Renault Fluence ZE
Model/Engine size: Fluence ZE
Fuel economy combined: N/A
Green-Car-Guide rating: 6/10
Renault is on a mission to become a leader in the production of affordable electric vehicles , and the all-electric Fluence will be one of the first of its ZE range that you can buy.
The Fluence has all the normal, positive attributes of a car with an electric powertrain. It is almost silent, except for a slight whining noise. It has 100% torque from standstill, which produces strong, linear acceleration. And with no clutch or gears, it’s easy to drive. The Fluence comes with low rolling resistance tyres and it recovers energy when braking.
Of course it also has zero-tailpipe emissions. To be fully zero-emission, the Fluence needs to be recharged with energy generated from renewable sources. It has a potential range of 115 miles and it can be fully recharged overnight from a domestic supply for around £3 – approximately one-fifth of the cost of a petrol or diesel car. It’s possible to recharge the car much quicker using a rapid charger.
The Fluence is based on an internal combustion-engined car rather than being designed from the ground up as a clean-sheet electric vehicle. The base car isn’t on sale in the UK. It’s basically a cross between a mark two and a mark three Renault Megane, with a boot, and it sells in developing world markets. Both the Fluence and the Fluence ZE are made at the same factory in Turkey.
The electric motor sits under the bonnet where the petrol engine used to be, and the battery has been inserted upright behind the rear seats. This means that the boot became smaller – so Renault stretched the rear of the Fluence to offset the boot space eaten up by the battery and it now has 317 litres of space.
Renault says that the weight distribution of the Fluence is 50/50 front/rear. However unlike most modern electric cars which have a battery under the floor, thereby resulting in a low centre of gravity – so aiding handling – the battery in the Fluence is quite tall. It’s also very heavy – weighing 280 kg – and all this is bound to have an effect on the car’s cornering abilities. There’s also a long rear overhang thanks to the extended boot.
The car’s dynamics aren’t helped by the steering, which is very light and has precious little feel. Another issue with the car is the interior, which, when compared to the Nissan LEAF, looks very dated. The Fluence even has a traditional-looking automatic gear selector, compared to the LEAF’s futurist ‘computer mouse’-style control.
The exterior looks perfectly acceptable but perhaps not as cutting-edge as you might expect for one of the latest electric cars.
All this makes it sound like the Fluence isn’t up there with the standards of the new batch of electric vehicles that are becoming available in the UK, and there’s a good reason for this. Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of both Renault and Nissan, struck a deal to supply 100,000 electric Fluences to Israel. So this is the driving force behind the car; it’s not primarily designed to sell to image-conscious British buyers.
However we’re certainly not discounting the Fluence. It has one strong selling point – its price. It will sell for just £17,850 in the UK, after the government’s £5000 plug-in car grant incentive, which is almost half the price of the Nissan LEAF.
This fits in with Renault’s strategy of selling affordable electric cars. The aim is that the firm’s EVs will sell at a similar price to the diesel versions, after incentives. The trouble is, the government incentives won’t last forever.
However you should be aware that, unlike its Alliance partner Nissan, Renault charges extra monthly payments for leasing the battery. The price depends upon the length of the contract and mileage per year. As an example, based on 6000 miles per year, and a three-year term, the battery lease cost is £69.60 per month. Again, this is designed to make the car more affordable, and this is based on the argument that you don’t pay for fuel for the lifetime of a petrol car when you buy the car, so why should you pay for the battery upfront in an electric car?
As part of the leasing arrangement, Renault guarantees that the battery will always have a minimum charge capacity of 75% of the original level. You’re also covered for full recovery for any type of breakdown.
Renault is saying that a home charging wall box is essential; this is provided by Chargemaster and fitted by Renault’s UK partner British Gas, and this costs an additional £799. This wall box will communicate with the electricity network to benefit from the best rates, and a full charge will take between 6-8 hours. Occasional charging, using a cable directly into a domestic socket, ie. with no wall box, would take 10-12 hours.
In some countries – Israel, Australia and Denmark – Renault is partnering with Better Place to set up a battery swap system. In other words, if your battery is running low, you can pull into a garage and have your battery swapped for one that is fully charged. The process should take around 5 minutes. There are no plans to invest in this costly infrastructure in the UK in the near future.
If you occasionally need to drive for a longer distance than the Fluence ZE range allows, such as if going on holiday, then Renault has set up a system where you get preferential rates for the hire of a petrol or diesel car.
So the Fluence certainly offers buyers another choice in the area of electric cars (when we say buyers, Renault estimates that fleets will represent around 70% of purchasers of the Fluence, with private motorists accounting for 30%). However due to the Fluence’s internal combustion engine underpinnings, its unremarkable driving dynamics, and its dated interior, it’s difficult to award it more than a Green-Car-Guide rating of 6 out of 10.
The Fluence ZE will be on sale in the UK in mid-2012 from a network of 20 special EV dealers. It will come with a three-year/100,000 mile warranty, with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty for the electric drivetrain.
The Renault Fluence is an all-electric saloon, and there aren’t many of those around. So if that’s what you’re looking for, then the Fluence is your answer. It’s relatively cheap and it provides zero-emission motoring for five people and some luggage. However, in reality the Fluence is designed primarily for Israel, and Renault doesn’t expect to sell many at all in the UK. The car is really a symbol for Renault – to show that the company has a range of electric vehicles. And it’s the rest of its EV range that is interesting.
The electric Kangoo van is available to order in the UK now, and it makes complete sense as a local delivery vehicle in cities. Next, in 2012, will come the Twizy, effectively a four-wheeled scooter. But probably the most significant vehicle will be the Zoe supermini, also due for launch in 2012, which promises electric motoring for less than £15,000. When the Zoe arrives, this is when electric vehicles will really become a cost-effective, viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars. In the meantime the Fluence is best seen as a warm-up act for better things to come.
Fuel economy extra urban: N/A
Fuel economy urban: N/A
CO 2 emissions: 0 g/km if recharged from renewable energy
Green rating: VED band A – £0
Weight: 1605 kg
Company car tax liability (2011/12): 0%
Price: £22,850 (£17,850 after the UK government’s £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant)
Insurance group: TBC
Power: 95 hp (70 Kw)
Max speed: 84 mph
0-62mph: 13.7 seconds
Read our review of the Renault Kangoo ZE van .
See our drive of the prototype Renault Fluence ZE .
Renault Fluence ZE review, Renault Fluence ZE road test