Rethinking diesel in the Renault Kangoo Compact

The age of the diesel engine is slowly coming to an end – at least in Europe’s capital cities. In December 2016, Paris, Madrid and Athens all announced they would phase out the technology by 2025, and London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, followed suit in April when he said the city would begin to enforce steep levies on diesel vehicles in a move to ultimately remove them from the British capital’s streets.

As such, OEMs like Renault are under increasing pressure to find suitable alternatives that are equally efficient and powerful to handle the growing city freight task. The solution could be high-tech petrol engines like the 1.2-litre unit in the new-generation Renault Kangoo Compact. The turbocharged all-alloy unit comes from Renault’s ‘Energy’ family of engines, derived from Renault’s successful Formula One program.

The engine features an injection system that supplies fuel directly into the combustion chambers, a pair of overhead camshafts driven by a low-friction timing chain that will last the lifetime of the engine, and a super-hard carbon coating on the cam followers. This TCe115 engine is also used in the Renault Clio, Captur and Megane passenger vehicles, and has been re-tuned to deliver more low-speed torque for the Kangoo’s light commercial vehicle application.

Despite the small displacement, it produces 113hp (84kW) of power at 4,500rpm, which is 8hp (6kW) more than the 1.6-litre diesel it replaces. But it is the delivery of torque that is most impressive about the small capacity engine.
Most of the gain in this department has been due to the advanced design of the turbocharger: The maximum torque of 190Nm – a solid 42Nm more than in the previous model – is developed between 2,000 and 4,000rpm, so it doesn’t need to scream at the top end of the rev range to extract maximum performance. Even at 1,500rpm, the engine still provides 90 per cent of its maximum torque – and low-speed throttle response exhibits almost imperceptible turbo lag.

On the freeway, 100km/h thus reads just over 2,200rpm on the tacho, so noise and vibration are not an issue either. The engine is also 10kg lighter than the diesel, which should aid fuel efficiency. Transmission options are a six-speed manual or Renault’s six-speed ‘Efficient Dual Clutch’ (EDC) automated manual. The dual-clutch design of the EDC produces ultra-fast gearshifts that take just a quarter of a second to complete.

Functions such as Eco mode contribute to a 21 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency over the larger diesel and result in a 6.5l/100km combined cycle for the EDC, while the manual version is even less thirsty at 6.1l/100km.
The Kangoo Compact has 3m3 of load volume, a rear loading height of 600mm and can carry a 540kg payload. Despite having been designed in response to developments in Europe, a standard Australian pallet will fit in the back of it, too. But, the Compact is not intended to be in the heavy hauler category – it is more suited to carrying small or bulky parcels as well as for service applications such as florist deliveries.

The driver is afforded basic protection from loose items by way of a tubular steel frame fixed behind the seat. A full metal bulkhead is available as an additional cost option. Driver and passenger seating, meanwhile, is comfortable, and the large windscreen provides a sense of space.

While on the road, the transmission selector permits easy switching from full auto to manual override, and the automated manual doesn’t exhibit any indecisiveness about gear selection when in auto mode. In typical French fashion, the driver’s controls for the audio and phone system are located almost unseen behind the steering wheel and require a little familiarisation.

What doesn’t need any familiarisation is the balance sheet: Renault has traditionally been able to reduce the lifetime costs of its vehicles to a minimum, and with 12-month or 15,000km service intervals, the Kangoo Compact is no exception.
The spare wheel and tyre are full sized and the body has multiple easy-to-replace plastic protection panels, which prove important for city delivery work. Cruise control for freeway driving is standard and the adjustable speed limiter function is another plank in the Kangoo’s safety platform.

The Kangoo Compact’s real achievement, however, is the driveline. It’s proof that high-tech small displacement petrol engines are more than up to the task expected from equivalent diesels, while having much less of an impact on photo-chemical pollution, especially in inner-city areas – and that’s equally true for Paris as it is for Australian capital cities.

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