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Car reviews - Renault - Kangoo - dCi van

Our Opinion

We like
Size, diesel performance and economy, car-like dash, commanding driving position, big load space, fun to drive, supple ride, benign dynamics, sizeable options list
Room for improvement
Fat base of A-pillar obscures cornering vision, high left footrest, gear lever housing fouls left knee, no ESC or auto availability on diesel, optional passenger airbag, steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, typical van road noise drone when empty, even van drivers need vanity mirrors!

26 Aug 2011

NATIONAL automotive symbols – we all stereotype countries with the type of cars (we think) their people drive.

Who doesn’t associate Italy with tiny city cars such as the 1950s Fiat 500? Germany is synonymous with autobahn-bred uber sedans such as the Mercedes S-class. SUVs now define the United States. Utes and Australia go hand in hand.

And – seeing as this is a Renault review – the French love their breadbox vans.

Corrugated Citroen H Van or a 2CV AK400 (SURELY the coolest car name in history!) in a rural setting with sunflowers in the background, and a baguette and bottle of wine nearby, pretty much is France’s clichéd image.

Today’s Renault Kangoo, Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner all grew out of France’s fondness for small, basic, functional boxes on wheels. So when a new one arrives there is perhaps more than a hint of national pride at stake.

Enter the X61 Kangoo.

This is the second-gen Renault to wear the moniker since 1997, and is based on the now discontinued (in Oz only, lamentably) Scenic platform, which is essentially the company’s C-car (Megane) architecture. So it’s a sizeable thing with a big square footprint.

And that’s a brilliant start in a van.

There is no escaping the box. Sitting on a 2697mm wheelbase (100mm longer than before), and with wide tracks front and rear, the Kangoo is made for working.

Payload ratings are 650kg for the 1.6-litre petrol automatic or 800kg for the 1.8-litre diesel manual (as tested), while up to three cubic metres of cargo can be swallowed (up from 2.75cu m).

Overall length (4213mm) and width (1829mm) have increased by 178mm and 102mm respectively.

Along with a single, 635mm-wide sliding side door, there is also a pair of asymmetrical barn doors out back that can open up to 180 degrees back and away to allow for unimpeded access to the 1731mm long floor.

Other details include a 1218mm space between the wheelarches, six load hooks for securing stuff, cargo bay lighting, a tubular bulkhead behind driver’s seat and a rubber floor liner.

More money gets you the option of a sliding door on the other side (or indeed no sliding doors at all), glazed side panels, a sliding roof flap for transporting a standing pair of Harlem Globetrotters, extra tinted glass in rear windows and a glazed tailgate with a rear wiper.

All are cold, hard facts pertaining to getting the job done. But the Kangoo is a warm and inviting place to be too. All you need do is sit yourself up front.

The passenger environment, including the driving position, is equal parts car and van – and that’s no bad thing for a workhorse.

The former bits pertain to a stylish yet familiar dashboard with a design and layout that should make the Kangoo people proud, while massive front doors and that tallboy body help making entry and exit a doddle.

Sitting perched up high in an appealing and quite comfortable pseudo-SUV style, the occupants enjoy a commanding view forward, with the driver ahead of an attractive set of instruments (consisting of analogue tacho, speedo, fuel and temp gauges) and a chunky little steering wheel complete with remote actuation for the radio/CD audio and cruise controls.

Among the standard features are Bluetooth connectivity, a fairly comprehensive trip computer system, an auxiliary jack for MP3 players, electric front windows and electrically folding and heated door mirrors.

We like the high-mounted gear lever as well as the simple audio and heater/air-con knobs, while the metallic-look plastic around them (as well as the outer vents) adds some respite from the vast sea of monochrome plastic that’s firm in feel but no doubt resilient.

Deep side windows and a vast windscreen aid the lofty driving position, but the lower base areas of the A-pillars are alarmingly wide. You can lose sight of whole traffic situations when using a roundabout, for example.

We don’t like the limited fore-aft seat travel, which means really tall drivers will be found wanting the wide gear lever housing can foul the left knee for some folk the left foot rest is awkwardly high and can cause ache after a spell and the (disappointingly only five-speed instead of six-speed) manual shifter is almost ruined by the squidgy vinyl surround that gets in the way of selecting 2nd, 4th and reverse gears. Frustrating after a while, we felt like ripping it out.

While we’re whinging, too bad the wheel only tilts rather than also telescopes, further exacerbating those who would like to move further back in their seat than they can.

Worst of all, vanity mirrors aren’t even available. Even delivery van drivers need to look their prettiest sometimes!

Note that you have to pay for a front passenger airbag, side airbags and a seat height adjuster. Also available at extra cost are a Tom-Tom satellite navigation system, auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and that lift-up tailgate in lieu of the barn doors if that’s what the job calls for.

Speaking of working, the Renault excels for storage. You will find overhead, deep centre console and large compartmentalised door bin areas, along with a massive under-armrest box, space beneath both seats and a large mid-dash recess centre for A4 sized papers and pads.

Being Scenic based, it’s a surprise the Kangoo doesn’t come standard with a passenger seat that folds on to itself to become an extended load space.

There’s no point complaining about road noise intrusion in an empty box of a van, but it does get noisy unladen.

Hauling a heavy load isn’t an issue despite the Kangoo dCi’s relatively small engine capacity.

A 1.5-litre common-rail turbo-diesel unit, it is matched solely to a manual gearbox (and no ESC availability, incredibly enough), and delivers 63kW of power at a highish 3750rpm and 200Nm of torque from a useful 1900rpm.

Never really quiet inside or outside the cabin (though it does settle to a distant and unobtrusive thrum on the highway), the engine provides energetic off-the-mark acceleration and can maintain a steady stream of momentum as long as the driver is willing to keep the powerplant in its low-rev sweet spot.

If you’re in a hurry the Kangoo can feel surprisingly fast – as long as there isn’t too much of a load out back. And even then the amount of available oomph is still more than you might expect from just 1.5 litres.

To help maximise efficiency, an up/down shift indicator appears in the instrument panel, and it isn’t one of those lights that requires you to dawdle along in top gear at the great annoyance of surrounding traffic.

We averaged a commendable 7.0L/100km over our period with the Renault, which is not such a far cry from the 5.2L/100km best the company says the dCi is capable of achieving.

We wouldn’t call the steering pin sharp, but it is light and easy enough to use around town yet measured enough for more spirited cornering exercises. And the tiny turning circle is one of the best we’ve experienced in ages.

This van sits on a regular car platform and so it reacts and road-holds like one. In fact, the Kangoo’s flat handling attitude proved a bit of a delight, and we never grew tired of hurtling around roundabouts. There’s steady understeer – where the vehicle begins to turn increasingly wide the faster you go – but it was all predictable and benign.

This makes the absence of ESC availability doubly disappointing – for you would buy a Kangoo for its spirited dynamic character alone.

Strong brakes, and an ability to take bigger speed humps in its stride, further enamoured us with the French carryall.

So that’s the latest Renault Kangoo dCi for you – big, boxy, frugal, gutsy, fun to drive and comfy, unless you cannot get along with the high left footrest and/or edge of the gear lever housing cramping your left knee.

The initial keen price is tempered by the fact that you have to pay extra for gear like a passenger airbag and driver’ seat-height adjuster that the Volkswagen Caddy TDI250 equivalent includes, while the lack of stability control in the diesel (unlike in the Berlingo and Partner) is a real issue –particularly in a van with as much verve as fun as the Renault.

Still, the French are renowned for building this type of vehicle well, as the characterful and capable Kangoo dCi proves. It’s not Europe’s best-selling van for nothing.

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