Australia’s increasing fondness for the dual-cab ute has been well documented in recent times. But despite being around for years and years, small vans such as the Renault Kangoo have plodded along with barely improved fortunes.
Along with the Citroen Berlingo, Fiat Doblo and – by far the most popular vehicle in the segment – the Volkswagen Caddy, the circa-$25,000 Kangoo range forms part of a quaint and quirky, and wholly European breed of entry light commercial vehicle.
But being less popular doesn’t necessarily translate to being less able. Could the two-seat, sliding-side-door Renault actually be where the ‘smart money’ is at for the savvy tradesperson? In short, mate, do you really need a ute?
The Kangoo has just been updated with a new turbo engine, more sophisticated dual-clutch automatic and greater safety equipment, the time is ripe to find out.
Vehicle Style: Small van
Price: $26,490 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 84kW/190Nm 1.2 turbo petrol four-cylinder | six-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.5 l/100km | Tested: 9.6 l/100km
Given that rivals are so few in the light van segment, it’s worth noting that a Berlingo or Doblo can be purchased for $22,000 plus on-road costs in revvy 1.6-litre non-turbo form with a manual gearbox. Simple, and simply cheap, cargo carriers right there.
The equivalent six-speed manual Kangoo starts a little higher, at $23,490 (plus orc), mainly because it boasts a 1.2-litre turbo engine with a comparatively lush 190Nm of torque. The Citroen has 147Nm; the Fiat gets only 127Nm.
Where the Renault excels is with tradespeople who want or need an automatic transmission. At $26,490 (plus orc) the six-speed dual-clutch option soundly beats both of the above competitors for both technology and price. In the above, choosing auto means getting an awful single-clutch design, with a diesel engine, for $29K-plus.
Which leaves the Caddy as effectively the only auto rival. It gets a 1.4-litre turbo with an even stronger 220Nm, plus a dual-clutch auto, for $28,490 (plus orc) – or $3000 beyond the model tested here. The Volkswagen also shifts around one-third extra volume to be the class sales leader. Clearly, the French want some of the action.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, cloth trim and cruise control.
- Infotainment: Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, CD player, AM/FM radio, USB input and two speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 3000 litres.
The entry Kangoo tested here is called the ‘Compact’. There are also ‘Maxi’ and ‘Crew’ models available, and as the three names suggest, they represent the smallest, biggest and five-seater models respectively.
Buyers can actually get the larger Maxi for only $500 more than this small Compact, but at $26,990 (plus orc) it also means swapping back to a six-speed manual and forgoing petrol power for 1.5-litre turbo-diesel efficiency.
From the off, this would be a smart move for buyers who don’t spend a lot of time in the cut and thrust of city traffic. Otherwise, though, ‘clutch foot’ is a thing well understood by courier drivers and, frankly, the city is where these small vans thrive.
The body of the Maxi is also 413mm longer than this Compact, which makes it less parking friendly. The bigger Kangoo is only 13mm higher and the same width, too, but that stretched physique helps stretch cargo bay length by 386mm – or longer than a 30cm ruler – from 1476mm (Compact), up 386mm to 1862mm (Maxi).
Put another way, Compact’s 3000-litre cargo bay becomes 4000 litres in the Maxi.
Put in the context of rivals, this entry Kangoo also struggles to compete. A Caddy offers 3200 litres of space, with 1776mm cargo bay length stretching exactly 300mm further than here. That said, the Renualt’s 1218mm width between the wheelarches compares favourably with the Volkswagen’s 1170mm squeeze.
In terms of access, the Compact gets two side sliding doors versus the Caddy’s single door. Its options list is also very versatile and amazingly cheap.
For example, swapping out the top-hinged rear tailgate for 180-degree twin barn doors asks only $190 extra. Getting the side doors with glass rather than steel sides needs $290 extra. A steel bulkhead behind the front seats, to divide cargo from passengers? Another $290, please.
A small van should focus on sheer space, smart packaging and storage solutions over fashionable design and added indulgence. The cabin of the Renault Kangoo certainly doesn’t boast any of those latter virtues, but some issue can be taken with other aspects.
There isn’t much storage up front. The centre console is deep and upper-dash binnacle expansive, but the cupholders are shallow, the glovebox is tiny and there is no upper-glovebox compartment. Yet again, though, solutions are an affordable tick of the options away.
An overhead cabin storage shelf is only $90 extra. C’mon Renault, make it standard. Likewise, a passenger backrest that folds flat instead of halfway, which would aid with loading long items, needs $390 extra.
Perhaps a different perspective is required, though. The standard slimline audio system is basic, but Bluetooth and USB functions are as simple as a tradie’s notepad needs to be. A 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav adds $890 while a reverse-view camera needs $400 to complement the standard parking sensors.
Add the above storage, infotainment and camera options to the price, as well as the twin barn doors, and at $1960 extra the Renault still undercuts the Volkswagen by about $1000. And the Caddy doesn’t get sensors or a camera, or twin sliding doors.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 84kW/190Nm 1.2 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.7m turning circle
Advantages over the Volkswagen continue even before a key is turned. The Renault gets a three-year/200,000km warranty, or 100,000km more than that rival. Servicing costs are $349 for the first three check-ups, versus on-average $405 for the Caddy.
The Kangoo’s cheap options continue, too. Replace 15-inch steel wheels with alloys for just $390 extra, and add foglights for $190 extra.
With a kerb weight of 1270kg, the 1.2-litre turbo’s 190Nm is much-needed between 2000rpm and 4000rpm, while 84kW of power comes in at an unstressed 4500rpm, too. It’s 6kW/42Nm gruntier than the old 1.6-litre non-turbo, and 10kg lighter.
The engine is the same unit found in the Clio, but it seems to work more fluently and energetically than in that light hatchback, which also teams with a six-speed dual-clutch auto. It’s noisier, but the turbo rarely needs to be wound out to redline.
Only sometimes, when parking and the van surges on slight throttle, or with delayed downshifts when rapidly adding throttle during overtaking, does the Compact rate as anything less than excellent. It is much better than non-turbo rivals, or diesel rivals.
The claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption – 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres – easily blows out, however, especially around town where beyond 10L/100km was seen. The more powerful Caddy claims 6.0L/100km and gets auto stop-start tech that Renault reserves for the manual model only.
While a nifty 10.7-metre turning circle undercuts the Volkswagen by 0.4 metres, which along with the smooth and light steering makes the Kangoo a breeze to navigate through tight city streets, its 540kg payload compares unfavourably to the 773kg of the Caddy.
Choosing the manual raises payload to 675kg, but only the Maxi achieves 825kg. Even a base Berlingo skyrockets past to 850kg while a Doblo does 659kg.
Even when unloaded, though, the Kangoo Compact has the suspension finesse to feel more car-like, controlled and settled, than virtually any single- or dual-cab rival. It is quite an enthusiastic, enjoyable car to drive, even beyond its genre.
The Renault Kangoo has not been tested by ANCAP.
Safety Features: Dual front and front-side airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/200,000km.
Servicing: Capped-price program includes the first trio of annual or 15,000km checks at an affordable cost of $349 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
As mentioned, single-clutch autos in the Berlingo and Doblo are painful. Why? Because they lurch from first to second or second to third gear, as though a driver has slurred the clutch pedal. With two clutches, the Kangoo (and Caddy) always have the next gear engaged and smoothly shift between them.
That the Citroen and Fiat are more expensive in auto guise seals their fate, though the Caddy is stiffer competition. It’s pricier, but in some ways more ergonomic and with a smarter payload.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In many ways the Renault Kangoo Compact is the middling choice in the small van segment. Not middling as in average, but rather it straddles the line between cheap and expensive, between missing equipment and asking too much for it.
As a standard model, it is lacking in storage and connectivity smarts. But it doesn’t ask much to add sat-nav and extra cubbies, or even alloy wheels and twin barn doors if it takes your fancy, and all for less than the top-selling Caddy.
If long loads are needed, or a weighty payload is required, then look beyond the base model Compact tested here. Specifically, spend $500 extra and pick the longer Maxi – but it’s manual only, so we’re back to square one. Still, it would be our pick.
The point is, the Renault is no stand-out in a single respect, but it offers the breadth of options and a range of choices that few rivals can match, especially for the price.
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