The Renault Fluence ZE is an elegant, conventional-looking, family saloon, but one with an electric motor and battery pack instead of an engine and fuel tank.
Renault has decided not to follow the Nissan Leaf, which celebrates its high-tech insides. Instead, it believes customers are simply making an engine choice in the same way they choose between petrol and diesel.
The ZE part of the name stands for Zero Emissions - because the Fluence doesnt produce any exhaust gases - and a full charge will take up to ten hours through a domestic socket.
Whats it like to drive? The Fluence is extremely refined. It pulls away smoothly, soaks up the bumps well and slows up steadily without jerking when you lift off the accelerator.
That, however, is where the good news ends. Although the steering is fine around town, it weights-up unpredictably in corners and the wheel can writhe uncomfortably in your hands when you accelerate.
The car's range is an even bigger problem. Renault quotes a respectable range of around 115 miles, however, we drove the Fluence across London on a typical commute (in very cold conditions) and it failed to travel more than 46 miles on a single charge. To make matters worse, half of the return leg was spent with the car beeping a battery charge alert.
Then, while parked overnight, the Fluence dropped around 5% of the charge in its 22kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Whats it like inside? If youre familiar with the cabin of a Renault Megane, youll feel pretty at home inside the Fluence. Thats to say its pleasingly styled, with a swooping dash, leather trim and a decent driving position.
Theres enough space in the back for most people, but tall adults might struggle a bit.
Theres a battery meter (scaled between 0 and 1) instead of a rev counter, and a small discharge/recharge dial instead of a fuel gauge, to give you an idea of how efficiently youre driving. Put your foot down and it swings to the right; lift off to let the regenerative braking recharge the batteries and it swings left.
The emphasis on form over function means that a lot of the controls are quite confusing. Theres also no reach adjustment for the steering wheel and much of the bootspace youd expect in a family car has been given to the battery.
Most bizarrely of all for a cutting-edge electric vehicle, the sat-nav screen looks pixelated compared with the screen on any modern mobile phone and theres no conventional USB socket to connect your iPod or charge your phone.
Should I buy one? The Renault Fluences nearest competitor is the Nissan Leaf, which, at just over 30,000, is considerably more expensive. The Fluence is currently listed at 22,850 (or 17,850 with the full Government grant), on top of which you'll also need to lease the battery pack. This will account for around 75 a month, or 900 a year.
A competitive price isnt enough on its own, though. Drivers may find a 115-mile range inconvenient, but its possible to adapt your life to it, particularly when you take into account the lower running costs and superior refinement of an electric vehicle. A 45-mile range less than two-fifths of what is promised on the tin, but all that we managed makes things difficult, so for that reason alone wed recommend you look elsewhere.
What Car? says