Not every business needs a heavy-duty workhorse to haul around.

Boutique operations like florists, small nurseries, bakers, brewers and coffee roasters are best served by something more agile and affordable – yet just as capable – to deliver their goods and scramble through the confines of an inner-city network.

And that’s exactly why the Renault Kangoo Maxi won the inaugural Best Small Van category in last year’s Drive Commercial Vehicle of the Year, presented by BP Plus awards, beating the popular Volkswagen Caddy and outgoing Citroen Berlingo on the strength of its smooth and grunty diesel powertrain, its comfortable on-road manners and, most importantly, its clever cargo-carrying capacity.

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With no competitors – or significant updates to its existing rivals – arriving in Australian showrooms over the last 12 months, the little Frenchie automatically retains its crown this year.

How much does the Renault Kangoo cost?

The Kangoo is offered in two sizes – the aptly named Compact and Maxi models – with a starting price of $25,990 drive-away for the entry-level model with a six-speed manual transmission. The Maxi model we’re testing costs from $27,990 drive-away, and is not only 300mm longer in overall length, expanding the cargo area by an additional cubic metre, but also trades the Compact’s 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine for a 1.5-litre turbo diesel motor. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is a $2000 option on either model.

Beyond that, the Kangoo Maxi can be had in Crew specification with a second row of seats or, uniquely – and appealing to those with more than just a green thumb – can be had with a fully electric powertrain in the Kangoo ZE. However, you’ll pay a significant premium to live with an environmental consciousness as the ZE costs $52,527.

 

What is the Renault Kangoo like inside?

Like most small vans, the Kangoo’s cabin is pretty basic with few modern creature comforts and conveniences.

Being based on the Renault C platform that underpinned the last-generation Megane and Scenic people mover, there are familiar controls for the manual air-conditioning in the centre of the dash, and clear instruments behind the chunky three-spoke steering wheel.

But, also being French, there is a certain amount of quirkiness to its design, such as the aircraft-style handbrake, the high-mounted gear lever, and piccolo-sized cupholder in the centre console.

Our test car was also fitted with the standard – and old-school – audio system that features radio, CD and Bluetooth streaming functions (and not much else), but the Kangoo can be optioned with a more modern 7.0-inch touchscreen that includes sat-nav and a reverse camera.

In spite of its oddities, the fundamentals are spot-on with good forward vision, a commanding driving position with comfortable seats that offer plenty of adjustment and decent – but not spectacular – small-item storage throughout the cabin.

 

But that pales into insignificance for what it can do in the back. With a cargo space that measures 1862mm long, 1218mm wide between the wheel arches and 1251mm high – for a total capacity of four cubic metres – the Kangoo has plenty of space. There’s also a flat floor throughout and a total of 14 sturdy tie-down points – eight on the floor and six around the sides, which is totally unique to the Kangoo Maxi and makes it handy to secure tall or odd-shaped loads.

Accessing the cargo area is also a key element to the Kangoo’s success, with twin barn doors at the back and sliding doors on each side of the van.

What’s the Kangoo's safety like?

This-generation Kangoo was first introduced in 2007, and facelifted in 2013, and as such only has the basics covered with four airbags, anti-skid brakes and stability control. There’s no modern crash-avoidance technology, like automated emergency braking or blind-spot monitoring, and it only scored a four-star ANCAP crash-test rating when it was tested back in 2011.

How much does the Renault Kangoo cost to maintain?

The Kangoo is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is shorter than the five-year period offered on Renault’s passenger cars. But it does have a capped-price servicing scheme with scheduled visits every 12 months or 15,000km that cost $459 each.

What does the Renault have under the bonnet?

The Maxi model – and the five-seat Crew variant – are exclusively powered by a 1.5-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 81kW of power at 4000rpm and 240Nm of torque from just 1750rpm.

It’s a gutsy little motor that, considering the Kangoo weighs just 1333kg unladen, makes it feel relatively spritely around town, and as opposed to petrol-powered rivals, it is more than capable of maintaining that character when carrying a load in the back. In fact, our test weight of 500kg barely dented its acceleration.

 

It is also reasonably refined, and the six-speed dual-clutch automatic is surprisingly one of the better self-shifting transmissions of its type, shifting smoothly and intuitively keeping the engine spinning in its sweet spot.

How economical is the Renault Kangoo?

The engine not only scored well from the judges in terms of its performance, but it is also one of the most efficient in its class with a combined average consumption figure of 5.4L/100km on the government cycle.

Of course, that figure will increase with a payload and if the majority of driving is contained within an urban environment, but with a 60L fuel tank, it should provide at least 800km of driving range between fills.

What’s the Renault Kangoo like to drive?

Looking in the rear-view mirror provides the only reminder that the Kangoo is actually a tool of the trade. Otherwise, it feels – and drives – much like a small hatchback in most situations.

The steering is light and responsive, and while it doesn’t have the tightest turning circle in its class because of the long-wheelbase configuration, it is still agile enough to navigate tight city streets without an issue.

And, typical of French cars, the suspension is super compliant, whether you’re carrying a load or not, which makes it a comfortable workplace on wheels – particularly if you’re spending most of the day on the road.

Any problems I should know about?

We didn’t encounter any snags with the Kangoo during our testing, and being a tried and proven product that has been around for nearly a decade now, it should prove to be a reliable and dependable workmate.

Having said that, it is approaching the end of its natural life cycle, and as a result it misses out on modern safety features – and some conveniences – that are now available in its rivals.

 

Which is the Best Small Van?

By default of there being no new competitors arriving in Australia before our testing program, the Renault Kangoo retains its position as the Best Small Van in the 2019 Drive Commercial Vehicle of the Year awards, presented by BP Plus.

However, it will face a much tougher challenge to score a hat-trick in 2020 with an all-new Citroen Berlingo – and its twin in the Peugeot Partner – set to land on our shores soon.

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