Great in the city, reasonably priced and cheap to run - but there are ride and range concerns

What is it?

This is the most conventional of Renault’s four electric vehicle offerings, a Focus-class four-door saloon complementing the Zoe hatchback, the Kangoo van and the Twizy city car.

An electric conversion of the conventional Fluence, it’s propelled by a 94bhp electric motor delivering a stout 167lb ft of torque through a single speed gearbox. Renault is making no claims for the 0-62mph sprint yet, but it has an 87mph top speed.

The Fluence’s body has been slightly lengthened to house the 250kg lithium-ion battery packed behind the rear seats, its weight rising 50kg to top 1453kg. The batteries have a claimed range of 100 miles, and can be recharged in around six to eight hours from a domestic power supply, quick-charged from a three-phase fast-charge supply in 30 minutes or by using Renault’s Quickdrop infrastructure, which will allow the battery to be swapped for a fully charged pack in three minutes.

That said, there will be few Quickdrop stations in France to start with – there only will be a couple in Paris by 2011 - while Britain is an unknown.

What’s it like?

Paris was where we sampled this prototype Fluence, which is almost limo-like in its serenity besides being smooth, brisk and simple to drive.

As impressive as any of this is the feeling that this prototype was close to the finished thing, its electrically-powered air conditioning fully functioning, its instrument pack looking production ready. The floor-mounted transmission lever is all you need move once you’ve twisted the key to power up, selecting drive producing the same creep that you’ll encounter with a conventional automatic.

Tread the accelerator and the Fluence steps away briskly, but with a calming silence that makes negotiating heavy traffic a more restful experience, not least because the powertrain is so quiet – there’s no milk-float whine.

Yet despite this calm the Fluence is more than capable of getting ahead in traffic, a firm stab at the accelerator producing enough thrust to have its front tyres screeching for grip.

Release the throttle, and you’ll notice more deceleration-effect than you’ll find in most cars as battery regeneration kicks in, although this is nothing like as pronounced as it is in the Mini E. But it still provides the entertainment of determining when you should lift off to come to a rest at the next obstacle without touching either brake or accelerator, a pusuit that also saves energy.

The elephant-in-the-room issue – range – certainly impinges, because you have only 100 miles, but the distance to recharge indicator seemed to fall slowly as we edged through traffic, and with accuracy too, the six kilometer drop matching the distance we actually covered.

If the Renault’s power delivery is immensely refined, bar an occasional soft jolt as you move off, its ride is less so. There’s more jostling over bumps than there ought to be, and although there wasn’t much scope for speeding about on this test, it seems likely that the 250kg battery pack will make itself felt when you’re hard-charging a bend.

Should I buy one?

Renault says that the Fluence will cost around £19,000, with £85 of monthly battery lease costs to pay on top – pretty reasonable considering its advanced technology and the very low running costs that owners will enjoy. Its biggest drawback is that 100 mile range, which makes it vastly less versatile than a conventional car.

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But if all your commuting is short, or you have a second conventional car, then it could make sense, especially as it provides a more pleasant way to cut through the urban crawl. It’s spacious and well-kitted and though the ride isn’t great, this feels like a mature product.

Question marks still hang over the real-world range besides the realities of recharging, but this is an electric car that gets closer to convincing.


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JezyG 9 June 2010

Re: Renault Fluence Z.E.

beachland2 wrote:

to make a point electric cars need to win Le-mans and Touring Cars and WRC .

What just like diesels well less WRC :o)

JezyG 9 June 2010

Re: Renault Fluence Z.E.

Hybrid batteries do not take on the same load and recharge cycles as an EV car. Battery technolgy is good but in escence cars are using the same tech as a laptop or mobile phone to store electricity. Factor in temprature issues and it will take a few years to understand fully how reliable and how they fair in day to day use.

As for electrics they can and will go wrong we have had electric trains for years and they break down even newer ones 9 times out of 10 it is due to software or sensors!!! EV car's will most probably suffer electrical issues just like any other car that is on the road as the basic systems are the same just the engine and drivetrain will differ. But even electric motors are not 100% reliable and in the hands of a more spirited driver will they be any more robust or not only time will tell...........

Dan McNeil v2 9 June 2010

Re: Renault Fluence Z.E.

rodenal wrote:
But then again the electric cars' batteries will deteriorate, wont last as long, will take longer to charge and wont hold a full charge any more.
Everything deteriorates - it's called entropy. But, evidence to date with Hybrid batteries shows they last in excess of 175,000 miles, so I don't really see your point...if petrol or diesel engines ever reaches that mileage, how much will you have spent on new parts?
rodenal wrote:
Plus we dont actually know what can or will go wrong with these cars. There are just too many variables
What do you mean? An electric motor is a known commodity, and is very uncomplicated. Nothing to it really, and lifespans are very well known. Components shared with petrol/diesel cars (driveshafts, brakes etc.) are a known quantity.