Review: 2008 Renault Kangoo 1.5 Diesel

Samir Syed
by Samir Syed
review 2008 renault kangoo 1 5 diesel

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.

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  • Sinistermisterman Sinistermisterman on Sep 10, 2009

    Having been a passenger in a van version of one of these for many hundreds (if not thousands) of miles in one of these, I can tell you several things. A) They are dull. B) They wobble around roundabouts and understeer like buggery. C) They aren't very fast. However, most importantly is... D) You can thrash the hell out of the engine and gearbox - give it minimal maintenance and it will still run until doomsday. The van I had been passenger in had done nearly 100K miles on one oil change and no other maintenance, routinely hauling far more stuff than was supposed to go in it and often pulling trailers loaded with 1-2 tons of aggregate or concrete. Oh and not to mention the fact that my friend once punted a Saab through a brick wall by ramming it with this same Kangoo van and the van was still driveable. This poor little van was abused beyond what most cars/vans should expect and it is still passing MOT's and driving around to this day. So Dull - Yes, Too tall - Yes, Absolutely unbreakable? Yup!

  • Kangooman Kangooman on Oct 22, 2009

    I own a new Kangoo & if your looking for a box that drives like a hatchback forget it but if you want cheap, functional & comfortable you've found it. I've done a review of the new kangoo

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  • El scotto My iPhone gets too hot while using the wireless charging in my BMW. One more line on why someone is a dumbazz list?
  • Buickman yeah, get Ron Fellows each time I get a Vette. screw Caddy.
  • Dusterdude The Detroit 2.5 did a big disservice by paying their CEO’s so generously ( overpaying them ) It is a valid talking point for for the union ) However , the bottom line - The percentage of workers in the private sector who have a defined benefit pension plan is almost non existent - and the reason being is it’s unaffordable ! . This is a a huge sticking point as to have lower tier workers join would be prohibitive ( aside from other high price demands being requested - ie >30% wage gain request ) . Do the math - can a company afford to pay employees for 35 years , followed by funding a pension for a further 30 years ?
  • El scotto Human safety driver? Some on here need a human safety thinker.