What will be powering our cars in the future? That is the million dollar question to not only automotive giants, but also to everyday folks like you and me. Will we still be pouring petrol into our conveyances in 10, 20, 30 years time? Will it be hydrogen? Electric? Many questions but I’m sorry to say that nobody, not even the “experts” have the answers at the moment. The electric car is something that is very slowly trickling onto the roads with adopters boasting of low fuel costs and virtually no maintenance. However, we are all too aware of these machines drawbacks or else you would own one now. Renault say they have overcome many of the obstacles that stop people from going down the zero emissions root with their new Fluence.
Ok, so lets say that the French company have overcome some barriers that stops people from buying these specific cars, but there is no denying that they have put up another. The Fluence is by no means a looker. I would actually describe its appearance as one of the most uninspiring pieces of design on sale today. Come on Renault! What happened here? Did your designers just run out of enthusiasm after producing some attractive hatchbacks? Let’s put looking like a monkfish aside for a moment and concentrate on why Renault think this car is something special. This is the first full sized all electric saloon you can go out and buy on the UK market. Utilising many of the Nissan Leaf’s internals, the Fluence is off to a relatively promising start. It is based upon the Megane saloon that does not appear in our showrooms and as a result it offers exactly what you would expect from any other car in this segment. Inside you are greeted by a familiar dashboard with built-in satellite navigation. The seats are comfortable and accompanied by plenty of leg room for both front and rear passengers. All of the tangible elements of the car do appear to be genuinely functional just like a petrol or diesel saloon, but now you can ferry the kids to school feeling good about saving the polar ice cubes. The only real downside on the ergonomic front is that the boots capacity is limited by the necessary amount of batteries stored in it.
Out on the road the Renault Fluence Z.E. is actually a very pleasant place to be. The quiet in the cabin, thanks to not having a combustion engine, makes the whole driving experience rather relaxing. As you sink that little bit deeper into the well designed seating you also appreciate the brilliantly soft ride of the car. The suspension soaks up bumps in the tarmac like a sponge does water further promoting the car as an ideal candidate fro British roads. The steering is light meaning that threading the Fluence through congested towns is effortless. What does disrupt the harmonious way it moves about is when you need to slow down. Due to regenerative systems in the brakes, using them often leads to harsh motions whilst stopping. Personally I feel the harvesting of the energy is a little too aggressive and upsets the rhythm that is otherwise enjoyable. Being powered by an electric motor means that there is no waiting for all that torque to kick in. Though the Fluence has a 0-62MPH time of over 13 seconds, it does feel nippy off of the line. 84MPH is its top speed, which isn’t fantastic, but on public roads it is more than enough to get you into trouble, but most importantly it means that it can hold its own on motorways. But just how far will you be going on said motorways? Well, Renault recon 106 miles but our test car didn’t push much past 80. It would appear that range anxiety is still the limiting factor with electric cars.
In spite of not being able to travel as far as a conventional car, this Renault is at least much cheaper to run. Pennies as opposed to pounds charge the car, but with a 12 hour wait from empty to full via the mains, you might want to think about purchasing a book or two. A charging station can be fitted to your house that shortens this time to 6 hours.
This next item I am to bring up may be a real deal breaker for prospective buyers. The batteries in your car will never actually belong to you. Rent is payed to Renault, £76 per month, for the cells that sit in the boot. Obviously this will not please everyone but it does allow for two benefits to emerge. Firstly the risk of adopting this new technology is greatly reduced as if the battery pack breaks then Renault will replace it for free. Also not purchasing the batteries outright results in our top spec Fluence only costs £18,495 with the help of a government grant. Nissans’ leaf costs a few thousand more and realistically you get less car for your money.
Overall the Renault Fluence Z.E. is a step in the right direction for electric cars and brings the class much closer to competing with everyday models. That said, if electric is the future, it still has a long way to go before everyone will be comfortable buying one.