With the launch of the Espace back in 1986, Renault launched a whole new world of MPVs. And with the Scenic, it started the current fad for mini-MPVs.
But this bright idea, the Kangoo 4x4 van, has yet to be copied by anyone else – which means that if you want a 1.8-tonne commercial vehicle that has a reasonable loadspace and the capability of getting tough in the rough, there is really only one option.
The 4x4 version was available in the old Kangoo guise, but when the van was upgraded last spring, production was put on hold. Now boasting a new face and other more subtle improvements, the 4x4 has re-emerged, looking even more tough and capable than ever.
Two versions are available – the SL 1.9 dCi costing £11,650 ex-VAT, as opposed to £9,900 for the two-wheel drive version and the SL1.9 dCi+, the model on test here, at £12,050.
When the Kangoo was first launched in 1998, the press had a field day commenting upon its 'Looney Toons' look. It's funny how time softens one's opinion – the Kangoo looks relatively run-of-the-mill now.
Its facelift last spring helped things no end – elliptical headlights, a plunging bonnet line accentuated by a centre crease and new bumpers sharpened up the front end while there is more plastic at the rear end.
But the 4x4 looks altogether meatier than its two-wheel drive brother with chunky plastic bumpers at the front and rear.
It looks rather like a van which has paid a year's subscription to the gym and is determined to get its money's worth.
The lower spec model has driver's airbag, ABS brakes, remote central locking, anti-drill locks and ignition barrel, height adjustable seats, immobiliser, tinted windows and power steering as standard.
The + version adds electric windows, side sliding load door, a rubber load floor, overhead parcel shelf and CD player.
Climbing aboard, the driver's seat proves comfortable and supportive and although the steering wheel doesn't adjust, there is plenty of room for leggy specimens such as me.
The dashboard is stylish yet practical and all the knobs and switches are big and chunky, in keeping with the 4x4's macho style. The + version is definitely the van to buy. It may be a bit more expensive but the extras – such as the sliding side door – are worth having.
The rubber load floor will keep your van looking spick and span even if you shovel loads of dirty old cargo in the back in the course of its life. This will pay dividends at selling time over a van that has a badly scratched metal floor.
Load volume is 2.75 cubic metres – slightly down on the rival Citroen Berlingo/Peugeot Partner which boasts three cubic metres – and payload is 600kg, equalling the Citroen/Peugeot twins in their lighter guises.
Behind the wheel
The 'cooking' Kangoo features a range of 1.5-litre common rail diesel units, while the 'off-roaders' get the 1.9-litre unit, offering extra bit of oomph. Power is 80bhp and torque is 132lb-ft.
The general driving experience of the 4x4 is equally as pleasing as its ordinary brother. Power steering is nicely weighted, the clutch is light and the powerplant is lusty and willing. Despite its extra 40mm height, the 4x4 corners reasonably well and those standard ABS brakes are a welcome safety addition.
The changeover from two to four-wheel drive takes place automatically, whenever the front wheels start to lose traction. The driver won't even notice it happening.
I took this van off-road during its test week and was impressed by its performance. We were led round the special off-road course by an expert and most of us were expecting no more than a bit of 'green laning' and a few puddles.
But the green lanes soon turned to ruts and the angles ever steeper until it became clear that this little van would cut the mustard with many of the true off-roaders. Keeping at a steady pace in first gear, the drivetrain did its work quickly and efficiently and the twists and turns in the track never really fazed the van.
In fact, it would have been interesting to see just how far it could be pushed before it reached its limits. But that would have been a pointless exercise – for the type of work envisaged by its maker, this course more than sufficed and the Kangoo passed with flying colours.
SALES aspirations are low for this vehicle – after all there are not that many fleets which will need a small delivery van with off-road capabilities. But if you do, what better way to satisfy that need?
Model: Renault Kangoo 4x4+
Price (ex-VAT): £12,050
Power (bhp): 80
Torque (lb-ft): 132
Load volume (cu m): 2.75
Payload (kg): 600