Renault Fluence ZE long term test

Discover the truth about owning and using an electric car

Renault Fluence ZE long term test

Sadly no longer in production, the Renault Fluence ZE is a good looking car that remains an excellent choice for families and people who appreciate comfort and refinement.

Launched in 2011, the car initially received good reports from early customers, who liked its good looks, refined driving abilities and practicality, but were put off by Renault's confusing battery leasing programme where customers could buy the car, but had to lease the battery separately.

The Fluence was built with a revolutionary 'QuickDrop' battery switch system. The concept was that instead of rapid-charging the car on longer journeys, owners could drive into a Quick Drop battery swap station and swap their flat batteries for a fully charged unit in under two minutes.

The concept was great, and the infrastructure for QuickDrop was installed in Denmark and Israel. Unfortunately, the company responsible for the infrastructure ran out of money and closed down, leaving Renault with a great car but without any rapid charging capabilities.

Consequently sales were slow, and Renault withdrew the Fluence ZE from sale in early 2014. Used cars do come up for sale from time to time and offer exceptionally good value for money.

There is no doubt that the Fluence ZE is a very good-looking car. From every angle, it looks striking and elegant, and the extra length of the Fluence ZE over the existing Fluence gives it a more executive feel. Inside, the car has conventional instrumentation and will appeal to people who do not like the complicated digital dashboards found on cars like the Toyota Prius or Nissan LEAF. Unfortunately, the dashboard may be too simple - it lacks the flair and style of most modern day car interiors. As many electric car owners want a car that looks high tech, the Fluence may disappoint.

Interior space is good. There is plenty of head-room and leg-room, both front and rear. Luggage space, however, is limited, with the battery pack taking up a fair amount of space in the rear of the car. Unlike the standard Fluence, you cannot fold down the rear seats in order to fit in larger loads and the battery box does take up a lot of the available space.

The Fluence ZE is a very easy car to drive. Performance is brisk, especially from standstill, with its instant throttle response making the acceleration feel faster than the official 13.7 second 0-62mph figures would suggest. At higher speeds the car feels more sluggish and it is happiest at below 55mph (90km/h). Top speed is electronically limited to 84mph (134km/h). It feels exceptionally refined and smooth, making it a very easy car to use.

Handling is not a strong point for the Fluence ZE. If you enjoy driving fast on country roads, this is not the car for you. The car feels heavy and sluggish when pushed. Unlike most modern cars, much of the weight is at the back of the car, giving the car an unusual feel when driven hard. It is better to back off slightly and enjoy the refinement rather than the overall performance.

Range also benefits from a more relaxed driving style. With careful driving, I was able to drive just over 100 miles (160km) on a single charge, driving through the Algarve in Portugal. Driven harder and using air conditioning, however, it was possible to reduce this range to 65 miles (104km) and with a very heavy right foot it would undoubtedly be possible to reduce it even further.

Battery charging takes eight hours, with no option for a high-speed charging option. For countries where a battery swapping infrastructure is being installed, this is not an issue because batteries can be swapped within three minutes and the car genuinely becomes a replacement for a conventional vehicle. For everywhere else, this could be the car's biggest failing.

Most electric cars bought by individuals are purchased by families who have access to more than one car. Consequently, the most suitable cars tend to be smaller, city cars that are bought as a 'second vehicle'. They perform the duties of a second vehicle, such as commuting to work, ferrying children and handling the weekly shopping.

With a car like the Fluence ZE, however, the car is much bigger than most second vehicles and it lacks the practicality of a hatchback, which many people want with a second car. Like the LEAF, it fits the profile of the main family car. And that becomes its drawback: without the ability to fast charge or swap batteries, the Fluence ZE fell between two stools - it was neither an ideal second car nor a suitable main family car.

That said, if you want a larger car but do not drive long distances, the Fluence ZE is a very good car. If you like refinement, comfort and driving simplicity and are not put off by range or lack of luggage space, the Fluence ZE still makes an awful lot of sense.

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