As Renault expands its local commercial vehicle line-up, the latest edition should prove to be a popular combination – a Kangoo with a diesel engine, coupled with an automated transmission.
Australia is yet to follow the recent European trend away from diesel power in light commercial vehicles. Renault’s Kangoo range indeed offers a high-torque 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine, which is available with a six-speed traditional manual or the six-speed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) automated manual. It was only in late 2017 that the diesel version of the popular compact van became available with the automated manual, after being sold in manual configuration for some time. The EDC is a high-tech self-shifter that works very well with the 1.5-litre diesel engine, which provides 81kW of power at 4,000rpm. The transmission does a good job of extracting the most out of the engine, which doesn’t sound or behave like a diesel except at the fuel pump. The transmission also has an ‘Eco’ mode to further extend fuel-consumption rates. The claimed 4.7 litres per 100km on the ‘combined’ cycle is close to the reality of our test session, even as we make no attempt to conserve fuel.
Within the transmission, the dual dry clutches permit the pre-selection of the next gear in sequence, so that it is fully engaged before its clutch takes up and the other clutch associated with the previous gear is disengaged. The result is a claimed shift time of just 290 milliseconds either changing up or changing down, and a very smooth transition between gears. The electronic control unit receives input from numerous vehicle sensors and is programmed with algorithms that ensure the gear being selected best suits the current conditions. The overall operation remains smooth under all circumstances of load, incline and throttle position as the EDC takes advantage of the engine’s 250Nm of torque. The EDC doesn’t seem to suffer from the indecisive shuffling of gears that some other automated transmissions have a reputation for. The transmission has a ‘creep mode’ that delivers smooth low-speed operation in situations where the driver would be slipping the clutch in a manual, such as negotiating a tight parking space. There is also a hill–start assist function that momentarily holds the brakes on as the brake pedal is released, and the accelerator pedal is depressed – making hill starts seamless even with a load in the back.
The Kangoo’s exterior boasts many practical aspects applicable to a vehicle destined for plenty of city work, such as the large and robust-looking front bumper and generous side buffer strips, while a premium option pack includes colour-coded bumpers. The Kangoo is equipped with steel wheel rims that will resist the impact of ‘kerb rash’ usually associated with hasty parking attempts.
Framed by the stylish tail light assemblies, the rear of the van features split rear doors that can open to 90 degrees on their first detent and extend to 180 degrees with the activation of a simple release lever on each side. Rear parking sensors are standard equipment. The load space on the long-wheelbase model is four cubic metres, with a maximum payload of 825kg. Dual sliding, unglazed side doors are standard and provide good access to the load space. Even though the Kangoo Maxi is supposedly a ‘compact’ van, a standard-dimension Australian pallet will fit between the rear wheel arches.
The driver’s compartment has comfortable seats and a small-diameter steering wheel with a thick rim that makes the van feel like a sports car. Cruise-control buttons are positioned on the wheel, and the audio system can be controlled by either the unit itself or a combination of switches on a stalk located next to the driver’s right hand. Bluetooth phone connection in the Kangoo is possibly the most straightforward process of its kind we have come across since the introduction of the smartphone. Some others have seemed as complicated as a chess game but the Kangoo’s system is a genuine time and frustration saver.
When flicked to the left, a T-bar enables EDC manual shifting. Indicator lamps on the instrument panel suggest shift points when in manual mode and indicate the current gear when in automated mode. There is a ‘Park’ position that locks the transmission to complement the holding ability of the handbrake, which itself has its handle positioned 90 degrees to what most of us are used to – yet somehow seems rather logical.
Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and – if an accident cannot be avoided – there are four airbags to deploy to protect the Kangoo’s occupants.
Final Mile has experienced other driveline and wheelbase combinations in the Kangoo range, and this latest diesel and automated manual specification actually gives a good name to light commercial dual clutch transmissions. This Kangoo isn’t just easy to drive, it can be fun as well.