THE TIMES, they are a’changing. Fuel prices have long since been near the top of people’s day-to-day concern list and it’s now at the point where people have to leave their cars behind altogether and sacrifice part of their lifestyle.
Electric cars promise to help solve the problem, and it’s time to find out whether they can. Renault’s Z.E (zero emission) range of electric cars has been around in the press for months now, but they’re only just arriving on UK roads in the shape of the Kangoo Z.E and this, the Fluence Z.E; the cheapest electric-powered family car on sale today by some margin.
Thanks to the £5,000 government grant towards electric car purchases you can put this Fluence Z.E Dynamique on your drive for £18,395, plus battery rental and any options. In this case that includes stylishly perforated leather seats, metallic paint, a three-pin ‘EVSE’ charging cable for domestic sockets and sun visors for the rear windows.
Dynamique trim offers some useful additions over the basic model, including dual zone climate control, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, a Carminat TomTom specially adapted for the Fluence Z.E, cruise control, alloy wheels with low-friction tyres, rear parking sensors and more.
As a result the model I’m testing is fully kitted out as far as the Fluence range goes, and comes in at £20,324 on the road. It’s so relatively cheap next to rivals like the Nissan Leaf partially because the batteries aren’t included in the price – you rent them instead.
That means that one of the major barriers to people’s willingness to buy electric cars is removed altogether. There’s no need to worry about battery longevity, which will be especially relevant to second-hand buyers down the line – and therefore it’s good for residual values for the first owner. If ever the batteries start losing charge too quickly, they get replaced free of charge as if you’ve been given a new engine.
Battery rental rates change according to the mileage you expect to cover and the length of your contract. The most you’ll pay is £135 per month for 18,000 miles per year on a single year’s contract and the least that will be common is £69.60, for 6,000 miles per year over three years or more.
The contract is flexible though, and if your circumstances change all you need to do is tell the leasing company who’ll alter your charges accordingly. You can end the contract early with no penalty or you can extend it whenever you like. It’s all very fair and equitable.
With a potential range of over 100 miles the Fluence is more than capable of taking in the average daily commute via the supermarket on the way home, even if you drive it reasonably hard. But that said, there are ways and means to squeeze extra mileage out of it.
Over the next six months I’ll be documenting how many miles I get out of a charge during various different types of driving. I’ll also be calculating the cost of recharging – if any, since public bays are often free to use – and an overall cost per mile figure that can then be compared like for like with diesel cars.
Mine will be an imperfect test in a way, but by the same token very useful. I’m one of the millions of people who can’t park their cars close enough to their houses to be able to make use of a proper electric car charging station. As a result I’m relying entirely on public charging facilities… and I don’t live in London.
I’ve researched two locations near me, both public car parks, that have charging stations. Both have ordinary three-pin plug connections and one has a proper higher-current charging station which will hopefully be compatible with the Fluence’s cable and offer a full recharge in six hours.
This will be a real test of just how viable the Fluence really is in the real world for a normal driver, but during my time with it I’ll be seeing if I can practise some eco-driving techniques to extend the range without arriving everywhere late.
With less than 500 miles on the clock as evidence that Renault UK has completed the compulsory two full charges and two full discharges plus some bedding-in before delivering HY61 PPZ to me, the car is ready to go and whatever happens it’s going to be fantastic finding out whether or not this new age of motoring really is what those of us with our minds on our budgets want it to be.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Renault Fluence Z.E Dynamique, £18,395 on the road (£20,324 as tested).
Motor: Synchronous electric motor producing 94bhp and 167lb.ft
Battery capacity: 22kWh.
Performance: Top speed 84mph (limited), 0-62mph in 13.7 seconds.
Cost per mile: n/a
Average range: n/a
- 0-60 mph
- Insurance groups
Motors.co.uk value verdict: