It may come off as odd to road test a French car in Sweden. Play along because as you’ll soon discover no country’s better-suited for the Renault Kangoo. During my brief sojourn in Sweden, I’ve decided Swedes are the Earth’s most utilitarian people. Nowhere else in the Western world do the women own as few shoes or the men know as few jokes. In automotive terms, the Swedish penchant for simplicity has translated into a decades-long love affair with the most utilitarian of all automotive species: the station wagon. The Kangoo is Renault’s foray into the compact hauler market. On paper, it’s a shoo-in: it’s even uglier than an estate, it’s more practical and it consumes less fuel with the optional diesel engine! In other words, what French car could possibly be more Swedish?
Aesthetically, I’d say the Kangoo has a decidedly European character. That’s not a compliment. Like many European interpretations of the budget automobile, it lacks any flair or machismo. The bubbly front sticks out meekly from the whole, its tiny lights giving it the air of a mouse trying to avoid a congestion charge in central London. Meanwhile, the middle lords disproportionately over the front, but arrives too late to the party to assert any character. It would look perfectly at home schlepping around abused suitcases at Charles de Gaulle airport. The styling is possibly an attempt at minimizing the drag coefficient for a continent where fuel costs slightly less than black market infants. Unfortunately, it’s not appeasing to see a rakish front morphing into a big boxy rear. And at the rear, more disaster lurks in the form of asymmetrical doors and a large plastic bracket outlining both sides of the ass-end.
Obviously, the Kangoo does some things better than others, and I’d say it does inanimate objects the best. That’s because no disassembled Ikea dining set would dare complain about the hard plastics and aesthetically boring instrument panel which RSVP’ed but then failed to meet my inflated European expectations. The seats are adequate, though thigh support could be better. I suppose being brainwashed about European sensibilities on car discussions forums for years does that, but this interior wouldn’t look out of place in a Ford Ranger. You can live with it, but would you want to? On the plus side, at least the gear lever isn’t much of a reach from the pilot.
As a driving machine, the Kangoo is a mixed bag. It adeptly splits the difference between big, ungainly car and small, nimble car. The ride is comparable to a typical econobox, say a Civic or a Cobalt. That’s probably because its DNA originates in the compact Mégane. However, it won’t take too many roundabouts to make you hate the momentous body roll, amplified by the car’s ridiculously high center of gravity. Tall and skinny together unfailingly produce understeer, and the Kangoo has both in droves. Conversely, the Kangoo’s seating position is majestically high and offers a commanding view of the road ahead.
The 1.5L diesel is reasonably peppy and miraculous with a full charge, being competent for most of its rev range. Obviously, at 1.5L, you’d never call it a stump-puller. It’s also far too noisy to pay tribute to the country that produced Berlioz and Debussy.
On the plus side, the towering storage area is the king of practicality. It can hold furniture, bikes, humans, couches—even the kitchen sink—all without the need to fold a seat or remove the spare tire. Any transplanted Baghdadi deliveryman navigating the cobblestone micro-streets in Europe would appreciate the privacy, practicality and tirelessness of this rolling depot.
As a value proposition is where the Kangoo suffers in the eyes of the overtaxed Swede. The base Kangoo sells for a deceptively low 107,000 Swedish crowns. Once you start optioning it out (with such decadent amenities as rear passenger seats), it’s difficult to keep it under 125,000. It’s Daedulus flying too close to the sun. The sun, in this case, is off-lease Volvo or Saab wagons that have benefited from precipitous depreciation. These natives feature a moderate upgrade in road manners, a tremendous upgrade in refinement, and an immeasurable upgrade in aesthetics for only a few thousands more. Sure, you’ll sacrifice somewhat in schleppability, but it’s a price most Swedes have eagerly paid and will continue to eagerly pay.
The result is that the Kangoo toils away mostly as a niche-market, ultra-light commercial vehicle, while the family van version is a rare sight. In the rest of Europe, the Scénic variant of this platform has long fallen by the wayside. That doesn’t make it an abject failure but more of a testament to the fact sometimes form will trump function—even in Sweden. Maybe that’s why the girls here are so pretty.