THE FLUENCE has continued to be a brilliant ‘second car’ this month, alongside other cars I’ve had in to test week by week, but it’s thrown up one or two surprises.
First off was a morning where I was in a rush and in the same journey I heard tyre squeal both through cornering and through acceleration. The sensation of bona fide action-sequence noises against a backdrop of near-silence was bizarre – but not entirely unwelcome if I’m honest.
The second gave me much less to giggle about. Having found a new charging point I could use in a private underground car park, I finally had to cut the tape that was wrapped around the charging cable, keeping it neat, in order to extend it fully.
It has quite a reach, that thing, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to hitchhike a little bit of electricity in a way that some people might call dishonest. Anyway, the cable did its job as ever, but when it came to putting it away I discovered the biggest niggle I’ve yet found with the car.
The cable is reasonably thick, and it’s an absolute pig to try to fold it back up into a nice coil; something that a hero in a Spaghetti Western would be proud of in order to get it back into its bag neatly. It tends not to want to coil in the same direction and you end up looking a bit of a berk wrestling with a cable while drivers around you are all hopping into their conventional cars and driving off.
Any range anxiety I had with it has worn off, though. These days I know from the charge gauge roughly how far is left in ‘the tank’ and that I can have confidence in that judgement. I still find myself thinking twice about certain journeys every now and again, but it’s generally not an issue.
Another first for me this month was a pair of rear passengers, and the Fluence’s wave of instant electric torque handled the extra weight as though it wasn’t there. It’s marketed as a great value family car and while the boot leaves something to be desired when it comes to pushchairs, families with slightly older kids would be pleasantly surprised by the electric Renault.
One notable absentee is suspension noise. Many cars thud and thunk when they hit substantial bumps, but the Fluence stays remarkably quiet. The suspension should really be a bit suppler but for the price the car is plenty composed.
Any other niggles after being in the Fluence’s company this long? Well, yes actually. Why isn’t there an internal handle on the boot lid? I always end up having to shut it while rubbing my fingers through the accumulated grime of everyday life on the outside of the boot. It’s even annoying when the car is clean, because then I don’t want to get fingerprints on it.
But just as that’s one of those ‘little things’ that’s missing from the Fluence, I’ve been secretly praising the heavens for its high-profile, chunky tyres – another little thing that makes a big difference to day-to-day life. More than once I’ve been forced into parking in tight spaces against awkward, uneven kerbs with wheel-ruining edges jutting out all over the place, and if it wasn’t for the chunky tyres I’d probably be on my third refurbishment right now. Such are the joys of on-street parking.
I’m beginning to sense, though, that I’ve reached the Fluence’s effective usable limits within my lifestyle. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling lately, and while the Fluence could arguably reach the destinations within its range, there’s nowhere handy to recharge – yet. You certainly have to operate within a half-charge’s radius of your house if that’s where you charge it, or otherwise you have to plan to visit locations with charging points.
For someone who does frequently drive outside of a half-charge’s range from home, it’s an issue that relegates an otherwise very impressive and relaxing car to being a second vehicle, used for the commute to and from work for three or four days before charging up again. If my family was local, if I had a job that kept me local and if I had a driveway and a charging point on my house, I’d seriously consider the Fluence Z.E. a viable first and only car.
The infrastructure is catching up and various schemes are now available, allowing access to public charging points. It’s chiefly in London at the moment but hopefully the rest of the country will follow soon.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Renault Fluence Z.E Dynamique, £18,395 on the road (£20,324 as tested).Motor: Synchronous electric motor producing 94bhp and 167lb.ft.Battery capacity: 22kWh.Performance: Top speed 84mph (limited), 0-62mph in 13.7 seconds.Cost per mile (mileage only): 5p
Average range: Approx 75 miles.