Dave Whyte drives the smallest Renault in petrol and diesel form.
Renault cars have been on sale in Australia for longer than I have been breathing, and while they have maintained a presence here, the volumes have always been low.
Over the last couple of years however, with a new range of vehicles and a new team to lead the marketing push, things have changed. In fact, Renault recently celebrated a milestone, having cracked one thousand units sold in Australia within a month for the first time. While most of these sales were passenger cars, the commercial market has played a big role in the rise of Renault, with the Kangoo and Master models performing well in a strong market.
The Renault Kangoo range is the smaller of the Renault commercials, and is available in three body styles – the short wheelbase, the long wheelbase Maxi, and the Crew. While the short wheelbase is only available with a petrol engine, it does come with the choice of manual or automatic transmissions. The Maxi and Crew variants are both diesel powered, but only come with a manual gearbox. The driveline choices may seem a little restricted, but in reality they cater for the market nicely, as I found out while driving them recently.
Renault was kind enough to give Delivery the keys to two Kangoo models over the last couple of weeks, the first being the short wheelbase model (SWB) with the 1.6-litre petrol engine and four-speed auto transmission. On first impressions the SWB model is quite compact, but the reality is that the interior space is well utilised, and the load space is large.
The cabin is well laid out, with individual seats for the driver and passenger separated by a centre console. The seats are very comfortable, with plenty of legroom on both sides to add to comfort levels.
The base model as tested has manual controls for the heater and air con, which do a great job of maintaining the temperature throughout the whole van. There was no bulkhead between the seats and the load area on our test unit, with only a tubular frame behind the driver’s seat to stop any freight moving forward, so the heater had to earn its money heating the whole space. A full bulkhead is available as an option to separate the cabin from the load area.
Accessing the load area is easy, with sliding doors on both sides, and the choice of barn doors or lift-up tailgate on the rear. With three cubic metres of space available, room between the wheel arches for a standard pallet, and a payload capacity of over 600 kg, this is certainly a very practical little van.
From the driver’s seat it doesn’t feel like a commercial vehicle, with car-like handling and great vision all around. It is also very nimble, with the short wheelbase contributing to a tight turning circle and making manoeuvring easy in restricted spaces. On the topic of tight spaces, you might have noticed the black bumpers and manually operated mirrors on the SWB. This is in response to customer feedback, and reduces the replacement cost and fitting time of those parts that are more frequently damaged.
The SWB has column-mounted controls to operate the audio system, which also has Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile. These can be used without taking your hands off the wheel, and are very easy to get used to. Controls for the lights and wipers are on individual stalks either side of the wheel, and also come to hand very easily. The Kangoo SWB has no buttons on the steering wheel itself, quite a change from most other new vans. It does however have dual front airbags, with the option of side airbags for driver and passenger. Also on the standard inclusions list are disc brakes all round with ABS and ESC.
The Crew model, which Delivery also drove, is the top of the range Kangoo. Powered by a 1.5-litre diesel with a six speed manual gearbox, it shares the same wheelbase, body and driveline as the Maxi model. The difference is that the Crew has a second row of seats, accessible through the sliding side doors, giving room for another three adults. These seats can also be folded down into the floor to open up extra load space, making this a very versatile model. Other standard items on the Crew not found on the SWB model included automatic climate control and electrically-operated side mirrors that are also heated for quick defrosting.
The diesel engine provides plenty of power, and the six-speed transmission uses it efficiently. While every start was a first gear start, there was no lack of acceleration, and the short shift made for easy gear selection. In a clever move, there is a green shift light on the dash, which comes on when a gear change is needed to keep the engine working in the most economic range. This works for both upshifts and downshifts, and is quite a handy reminder that you don’t need to work a diesel hard to get the best results. The fuel results were quite surprising, with the diesel engine achieving 6.9 l/100 km and the petrol auto 7.7 l/100 km during my time at the wheel.
There are some interesting features that extend across the whole of the Kangoo range, which include the central locking system. With one press of the unlock button, only the driver’s door is unlocked. Two consecutive presses will unlock all of the doors, including the side and rear loading doors. In another smart move, all the doors lock automatically as soon as the van moves off from a standstill. The driver’s door unlocks again when the vehicle is stationary and the ignition turned off, while the load area and passenger door remain locked. This reduces the chance of theft from the load area, or, in the extreme circumstance, carjacking.
The Kangoo range really is a versatile line-up. With three body styles all providing great access, comfort and car-like driveability, it’s no wonder they are gaining popularity. By going back to basics on the SWB model, Renault can offer great value to prospective buyers at the time of purchase and in the spare parts division. At the other end of the scale, the Crew provides a comfortable cabin for five adults and generous space for their gear, or, with the seats folded, room for two and a much larger load area.
The ability to carry tools, parcels or people, with anyone-can-drive simplicity, opens up plenty of opportunities for the Kangoo range. In a world where more and more work vehicles are being used as a family car after hours, these vans provide the ideal compromise.