Road Test The electric car revolution is underway and the 2012 Renault Fluence ZE is one solution.
Driving simplicity in a Renault that costs Dh10 to 'fill up'
Here in the Middle East, despite what we might think, it costs less to fill up our cars than in any other part of the world. It stands to reason really, since we produce most of the oil. But in other parts of the world, where fuel costs are considerably more, they are looking at alternatives in somewhat of a hurry.
The electric car revolution is slowly under way in Europe and elsewhere. The Nissan Leaf has led the charge and has enjoyed considerable success worldwide, with more than 10,000 units of the car reaching its forward-thinking customers.
It might appear unthinkable, when you consider the commutes that we do in the Middle East, but the electric car will only do about 160km between charge-ups and using a normal plug socket takes about six to eight hours to fully charge. Nonetheless, there are no tailpipe emissions and it will cost about Dh10 to fully charge it. French brand Renault has been working hand-in-hand with Nissan to develop batteries and underpinnings for an equally important electric car, the Fluence ZE (zero emissions).
Unlike the Leaf, the Fluence ZE doesn't attempt to be too futuristic with its approach to luring buyers into this exciting new technology. The Fluence is sold as a conventional petrol and diesel powered car in many parts of the world, so its shape won't come as a shock to a lot of people, although the Fluence ZE is 130mm longer than the standard car to allow for the lithium-ion batteries (280kg worth) that are so essential in making it go. The extra length allows for the batteries to be stored without compromising on the car's luggage space. However, this does have the effect of making the rear of the car look a tad awkward.
Other features unique to the Fluence ZE include a specific front grille and a rear bumper with a diffuser. The badging on the car has a tasteful blue hue and low rolling resistance tyres surround special aerodynamic alloy wheels. Inside, the cabin is thankfully normal. There is plenty of space, with lots of legroom up front and in the rear.
The quality of the plastics is good and there is little to figure out for the user. Aside from it being a one-speed automatic and the absence of a rev-counter, the Fluence ZE appears very normal. There is a main dashboard display that shows the battery's power, a conventional speedometer and an "econometer" that indicates the level of charge. The econometer gauge goes from red (bad) to blue (good) depending on whether you are pushing the car hard or coasting and allowing the battery to regenerate through recovered kinetic energy.
Driving the Fluence ZE - or any electric car for that matter - is simplicity itself. After you push a starter button, you press down on the accelerator and the car moves off, in total silence. Aside from a slightly futuristic-sounding whoosh, the only other noise is from the tyres on the road. Power delivery is really quite urgent and very linear. Accelerating from 0-50kph takes just 4.1 seconds, so you get away from traffic lights rapidly. There is also very little need to use the brakes in the Fluence ZE because the car decelerates quite sharply thanks to the braking effect of the electric generator. While driving down a hill, if you take your foot off the accelerator, it will come to a complete stop.
During our two days with the car, 120 to 140km from a full charge seemed more than realistic, although more is possible under the right conditions. In the heat of the Middle East and with our myriad of motorways, the performance might not match up to this but, as an alternative to the petrol pump, the Renault is certainly one to watch. The Fluence ZE goes on sale in Europe in November. The electric car might seem like science fiction to us here in the Middle East, but it is very much science fact in other regions. And one day it might be a reality for us, too.