10.11.2011 Renault Fluence Z.E. review
The Fluence was developed rapidly to meet Israeli demands for an electric car and is built in Turkey. It could suit a buyer whose daily journeys are under, say 90 miles, to allow for headlights, heating, air conditioning, radio etc being used. Slightly awkward styling to fit the batteries so the boot takes a little getting used to. The Fluence is far more enjoyable and car-like to drive than the Leaf which is produced by Alliance partner, Nissan.
Quietest and most car-like EV we have driven so far. Drive aggressively and you could halve the car's projected 115 mile range. ZE customers will be able to rent larger conventional cars when needed, ie for a holiday, at preferential rates. The Fluence has pre-heating and cooling systems so that the required cabin temperature can be reached while charging.
Review by Russell Bray for nextgreencar.com
Electric cars are not the sluggards we imagine from following the proverbial milk float and the power delivery is both instant and continuous as you don't have to wait for any revs to build up. Away from the lights this electric Fluence is rapid and close on two seconds quicker to 30 mph (4.1 seconds) than a petrol or diesel Fluence. Acceleration to 62 mph takes a more prosaic 13.7 seconds, despite the 166 lbs ft of torque, as the Fluence's 1605 kg kerb weight begins to tell on the 95 bhp electric motor. Top speed is limited to 84 mph. The harvesting of kinetic energy during deceleration to recharge the batteries slows the car quite a lot but is easy to get used to. Even by EV standards the Fluence is very quiet – pedestrians beware.
The handling of electric cars is dominated by the weight and location of their heavy batteries. Though the Fluence is an electric version of an existing car, rather than designed from scratch as a Z.E. vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, its slight rear axle weight distribution bias compared to the front makes it pleasingly agile and responsive. You can sense the car's weight when cornering and need to allow for it, but there isn't too much body lean. Time things correctly and the kinetic energy recovery during deceleration can mean you don't need to brake for corners or roundabouts. Light steering doesn't have much feel and the Goodyear low rolling resistance tyres didn't have masses of grip.
From the front, or front three-quarters, the Fluence is a bland but neatly styled saloon. But park the electric Fluence next to a standard car and you will notice the overall 'balance' gets a little odd towards the rear. That's because an extra 5 inches of bodywork has been added behind the rear wheels in order to accommodate the hefty 280kg of batteries behind the rear seat, whilst still leaving a boot. The shape still isn't that unappealing though; people won't realise you are driving an electric vehicle from its looks and there's plenty of space inside the car, both front and rear. Lights have a pleasant blue tinge. The size of the boot is unchanged at 317 litres, though the shape is now a bit strange. Length is 4631mm and width is 809mm.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Electric vehicles are even easier to operate than modern cars and that's saying something. Turn the ignition key and after a chime a GO logo lights up. Select forward, take the handbrake off, ease on the throttle and you are off.
To keep down costs the instrument panel is unchanged with a normal speedometer and gauges showing battery charge and rate of charge or discharge. You can also call up range distance. A standard fit TomTom sat nav shows distance to battery charging points, real time traffic, road safety alerts and Google local search.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
This is quite complicated. Drive economically and the car's range could be 115 miles, hoof it and 50 miles is more like it. Recharging overnight would cost about £3, which is less than you would pay to cover 100 miles even in an economical diesel. But to running costs must be added the rental charges for the battery pack. The fee ranges from £69.60 per month, based on a mileage of 6000 miles per annum over five years, to £120.60 for 15,000 miles over one year. Part of the battery hire includes roadside breakdown – including a flat battery and towing to a charging point within 50 miles radius. Road tax is zero and you would not pay the London Congestion Charge. Insurance and maintenance costs are estimated at 20% less than a petrol or diesel car. Industry experts are still arguing over the depreciation expectations of electric vehicles and whether it is better to own the battery pack or not.
Zero exhaust emissions is the good news, though electric power generation in the UK is claimed to create 66 gC02 /km on a well to wheel calculation. Recycling or reusing the lithium-ion batteries is presently costly. Lithium currently costs about five times more to recycle than to mine. Renault will keep control of the process by owning the batteries. If powered using the UK's national grid, the Next Green Car rating comes out at 26 – if renewably powered, this is reduced to 14.
There is only one trim level but that's no hardship and the Fluence ticks the usual boxes for a compact executive saloon despite its electric power supply. One fitting you might like though is for the home, a recharging system that Renault's business partner, British Gas, will fit for £799. A full recharge then takes seven to eight hours. With the My Connect Pack you can access information about the car, level of charge, time for full charge etc, via your smart phone or computer. The electronic safety aids, anti-lock brakes and stability control, have been recalibrated to match the car's changed balance and weight distribution. Safety features include double seat belt pre-tensioners and six airbags.
Model tested: Renault Fluence Z.E.
Body-style: Four-door electric saloon
Engine/CO2: 95 bhp electric motor / 0 gCO2/km tailpipe
Trim grades: One
On-road price: £17,850 (after £5,000 Government grant) Battery rental £81 per month
Warranty: Three years/ 100,000 miles for car; five years/100,000 for electric drive train
In the showroom: Next spring
Review rating: 3.0 STARS
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