The smell of freshly ground coffee beans, the sound of milk being frothed to fluffy perfection and the sight of liquid gold dripping from the group head into a shiny ceramic cup, destined to delight your tastebuds — for some, the thoughts that run through the mind before the first caffeine hit of the day are that dramatic.
Situated on the main road that leads down a long, meandering hill, away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and into the quiet beachside suburb of Clovelly, is a popular local coffee shop called TopHat Coffee Merchants. A bright red Renault Kangoo Maxi Crew pulls up and out jump cafe owners Angus and Jess Nicol.
Six days a week, from 6am, it’s all systems go for the pair, and there’s a lot more to this hipster hole in the wall than meets the eye. The newlyweds have recently expanded their business into the world of wholesaling — creating and grinding their own blends as well as running barista courses at their factory in Botany.
On top of that, the motivated pair are also hitting the markets with a coffee cart and plenty of stock to promote Black Market Roasters.
Until now, the couple have been relying on their personal vehicles, a Volkswagen Golf and Subaru wagon, to handle the growing demands, but are now in the market for a small commercial vehicle. The Kangoo Maxi Crew is on their shopping list, and they’re spending a week with the van to find out if it’s a good fit.
The Maxi Crew is priced at $28,490 before on-road coasts, though our test car also had the R-Link audio and navigation system ($950) plus driver and passenger side airbags ($490) for a total sum of $29,930.
Power comes from a 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, producing 81kW and 240Nm, matched to a six-speed manual gearbox.
The Crew variant has five seats and the 60:40 split rear seats fold flat when not in use, increasing the load volume from 1.3m3 to 3.4m3. There’s also a payload of 740kg. More than enough to handle their current and future needs.
“We’re looking for a vehicle big enough to do our deliveries and transport our coffee cart and coffee beans to festivals. We still want something with five seats, we run barista courses and pick students up regularly,” Angus said.
“It also needs to be easy to drive as our staff need to be comfortable parking in the city and travelling on the freeway. Space, comfort, visibility, easy to drive and good music are the key priorities.
“We typically pick up four 70kg coffee sacks from our suppliers and take them back to our warehouse, so it needs to have a strong load capacity with room to grow.”
With staff members also getting behind the wheel, the glaring problem with the Kangoo for the couple is the fact that the extended wheelbase Maxi and five-seat Crew variants are only available with a manual transmission. Both are also only available with a diesel engine. If you’re after petrol or automatic transmission the short wheelbase Kangoo is your only pick in this range.
After ensuring everything is running smoothly at the Clovelly cafe, Jess leaves Angus in charge and jumps back in the Kangoo, headed for the warehouse to pick up a coffee order.
I join her for the trip and Jess reveals the quirky looking van divided opinion, Angus wasn’t a fan but conceded it would look better in black, while she found it ‘cartoonish but endearing’. The optional R-Link audio and navigation system ($950) impressed, but Jess found the touchscreen, buried deep in the centre console, hard to reach from the driver’s seat. Though it’s position reduced the amount of glare on the screen.
“We found it very easy to handle. It’s a little quirky with some of its features but overall a very practical and simplistic solution to transporting goods. We travelled around the CBD as well as to Manly for the farmers market where we set up our coffee stand. We took it south to Cronulla for family events a couple of times, as well as multiple trips through the Eastern suburbs to TopHat and other cafes we supply,” she said.
Overall the pair were happy with the technology, space and cabin quality. The van also has USB, auxiliary jack and 12-volt points, as well as Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity, a CD player, remote central locking, dusk sensing headlights, hill-start assist, cruise control and speed limiter.
During the course of the week the Kangoo Crew proved itself to be practical and easy to drive. Jess, being used to driving a Volkswagen Golf, found it relatively easy to get used to driving the larger vehicle, though its 11.9-metre turning circle proved the biggest challenge.
“Loved the ease of driving, great visibility and room in the back. The bi-fold doors were great too but the handles on the sliding doors felt a little cheap. I was worried I’d break them off.”
Windows on the sliding-doors offered greater visibility than they expected particularly when it came to parking the van in the city, though Angus and Jess were surprised they only cracked open an inch or so. For extra peace-of-mind when reverse parking, sensors are available as an option.
Arriving at the warehouse, successfully navigating through the narrow roads of the industrial estate and parking the van like she’s been doing for decades, Jess checks on the progress of the morning’s roast. When its complete and packed, she opens the barn doors to load in TopHat’s order and reveals two surfboards in the back.
Arriving back at the cafe, Angus explains that it’s not all work and no play. As well as the markets, weekends involve trips up and down the coast chasing waves, hitting the slopes in winter and music festivals where the extra space comes in handy.
“We go surfing down the coast on the weekend, and snowboarding in winter, so the ability to throw the boards in the back with our gear means we don’t have to worry about them on the roof. Being able to sleep in the back of the van at music festivals would be a bonus too,” Angus said.
Being their first commercial vehicle purchase, the couple have been doing their research and are also interested in the Kangoo’s competitors, the Volkswagen Caddy Van, Fiat Doblo and Citroen Berlingo.
Though the Renault wasn’t top of their list, its certainly up there now. After experiencing the Kangoo in their everyday lives Angus and Jess feel ready to make the move to a van and are confident the style of vehicle will work for both business and pleasure.
Click on the Photos tab for more Renault Kangoo Crew images by Glen Sullivan.
Read CarAdvice’s full technical Renault Kangoo Crew review here.