It’s the small van with French flair as Kangoo increases its appeal

The small van market is certainly interesting, as until the arrival of the Volkswagen Caddy this segment didn’t really exist. Other than the Suzuki APV, which remains largely unchanged for the past decade, other manufacturers in the van market concentrated on one-tonne panel vans, relying on the Mitsubishi Express and Toyota HiAce.

As we approach the middle of the year, the small van segment of competition just got a whole lot smaller. Sime Darby Motors, the importers and distributors of Citroen and Peugeot, which manufacturer the Berlingo and the Partner, have pulled the pin on representing both brands in the Australian market, selling the distribution rights to the Inchcape Group.

The reason, according to a statement by Sime Darby’s managing director Patrick McKenna, was that as part of the group’s decision to expand its retail car and commercial footprints on both sides of the Tasman, the decision had been reached to divest the Australasian distribution business.

While readers may find it confusing to suggest that expansion comes from divesting the distribution rights to two major manufacturers, the move follows a total incompetence in terms of brand representation, which has seen sales suffer consistently. In 2017 (VFacts YTD April) Citroen sales had slumped 41 percent, with Peugeot echoing the trend with a drop of 46.8 percent.

Citroen’s Berlingo small van dropped segment share by 20.6 percent, Suzuki’s APV sales fell 33.3 percent and Peugeot by this time had already discontinued selling its LCV offering in the form of the Partner and Expert.

Fiat Commercial fell apart at the seams in the small van sales race with the Doblo and the Scudo both dropping sales by an equal 62 percent. This left only two brands competing realistically in the small van segment, those being the Volkswagen Caddy and the Renault Kangoo.

The start of the year saw Renault seriously embarrassed by a lack of stock as the French importer/manufacturer waited for the supply of the latest version of the Kangoo. This left Volkswagen as the only manufacturer to make a gain in sales, registering a segment increase of 19.6 percent YTD, despite the atrocious publicity emanating from the “Dieselgate” furore.

So, into the Delivery Magazine spotlight comes the latest version of the Renault Kangoo, featuring a new turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed, twin-clutch, automated manual transmission.

The new 1.2-litre turbocharged engine offers better real-world performance and better fuel economy than many larger naturally aspirated engines and replaces the previous 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit. The six-speed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) automatic gear change transmission runs on a similar principle to the VW DSG transmission, but manages to change gears much more smoothly than that of its little German cohort. For those keen on personally cog-swapping ratios there is a six-speed manual gearbox option available.

Downsizing by 400 cubic centimetres of combustion capacity from 1.6 litres is actually more a question of overcoming a personal mindset than a sluggish reality, as the engine and transmission work seamlessly together, especially in EDC form.

The petrol Kangoo, now known as the Compact, comes with the standard wheelbase body offering 3.0 m3 of load space. It has a tailgate as standard (barn doors are optional) as well as sliding doors on both sides of the vehicle.

It’s actually a really sweet vehicle to drive, and the more you use the tailgate and side load doors for access into the cargo area, the more practical and appealing it becomes. It lives up to its name of being Compact, but the cabin still provides sufficient space to fit a 1.87 m, slightly overweight road tester into the driver’s seat. And yes, I was comfortable and had plenty of head, leg, shoulder and hip room.

The new Kangoo Compact starts at the manufacturer’s list price (MLP) of $23,490 (excluding dealer delivery and statutory charges).

The main improvement for the standard-wheelbase Kangoo is an increase of power and torque as well as a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. The new all-aluminium petrol-powered 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine is a version of the unit used in the Renault Clio, Captur and Megane passenger cars and is retuned to provide more low-speed torque for LCV work.

With peak power of 84 kW at 4500 rpm and 190 Nm of torque available between 2000-4000 rpm, the Kangoo’s new direct-injection engine is 6 kW more powerful than the previous 1.6-litre unit. Torque increases by 42 Nm and the new engine is 10 kg lighter and uses a low-friction timing chain that lasts the life of the engine.

Peak power is now achieved 1500 rpm earlier in the rev range when compared with the previous engine and its 3750 rpm torque peak, while turbocharging and direct injection on the new 1.2-litre combine to create an extremely smooth drivetrain. There is an ECO Mode button that improves fuel economy, but we did find it also reduced the ability of the engine and driveline to react as quickly when more performance was demanded. Consequently, the ECO button may well find it becomes the least used switch in the dashboard.

Fuel economy is really in the same arena as used to be expected from a diesel-engined small van, currently running at 6.5 l/100 km when matched to the EDC transmission and exhaust emissions level of 147 g/km, testimony to the high sulphur content in our 91 RON octane crappy unleaded petrol.

The new engine comes with a bunch of new inclusions such as hill-start assist and Grip Xtend, driver and passenger airbags including side airbags, cruise control and speed limiter, and reverse parking sensors. Auto stop/start is available only with the six-speed manual gearbox.

All standard wheelbase petrol models also feature a cargo mat for the load area, which protects the cabin floor, helps to stop cargo moving around and reduces cabin noise. These features now mirror those offered in the long-wheelbase turbodiesel Maxi versions.

The new petrol-powered versions offer Renault R-LINK enhanced satellite navigation complete with a seven-inch colour touchscreen and a rear-view camera.

Also available are the same 15-inch ‘Aria’ light alloy wheels as fitted to the Maxi Crew, as well as glazing for the side sliding doors. A fold-flat front passenger seat is also available along with an overhead parcel shelf, a steel bulkhead to be fitted behind the seats, anti-slip timber floor and the highly individual ‘Girafon’ retractable roof flap. These can be ordered as a combination of goodies by ticking the Pro Pack option, which brings together R-LINK media, sat/nav and camera, an overhead cabin storage shelf and glazed dual rear and side sliding doors.

The Custom model supplied for the Delivery Magazine evaluation was much more on the lines of basic business, without the sat/nav displays or reverse camera, but with proximity warning beeps and Bluetooth telephone connectivity.

Preferable to the VW Caddy because of its light controls, more modern design and cheeky French styling, rather than bland German efficiency, the Kangoo is easy to drive, good value, and, above all, highly practical.

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