriously unreliable test for electric vehicles with the previous 106-mile range closer to 70 miles in normal, laden operating conditions, the new battery means a real-world range of around 120 miles.
Despite being loaded with heavy batteries, the payload is 640kg, with the standard van capable of carrying a 3m3 maximum load and the longer wheelbase Maxi van claiming a 4m3 load volume. Importantly the internal dimensions not only remain the same as the previous model Kangoo ZE, but are the same as the diesel Kangoo vans, meaning not only is the electric Kangoo as productive as its oil burning equivalents, but owners who use racking systems or have other fitted installations in the loadspace can easily switch to electric versions without additional conversions.
Aside from the battery improvements the increased range is aided by a 44kW motor that is based on the R90 motor, which is used to power the Renault Zoe car. The R60 motor in the Kangoo ZE produces 60hp and 225Nm of instant torque, delivering a quick response off the line during our test drive in the Paris suburbs. As well as battery and motor upgrades a heat pump has improved efficiency in this latest generation electric Kangoo. Renault says the heat pump “improves autonomy in cold conditions by restricting the use of electrical resistors that consume both power and range”, in short it stops the air conditioning from draining the battery and allows the van to be pre-conditioned while plugged into a charging point. Heating or cooling the van can therefore be done without losing range.
Almost as important as range in an electric vehicle is the charging time, which is why the Kangoo ZE 33 now supports single phase 7kW (32A) chargers reaching its full charge in six hours instead of the previous seven hours for the smaller capacity battery. A quick charge is now possible with an hour long recharge good for approximately 22 miles.
All of the changes add up to a much more useable van, but while behind the wheel, you would barely notice the difference. During an afternoon of driving we found the new Kangoo ZE to be a pleasing city companion. The ultra-quiet operation of the motors means the drive is almost silent. Road and tyre noise are the only two sounds to penetrate the cab, and although they’re unusual and take some getting used to compared to the sound of an engine, they can easily be drowned out with a radio on low volume.
Electric van drivers are unlikely to be utilising the full payload capacity of the Kangoo, so instead of the ZE’s 640kg max we were transporting a more representative 250kg. While travelling around the suburban city streets the Kangoo ZE comfortably pulls away from a standstill, but proved a little sluggish in gaining speed as speed limits rose on the fringes of the city. The occasional incline was also a small challenge to the partially laden electric Kangoo, but not enough to make more power necessary. The steering is light and pleasantly responsive, adding to the relaxing vibe the ZE exudes as you silently navigate the streets.
The ride quality of the Kangoo ZE is particularly good, with the added weight of the batteries helping the van to feel even more settled on the road. Potholes and other typical cityscape scars are dismissed comfortably, albeit with a great deal more noticeable noise.
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The relaxing characteristics of the ZE make you drive more conservatively, so despite being behind the wheel for more than four hours there was little chance of us running out of range given the increased battery capacity. Even an aggressive acceleration burst did little to diminish our useable range. By contrast the Eco button, situated where you would expect a gear stick to be, did prove remarkably efficient at increasing range by dulling the urgency of those aggressive attempts at acceleration.
If, for the average tradesman or small business, range is no longer an issue thanks to the Kangoo’s new batteries, and providing that you’re not in the habit of transporting concrete blocks, there is really now only one barrier to electric van ownership – cost.
While Renault has made great steps in opening up the door by introducing battery leasing options and upfront costs similar to that of a diesel-powered van, the improvements to the new Kangoo ZE will unfortunately command a premium. It will be a modest one, when sales begin in a few months, but it’s likely to still be enough of a reason to see many buyers avoid going electric.
Renault will expand the Zero Emission (ZE) range with an electric Master van in late 2017. It will be equipped with a 57kW (76hp) electric motor and the same 33kWh battery pack used in the Kangoo ZE, however, the Master will have a claimed NEDC range of 124 miles (200km) equating to around 63 real world miles. Capable of a maximum payload of up to 1,100kg, the Master will be available with four body types, three lengths and two heights, giving it a carrying capacity ranging from 8m3 to 22m3.