Representing Mercedes-Benz's first foray into the light van market, the arrival of Mercedes-Benz's Citan has directed the spotlight away from the vehicle on which it is based: Renault's humble Kangoo. Yet although it may be humble, Kangoo is a best-seller across Europe, with over 400,000 finding homes with customers since the launch of the current model in 2008.
That model has just been face-lifted under the Phase 2 banner, with styling changes to its front end, new exterior mirrors and headlights, alterations to the dashboard, a new steering wheel and the introduction of some new equipment.
Two basic models are offered in the UK - Kangoo Van and the longer-wheelbase Kangoo Maxi - and both of them are produced in electric (Z.E) as well as diesel guise. Maxi is additionally marketed as a five-seater with a rear seat that can be tipped forward to accommodate extra-long loads.
Diesel power comes courtesy of a 1.5-litre at 75hp, 90hp or 110hp and a 105hp 1.6-litre petrol automatic is also available.
So will the changes be enough to tempt buyers away from the more glamorous Citan - that three-pointed star is a powerful selling tool - and from rivals such as Citroen's Berlingo, Vauxhall's Combo and Volkswagen's Caddy?
We opted to sample the 90hp diesel in a standard wheelbase van in top-of-the-range Sport specifications - Core and the entry-level and logically-named Debut are the other trim choices - in order to investigate.
The latest Kangoo's cab interior features a decent amount of shoulder, head and leg room for both the driver and passenger, as did its predecessor. One feature that has not been done away with alas is the ridiculous L-shaped handbrake lever.
Representing the triumph of design for design's sake over common sense, when released it obscures an otherwise-handy 12v power point and makes it harder to get at the cup holder at the bottom of the dashboard. In effect it renders the receptacle useless while the van is being driven.
Fortunately there is another cup holder in the centre console that runs between the two seats that can be pressed into service. One can only hope that the driver and co-driver do not want a drink at the same time.
Also between the front seats is a deep, lidded box for which you pay an extra £50: all prices quoted here exclude VAT. The lidded glove box is quite deep too, and you will find a bin in each door divided into two.
Good to see that the steering column is height-adjustable although the driver's seat is not. Good too to see that the cab interior is well put together with quality materials, and to a higher standard than was seen in Renaults years past, with nice chunky switches for the heating and ventilation system
Could the drive towards better quality be the result of Mercedes-Benz's influence? Renault is certainly emphasising the improvements it has made to the way the vehicle is built, encompassing everything from better spot weld finishes to greater precision in the application of body sealants. One cannot help but think that Mercedes engineers have had a hand in this somewhere.
Access to the 3.0cu/m cargo area, which had been timbered out in our case, is by means of a sliding nearside door and twin, unglazed, asymmetric rear doors, with the narrower of the two on the offside. They can be pushed through 90 degrees, and through 180 degrees if you undo the easy-to-release stays.
The doors open to reveal a perfectly ordinary-looking cargo area with half-a-dozen load tie-down points that on the face of it seems unlikely to harbour any surprises. Look more closely however and you will realise that it does.
That at least was the case with our demonstrator, which featured a cleverly-designed full-height mesh bulkhead. The section behind the passenger seat could be swivelled through 90 degrees and latched into position once the seat had been folded completely flat. Result? An extension to the load bed so that extra-long items could be accommodated.
Furthermore, the act of swivelling the bulkhead to one side created a partition between the cargo floor extension and the driver so that items placed on it did not end up tumbling into the latter's lap. The whole arrangement costs £225 and creates an extra 0.5cu m of cargo space.
Our Kangoo featured another way of carrying over-length cargo: a rear roof flap referred to as a girafon through which various bits and pieces can be poked. It costs an extra £220 and could come in handy if you want to carry something long but need to transport a passenger too.
Maximum load length is 1476mm and deploying the swivelling bulkhead and folding seat increases it to 1731mm. Maximum height is 1251mm while maximum width is 1464mm narrowing to 1218mm between the wheel boxes. Rear loading height is 609mm.
The rear door aperture is 1219mm wide and 1119mm high while the dimensions for the side door aperture are 638mm and 1128mm respectively.
Gross weight is 1950kg, gross payload is 650kg and a braked trailer grossing at up to 1050kg can be towed.
The 90 horses referred to earlier kick in at 4,000rpm while top torque of 200Nm bites at 1,750rpm. Drive is through the front wheels via a five-speed gear box and a particulate filter is fitted.
Our Renault 's four-cylinder eight-valve common rail direct injection turbo diesel power plant was classed as an ENERGY engine thanks to the use of optional Energy Smart Management. It is a regenerative braking system that helps to charge the battery when the vehicle decelerates, thereby recovering energy that would otherwise be lost. The package includes Stop & Start as standard.
Chassis and steering
MacPherson struts are at the heart of the van's front suspension system while a torsion beam helps to support the rear. The test vehicle's standard 15ins alloy wheels were shod with 195/65 R15 Michelin Energy Saver tyres. Electric power steering offers a 10.7m turning circle between kerbs with 3.2 turns lock-to-lock
While Citan has a firm ride the Kangoo's is far more undulating - though not quite to the point of making the driver feel seasick - and its gear change, though acceptable, is not as crisp. It handles well though, offering flat cornering with little if any body roll and plenty of feedback through the steering.
While the same diesel engine felt a touch sluggish in Citan, in the latest Kangoo it offered more than sufficient performance, allowing the van to nip smartly away from rest, accelerate strongly through the gears and maintain the legal motorway cruising speed without breaking sweat.
The cab interior was alas a little too noisy - the improved sound proofing said to have been introduced doesn't appear to have worked too well - and the creaking from the mesh bulkhead began to prove a real irritation after a while. Renault's build quality is still not perfect.
A sophisticated Bluetooth-enabled R-Link multimedia system was fitted to our vehicle as standard complete with a touch screen, TomTom LIVE satellite navigation - a three-month subscription is included in the van's price - a USB port, and an Eco Driving coach that helps you cut fuel usage. Various pre-loaded apps are available, including access to weather information, and the package includes a radio/CD player.
The Bluetooth set-up allows you to call a phone number using voice commands: the ultimate in hands-free.
Electric windows and electrically-operated and folding exterior mirrors - without a wide-angle section, alas - are included in Sport's in-cab fixtures and fittings. So are manual air conditioning, a multi-functional trip computer and a driver's airbag: the passenger airbag costs an extra £185.
Buying and running
In addition to ENERGY technology our Kangoo included a number of other devices designed to drive down fuel costs and CO2 emissions. They included everything from the now-ubiquitous little arrow in a display on the dashboard that tells you when to change up a gear for maximum fuel economy, cruise control including a speed limiter for an extra £200 and an Eco section on the rev counter at from 1,500rpm to 2,250rpm.
Also fitted was an Eco Mode function which allows you to achieve fuel savings of up to 10 per cent says Renault by acting on engine torque, the gear shift indicator and the accelerator pedal's mapping
As a consequence of all of this we averaged 60mpg on a mixture of urban, rural and motorway runs compared with the official combined figure of 65.7mpg. CO2 emissions of 112g/km are quoted.
Service intervals are set at two years/25,000 miles compared with a previous two years/18,600 miles. Under the Renault 4+ banner Kangoo is currently being offered with a four-year/100,000-mile warranty with no mileage limit in the first two years, a four-year/48,000-mile routine servicing package, a four-year roadside rescue package and a four-year finance deal.
ABS is standard with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and in our case Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill Start Assist and Grip Xtend were included in a newly-introduced £350 package. The last-named facility gives you a bit more grip on loose surfaces such as sand or powdery snow but does not turn a 4x2 Kangoo into a full-blown 4x4 Renault warns. All highly laudable. However ESC should without doubt be included in the vehicle's basic price.
Disc brakes are fitted all round while front fog lights either side of the silver insert that distinguishes the Sport should help you tackle the winter murk. Rear parking sensors - an extra £200 - are invaluable whatever the season and side rubbing strips are present to protect the £400 metallic paint finish.
Turning to security, an immobiliser and remote central locking are included in the deal, deadlocks are standard and you can lock all the doors instantly if you hit a button on the dashboard. RAID - Renault Anti Intruder Device - is fitted anyway to ensure that all the doors lock automatically at low speeds.
Not sure about having the VIN number on a stuck-on strip on the window though. Having it embossed it on a metal plate that is then securely attached to the dashboard is surely preferable.
Versatility the name of the game
Originally launched in 1997 as a replacement for the boxy-looking Extra, Renault's Kangoo has been a major success story for the French manufacturer. Face-lifted in 2003 before a complete revamp in 2008, it has been assembled in France, Argentina, Morocco and Malaysia.
Over the years it has been built as a passenger carrier with rear seats as well as in van guise, as a 4x4 and with the choice of petrol, diesel or battery power. The Kangoo Van Z.E is the first viable electric light commercial to be produced in volume.
While Mercedes-Benz's decision to use Kangoo as a platform for its Citan light van has been widely publicised in recent months, it is not the first time Kangoo has been associated with a badge other than that of Renault. Up until 2009 it was sold by Nissan as the Kubistar in what was purely a badge-engineering exercise. Kubistar was subsequently replaced by Nissan's NV200.
Renault Kangoo ML19 ENERGY dCi 90 Eco2 Sport
Price (ex VAT) – £14,800
Price range (ex VAT) – £9,400-£17,000
Gross payload – 650kg
Load length – 1476mm
Load width – (min/max) 1218mm/1464mm
Load bay height – 1251mm
Load volume – 3.0cu/m
Loading height – 609mm
Rear door aperture – 1219mm x 1119mm
Side door aperture – 638mm x 1128mm
Gross vehicle weight – 1950kg
Braked trailer towing weight – 1050kg
Residual value – 17.0%*
Cost per mile – 32.9p
Engine size/power – 1,461cc, 90hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque – 200Nm @ 1750rpm
Gearbox – 5sp
Fuel economy – 65.7mpg
Fuel tank – 60 litres
CO2 – 112g/km
Warranty – 4yrs/100,000 miles
Service intervals – 2yrs/25,000 miles
Insurance group – TBA
Price as tested – £16,630
*after 4yrs/20,000mls pa
Metallic paint - £400
Airbag - £185
Swivelling bulkhead with folding passenger seat - £225
Cruise control with speed limiter - £200
ESC with Hill Start Assist and Grip Xtend - £350
Rear parking sensors - £200
Sliding rear roof flap - £220
Central storage box - £50
A well-thought-out package that is the equal to anything else on the market: including Mercedes-Benz's Citan.