What is it?
Together with the Kangoo ZE light commercial van, the Renault Fluence ZE is part of the first wave of electric vehicles from the French manufacturer.
At 4748mm, the ZE is 130mm longer than the standard car to allow the lithium-ion batteries (280kg of them) to be located behind the rear seats. Compared to a regular Fluence the electric version has a more substantial rear overhang.
The front grille design has been altered and the rear bumper features a diffuser. This car rides on low-resistance Goodyear tyres and aero-efficient wheels.
Cosmetic tweaks include a new rear light cluster, a blue tint to the lights, fog light surrounds and badging, plus chrome highlighting on the boot lid.
What’s it like?
You get a spacious cabin and plenty of legroom front and rear. Despite the vertical stacking of the battery pack behind the rear seats, the size of the boot is the same at 317 litres, although the shape is made quite awkward by the battery.
The interior finishings are all of a good standard, with an emphasis on functionality, and the amount of technology on offer is impressive.
The main dashboard display comprises a gauge that shows the battery’s power, a conventional speedometer and an econometer that shows the current level of charge or discharge. Stamp the accelerator and the econometer’s needle leaps into the red; lift off during a downhill descent and it falls into the blue as the kinetic energy recovery system replenishes the battery.
To start the car you turn the key, which illuminates a green ‘go’ button on the dashboard display, then engage drive from the single-speed ‘box. The Fluence ZE moves away almost silently, with only a faint turbine-like whine.
The power delivery is seamless and gets you from a standstill to 30mph in 4.1s – almost two seconds faster than a standard Fluence. The linear acceleration feels like it could go on forever (it can’t, because the car is limited to 84mph).
The first challenge when driving the Fluence ZE is remembering that 166lb ft of torque is immediately at your disposal. Due to the lack of noise and urgency, it’s easy to forget that the car is capable of, say, pulling away from junctions in a hurry.
The recovery of kinetic energy during deceleration slows the car quite dramatically and takes some getting used to. After a while, you start incorporating the system’s characteristics into your driving style, anticipating traffic lights and junctions earlier and using the kinetic energy recovery system to slow down rather than the brake pedal.
In that respect, the Fluence ZE encourages you into a relaxed mode of driving, a feeling emphasised by super-light electric power steering. This isn’t a car suited to more sporty driving though: the suspension has been retuned to take into account the extra mass of the batteries – which takes the car to1605kg – but you can sense that weight when you press on.
Still, aggressive driving can play havoc with your range. Renault’s claim is 115 miles, although this can vary from 50 and 125 miles depending on driving conditions.
There are, however, features to increase efficiency. These include an Eco Mode that restricts the climate control and heating functions as well as a pre-heating and pre-air conditioning system, which can be remotely programmed whilst the car is still on charge.
An integrated TomTom satnav comes as standard and displays the nearest charging points, as well a radius of locations that can be reached on the car’s current charge. A full recharge takes between six and eight hours, so Renault recommends the use of a home or work charging point as the main power source.
Should I buy one?
If your daily drive is a short-ish urban commute, the Fluence ZE could be an option – particularly when you consider the economical benefits of no road tax, zero-rated benefit in kind tax and lower insurance and maintenance costs. In the right circumstances – using cheap off-peak overnight energy, for example – it can cost as little as £3 to ‘fill up’.
If, however, you tackle regular motorway thrashes, this probably won’t be the car for you.
Although you purchase the car, Renault owns the battery system, which is hired for a cost starting at £69.60 (including VAT). The Fluence ZE will go on sale here in mid-2012, priced £22,850 – or £17,850 when the government’s £5000 EV subsidy is factored in.
It is a solid way to kick off Renault’s commitment to an all-electric range of vehicles and bodes well for the Twizy and Zoe which will follow next year.
Renault Fluence Z.E Prime Time
Price: £22,850 (£17,850 with government EV subsidy); Top speed: 84mph (limited); 0-62: 13sec; Range: 115 miles; Charging time: 6-8 hours; Kerbweight: 1605kg; Motor type: synchronous electric with rotor coil; Batteries: 22kWh capacity; Power: 95bhp; Torque: 166lb ft; Transmission: single-speed auto.