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.
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