Renault Fluence review
* Electric family saloon driven * Price 22,850 (17,850 including full Govt grant) * On sale May/June 2012...
What is it? The Fluence is Renault's first all-electric saloon, and shares much of its technology with sister company Nissan's Leaf.
However, there are a few differences. First, it has a little less power, giving it a slightly better range; but, second, and more important, buyers purchase it in a different way.
With the Nissan Leaf, buyers purchase the whole package including the battery but with the Renault, owners have to lease the battery pack. According to Renault, this will ensure strong resale values, because it will dismiss any long-term concerns over battery condition.
The cost of the lease will vary depending on the length of the contract and the annual mileage, but it does mean that the Fluence will have higher running costs than a Leaf although it should be cheaper to own overall, because its list price is much lower.
What's it like to drive? In a word, simple. You turn the key, wait for a chirrup from the car to let you know all's okay, engage Drive, and you're away one pedal for go, one for stop.
Because the electric motor delivers its peak torque immediately, the Fluence accelerates strongly. Around town, it's in its element; quick away from the lights and more than capable of keeping up with traffic, with the light steering making it easy to manoeuvre.
Out of town, too, it has no problem and will cruise happily at motorway speeds although that will significantly reduce the car's range.
Across country, the instant response means you can take advantage of overtaking opportunities, but it's not a car you'll want to start hurling around corners.
The soft suspension allows a fair degree of body roll as you tackle bends, and you're occasionally aware of that you're swaying in the driver's seat. Still, as long as you're not too eager on a twisty road, it's not a problem.
The emphasis is on smoothness and refinement with the all-electric drivetrain a big help. Even at speed, pretty much all you'll hear is a whine from the motor when you floor the throttle pedal.
The only surprise on our test drive was that, occasionally, the ride was a little on the firm side particularly around town.
What's it like inside? Although the Fluence has much of the Leaf's technology underneath, it could hardly look more different inside.
Whereas the Leaf is all gadgets, gizmos and video game-style displays, the Fluence seems at pains to show that it's like a regular Renault, with just a couple of ZE (zero emissions) badges setting it apart.
That's no bad thing, perhaps, but we think some electric-car buyers may want a cabin that looks different to more conventional hatchbacks.
In most other respects, though, there's nothing to complain about. The driving position is comfortable although the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel is a surprise and you'll only struggle for space if you want to carry four six-footers.
The only real price you pay for the electric drivetrain is that the battery eats into the boot space. However, you can still fit in a couple of suitcases.
Should I buy one? With the Fluence, it's not a case of comparing it with its rivals and picking the best, but deciding if it will suit your lifestyle.
For some people, it will be a perfect fit if they have easy access to charging facilities and never need to go more than 100 miles at once.
The Fluence is at least as good as a Leaf and better in some ways it costs less and our valuation experts think that the battery-lease deal will lead to stronger resale values.
However, there's no denying that the Fluence, by its very nature as a pure electric car, is compromised and can never be more than a second car for most people.
As things stand, range-extended cars such as the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt are a more practical solution for low-emission everyday motoring.
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