Renault is pitching the electric Master Z.E. at ‘final mile’ urban deliveries and says that the large van has been launched in direct response to customer demand. Space is more important than weight-carrying ability for those delivering large numbers of parcels to companies and consumers, hence the decision to electrify the Master before the smaller Trafic sister van. The company has also launched a series of telematics options aimed at helping fleet managers organise a group of Masters to zip around town in the most efficient way possible.
However, the Master Z.E.’s stats aren’t mind blowing. It has an official range of 124 miles, although Renault officially says it is more likely to be good for around 75 miles in real-world conditions.
You get plenty of choice when it comes to the Master Z.E. range, with four combinations of height and length available. There is a short version with a low and high roof, and medium- or long-wheeelbase versions with the higher roof.
There is also a choice of chassis cab versions in two lengths, ripe for converting. The payload ranges between 975kg on the largest van and 1,128kg on the smallest.
Full UK pricing and specification will be revealed in the next few weeks, with deliveries beginning in late 2018.
The cabin of the Master Z.E. will be familiar to anyone that has been inside the third generation of the van. That is to say, vast amounts of load space, lots of storage compartments, a fold-down seat back that creates a small desk and excellent visibility thanks to the wide-angle door mirrors.
The downfalls remain, too, with the oddly placed infotainment screen up where the rear-view mirror would otherwise be. It uses Renault’s latest software, but comes with a clunky TomTom sat-nav system and a series of menus that are tricky to navigate.
The full-height steel bulkhead comes as standard, and the loading space is simple and functional – the side and rear doors are easy to open and close one-handed, and the room on offer is comparable with that in rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter.
Putting everything else about electric vans aside, the near silence that comes with driving at low speeds is a joy, and the Renault Master is no different around town. There’s a ‘bong’ when you switch it on, and then a simple low whirr at urban speeds that makes for a relaxed atmosphere.
Pick up the pace, and it isn’t such a refined experience. The cabin lets in all manner of wind, road and rain noise, meaning you end up raising your voice to communicate as you would in a diesel. Presumably adding extra insulation would increase weight, lowering that already relatively low payload that bit further.
The Z.E. drives very much like a standard Master in many other ways, too. It doesn’t have the instantaneous kick of acceleration that usually comes with an electric vehicle, preferring a gradual but insistent build-up of torque. It accelerates at a similar pace to a diesel model, in fact, but in a much smoother manner, and will power up hills with real determination. We tried the Master Z.E. with a 500kg load in the rear, and it dealt well with the quick starts and sharp inclines that are common around towns.
An Eco mode button will dull responses slightly, to help eke as much as possible out of the battery. It limits the top speed to 50mph, but even with it off the Master will only make it to 62mph, further underlining the urban aspirations. The 45-mile route we took it on used around half of the battery, which suggests that the real-world claim of 75 miles is certainly achievable with a completely full loading bay.
Because the base vehicle is fundamentally a Master, it doesn’t ride or steer quite as sharply as a smaller purpose-built electric vehicle, but it isn’t compromised by the changes either.
Fundamentally, that sums up the Z.E., which feels like a standard van that has been electrified, rather than an electric van designed from the ground up. It copes very well with the challenges of urban work, but doesn’t offer the level of innovation that the newer Renault Kangoo Z.E. 33 brings.