Here at Transport Evolved, we like to think we do our best to answer each and every reader question we get, either via Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, or good old-fashioned email.
So when Transport Evolved reader Kieron contacted us asking for our help with a used car purchase decision, we knew we had to help. He writes.
“Going back a couple of years, I was interested in the Renault Fluence until better options came along and I ended up with a Mitsubishi i-Miev. I’ve driven it for nine months or so now and rapid charged once. For that reason, I’m looking at the prices of used Renault Fluences and thinking ‘hang on a minute, it’s getting so cheap that we could get another electric car in the family.’ But is it worth it?”
Keiron very thoughtfully included a link to a specific classified advertisement for a 2012 Renault Fluence with just over 2,000 miles on the clock being sold for a just £7,599. That’s nearly £17,500 off the price of the car when new just one year ago. And while this is one of the cheaper Fluence ZE cars we’ve seen for sale, it’s certainly not unusual: we’ve seen many Renault Fluence Z.E. cars for sale in recent months for similar prices.
So, is it worth buying one? Here’s what we think.
What’s a Fluence Z.E?
The Renault Fluence Z.E. sedan is a five-seat family sedan designed by Renault to work alongside the battery swap system devised by Israeli firm Better Place. With a large 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located behind the rear wheels and up into the trunk, it’s technically possible to swap the Fluence Z.E’s battery pack in around five minutes at an appropriate battery swap station.
Sadly however, because Better Place declared bankruptcy earlier this year — and there are not and have never been any battery swap stations in the UK — owners of the Fluence Z.E. in the UK are stuck with the capabilities of its on-board 3.3 kilowatt charger. Worse still, there’s no rapid charge capabilities, so when it’s empty a full recharge will take 6 to 8 hours at its fastest.
The positioning of the battery pack also means the luggage carrying capabilities of the Fluence Z.E. Sedan aren’t on par with many other EVs on sale today. You’ll be able to squeeze a week’s shopping behind the battery pack in the Fluence Z.E’s extended boot — but a week’s worth of luggage for that family holiday won’t fit.
These facts — combined with the reality Renault has focused on selling its more versatile Zoe hatchback to private customers — has meant that non-fleet sales of the Fluence have been lacklustre at best, with the majority of Fluence Z.E. cars on the road being fleet cars rather than privately owned vehicles.
But with many cars now exiting fleet use, prices of used Fluences are at really low prices, making them ideal propositions for someone wanting a competent, local-trip EV.
What are they like to drive?
Step behind the wheel of the Fluence Z.E., and it’s clear to see that the car was designed for fleet use. There’s plenty of grey plastic, smart leather trim, and a very conventional cabin layout.
Unlike cars like the Nissan LEAF, the Fluence Z.E. makes uses of a standard automatic transmission selector, moving between drive, reverse and park. There’s a conventional hand-operated parking brake, and the dashboard itself consists of an analogue-style speedometer, the usual warning light cluster, and in the place of the tachometer, an energy meter which lets you know if you’re using energy or regenerating energy through the car’s regenerative braking.
Pull away, and the Fluence Z.E’s 70 kilowatt electric motor will get you to town speeds far faster than most cars on the road. 0-60 is also similarly adequate, although you’ll find accelerating from 60 to 70 takes a little longer. Top speed is a little over 83 mph.
In general, the Fluence Z.E is well-behaved on the road, but because its battery pack sits behind the rear axle instead of low down under the floor as in its trendier cousin, the Renault Zoe, it can feel a little heavy at the tail end if you’re a little over-enthusiastic on cornering.
In short, the Fluence Z.E. won’t win any medals as a drivers’ car. But its general good manners on the road make it good enough as an everyday driver if you know you wont’ need to drive more than its real-world achievable range of around 70-75 miles per charge every day.
Batteries not included
One caveat — quite a big one for some car buyers — is that the Fluence Z.E., like the rest of the Renault EV family, doesn’t come with a battery pack included. Even when you buy the car second hand, Renault still owns the battery pack. And that means that you’ll have to pay Renault a monthly rental fee in order to use and drive your car.
Renault says battery rental programs are available from as little as £77 per month for a three-year rental agreement covering 6,000 miles per year. Higher mileage and shorter duration leases are available, but all leases include a lifetime battery performance guarantee and roadside assistance. That means that no matter how old your car or how many miles it has on the clock, if your battery pack’s capacity drops below the required minimum capacity in your agreement, Renault will replace the battery pack free of charge. It’ll also pick you up if your battery pack dies… or you run out of charge.
These run concurrently with Renault’s blanket 4+ warranty for the Fluence Z.E. itself. That equates to four years’ warranty from new, or 100,000 miles, whichever is soonest. Given the Fluence Z.E. can’t charge all that quickly, high mileage Fluence ZEs are few and far between, meaning you should be good for four years of warranty.
Despite focusing on the other electric cars it sells, Renault has no plans to cease support and service for the Fluence Z.E. Like any of its other cars, Renault has a commitment to support the Fluence for the life of the car, meaning there shouldn’t be any worries about a Fluence Z.E. being treated as an obsolete vehicle for many years to come.
In terms of service, not all Renault dealers can service the Z.E., but our contact at Renault UK said that as of today, 84 dealers in the UK are fully trained to service and maintain all of the Z.E. range, including the Fluence Z.E.
…But should I buy one?
Now we’ve given you a run down on the Fluence Z.E, it’s time for us to return to Kieron’s original question. Should he buy a Fluence Z.E.? Here’s our answer:
Kieron, it sounds as if you’re already an electric car convert, and you’ve managed well for the past nine months with your Mitsubishi i-Miev. It also sounds as if you live in a multiple car household where finding a petrol or diesel car for longer-distance driving isn’t a problem, since you’ve only rapid charged once.
With that in mind, the Renault Fluence Z.E. could make an ideal second electric car for your family. But remember, as well as paying for the car itself, you will have to pay out a monthly battery rental fee in order to keep your car running and useable. Over the course of a year, that’s equivalent to £924 a year for 6,000 miles of motoring. We’re not sure if you’d want to cover more miles or not, but it’s a figure you should feel comfortable with — and one you’ll need to weigh up against existing fuel costs etc.
For that however, you will get the peace of mind in knowing that your car’s battery pack is covered for life, meaning no scary battery replacement if the battery dies in the future.
If you know you’ll cover at least 6,000 miles a year in the Fluence Z.E., and you’re happy paying the extra money every month for battery rental, this car could be a great buy for you. But if you’re looking for an EV which spends most of its time not being used — and only takes to the road for local errands and short trips — it may be more advantageous to look for another Mitsubishi i-Miev, Peugeot iOn or Citroen C-Zero of a similar age to your existing car. These too are now on the market for as little as £8,500… if you’re prepared to wait for the right one to come along. (We should note however that the service and repair network for these cars is likely to be not as good as for the Fluence Z.E.)
Our advice? Take one for a test-drive, ask for the car’s service history, and see if the dealer will let you do a real-world (full to empty) range test before you buy.
And good luck! We’d love to know if you end up buying it!
Do you have any advice for Kieron? Do you think the Fluence Z.E. makes an ideal second electric car? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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