Stuart Martin settles in to appreciate the merits of the Renault Kangoo Maxi Crew
Any similarity to a road trip movie ends before we’ve even left the Melbourne metropolitan area.
The car is devoid of passengers, and, given the diesel’s diminutive power and torque figures, there’s not a chance of Gum or Cannon Ball activity either.
The little Kangoo has been in the custody of the PowerTorque magazine’s road test editor, Dave Whyte, but it’s now up for a jaunt to Adelaide on the much-travelled (usually by rigs more likely to appear in the aforementioned magazine) Great Western Highway.
The Maxi Crew version of the Renault chugs gently out into Melbourne’s traffic, and the easy gearshift and light clutch mean there’s no issues swapping cogs, a good thing given the powerplant needs to be kept in its torque band to maintain decent momentum in the traffic.
No reach steering adjustment means the long-legged are a little more knees up behind the wheel, which isn’t ideal for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the placement of the voice control button.
Inadvertent brushing of it by the right knee meant I was starting to become concerned the car had a problem or was developing a life of its own.
In fact, the infotainment control stalk hung off the lower right-hand-side of the steering column does have its disadvantages until becoming well familiar.
The upright driving position doesn’t present any headroom problems, as the roofline is high, complete with overhead shelving that is more than useful.
Given I have over 700 km ahead of me, the apparent seat comfort of the first few kilometres was thankfully still apparent at the end of the day.
It meant that the arrival in Adelaide wasn’t accompanied by a ratchet spanner impersonation from my lower back and limbs as I pulled into my driveway.
The tall cabin’s glasshouse means there’s a panoramic view out the windscreen and side windows, with the sliding rear doors also carrying panes rather than panels, a handy thing in Melbourne multi-lane freeway traffic.
Nooks and crannies for phones, keys and other bits are as ample as the overhead shelf, which also doubles as an arm-stretching device after a couple of hours on uncomplicated freeways.
The six-speed manual is high set on the dashboard but is generally a nice gearbox, quick of shift and nicely gated for correct cogs every time, although the knees-up driving position makes the clutch action a little less than ideal.
While the little 81 kW (at 4000 rpm) 1.5-litre turbodiesel isn’t going to drive a weapons-grade military machine through brick walls, it has more than enough to keep the 1441 kg Kangoo rolling along.
Only steeper sections of the highway required 5th, or, sporadically, 4th gear, such was the useful (if not plentiful) torque peak of 240 Nm from 1750 rpm, although real-world it feels like 2000 rpm needs to be in play before serious urge is on tap.
With a more substantial load on board the gearbox would need to be used a little more often if decent forward momentum was a must-have, but a more relaxed pace is easy enough to maintain.
Scrolling through the dashboard displays delivered a stack of information on the car’s journey thus far, with myriad screens of information on its consumption and speed, the former steadfastly sitting in the realm of 5.9-6.0 litres per 100 km.
Infotainment is taken care of by the stalk, and, with Bluetooth and USB inputs for the two-speaker sound system, the drive was never without music or news as required, nor was it completely overrun by the road noise from the open rear.
Once away from the freeway and winding through the Adelaide Hills’ backroads, the little Renault showed it’s not afraid of a country road provided it’s not attacked at too much more than a leisurely pace. The unladen rear didn’t misbehave on bumpy corners and it could be driven as swiftly as a mainstream small passenger car, with little to betray the different body style aft of the driver.
A repair to around 230 kg of trenching attachment for a mini-digger also afforded the opportunity to test the payload. Dropping adult occupant numbers by three and folding the split rear bench flat is something unique to the Renault.
In an easy fold-flat operation it expands the cargo area from 1.3 to 3.4 cubic metes, as well as allowing the large component in to test the 740 kg payload.
Loaded with the forklift by way of the 180-degree opening doors, which sadly don’t lock at that point, the little French van took the load with barely a dip in the rear torsion beam suspension.
After the road trip and some suburban running around, it is still drinking diesel from the 60-litre fuel tank at a rate of 6.0 litres per 100 km, with the average speed hovering around 60km/h, but more suburban work may give that cause for change.
Safety features, thankfully not tested on the sojourn from Melbourne, include dual airbags, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, stability control and traction control. The rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights are also handy, and front-side airbags are on the options list.
The features list is decently populated, with climate control air conditioning (that copes well enough despite an open cargo area), USB and Bluetooth inputs for the sound system and phone, as well as the aforementioned stalk-mounted controls.
The USB socket didn’t always cover itself in glory, sporadically deciding a cable was in, then out, then in again, while later gladly receiving the very same cable without complaint.
There is a front 12-volt power outlet, but, sadly, there’s not in the rear cargo area, but at least there’s an interior light for the cargo area and eight tie-down points. There’s also hill start assist, cruise control and speed limiter, an “ECO” fuel saving mode, front and rear fog lights, power-adjustable mirrors, 15-inch alloy wheels, and flat-folding 60:40 split fold rear seats with three-point rear seatbelts.
Also optional and fitted to the long-termer is the R-Link Enhanced Satellite Navigation and Media Centre, which is a little convoluted to navigate but becomes easier with time, and rear parking sensors are welcome additions to the features list when trying to reverse in tight spots without the three-quarter view blocked by solid side panels.
A brief stint carting some fencing gear into a paddock was a good demonstration of the sensors and the decent manoeuvrability, as well as providing some shade and music for the timber work; it even housed those monitoring expectant mares into the wee small hours amid inclement weather.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel is also on the options list but unfortunately was not fitted, although the plastic wheel is still a reasonable tiller.
With the on-going absence of Volkswagen’s Caddy van in turbodiesel guise, Renault may well find more friends for its diesel Kangoo range, even without an automatic version (something the Volkswagen petrol Caddy does offer).
As pint-sized workhorses go, the plucky little Kangoo is an honest toiler, with some character and enough features to make it anything but a chore to use in daily duties.