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Car reviews - Renault - Kangoo - 1.2-litre turbo-petrol

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth and peppy new driveline, exhibited few dual-clutch transmission foibles, pleasant to drive, comfortable ride
Room for improvement
Lacks steering reach adjustment, cabin ergonomics quirks, serious payload penalty over predecessor – especially for automatic

Renault logo3 Aug 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

RENAULT has plumbed in the familiar 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine from its passenger-car range into the trusty Kangoo compact van, bringing more performance and better fuel efficiency than was achieved by the ageing 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine.

We spent a week driving one fitted with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission – the only automatic Kangoo available in Australia, at least until the diesel-auto arrives later this year.

Apart from a significant payload penalty over the pre-update 1.6-litre version, especially in automatic form, the Kangoo’s new driveline adds plenty of appeal to what was already a solid compact van offering.

Price and equipment

We drove the short-wheelbase Kangoo Compact, which is priced from $23,490 plus on-road costs. Our test vehicle had the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which bumps it up to $26,490 plus on-road costs. Renault had also added $600 worth of Star Blue metallic paint.

Of the funky compact European van segment, Volkswagen is the only other brand to offer an automatic short-wheelbase option to directly compete with the Kangoo tested here. It costs $2900 more than the Renault, but does come with forward collision warning and low-speed autonomous emergency braking.

The VW’s higher price – which hasn’t stopped the Caddy range selling twice as much as the Kangoo in Australia – is also justified by its slightly larger cargo capacity, superior payload, more powerful engine and touchscreen audio/telephony system.

If you don’t mind shifting your own gears, a Citroen Berlingo costs from $21,990 plus on-roads, a Fiat Doblo is available from $22,000 plus on-roads (a short wheelbase diesel variant with robotised manual is $29,000 plus on-roads) and Suzuki’s oddball APV is $18,990 plus on-roads.

Standard Kangoo equipment includes an audio/hands-free phone head unit with AM/FM radio, CD player, USB and auxiliary audio inputs Bluetooth streaming and steering mounted controls, air-conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter and rear parking sensors.

Also included are cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, electric windows and mirrors, a 12V power outlet, 15-inch steel wheels with full-size spare, 10 tie-down points, rubber cargo floor area covering, cargo area light, unglazed sliding doors on both sides, a glazed tailgateSafety equipment comprises four airbags, height-adjustable seatbelts with pre-tensioners, a tubular frame to protect the driver from moving cargo, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, hill-start assist, rear parking sensors, rear foglights, a speed limiter and driver’s seatbelt reminder.

Among the available options are a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, 15-inch alloy wheels, glazed side doors, rear barn doors (which unlike the tailgate are compatible with a reversing camera), a fold-flat passenger seat for longer load capacity, an overhead parcel shelf, a steel bulkhead, timber load area lining and a sunroof-like flap for loading tall objects.

Interior

Because it is a Renault, the Kangoo cockpit has a number of ergonomic foibles.

For instance, with the cruise control on, the instrument panel’s rather basic trip computer display defaults to cruise control status. A pair of subtle buttons on the end of the wiper stalk enable the driver to scroll through a couple of options including trip computer and trip distance and the clock, but only until anything related to the cruise control changes.

As is usual for a Renault, the cruise control is activated using a rocker switch in an obscure location you wouldn’t expect it – in this case beside the driver’s right knee along with a couple of other minor control buttons.

In the automatic variant tested, there is only a faint diagram of the gear selector’s various positions etched at some distance into the surrounding plastic. It is impossible to see in the dark and although there is a gear selection display in the instrument panel and the layout itself is pretty standard, it is just another example of ‘that’ll do’ ergonomics.

Likewise, the two cupholders are rather shallow – don’t French vehicle designers get thirsty? We had little faith that they would keep a vessel upright under hard braking or brisk cornering.

An L-shaped park brake handle looks odd but in practice works very well, although the same cannot be said for the small, basic and tinny sounding audio system. While it was fairly easy to pair a phone using Bluetooth, the unit’s various controls are tiny and this, combined with its low-slung position, make it difficult and distracting to operate on the move.

Most phone and audio functions are replicated on a small paddle behind the steering wheel, but the various control labels can only be seen with the steering wheel at a particular angle. You must simply memorise where they all are. Unfortunately, we found these controls were easily caught by accident when using the stubby wiper stalk just above, annoyingly skipping tracks or changing radio station.

Because USB and auxiliary audio inputs are on the fascia of the head unit, we ended up with trailing wires and there is nowhere obvious to keep a phone – but Renault will sell you a windscreen-sucker smartphone mount for about $50. A separate cigarettes style 12V power outlet is provided in the centre consoleThe Kangoo’s basic plastic steering wheel is pleasant enough to hold, but the fact the steering column does not adjust for reach made it difficult for taller drivers to find an ideal driving position and it was difficult to adjust its angle so that all the instruments were visible at once.

Visibility is not great when reversing or overtaking and mirrors could be better for both blind-spot and rear vision, so the inclusion of reversing sensors is a bonus.

Finally, it is a real shame that the payload of this van is disproportionately affected by the presence of an automatic transmission.

At 1270kg, the automatic Kangoo is just 25kg heavier than the manual, but its 540kg payload rating is a huge 135kg – that’s 20 per cent – lower than the DIY option. The old 1.6-litre petrol manual had a superior 800kg payload.

For comparison, the equivalent VW Caddy can carry 773kg, a Fiat Doblo 663kg, and a Citroen Berlingo (manual-only as a petrol) 585kg.

If you think you can live with all that, keep reading because the news is much more positive from here onwards.

The seat fabric appears to be hard wearing, but not at the expense of attractiveness, and the seats themselves are comfortable and well angled with plenty of height adjustment on the driver’s side.

Hard cabin plastics are par for the course in commercial vehicles but in the Kangoo they mostly are pleasantly textured and felt solidly bolted together.

Overall, cabin presentation is reasonably attractive, with an almost premium passenger car quality feel to the gear selector knob and some convincing silver trim around the air-conditioning vents and central stack.

In an unseasonably warm Southeast Queensland winter, we found the air-conditioning to have a powerful cooling effect, even without the cargo area separated by a bulkhead. Its controls are rudimentary and like so many other features of this cabin, slightly unintuitive.

Unlike some vans, the Kangoo is not noisy inside, even unladen. With a full load in the back it would be no louder for its occupants than a small passenger car or compact SUV. This particularly impressed us on coarse-chip country roads.

Apart from the three cubic metres out back, storage in the cab is pretty comprehensive.

Renault claims to have designed the Kangoo’s big door pockets to hold drinks bottles, but in practice they only work with varying levels of success.

Better, a gaping dash-top recess has a section ideally sized for storing a wad of paperwork or a clipboard, with a little nook beside it for pens. Above this is a rectangular space that accommodates the optional touchscreen if fitted but can be otherwise used to stash small items such as business cards.

Each sun-visor has a pair of clips to hold additional paperwork and there is a substantial bin beneath the central armrest. Handy.

The glovebox is divided into a couple of small trays in addition to a main storage area that is deep and tall but not very wide. Above the glovebox release handle is another small tray.

At the back, the Kangoo’s cargo area has a rubberised floor covering and plastic trims over wheelarches that protrude into the load bay ever so slightly, with more plastic trimming for the pair of sliding side doors and tailgate. There is also a tubular protection bar to help protect the driver from flying objects, but a curtain or solid bulkhead are optional.

Six tie-down points are located on the floor and another four halfway up the sides make it easy to secure loads and there is also usefully large interior lights ideally positioned on the kerbside pillar of the tailgate.

The load area is 1476mm long by 1251mm high, with 1218mm between the wheel arches. A load sill height of 609mm sags to 558mm with the van fully loaded.

Our Kangoo had the hatch-style tailgate rather than the optional barn door layout. It is worth noting that the size of this panel can make it difficult to open in tight spaces. However, this is offset by the sheer utility of having sliding doors on both sides.

A pretty good security feature is the requirement to double-press the unlock button of the key fob in order to open the passenger or cargo area doors.

Otherwise, only the driver’s door will open. All the doors automatically lock again once the vehicle exceeds 30km/h.

Engine and transmission

Based on a well-regarded passenger-car drivetrain, the Kangoo Compact’s combination of 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission provide smooth, quiet and reasonably efficient progress – 21 per cent less thirsty than the old 1.6-litre petrol according to Renault.

We say reasonably efficient because even unladen and with the air-conditioning off we were unable to match the official combined-cycle consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on a free-flowing, 90-minute motorway run. We saw 7.1L/100km in this scenario. Our average figure of 8.4L/100km was achieved during around 350km of mixed driving and Renault specifies 95 RON Premium Unleaded as a minimum.

The engine is a peppy little unit developing 84kW of power at 4500rpm and 190Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm. Up until 110km/h it feels punchier than the figures suggest and although there is a delay when accelerating from standstill that needs to be taken into account when trying to pull into the flow of traffic, power delivery is mostly linear and lag-free.

Apart from the fact we had little to complain about with this engine, the enthusiast in us enjoyed its pleasant dose of character, be it the turbo whistling away under acceleration or the tailpipe screaming like a boiling stovetop kettle above 5000 RPM – not that we expect many drivers to achieve these levels of the exuberance.

Once the initial hesitancy is overcome, low-speed performance is punchy and you can safely leave it in Eco mode when driving unladen without battling sluggish responses. With a load on-board or simply driving along faster roads and motorways, deactivating Eco mode unlocks a more enthusiastic throttle and transmission calibration.

In either mode and laden or unladen, the little engine does start to struggle when presented with steep high-speed hills and the transmission can sometimes be a little reluctant to change down in order to overcome these things.

The same goes for overtaking, but we were able to row the Kangoo along pretty effectively using the quick and slick responses when we tipped the gear selector into the manual gate. And for relatively flat motorway driving, its low-revving, loping nature makes for a pretty relaxed drive.

Overall the transmission’s almost imperceptible shifts, the rarity of usual dual-clutch foibles on slow inclines or while manoeuvring and the overall driveline smoothness of the Kangoo impressed us.

Ride and handling

The Kangoo genuinely can be driven like a passenger car and its ride/handling repertoire is superior to many commercial vehicles, including the top-selling VW Caddy.

Even unladen, the Kangoo has an impressively comfortable ride, without the unsettled bounciness that is associated with commercial vehicles when their carrying capacity is under-utilised.

Regardless of speed, the suspension breathes with the road surface, soaking up bumps large and small and never getting unbearably jiggly on even the most pockmarked, patchwork surfaces. It even did pretty well on gravel tracks.

At the same time, stability levels are high and we were even able to hurl the little Kangoo along a fast and twisty country road without feeling as though it was going to tip over or hurl us into the weeds at any moment.

The Michelin energy tires gripped well, at least in the dry conditions of our dynamic test, while bodyroll was kept surprisingly well under control considering the Kangoo’s comfy ride, upright shape and utilitarian purpose.

Also surprising was the sense of balance even when the cargo area had nothing in it. A little additional movement at the rear was detectable when unladen, but it was nothing dramatic. If anything, it made the Kangoo more throttle-adjustable – if indulging in a couple of dynamic thrills on the way back to the depot is your thing.

Some extremely poor corner surfaces did have the unladen Kangoo skittering around slightly and introduced a little rattle through the steering rack, but neither were unmanageable and both entirely acceptable from a commercial vehicle with just the driver and a tank of fuel on-board.

At the higher speeds of our twisty country road test, the steering did reveal a slight rubbery self-centring sensation but for the more prosaic, urban driving this vehicle will be subjected to, it is direct and accurate enough for the Kangoo to feel enjoyably nimble.

In typical French fashion the brakes are a little grabby but there is no doubting their stopping power when maximum deceleration is called upon, for the Kangoo really does stop on the proverbial sixpence.

Safety and servicing

Crash-test safety authority ANCAP rated the Kangoo four stars when the current generation was introduced to Australia in 2011.

At the time, the Kangoo’s overall score of 27.73 was made up of 12.73 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 14 out of 16 in the side impact test and zero points in the pole test. Whiplash protection was not assessed and pedestrian protection was deemed ‘marginal’.

It is worth pointing out that the Kangoo’s only ANCAP-rated competitors, the Citroen Berlingo and Suzuki APV, scored four and three stars respectively. The VW Caddy scored four stars in Euro NCAP testing and the latest Fiat Doblo achieved just three Euro NCAP stars when rated this year.

Standard Kangoo safety equipment comprises four airbags, height-adjustable seatbelts with pre-tensioners, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, hill-start assist, rear parking sensors, rear foglights, a speed limiter and driver’s seatbelt reminder.

Renault does not extend the five-year aftercare plan of its passenger-car range to light-commercial vehicles, which instead get three years and 200,000km of coverage. Extending this to five years, still with the same kilometres, costs $1890.

Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km and Renault offers a $349 capped-price maintenance programme for the first three workshop visits.

Verdict

Renault has hopefully done its homework on the type of loads its short-wheelbase Kangoo customers carry about as the difference in payload between the pre-update and new versions is gulf-like.

It is a shame, because the Kangoo is a pleasure to drive and easy to live with – both important considerations for a vehicle that someone will spend much of their working life inside.

Those insisting on a Kangoo but requiring more carrying capacity and an automatic transmission will just have to wait a few months (from the time of writing) for the new diesel-auto variants to arrive in Australia.

We were expecting a few quirks from the Kangoo and it delivered, but these were mostly overcome with familiarity. A recommendation to make the driver’s life even easier would be to specify the touchscreen and reversing camera options.

All in all, the Kangoo remains a solid effort and apart from the payload disadvantage, the new drivetrain adds lots to this van’s appeal, whether as a driver or as the person paying for fuel.

Rivals

Volkswagen Caddy SWB petrol auto TSI 220 from $29,390 plus on-road costs
Does the usual VW trick of performing with consummate ease, in return for a bit of a price premium. Someone used to the Kangoo’s cushy ride might be upset by the Caddy’s firmness, but its punchier engine, greater payload, larger cargo volume capacity, and touchscreen audio/telephony system go a long way toward addressing the higher price.

Citroen Berlingo SWB petrol manual from $21,990 plus on-road costs
Like the Kangoo, the Berlingo shines in terms of its comfortable ride and car-like driving experience. Old-tech 1.6-litre petrol engine and no automatic option for this fuel type, but a standard touchscreen and reversing camera are selling points.

Fiat Doblo from $22,000 plus on-roads for SWB petrol manual or 29,000 plus on-roads for SWB diesel auto
Striking looks, the welcoming cabin and a handful of neat features separate sales-underdog Doblo from the pack. But like the Citroen there’s no SWB petrol automatic. Squares up to the Kangoo for ride and passenger-car style refinement while giving the Renault a run for its money in terms of dashboard layout quirks.

Suzuki APV petrol manual from $18,990 plus on-road costs
Shares a segment with the Kangoo but that’s about it. Cheap, because it is one step up from a Rascal van and belongs in some rural Japanese backwater rather than on the streets of Australian cities. Only scored three ANCAP stars.

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