Renault has had a tough time in the UK recently, seeing the number of cars they have sold dropping significantly. As a result they’ve slashed their range, leaving only the Megane, Clio, Twingo, Scenic, Grand Scenic, and the Fluence Z.E.
The French firm are pinning their hopes on a new range of all-electric vehicles, in which they’re investing heavily alongside their partner, Nissan. Renault’s first car (their first vehicle is the Kangoo Z.E.) is the Fluence Z.E., which shares its motor and battery pack with the Nissan LEAF.
The Fluence Z.E. is an interesting car for a number of reasons, not least because it’s a full-size family car capable of seating five people, as well as the cheapest electric car on sale in the UK today, a stance they can take because you don’t actually buy the battery from Renault, leasing it instead.
It’s an intriguing offer then, but is it a good one?
The Z.E. version of the Fluence gains 130mm in length to allow the battery to be stored between the boot and the back of the rear seats. This adds an ungainly look to what is otherwise an inoffensive and unremarkable car. The two charging sockets, one on each front wing, are unobtrusive and will remain unnoticed by many.
It has the usual blue accents dotted about it, marking it as an EV, but otherwise it looks normal, really very normal. As an attribute this is not to be underestimated as other electrically-powered cars look a bit, er, odd (we’re looking at you here G-Wiz and Mitsubishi i-MiEV). If you want to hide your environmental credentials under a bushel then the Fluence Z.E. is right up your street.
The interior is neat, simple, and a bit underwhelming. The only sign that you are driving an EV is the power meter and the battery charge indicator, which left me feeling a bit cheated. I wanted blue LED lighting, or a hint of Buck Rogers, or a design swirl here and there to remind that I’m driving something special.
Back in the real world, the Fluence is roomy, spacious, and has - thanks to selective use of soft-touch materials – a nice feel to it. The seats are supportive and comfortable and there is enough legroom in the back to allow you to carry full-size adults; it’s just like a normal family car.
The boot space is small, because of that pesky battery, but will still take a week’s shopping or a long weekend’s worth of luggage for the family.
To turn the Fluence on you turn the ignition key all the way round and wait for the multitude of dashboard lights to go out; it’s ready when the ‘Go’ symbol is the only one still illuminated. Shift the floor-mounted gearlever into Drive, release the handbrake and press the accelerator.
Electric propulsion aside, it drives like a million other mid-range saloons. You are aware of the 280kg lithium-ion battery behind you if you concentrate, but if you forget about evaluating the car and just drive it then it handles safely and neatly. It will never inspire you - we’d be surprised if you ever took it out for a B-road blast just for the way it swoops round bends - but you’ll never have cause to criticise it either.
It is at its best in the city, where the light steering and smooth power delivery conspire to make it feel much smaller and more agile than it is. You do need to be aware of pedestrians though, as they are prone to stepping out in front of your near-silent electric car, before glaring at you as if it is your fault for not alerting them with the usual engine and exhaust noise.
Engine braking is pronounced and harder than in a normal car, but you soon learn to drive round it, lifting off a bit later and accelerating slightly earlier than you might otherwise do. The payoff if that the battery is being charged as you freewheel, giving you something for nothing.
The ‘engine’ is shared with the Nissan LEAF, allowing them to share the design and production costs between them. It’s made by Continental in Germany, and is powered by a Japanese battery, so it should be reliable.
Any consumer worries about the life of the battery pack are allayed by the fact that they are leasing it rather than buying, so owners can relax in the knowledge that Renault will replace it if there is a problem or if its capacity drops below 75 percent.
The electric motor produces instantaneous torque – 167lb ft in this case – seamlessly and silently. The Fluence Z.E. seems more powerful than the figures suggest, an impression that is reinforced by the absence of gearchanges. It whooshes along with an attractive whine and the instant surge of torque is quite addictive; you might not take it for a blast to enjoy the handling but I drove it fast and hard to enjoy that eerie sense of other-worldliness.
It will reach 62mph from rest in 13.7 seconds and continues to accelerate to over 80mph without fuss, which makes it very relaxing to drive. It even has sufficient mid-range acceleration to allow you to overtake lorries with ease, although if you do too much of this the range drops off sharply. Renault claim that over 100 miles on one charge is possible, but if you drive it like a petrol- or diesel-powered car then this is going to fall to 60 miles or less.
An Eco mode, which reduces the power available and extends the range by 10 percent, is available and can be instantly overridden by pressing the accelerator to the floor.
Value for Money
It costs about £2.80 to fully charge it from a three-pin 13A socket, something that takes 10-12 hours. This drops to between six and eight hours if you get British Gas to install a fast-charge unit at a cost of £799.
I found that plugging it in at the end of the day soon became second nature and wasn’t too much of an inconvenience - which isn’t something that can be said of storing the charging lead. Trying to coil a wet and dirty electrical lead is no fun, and then trying to stuff it into a bag that seems slightly too small means that you end up throwing it uncoiled in the boot. A retractable system would be much better.
The Fluence Z.E. is available in two trim levels, Expression+ and Dynamique, and prices start at £17,850 (after the £5,000 government grant has been deducted) making it a bit of a bargain in the world of EVs.
Mind you, you do have to budget for the cost of leasing the battery too, which starts at £76 a month for an owner who covers 6,000 miles a year, rising to just over £103 if you do 15,000 miles. The leasing contract includes free recovery if you run out of juice and can be altered at any time until three months before it ends.
Look, we all know that an electric vehicle demands a different mindset to one powered by an internal combustion engine. You can’t just whizz off in the same carefree way; everything just needs a bit more planning and thought.
But you know that already, right? It’s the iPhone problem, on a bigger scale. You accept that you have to charge it more regularly than an old-school Nokia, but it’s worth it because it offers something extra.
The something extra in the case of the Fluence Z.E. is a refinement, silence, and smoothness that simply isn’t available anywhere else. It also accelerates in a wonderfully addictive way, which means that even keen drivers will enjoy using it.
It makes more sense in a city or town though, places where its lack of range isn’t as much of a problem, where you can enjoy its nippiness and agility. I ended up liking the Fluence Z.E. much more than I was anticipating – and I bet that you will too.
Chek out our full guide to the Renault Fluence ZE. With more expert reviews, photos, videos, stats and prices.