Renault unveiled four electric concept cars at the Frankfurt Motorshow in 2009, and they clearly believe in Electric Vehicles (EVs) because they have been working steadily to turn concept to reality. In this ambitious project, Renault has spent plenty of effort to secure backing of governments, signing partnership agreements as well as testing battery safety. Fast forward to today, and we’re at TC Euro Cars showroom to test the Fluence Z.E.
The Renault Fluence Z.E. is no plug-and-play project; it was developed alongside the production Fluence, but with an extended wheelbase to accommodate a battery pack in the rear. At full charge, the Fluence Z.E. has an estimated range of 185km, and is capable of traveling up to 135km/h. It is the first electric car capable of a battery swap; a technology that allows the driver to switch a depleted battery pack with a fully charged one via authorized battery switch stations.
I’ve never driven any electric cars before, so getting into the Fluence Z.E. and starting her up was almost a surreal experience. It is exactly as how we’ve read in magazines: turn the key and the engine powers up silently, before a green ‘GO’ sign pings on, indicating the car is ready to go. The electric motor is good for 95PS/226Nm and whilst zerotohundred in 13 seconds isn’t impressive, but I’ll admit the seamless wave of torque did catch me off guard. Plant your foot in the pedal and there’s a faint whine; on our very short test route, I managed to hit 130km/h (with a claimed 135km/h top speed) – very impressive.
Cabin space is decent; it swallowed four adults with plenty of legroom both front and back. The dashboard looks almost conventional and houses the speedometer, battery power gauge, and level of charge. Although the battery pack is stacked vertically behind the rear seats, boot space is compromised – one camera and two laptop bags, and it was already getting crowded in the back.
The batteries contribute an additional 280kg to the rear and although Renault claims that there is no detrimental effect on handling, you can definitely sense the extra weight. Its suspension has been tuned for better balance and handling, as well as to accommodate the extra mass but the Fluence Z.E. was never intended to take quick corners – so don’t bother trying. Be warned though; aggressive driving will limit range. An Eco Mode function is available – this restricts climate control and heater functions and while you gain 10 percent range, you risk a bucket of sweat. Luckily, there’s also kinetic charging when you decelerate, which is recovered by the motor and converted to current to charge the battery.
Charging the battery pack can be done via your 10A 220V standard electrical outlet and takes between 10-12 hours for a full charge. At public charge spots with higher Amp outputs, charging time is reduced to between 6-9 hours. In the real world, this translates to about RM6 worth of electricity for real world range of about 130km. Cheaper than petrol engines to run, with fewer moving parts so lesser wear-and-tear costs. It isn’t yet for sale here in Malaysia though, so credit must be given to TC Euro Cars for bringing the Fluence Z.E. in to raise awareness amongst Malaysian motorists.
In truth, I do see the potential of Electric Vehicles – cheap running costs, low maintenance fees, zero emissions. But I’m not totally convinced yet because I still see some quirks. Ardent petrol-heads will surely lament at the lack of sound – no rumbling engine, no boomy exhaust… but it is the lack of range that I believe will put most people off. Potentially, you’d be stuck at home on most nights charging your EV because you wouldn’t want to risk running out of juice in the middle of the road over rush hour traffic! In time, better batteries will be developed, and this will be the saving grace for Electric Vehicles. I’ll be keeping tabs for when that finally happens…
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