The proliferation of small – and perhaps medium – vans in Australia shows that Aussie buyers know what works. Especially when they spend their time running around town.
The 2020 Renault Kangoo Maxi slots firmly into that middle ground, and is aiming to take the fight up to the segment-leading Volkswagen Caddy. When you see how many there are on the road, it makes you wonder why Toyota doesn’t make a baby HiAce available.
You only need to spend five minutes in a van of this size to know that they make a hell of a lot of sense to the trade or delivery buyer, or the inner-city dweller who just needs decent cargo space.
Their nimble, light-footed drive experience is tailor made for tight city confines.
Pricing and Specs: Trent Nikolic
The Kangoo Maxi is powered by a 1.5-litre diesel engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, with pricing starting from $32,190 before on-road costs. A VW Caddy Maxi is around three and a half grand more, for comparison.
Until the end of the year, value is sharper still, with a $32,990 drive-away offer available.
The direct-injection, turbocharged four cylinder generates 81kW at 4000rpm and 240Nm at 1750rpm, with an ADR fuel claim of just 5.4L/100km on the combined cycle.
Our tester weighs in at 1363kg, has a payload of 795kg and a turning circle of 11.9 metres.
Standard features include ESC, four airbags, ABS, auto headlights and wipers, cloth seats, tilt and height adjustable driver’s seat, overhead shelf storage system, cup and bottle holders and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
There are option packs available, one of which brings with it a 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto mirroring and enhanced satellite navigation.
|2020 Renault Kangoo Maxi|
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel|
|Power and torque||81kW at 4000rpm, 240Nm at 1750rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.2L/100km|
|Load area (length/width/height)||1862mm / 1218mm / 1251mm|
|ANCAP safety rating||4 Stars (2011)|
|Warranty||5 years / 200,000 km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen Caddy, Peugeot Partner|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$32,190|
Interior and Around Town, Laden: Sam Purcell
With five hundred kilograms of pebbles thrown into the back end, it was time to test out the load-carrying credentials of the Kangoo.
First thing to note is that while a pallet does fit through the rear doors, our forklift operator found it a tight fit. For the sake of accuracy in a busy loading dock, a pallet jack could make things easier.
The two-stage doors stop at 90- and 180-degrees, which helps, but on this occasion I rolled up the sleeves and threw the bags in by hand. And once driving, I was impressed with the sprightly demeanour that the Kangoo hung onto. Although 1.5 litres of engine capacity might not sound like much, the fact that peak torque (240Nm) comes on at a low 1750rpm means it wasn’t struggling under the weight of the ballast.
The dual-clutch gearbox was also admirable, not worried about the extra weight and got the job done without any dramas. Pulling onto the highway and merging saw some brief exploration of the the 3000-4000rpm section of the rev range, but the Kangoo quickly settled back down to a low-rev plodding once you reached your speed.
While there is a slight, balanced firmness to the Kangoo’s ride when unladen, it yields comfort and control when loaded up, without any nasty surprises.
Ergonomically, the Kangoo is also solid. Reach and rake adjustment in the steering column helps in this regard, and the driving position is like a small car.
The centre console is small and deep, with some additional storage atop the dashboard for your odds and ends. One cupholder lives just behind the comically large handbrake lever, with another cup holder in front.
There’s a basic head unit below your air conditioning controls. And while it looks dated, it all works fine. With only a handful of buttons on the steering wheel, additional controls for your phone and radio come via a big control stalk on the right-hand side.
Power outlets are thin on the ground: the stereo’s USB plug struggled to power up my smartphone while it was dishing out directions, so you’ll need a fit a USB adapter into the 12V plug.
Behind the driver’s ears, it’s all about raw space. Eight separate tie down points on the floor hint to the fact there is room for two pallets in the back of the Kangoo, with additional tie downs on each wall. The floor, finished with a hard rubber matting, also seems quite durable.
Kudos on the location of the scissor jack as well, mounted on top of the right rear wheel well so it’s easy to access even when loaded up with gear.
Around Town, Unladen: Rob Margeit
While a van is made for lugging loads, there are times when the cargo area remains empty, which can sometimes lead to a compromise, certainly in terms of the way a small delivery van rides.
The good news here is that the Kangoo is every bit as composed without a load in the back as it is with. As co-tester Sam Purcell has already noted, unladen the Kangoo offers a balanced and firm ride that softens up a tad once cargo is on board.
I spent a couple of days running around in the inner city with an empty Kangoo, on streets that are typically pock-marked and scrappy. The Kangoo was more than a match for those scarred road surfaces, never feeling overly jiggly or bouncy.
Instead, the little van kept its composure, even over larger obstacles such as speed bumps, of which there is a proliferation in my neck of the woods. Having 15-inch steel wheels shod with fat-sidewalled 195/65 R15 rubber no doubt helps in this regard, too.
The surprising aspect of the Kangoo around town is just how perky that drivetrain is. The 1.5-litre diesel, with its generous torque band, equates to a sprightly take off from standstill. It’s not sluggish by any means.
And the six-speed dual clutch auto does a commendable job of selecting an holding onto gears. There’s no hesitation from the transmission, a trait sometimes associated with these types of automatics.
Manoeuvrability is a boon too, the Kangoo is light and agile around tight laneways and smaller city streets, something we’d venture is essential for a vehicle like this likely to spend a good chunk of its time making deliveries in CBDs and inner-city enclaves.
One downside is the lack of a decent rear-view camera. There is a camera located within the rear-view mirror, but it’s small and not very clear. And when your van features solid sides, a decent rear-view camera is essential.
And we’d tick the $350 option box for a bulkhead between the cargo area and the cabin, both for cabin ambience and safety. Our tester did not have a bulkhead and that made for a noisy driving experience, sound amplified and bouncing around the cargo area. And in terms of safety, nobody wants a bunch of boxes flying into the driver’s compartment in the event of an emergency brake. Get the bulkhead, is out tip.
Overall, even without a load on board, the Kangoo Maxi is a hoot to hustle around town, with a perky drivetrain and comfortable ride. Yes, visibility out back could be better, but once you become accustomed to its size, the Kangoo remains surprisingly easy to fit into small spaces and gaps.
Warranty and Servicing: Rob Margeit
Renault covers the Kangoo with its five-year/200,000km warranty, while service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The French brand offers capped price servicing for the Kangoo with the first five visits or 75,000km asking for a total of $2605.
VERDICT: Trent Nikolic
There’s absolutely no doubt the Renault Kangoo Maxi fills the small to medium van brief almost perfectly. It’s actually fun to drive – which it has no right to be – while still being practical and incredibly useful.
We enjoyed our time with it laden or unladen, on the highway or running round town. You don’t need long with a van to be reminded of just how practical they are. It’s a wonder more of the alloy tray utility brigade don’t look at vans as a real option. And like we stated above, it makes you wonder why Toyota doesn’t make a baby HiAce available.
While the Caddy is still the segment benchmark in terms of sales, there’s no doubt the Kangoo’s efficient turbo diesel, slick six-speed auto, and quality drive experience put it right where it needs to be to have a crack at the big gun.