- New electric version of one of Europe’s bestselling large vans brings lower costs and zero emissions
- Master ZE uses 77hp electric motor and same 33kWh battery pack as the smaller Kangoo ZE
- 225Nm of instant torque can still cope with 1.0-tonne+ payload, but limited range and high price hamper appeal
With the arrival of the Renault Master ZE electric van, the Renault Kangoo ZE finally has a big – really big – brother. Out goes the Master’s conventional diesel engine power, and in comes an electric motor and a battery pack, giving the Master ZE zero emissions in motion and your business a super-clean image.
But how useful is a large electric van, really? Like all e-vans, the Master ZE has its limitations but also its advantages, too. We’ve been driving this new EV on its launch to find out.
Why buy a Renault Master ZE?
Renault is billing the Master ZE as a last mile delivery solution, ideal for the low and ultra-low emissions zones that are inevitably coming to towns and cities throughout the UK.
Compared to the Kangoo small e-van and its rivals, the Master's primary advantages are obvious: as a much bigger van it can carry more, in terms of both payload and volume.
It comes not as a single variant but with a choice of three lengths and two heights – and that’s in panel van form. There is also a choice of two platform cab versions, so it will also be available for a variety of conversions, including into a box van with up to 22 cubic metres of load capacity.
In other words, you should be able to get one that suits your needs – unless your needs involve long journeys and carrying stuff that’s particularly heavy…
What’s not so good about the Renault Master ZE?
Typical e-van issues, really. The distance you can drive before the batteries need recharging, the maximum payload and the initial cost all compare rather negatively to a conventional diesel model.
What’s the range of the Renault Master ZE?
This is going to vary depending on what you’re carrying, as well as when and where you’re driving, but according to the official NEDC measure that every manufacturer adheres to, the claim is around 120 miles.
Everyone knows the official figures are a little wonky compared to real-life use, so Renault also provides a more accurate estimate based on actual driving data of 75 miles.
This doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does account for payload and poor driving conditions, and can be treated as a minimum rather than a maximum.
Our test drive on a mixed-road route with 400kg in the back certainly suggests the Master ZE is capable of exceeding this, if not comfortably then by enough to avoid terminal range anxiety.
What should be clear, however, is that the electric Master is only suitable for a very particular use type: where you can be sure it can carry out the journeys it needs to complete in a day on a single charge. Then it’s simple – and cost-effective – enough to plug it in to recharge overnight.
How long does it take to recharge the Renault Master ZE?
This depends on the type of charger you’ve got access to.
But even if you have got access to a powerful quick charger, realistically it’s still unlikely you’ll be able to get more than a single charge’s worth of use out of the Renault Master ZE per day, as the very fastest charging time Renault is quoting is six hours.
If you can only plug it into a regular domestic socket, that shoots up to 17 hours, while the more modest types of Wallbox charger require 12 hours. You’ll need one of the newer 7kW Wallbox models to hit that six hour minimum.
What’s the payload of the Renault Master ZE?
As with a conventional van, this varies with body size. Here’s what each Master ZE panel van variant is able to carry:
- Renault Master ZE L1 H1 payload: 1,128kg
- Renault Master ZE L1 H2 payload: 1,100kg
- Renault Master ZE L2 H2 payload: 1,056kg
- Renault Master ZE L3 H2 payload: 975kg
As is typical of a van, the L number refers to the body length and H number to the height – thus the bigger the Master ZE is, the less it can physically carry. No surprises there.
What you have probably spotted, however, is that ZE’s payload is nearly 400kg less than the equivalent diesel version. That’s the current impact of electric vehicle tech – and the Master has the same compact and up-to-date battery pack as the latest Kangoo ZE, which was only upgraded in 2017.
In better news, the actual load area dimensions are unaffected by going electric – since the compact size of the batteries allows them to be cunningly stashed below the load floor.
The ZE is based on the front-wheel drive Master platform, rather than the rear-wheel drive one, which brings a lower load floor for easy access to the back.
Complete Renault Master dimension info is available in our full review (click here), but suffice to say this gives even the standard ZE panel vans between 8.0 and 13.0 cubic metres of storage space, so plenty of room for relatively light but bulky things such as parcels.
What’s the Renault Master ZE like to drive?
Interesting, actually. It very much has the feel of an existing van that’s been converted to electric power, rather than a model that was designed with an e-variant in mind right from the start, and the new powertrain does seem to show up as many minor issues as it solves.
Electric vehicles – including e-vans – are usually very refined. But we found there was still quite a bit of vibration through the steering wheel of the Master ZE we tried. What’s more, although you no longer have the clatter of the diesel engine to cope with, its absence means you hear much more road and wind noise. So it’s nowhere near as immediately relaxing and quiet as we were expecting.
Like all Masters, the steering remains long-winded – you have to turn the wheel a lot to get from lock to lock. But then the front wheels themselves do also turn a long way, too, making this big van surprisingly manoeuvrable.
Once you’re up and running, and acclimatised to the noise, the Master ZE becomes rather enjoyable. The handling is neat and tidy, there’s not much bodyroll, and it feels very stable at speed. As an electric model with a single-speed transmission it doesn’t have any gears to worry about – you simply select Drive or Reverse and go – taking all the pain out of traffic jams, too.
It’s not the fastest thing in the world. The R75 electric motor is the same 57kW (77hp) unit used by the latest Kangoo ZE, and top speed in the Master is 62mph at best; activate the Eco mode to eke out the highest possible driving range this is restricted further to 50mph.
But for all that, it didn’t have any trouble hauling the 400kg test weight in the back during our drive. While the motor’s 225Nm of torque might sound modest, the whole lot is delivered instantly so it only ever starts to feel laboured on particularly steep hills.
The regenerative braking effect of the motor means that every time you lift off the accelerator, the van slows noticeably.
Driven with careful observation of the road ahead, we found we rarely needed to use the brakes; since this slowing down process converts momentum back into electricity, which goes back into the battery, being that bit more vigilant helps the van go further between charges as well.
What’s the cost of the Renault Master ZE and when does it go on sale?
Renault hasn’t officially announced the cost of the Master ZE just yet, but we understand that it’s like to have an entry-level price of around £55,000 (excluding VAT).
That’s obviously a lot for a van, but it still looks very competitive indeed against the only large electric rivals currently available, the LDV EV80 and the Iveco Daily Electric (particularly the latter, which is both very expensive and has much poorer performance than the Renault). What will happen when the Mercedes eSprinter and VW e-Crafter become widely available remains to be seen.
Running costs for the Master ZE should be much lower per mile than a conventional alternative – in terms of both ‘fuel’ and maintenance. A full charge should only be a couple of quid (depending on your electricity tariff), while fewer moving parts and less wear and tear means servicing should be cheaper.
Exact pricing is scheduled to be announced in early summer 2018, order books should open in late summer, and first deliveries are expected in autumn.
Of all the large electric vans we’ve driven so far, the Renault Master ZE is the best one. It offers a good choice of sizes, maintains a respectably useful level of payload and is looking like it will be priced attractively, too.
Though the driving experience isn’t the quietest, it’s easy to get used to the way it performs, the range is acceptable (and we believe reliable), and the Master has a practical cab environment with plenty of storage.
The only real snag we see for Renault here is that in the not too distant future there will be full electric versions of the latest Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter available – and these are both much newer vans that were designed with electric power in mind from the beginning…