The noise is about to make way for clear action as Renault‘s much-talked about electric vehicle programme finally breeds some results.

The Kangoo ZE van will be first to arrive by the end of this year, and the two-seat Twizy city car launches next March, but from a passenger car perspective this Fluence ZE is where car fleets start paying attention.

The Fluence, sold in regular petrol and diesel form in mainland Europe, and essentially a saloon sibling to the Megane lower medium hatchback, launches in summer 2012, and is a full five-seat saloon with an official range of 115 miles, although how it’s driven has a huge impact. It’s 130mm longer than the internal combustion-engined sibling, enabling the batteries to be slotted in between the rear seats and a boot that’s 317 litres, compared with the Megane’s 372 litres.

As we’ve said repeatedly in the recent past, the biggest thing in electric vehicles’ favour is quite how similar they are to drive to an automatic petrol or diesel car. The only real difference is the serenity with which you pull away, before, as the speed increases, regular wind and road noise breaks through the peace. The instant power delivery is useful for picking though urban sprawl, and also negates any milk-float connotations, although acceleration does tail off as the speed increases – the 0-62mph time is 13.7 seconds, but you’d never believe it from the way the Fluence, like its other electric vehicle cousins, takes off from either standstill or at low speed.

Much like the Nissan Leaf, equipment levels are good, with 16-inch alloys, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and TomTom satnav all standard. The satellite navigation system is capable of showing remaining battery range, directions to the nearest charging point and real-time traffic information, among other details. Otherwise, the interior is standard Renault fare, another positive factor in terms of ‘normalising’ electric vehicles.

Renault’s controversial decision to lease the battery, rather than offering an option to buy it outright, means the Fluence, only available in a single model line, costs £17,850 after the £5000 Government subsidy, and then £69.60-£120.60 a month for the battery lease, depending on which of the 20 options, involving various combinations of contract lengths (from one to five years) and distances (from 6000 to 15,000 miles), you pick.

Whole-life costs aren’t yet available, but the low purchase price for an electric vehicle, compared with the Nissan Leaf’s post-subsidy price of £25,990, means even with the battery leasing it should be competitive. The practicality of a regular lower medium saloon, plus zero benefit-in-kind, national insurance and VED payments, mean the Fluence is another example of electric vehicles gently progressing towards the mainstream. Like its EV siblings, it certainly won’t be for everyone due to the obvious range and recharging issues, but if it does fit with a user’s profile then there’s no reason at all not to consider it.

Renault Fluence ZE
P11D price £22,795
(before Govt. subsidy)
Model price range £22,795
Fuel consumption n/a
CO2 (tax) 0g (0%)
BIK 20/40% per month £0/£0
Range 115 miles
Electric motor 95kW
Boot space 317 litres
Top speed/0-62mph 84mph/13.7secs
On sale June 2012
Verdict Price makes Fluence
attractive, if you can
handle the range
Score 7/10