Renault leading the charge

RENAULT thinks one in 10 new cars bought around the world in 2020 will be powered by a battery and has already invested billions to help make that forecast come true.

So it must hope the sales figures for purely-electric vehicles in the UK are going to pep up dramatically to help towards a brighter plug-in future. Last year we bought just 1,082 of them from the handful of car makers with a model in the showroom.

Now comes Renault’s first passenger vehicle to point us towards a cleaner life in cars that emit nothing horrid from their tailpipes (and don’t have exhausts anyway).

It’s called the Fluence and you feel Renault knows the real electric push won’t come from this car. We’ll have to wait a few months for that and the arrival of the Zoe, a chic looking compact hatch that might just become the must-have urban runaround for the on-trend motorist.

The Fluence can’t hope to fill that bill. It’s big (based on a stretched Megane with the large new battery behind the rear seats) and gawky looking and, crucially, can manage as little as 50 miles between overnight charges.

In the right conditions (light town work with heater and lights off) you might stretch that to 125 miles, but the Fluence is inevitably going to be a second car in the family, which will need something that goes a lot further, a lot of the time.

Still, should you find you could offer a Fluence the right conditions to thrive you’ll be buying a car that looks good value against the limited opposition.

With the government’s £5,000 electric car subsidy taken into account the Fluence costs either £17,495 for the Expression or £18,395 for the posher and very well equipped Dynamique driven here.

You must then hire the battery, from £76 a month with a 6,000 miles a year limit (more miles cost extra). Renault reckons not buying the battery outright gives a Fluence owner peace of mind that it won’t cost a fortune to replace, and will also make the car easier to sell when the time comes.

Lower servicing charges than a comparable petrol or diesel engined car help keep running costs down and there’s the huge attraction of the £3 recharge too.

The car drives pretty well; electric motors produce most push from low revs and the Fluence fairly flies from a standing start, accompanied by a distant whine that sounds like your holiday jet launching itself along the runway.

Lift off and the cabin turns limo quiet at low speeds, go a bit faster and tyres and wind noise give it the feel of a well insulated conventional car.

It rides well too, with a relaxing lope that would perfectly suit a car capable of much greater distances than the Fluence manages between enforced stops.

Use all its performance and the battery level meter on the dash will plunge; I consumed a quarter of the charge in 20 miles on an admittedly chilly day (needing the heater on) and along a winding, hilly route.

Which means you’ll be a bit of an eco hero to buy one. The smaller Zoe looks a more promising prospect for saving the planet.