2012 Renault Fluence Z.E. Prototype
Renault Fluence ZE production electric sedanEnlarge Photo
We don’t normally cover French automaker Renault, but when we were invited to drive its its first all-electric production car - the 2012 Fluence Z.E., we jumped at the chance.
And we’re glad we did. Unlike its geeky cousin the 2011 Nissan Leaf, the Renault Fluence Z.E. is full of no-nonsense Gallic charm.
Cousin? Here’s a brief delve into Renault’s family tree.
Back in 1999 Renault joined forces with Japanese automaker Nissan, sharing everything from CEO Carlos Ghosn through to new vehicle technology. Naturally, that includes electric cars.
In short, the $36,500 five-seat electric sedan Renault is bringing to market is based on the same technology found in the 2011 Nissan Leaf, but presented in a very different way.
Built on an existing platform
Unlike the 2011 NIssan Leaf which was designed as a completely new car, the 2012 Fluence Z.E. is an electrification of the gasoline-powered 2012 Renault Fluence.
With the gasoline Fluence already popular in Europe, Australia and parts of the Middle East, the Fluence Z.E is a less assuming electric car than the Leaf.
Instead of yelling its green credentials from the rooftops like its gadget-filled cousin, the Fluence Z.E. whispers them quietly as it passes, although its dual power sockets, lack of tailpipe and redesigned grille would give the game away on closer inspection.
The Fluence Z.E. continues the theme of understated environmental credentials on the inside. Instead of large touch-screen displays, strange gear selectors and electronic parking brakes normally found in electric cars, the Fluence is refreshingly normal.
With not a butterfly, polar bear or tree in sight, the Fluence’s dash tells you all the information you need to know: speed, energy consumption and range to empty.
Next to a traditional speedometer in place of a tachometer is the fuel gauge, effectively showing how far your car can travel. The same size as the speedometer, it is easy to read and understand.
The no-nonsense interior continues, with conventional automatic gear selector, parking brake and cabin controls, all instantly familiar to anyone with a driving license.
The only thing we struggled to use was the car’s built-in TomTom satellite navigation system, which uses a rotary wheel in place of a more conventional touch-screen.
Five seats, restricted luggage
Being designed on the gasoline Fluence, the Fluence Z.E. has ample space in the cabin for tall passengers both in the front and the back, easily accommodating a family of five.
But the one place the Fluence Z.E. is drastically let down is its trunk. Being a sedan, its luggage carrying abilities are already severely handicapped, but Renault has further compounded the problem by using a large portion of the trunk area to house the car’s 24 kilowatt hour battery pack.
Placed vertically behind the rear seats to aid battery swapping at Better Place battery swap stations, the Fluence Z.E’s battery pack has crippled the desirability of what should be a great family sedan.
Although the Fluence Z.E. is primarily a European car, it currently has one J1772 outlet on each side of the car. Having two places to plug in really helps improve opportunistic charging, since the charging cable can be plugged in whichever side is convenient.
Missing is the 2011 Nissan Leaf’s level 3 rapid charging cable. Renault has chosen to not include this as the Fluence’s battery pack can be swapped in minutes using one of Better Place’s rapid battery switch stations.