Dave Bicker is back on PetrolBlog and is once again singing the praises of a practical French car. Last time around it was the Citroën 2CV, this time it’s the turn of the Renault Kangoo. Over to you, Dave.
Each country tends to produce a car that is often a fair reflection of itself. He said, with the hounds of political correctness baying in pursuit.
The Germans tend to offer solid engineering in an understated discrete vehicle, unquestioningly reliable and swift, fine examples of teutonic skill, but often wilfully bland. In contrast, the Italians offer eye wateringly beautiful cars that look and sound exquisite, the car appearing to accelerate away even when at rest. Set against this is the nightmare that is Italian electronics.
The good old U.S of Etcetera gives us tennis court sized motor ve-hi-cles with the ability to traverse vast swathes of their land in air conditioned luxury, the only drawback being their ability to manage changes of direction and a reliance in technology familiar to Henry Ford.
Our comrades in the Soviet Bloc favoured the agricultural tractor as their template, with a total indifference to fuel and build quality something unthinkable to their Scandinavian neighbours who wouldn’t release a model that didn’t include the obligatory sixteen airbags and ‘Your Trouser Zip Is Open’ warning light.
The United Kingdom, in the day when it possessed a flourishing motor industry, would offer their products on a class based system. The affluent old money would drive the balloon-of-brandy Jaguar or Vanden Plas item, whereas the Proles would be obliged to content themselves with an Austin 1100 or a half-timbered Morris Minor. Both classes of vehicle would display the same woeful lack of investment and incipient rust.
One motor vehicle that none of the above ever considered producing, which was left to the wonderful French nation – step forward The Van With Windows And Seats.
Here in the UK we had an indifferent stab at it with the Austin Countryman and the Bedford Beagle, but it was clear our Anglo-Saxon heart wasn’t really in it, whereas the egalitarian French looked at their range of sturdy vans and thought, ‘We will have the tin opener to this, windows will go in and Madame will fabricate the rear seat et voila! Le Van Extraordinaire’.
The nation that gave us the Renault Espace were clearly capable of producing fine innovative people carriers, equally they were content to fit out their light commercials pour la famille. French vans always had character in spades whether it be the wheeled shed that was the Citroen H van, or its younger sibling the Visa based C15 – a vehicle that appears to be constantly performing an emergency stop.
However, my favourite of the genre is the Renault Kangoo, not the bloated present incarnation but its sylph like predecessor. These cars were the personification of functionality, the commercial DNA not hidden away but relished, from the rubber mats on the floor to the lashing points in the cavernous boot. The interior was vast. So much so that Jeremy Clarkson’s bromantic interest, Isambard Kingdom Brunel could have stepped in whilst wearing his hat; the fawning Richard Hammond could easily stroll around in one. The headroom in these things is phenomenal. Absurd levels of shoulder and leg room in the front and rear, along with the parcel shelf above the windscreen – what’s not to love?
Pull the seats down, fill it with rubbish, put them back up and fill them with family, that in essence was the raison d’être of these things. The simple 1.9 indirect injection diesel engine was an unrefined joy that had performed well in the earlier Clio and Mégane models. This was followed by the 1.5Di unit and the 1.6 and wheezy 1.2 petrol alternatives. A 4×4 Trekka model was available for the testosterone challenged, a fine motor it was too.
If the DNA was light commercial vehicle then the soul of the thing was pure Renault 4, the wonderful gem that appeared in the early ‘60s to challenge the 2CV sector of the market. The gentle curves and upright stance of the Kangoo echoed that of the 4 along with its practical utilitarian nature. And I think there was a dollop of its Gallic charm there too. Sadly the loping gait and silly gearstick had been bred out way back in the seventies.
Citroën tried their very best with their ‘Bellendo’ but it was an indifferent drive, and for a while didn’t have the glorious slidy back doors of the Kangoo. Likewise Fiat had a go with the Doblo, but neither had the rustic qualities of the Renault.
The French persist with the van thing with the jolly Nemo and Bipper, both bursting with practical fun, so there’s hope for the future. The deluxe plush people carrier with the 58 variations of seat arrangement and three litres of boot space, or the cheap-as-frites Van Extraordinaire?
I’ll go for the Renault every time.
Read more from Dave Bicker here.