First electric Renault isn’t likely to make much of a mark in the UK

What is it?

The future, apparently. Or at least the start of Renault’s version of it. The firm has slashed more than half its models from its UK line-up to refocus on its core models (Twingo, Clio, Mégane and Scenic) and free up space for its imminent range of electric vehicles.

The Fluence ZE is the first of four new electric Renaults to arrive in the UK, and this is our first drive of it on UK roads. It is an electric conversion of the four-door Fluence saloon sold in select markets.

So gone is the conventional drivetrain and in its place are a 95bhp, 166lb ft electric motor, single-speed transmission and a lithium-ion 22kWh battery pack. The battery pack’s location behind the rear seats means the Fluence is 13cm longer than its combustion-engined equivalent.

No fast charge facility is available yet for the Fluence, so a full recharge will take up to eight hours when you’ve exhausted the claimed maximum range of up to 115 miles.

What’s it like?

If electric cars are indeed to play a role in the future of motoring, then it’s a shame this particular one looks so much like the present. While the Twizy and Zoe electric vehicles due on sale by the end of the year truly look interesting and innovative, the Fluence does not.

It’s a theme that continues inside. The switchgear will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a Megane, and the only real clue as to this vehicle’s powertrain is in the new instrument panel.

A big dial on the left shows how much range you have left, and there’s also a conventional speedometer and a dial to show how much of the electric motor’s power you are tapping into. Interior space is excellent and both front and rear passengers are well catered for.

Like all modern electric vehicles, the Fluence’s step off is brisk as all 166lb ft of torque is instantly available. You never have a problem exploiting a gap in the traffic, although acceleration does tail off once you reach around 40mph.

Lift off the accelerator and the Fluence does slow rather rapidly as kinetic energy is recovered. It’s an odd feeling, but get used to it and look far enough ahead up the road and it’s possible to drive the Fluence around town with just the one pedal.

Dynamically, the Fluence rides quite nicely, just like an old-fashioned Renault with copious suspension travel. But over more abrasive bumps it can get a touch crashy, a sensation no doubt heightened by the extra weight of the battery pack. The steering, however, is particularly lifeless and is an odd sensation too far in the Fluence that you won’t really be able to get used to.

Our biggest complaint about the Fluence is the range. Renault does point out that the range can drop as low as 50 miles in ‘extreme conditions’ (so, cold weather, a lead right foot, lots of hills), but I’d hardly call traffic in west London last night and this morning ‘extreme’, nor the -1 degree Celsius temperature we tested the Fluence in. From being fully charged, around an eighth of the electric range was used for every five miles travelled. That makes even the 50 miles worst-case scenario seem optimistic.

Should I buy one?

It’s really hard to make a case for the Fluence to a UK car buyer. A big heavy saloon doesn’t really seem the ideal starting point for a company hedging its bets on electric cars taking off. The dubious range in fairly average British wintery conditions also leaves a lot to be desired.

Back to top

The Twizy and Zoe are the electric Renaults that have really piqued our interest. Hopefully, when we get to drive these later this year, the Renault electric strategy will start to make a lot more sense.

In the meantime, if you’re a family of no more than four, don’t ever leave the city limits and think even the Prius is damaging to the environment, then maybe the Fluence ZE is the car for you. The rest of us should buy a Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion.

Renault Fluence ZE

Price: £22,850 (£17,850 with government EV subsidy); Battery rental: from £69.90 per month; Top speed: 84mph (limited); 0-62mph: 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

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Join the debate

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Peter Cavellini 17 February 2012

Re: Renault Fluence ZE

artill wrote:

The Twizzy i get, its cute, small, designed for the city (in warm climates). It makes sense, although its very expensive compared to conventional city cars.

This however is a joke. Is it really cheaper than a leaf? Not really, when you consider the battery lease. Its too big to be a city car, its range is too low for use outside a city. Pointless, and Renault have bet the farm on it!

So, hybrid cars don't like the cold then?

thebaldgit 17 February 2012

Re: Renault Fluence ZE

Nice looking car spoilt by two usual problems weight and range and a new one battery rental.

Mr£4worth 14 February 2012

Re: Renault Fluence ZE

johnfaganwilliams wrote:
It seems to me that the entire French motor industry is having a collective lapse of reason. Peugeot produce some of the least attractive vehicles ever marketed - driving around in France now is like being in some form of fish tank with those open mouthed monstrosities all over the place. Now Renault is apparently committing suicide. NO-ONE wants electric cars! Who on earth would buy a car at any price with a range of 50 miles and an 8 hour charge period? It's lunacy. I can only assume they have all been hypnotised by green loonies or are being bribed by Merkozy in pursuit of some weird parallel universe where fossil fuels are on the verge of running out. Which they are not.
These cars have been on sale for a while in Denmark. I was driving around Copenhagen last week in sub zero temperatures and passed an electric Fluence doing about 65mph no problem. The driver seemed to be relaxed and not expecting to grind to halt. My guess is these things aren't as bad as all the aforementioned guess. Would I have one? Not on your nelly!