Renault - and partner firm Nissan - are leading the charge into electric cars and we've just tested the first conventional EV from La Regie: the new 2012 Fluence ZE. Left hand drive models land from June 2011 and right hookers for the UK arrive on these shores in 2012.
How much will Renault's Fluence ZE cost?
It's not fixed yet, but we're looking at around £22-25k for the car plus an as yet unspecified battery lease. Perhaps £50 per month.
Pricey then, but not scarily so compared with premium hybrids. And these battery cars attract a £5000 UK Government grant, bringing down the Fluence's cost down from around £30k.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
How does the Fluence ZE drive?
The Fluence looks remarkably Laguna-alike in the metal. That is to say sadly nothing like the original concept car - this plain car won't scare off Jo Bloggs. Early adopters are most likely to be fleet customers although some sandal-toting private motorists are also expected.
Climb onboard and it's remarkably simple. Only different dials give the game away and it's perfectly roomy front and rear. Small boot, though, at barely one and a half handspans from front to back; our prototype had a smaller boot than final production versions, which will stretch by 13cm for greater trunk space. Blame the 22kWh battery which gobbles up the area normally set aside for your luggage (it's the size of a giant old-school tube TV).
Renault Fluence: on the road
Select 'D' and we're off, at a whispery roll. The 70kW electric motor feels brisk and Renault says the Fluence is faster than a petrol or diesel Fluence. There's an alluring jet-like whirr when you step on the, er, gas as we were want to do on our brief test drive, if only to access that slug of torque.
Of course real owners will do nothing of the sort; such excess will massively dent the claimed 100-mile range. We drove 12 miles from a full recharge and the trip computer was claiming a meagre 47-mile reserve. Tread lightly on the quiet pedal - that's the message in this new EV age.
It's a wonderfully relaxing experience, and there's the full-fat saintly feeling in traffic when the silence reinforces your eco cred count - yet the absent petrol engine you expect never kicks in. We only drove around town, but an 84mph top speed is claimed, though 93mph top whack would be possible with the electro-nannies disabled.
What's it like to recharge?
We sadly weren't allowed to fill it up, but we've handled the plugs and it looks simple enough. Regular home charging (eight hours to full) and quick-charge (30 minutes) will be available. The much-hyped quick-drop battery swap will eventually be offered too, but it appears to be very much at the experimental stage. Shame, as a new, fully charged battery in just three minutes sounds most useful.
Renault Fluence: ride and handling
Everything about the Fluence driving experience is heartland family car sterile. Don't go expecting Renaultsport responses (why would you?) and instead enjoy the relaxed demeanour. The steering is wallowy and soft, the ride disappointingly bumpy (especially in the rear).
But the thing is, the Fluence hides its bulky batteries out back. If anything, they help make the Fluence handle fairly benignly. No exact weight distribution is available but it must be fairly neutral. Most impressive is the braking, which displays none of the grabbiness of some EVs with regenerative systems.
The Renault Fluence is a polished piece of kit. It'll excite absolutely nobody after thrills or opportunity to flaunt their battery status. But for someone wanting the tax and social advantages of going electric early, it'll be an attractive option for city dwellers.
Is it really clean? Depends where you live. Renault says the Fluence ZE can be zero emissions if you have wind power, but the typical European reality is a plumper 62g/km of CO2. Live in a nuclear state such as France and that plummets to 12g/km. Live in coal-powered smog and you'll emit a disappointing carbon average of 128g/km.
That's how complicated this electric car argument has become. We suspect for many, the kudos of a battery car on the driveway will be quite enough.