Leading the charge is the installation of a new 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine in place of the old asthmatic, naturally aspirated 1.6, a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic option in place of the old four-speeder, and a range of extra safety features.
In return for this is a $1500 greater price of entry, which is now $23,490 plus on-road costs, though Renault Australia claims much of this will be offset by an improvement in combined-cycle fuel economy of more than 20 per cent.
Still, it's no longer one of the segment's cheapest offerings. The manual Berlingo kicks off at $22,990, the Fiat Doblo starts at $22,000 and the Suzuki APV costs just $18,990. Only the Caddy ($24,990 in Runner form, and $28,990 in base TSI220 auto guise) exceeds it, though the VW is larger and more powerful.
Right off the bat we'll state the Kangoo is a vital model for Renault Australia, given its market share in the light van segment is almost 30 per cent, much higher than any other model the French brand offers. So have these changes made it a better proposition despite the price hike?
Heading the range, and the variant we drove on the recent Australian-market launch, is the renamed, short-wheelbase Kangoo Compact.
As ever, the car-based Kangoo offers surprisingly pleasant driving dynamics, with sharp handling, light steering, a turning circle of 10.7m, decent unladen body control and good noise suppression at speed. It's genuinely delightful to punt around town or on bad back roads.
The new engine offers a much more pleasant driving experience than before. Its 84kW of power at 4500rpm is 5kW higher than before, while the 190Nm of torque – on tap between 2000 and 4000rpm – is up 42Nm, and available 1750rpm earlier. Torque still goes to the front wheels.
This means you can access the pulling power more readily, and while the outputs aren’t exactly massive, its not a class outlier. The Berlingo’s 1.6 non-turbo offers 80kW/147Nm, a Caddy Runner has 62kW/160Nm, and even the pricier Caddy TSI220 has 92kW/220Nm.
In typical small turbo style, the engine is at its happiest poking around in urban congestion, or utilising its broad torque band and sitting at about 1800rpm at 100km/h on a freeway. It’s an ideal engine for a small, car-based van like the Kangoo.
The Kangoo Compact’s 1.2 turbo is matched to a six-speed manual or a $3000 more expensive six-speed dual-clutch auto. That’s a lot of money for an auto option, though Renault is expecting a high uptake for buyers not keen on a foot clutch in the urban grind.
Additionally, budget rivals like the Caddy Runner, Berlingo and Doblo don't come with an auto option at this price point. So Renault has you covered there.
In dual-clutch fashion the ’box requires some getting used to. Don’t mash the throttle, instead, progressively ease onto the power and you’ll be fine.The upside is the good rolling response, and the fuel economy gains (at a claimed 6.2L/100km).
In actuality, the EDC feels sprightlier than the manual, which has a long throw and a light clutch, though we’d be sorely tempted to save the three grand and row our own cogs. Additionally, the tall sixth makes for competent cruising.
Furthermore, the manual has a distinct advantage in payload, at 675kg compared to a meagre 540kg for the auto (the old 1.6 manual could handle 611kg, while the old four-speed auto could lug 608kg). We get that these are designed for light loading, but the Caddy Runner can lug 779kg and the Berlingo can handle 850kg.
Finally, the auto has no tow rating given its 1810kg gross combination mass, whereas the manual can tow a 1050kg braked trailer (note, if you tow this amount, you legally can't have any cargo). Not to be a broken record, but the old 1.6 four-speeder could tow the same amount as its manual twin.
For those wanting more grunt, there’s the 81kW/240Nm turbo-diesel Kangoo, available solely in the bigger Maxi body style, with a six-speed manual gearbox only, priced at $26,990. This model can carry 825kg and tow 1050kg.
The Kangoo's three cubic-metre load volume is also on the small side, though this has ever been the case. There's still room for a pallet between the arches, and standard twin sliding side doors. Standard-fit features include tubular driver protection bars (you can option a proper bulkhead), a plastic lining, rubber floor mat, cargo area lighting and 10 tie-down points.
New features fitted to the 1.2 include side airbags, cruise control speed limiter, hill-start assist, reverse sensors and an eco mode. The manual also gets stop-start.
Other standard features include Bluetooth phone and audio, 12V and USB inputs, 15-inch steel wheels, cloth seats and manual air conditioning.
There's also the optional Pro Pack with 7.0-inch touchscreen, sat nav, rear-view camera, an overhead cabin storage shelf and glazed dual rear and side sliding doors. Note, the Berlingo gets a standard touchscreen with Apple CarPlay. Being a van, you can option a million-and-one accessories including cargo barriers and roof racks, plus rear barn doors, and more.
From an ownership perspective, you get Renault's growing 55-site network of dealers, you get a three-year/200,000km warranty, round-the-clock roadside assist over this term, and 12-month/15,000km service intervals capped at $349 initially.
Our time behind the wheel of the 2017 Kangoo Compact 1.2 was brief, given we drove it on a local launch event, though it's clear the new engine is a much smoother and more refined proposition than before, and the extra safety is welcome.
That said, the price hikes aren't (despite the reduced fuel bills), nor is the small payload and the dated cabin layout compared to rivals, though buyers after an automatic light van on a budget will still be encouraged to hit their Renault dealer.