by Chris Adamson
It will soon be joined by the funky two-seat Twizy and in the autumn by the Clio-sized Zoe, as Renault builds up a complete silent running stable.
Although not the first conventional all-electric car on sale here, Fluence does lay claim, for the time being, to be the cheapest battery powered model on the market with a starting price – after the Government’s 25 per cent Plug-In Car Grant – of £17,500.
It is also one that doesn’t actually look different from a petrol or a diesel model. In fact you might, at first glance, think it is a booted Renault Megane with some subtle facial changes that are similar to the Wind roadster and elsewhere, including the Irish Republic, Fluence is sold with either a petrol or a diesel engine.
Among the identifying features is the unusual treatment for the family nose as a cooling grille is superfluous and chunky side sills that aid aerodynamics.
The big give-away that this is something different are the twin re-charging ports on the front wings which allow it to be charged from either side – these look like large filler flaps and effectively operate like this.
Inside there is more of the same, a traditional, if slightly uninspiring, cabin with a set of very different digital instrumentation which, in addition to a speedometer, includes a dial for the level of battery charge, a range indicator and an econometer to show how much power is being used or regenerated.
It is in the boot and under the bonnet that Fluence gives the game away. In the back a large slice of the cargo space is taken up with the battery pack leaving just a wide and tall 317 litre slot for luggage, while at the front a large electric motor driving the front wheels replaces a combustion engine.
This 70 kWh motor produces the equivalent of 95bhp powered by a 22 kWh lithium ion battery back and translates into a limited top speed of just under 85mph and a standstill to 62mph time of less than 14 seconds.
Range is the major limiting factor on any electric vehicle and Fluence is no different – Renault claims it can go up to 115 miles on a full charge but says users should realistically only bank on 100 miles due to differing driving conditions.
Once you reach the end of the power reserve, Fluence is going to need between six and nine hours to re-charge so that effectively means it is only good for two 100 mile journeys a day. Renault sees the most obvious use being driving to work and then charging up before making the return trip home – or alternatively a car for regular daily trips on short distances.
Fluence can be charged from set connecting points using a cable that automatically locks in place when the car is locked so there is no need to worry about someone unplugging it or stealing the cable.
A charging point adaptation for the home or office costs £800 and is currently available from British Gas.
Alternatively there is a 10amp charging cable accessory costing £414 which allows the batteries to be re-charged from a conventional domestic three-pin socket but this takes slightly longer to re-charge - between 10 and 12 hours.
Renault says that a complete re-charge should cost about £2.50p (that works out at 25p a mile) but you also have to add in the price of leasing the battery packs which are sold on various monthly packages based on years and mileages.
A three year / 6,000 miles a year agreement will see owners leasing the batteries at £69.60 per month. The batteries themselves are expected to last between eight and ten years.
Apart from the lack of any noise, which is a little disconcerting at first and needs an audible and visual indication to say it is ready to go, Fluence feels and drives very much like a standard petrol or diesel powered car.
The 226Nm of torque from the electric motor means an instant pick-up of speed which is good for town driving and on the open road there is sustained, almost seamless acceleration while motorway work is accomplished without a problem or the motor feeling under pressure.
Just braking needs a little adjustment in driving style. Here a bit of advance planning to decelerate using the electric motor rather than the brakes helps to conserve the life of the battery.
Fluence is available in two trim levels: Expression Plus and Dynamique. The latter is the better equipped and includes items such as dual zone air conditioning, automatic headlights and wipers, Carminat TomTom satellite navigation, cruise control, radio / CD with MP3 compatibility and Bluetooth connection and rear parking sensors.
The only thing to remember is that using electrically powered kit such as air conditioning will, of course, diminish the range potential.
Fluence comes with the Renault 4+ customer care package: four year/100,000-mile warranty, free 4 years/48,000 miles routine servicing, free four years roadside assistance and four years finance package if desired. The electric drivetrain has a warranty of up to five years/100,000 miles.
For those who only associate electric vehicles with milk floats then Fluence is a big surprise because it looks and feels more or less like a conventional car.
However, with the limited range you are going to have to decide if you can really accomplish all your motoring needs in less than 100 miles.
For this reason Fluence is best viewed as either a commuting alternative to the bus or train or as a second vehicle for shopping trips.