Open gallery Close by Matt Burt 28 January 2012 Follow @@Matt_Burt_ Share
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The Renault Fluence ZE is part of the first wave of electric vehicles to arrive from the French manufacturer. Along with the Kangoo ZE small commercial vehicle, this electrically powered mid-size saloon stands at the vanguard of Renault’s bold foray into battery-powered transport.
At 4748mm in length, the Fluence ZE is 130mm longer than the standard, non-electric Fluence saloon available elsewhere in Europe, which allows the 280kg of lithium-ion batteries to be located behind the rear seats. The front grille design has also been altered and the rear bumper features a diffuser. This car rides on low-resistance Goodyear tyres and aero-efficient wheels.
The claimed 115 mile range can vary from 50 to 125 miles, depending on how the car is drivenMatt BurtExecutive Editor, Autocar
Cosmetic tweaks include a new rear light cluster, a blue tint to the lights, fog light surrounds and badging, plus chrome highlighting on the boot lid.
The Fluence ZE’s cabin is spacious with plenty of legroom front and rear. Despite the vertical stacking of the battery pack behind the rear seats, the size of the boot remains the same as the conventional Fluence’s at 317 litres, although the shape is made awkward by the battery.
The dash display comprises a gauge that shows the battery’s power, a conventional speedometer and an econometer that shows the current level of charge or discharge. Stamp the accelerator and the econometer’s needle leaps into the red; lift off during a downhill descent and it falls into the blue as the kinetic energy recovery system replenishes the battery.
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To start the car you turn the key, which illuminates a green ‘go’ button on the dashboard display, then engage drive from the single-speed ’box. The Fluence ZE moves away almost silently, with only a faint turbine-like whine.
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The power delivery is seamless and gets you from a standstill to 30mph in 4.1s. The linear acceleration feels like it could go on forever but it can’t, because the car is limited to 84mph to conserve energy.
The first challenge when driving the Fluence ZE is remembering that 166lb ft of torque is immediately at your disposal. Due to the lack of noise and urgency, it’s easy to forget that the car is capable of pulling away from junctions in a hurry.
The recovery of kinetic energy during deceleration slows the car quite dramatically and takes some getting used to. After a while, you start incorporating the system’s characteristics into your driving style. In that respect, the Fluence ZE encourages a relaxed mode of driving, a feeling emphasised by super-light electric power steering.
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This isn’t a car suited to more sporty driving though. The suspension has been retuned to take into account the extra mass of the batteries – which takes the car to 1605kg – but you can sense that weight when you press on.
But be warned if you do because aggressive driving can play havoc with your range. Renault’s claim is 115 miles, although this can vary between 50 and 125 miles depending on driving conditions.
There are, however, features to increase efficiency. These include an Eco Mode that restricts the climate control and heating functions as well as a pre-heating and pre-air conditioning system, which can be remotely programmed while the car is still on charge. A full recharge takes between six and eight hours, so Renault recommends the use of a home or work charging point as the main power source.
If your daily drive is a short-ish urban commute, the Fluence ZE could be an option – particularly when you consider the economical benefits of no road tax, zero-rated benefit in kind tax and lower insurance and maintenance costs. In the right circumstances – using cheap off-peak overnight energy, for example – it can cost as little as £3 to ‘fill up’. If, however, you tackle regular motorway thrashes, this probably won’t be the car for you.