There is much improved electric power technology available on Renault’s entry into the electric van market in Australia with the Kangoo Z.E. It’s extended driving range is largely due to its new 33kWh Z.E. 33 battery. This was developed jointly by Renault and LG Chem and features a significant innovation: upgraded energy density. This means its storage capacity has been increased without any changes to its bulk, so the vehicle’s load carrying capacity is unchanged.
Battery performance has been optimised not by adding extra modules but rather by improving the chemistry of the battery cells themselves, in order to increase energy density. According to Renault, this major improvement was achieved with no trade-offs in terms of reliability, safety or payload.
The Kangoo Z.E. also benefits from a new energy-efficient motor and an optimised electronic battery management system, which limits the electricity consumed by the vehicle during road use, with no detriment to power output.
The Renault-developed R60 motor delivers 60hp (44kW) and 225Nm of torque. It is based on the R90 motor that also powers the ZOE super-mini passenger car and is manufactured at Renault’s Cléon plant in France.
One of the issues with electric vehicles, particularly as there are relatively few of them at this stage, is that their absence of engine noise makes them inaudible to pedestrians at slow speeds.
To remedy this Renault has incorporated ‘Z.E. Voice’ which works at up to 30km/h, above which tyre and wind-splitting noise are deemed sufficient to alert pedestrians to the vehicle’s approach.
The audible warning informs pedestrians and cyclists of the vehicle’s otherwise silent approach. The whirring sounds it makes were developed in association with organisations for blind and visually impaired people. Different sounds can be selected depending on the owner’s preference.
The Kangoo Z.E. comes with another innovation in the form of a heat pump for climate control to maintain driving range even in cold weather. The heat pump improves the driving range in cold conditions by restricting the use of electrical resistors that consume both power and range.
By using the pre-conditioning system – the trigger time, of which, can be adjusted via the vehicle’s steering wheel-mounted controls – the new Kangoo Z.E. can be heated, or cooled, in advance of being driven.
D is for Drive
The Kangoo Z.E. Diesel tested is available as a long wheelbase van with a four cubic metre cargo volume and 650kg payload capacity.
Sitting behind the wheel all the controls look familiar right down to the T-bar style selector which has four positions: Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. It would be helpful if each position was lit up when selected but the way it is you just have to guess.
The first turn of the key brings on the warning lights and turning further to the ‘start’ position illuminates a green light on the dash, appropriately labelled ‘GO’. And that’s exactly what it does thanks to the instant availability of a full 225Nm of torque from the moment the accelerator is squeezed.
The Z.E. driving experience is perhaps best described as a unique blend of punch and peace, thanks in equal measures to its brisk acceleration and the complete absence of engine noise and vibrations while doing so, especially from standstill to 60km/h. Above this speed aerodynamic drag starts to mount, making acceleration somewhat more leisurely.
In fact, when first experienced, the ‘silent slingshot’ acceleration seems a touch eerie because we are so attuned to relating engine noise and vibration to acceleration in motor vehicles. That said, it took this tester about five minutes to get used to the new form of motivation, and the novel experience is thoroughly enjoyable.
Furthermore, having no breaks in power delivery for gear changes means acceleration is perfectly linear in the same fashion as the continuously variable transmissions (CVT) found in some conventionally powered vehicles.