January 23, 2019

Road test: Renault Master Z.E

With the growing demand for electric vehicles, van manufacturers are eventually bringing larger models to market. One of the issues preventing take-up of heavier vans has been just that, the weight. Adding heavy batteries to a 3.5-tonne van results in a greatly reduced payload potential.

The government has helped, by lifting the gross weight of electric vans to 4.2-tonnes, without buyers having to have an Operator’s Licence. However, Renault has taken a different path. Rather than lifting the ultimate weight of its Master van, the company has chosen to use a lighter driveline to offer a decent payload and a lower overall weight.

Indeed, the Master Z.E. doesn’t even need to run at 3.5-tonnes to achieve a 1-tonne payload, with Renault opting instead to call time at 3.1-tonnes GVW. To achieve this, the van is equipped with the 33kWh lithium-ion batteries from the smaller Kangoo Z.E.33. These power the firm’s R75 electric motor from the Zoe car, delivering a boost of power and torque when compared to the Kangoo, at 76hp and 225Nm of torque respectively.

Master Z.E. is available in four panel van configurations, offering load volumes of 8-13m3. The short wheelbase, low roof model, has the biggest payload, at 1,128kg, while the long wheelbase with medium roof offers a 975kg load carrying ability. Despite that, the long wheelbase, medium roof van is the best-selling diesel Master and Renault is expecting it to be the Z.E. model of choice for UK buyers as well.

There will also be two platform cab variants available, on the L2 and L3 chassis. Both deliver over 1.35-tonnes of body and payload capability, suitable for conversions of up to 19m3 load volume.

Though boasting an NEDC range of 124 miles, Renault admits that customers will probably achieve a more realistic 75-80 miles on a single charge. However, that should work for most inner-city users.

The van is certainly easy to drive, with a conventional automatic transmission lever to select drive, neutral and reverse gears. The only visual change is the adoption of Renault’s Z.E. dash, which shows charge and regeneration status rather than fuel levels and rpm.

In stop/start use the van does provide a reasonable amount of regeneration too, sending energy to the battery to boost the available range. Though it slows the van when you lift off the throttle, the regen is not as pronounced as some that we have tried, but it does almost allow single pedal driving in the city.

There is plenty of power when you want to go forwards too, with the Master Z.E.’s motor providing maximum torque from the moment you pull away. Keeping pace with other traffic in town is never a problem and even on country roads the Z.E. is a pleasant companion, with virtually no electric motor noise. The top speed is set at 62mph, so this is no motorway cruiser, but that is not its intended use.

As is often the case with an electric van, it all sounds good until you get to the price. However, after the Plug-in-Van Grant has been applied, this LM31 Master Z.E. can be had for less than £50,000, which is considerably less than some of its competitors.

Take into account the lower fuel bills, reduced service cost, no congestion charge and the ability to run within the upcoming low emission zones that will be imposed on a number of cities around the UK and for many, those figures could start to add up. At 3.1-tonnes GVW there are also no concerns about driver, vehicle or operator licensing.

All electric vans have to perform a balancing act, bringing together performance, range, payload and load volume with total cost of ownership. By combining proven electric driveline components from its smaller models with an established large van chassis, the Master Z.E. is certainly taking a different approach. It’s one that works very well.