Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub

The first Renault Kangoo (1997) is now old enough to be a bit of vintage street furniture.

1997 Renault Kangoo in east Cologne, Germany.

You can tell this is series 1 Kangoo because of the fun and slightly incongruent indicator lamps. Renault once had a bit of a habit of putting in one design feature that caused you to look a second time, decide initially you didn’t much like it and then eventually make you come around to the idea it was probably okay after all. At that point Renault would of course have excised the troubling feature in a facelift. That is what happened to the Kangoo a few short years after launch. They did the same with the Mk II Laguna’s metallic moustache and the Modus (the entire car).

What ought to have happened with the Kangoo was that it should have remained unchanged for 15 years except for new paints and fabrics. Like the Berlingo and Transit Connect, these cars are not fashion items. The most kudos go not to the fickle follower of modes, but to the brand that can resist useless revisions for the longest time in the right product sector.

Some of the business is high turnover (the C-class or Megane) and some is low volume-high turnover (any sportscar that is not an MX-5) and and some is moderate turnover (like the Kangoo), less frequent re-workings balance with steady sales over a longer period.

Berlingo. Image: bestcarmag

The current Kangoo (the year is 2022, dear reader) dates from 2007 and seems to be attempting what the first one didn’t, which is a long product cycle. I hope it can make it 2027 when we can celebrate it with a big, week long festival of articles.

A rented vehicle.

Out of this market a few of the Kangoo’s peers have departed. Opel’s entrant is a bit of badge engineering. Mercedes once had a lovely thing called the Vaneo which has been superceded by the delightful and compelling Citan (and is evidently a shameless rip off of the Kangoo). VW, bless them, are still churning out Caddies though, and Fiat still make Doblos.

I have to say that the current crop seem alarmingly less diverse in character and appearance than the flock of 1997. Some of it is in the inevitable platform-sharing and badge engineering. Most of the effect comes down to a wilfully indistinct application of styling mousse to the designs. I had to double check a few of the names I dug out here to be sure they were not just badge-swapped common bodies (step forward Benz).

This list offers a brief overview of the field and you can see how all the vans are aspiring to be more car-like. The charm of the Kangoo back in 1997 was its un-car-likeness. And the same goes for the Transit Connect of a little later. If you are used to driving a car, the switch to a light van is something of a relief, like getting out sports clothes and into your favourite elastic-waisted jogging trousers. You can lounge about in these cars and rattle down lumpy roads with a carefree smile. These vehicles laugh at dirt and dents and go willingly to the scrapyard at 300,000 miles with your conscience in the clear.


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

14 thoughts on “Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I have some experience with vans, although mainly of the larger variety. I drove them, mostly VW’s and Fords, through five different countries in Europe. They’re fine for doing that, especially if you have a more powerful version. What starts to get irritating after a while is the seating position. I like to sit with my back straight (they’re good at that) and relatively low to the floor (they’re not so good at that)

    I have little experience with the smaller versions. I was a passenger in a Caddy a few times and noticed it was rather sensitive to crosswinds, perhaps unsurprisingly. And I drive my uncles Kangoo once or twice a year for short distances.

    This article has me wondering, though: when are you getting yours? 😉

    1. Good question… I probably won´t be in the queue for one very soon as I am still working through the 406 which hasn´t rusted through yet.

  2. Your comment on the Vaneo surely is not meant serious as it is not only by far the worst car of all mentioned here, it even manages to be worse than the A-class upon which it was based, which is quite an achievement in itself.

    The spiritual predecessors of these cars are vehicles like R4 Fourgonette, Simca 1100 VF or Acadyane.
    The trick was that manufacturers managed to sell these commercial vehicles as family transporters because they looked less utilitarian. The rear was better integrated, mostly by raising the roofline over the front seats resulting in headroom making the car attractive in case you happened to be the Pope or another profession with funny hats.
    The market for the commercial versions has changed over the last couple of years after plumbers and painters found out that the purchase price of an equivalent Dacia is less than the depreciacion of a Caddy and now buy Dacias and throw them away after three years.

    1. Correct – the Vaneo is not located at the top of my list of truly fine automobiles.
      Does the leasing vampire work for these kinds of products? With a passenger car you might expect it to be in good condition after 3 years of cantering about; vans get dents, paint, dust and worse as part of their daily duties so maybe a 3 year-old van has less residual value to make it econonomically viable.
      I realise I ought to have distinguished more clearly between two-seater vans and the multi-seaters vehicles meant as family transport.

    2. Particularly the commercial versions are heavily leasing-biased with discounts driving water in your eyes. But on these versions even corrosion protection is oriented on the duration of a leasing contract/time to write it off against tax. Many commercial versions also get heavily modified by interior modifications to make them fit for the job. Look at the racks and lockers in the van of your plumber.
      Commercial versions not only are in worse condition after three years they carry a lot less equipment in the first place. Painted metal on open display everywhere in the interior, a simple rubber mat as roof lining, rubber floor mats, less sound deadening, harder rear suspension.

  3. My father had Peugeot Partner back in early 2000’s, it was competent car, especially with HDI engine. It only had 90 hp but it was plenty for this type of vehicle. Surprisingly dynamic and agile. After small collision, we had first gen Kangoo as a replacement for 2 weeks. Honestly, it felt much less refined and less passenger car like than Partner, so we were happy to have Peugeot back.

  4. I’m afraid the current (2nd gen.) Kangoo will not see 2027. The new one is already out for 2022. It doesn’t look like a Kangoo at all:

    It adds to your statement of less diversity in appearance and character, sadly.
    I haven’t yet seen it on the streets, or I haven’t noticed.

    They seem to have another Kangoo successor as well, replacing the Dacia Dokker and going by the name of Renault Express. Funny enough, on the picture found at Wikipedia, it’s labelled as “the new Kangoo”:

    1. It doesn’t so much seem that the Renault Express replaces the Dokker, but rather that it is simply a heavily facelifted version of it. As such, I am surprised that Dacia doesn’t sell it as a new Dokker as they do with every other ‘developing market’ Renault.

  5. Good morning Richard. I sometimes wonder why manufacturers of these small vans bother to facelift and replace them, given the design parameters, where the size and shape of the loadspace is paramount and allows little room for significant variation elsewhere, and the relative unimportance of ‘styling’ in a working vehicle. I imagine most (corporate) owners would much prefer lower leasing costs over the novelty of a restyling.

    As to that quirky intentional misalignment of the indicator and headlamp on the Kangoo, Renault did something similar on the Supercinq:

    1. Well spotted, Daniel. I see something similar, but to a lesser degree in a much liked car that was discussed just a couple of days ago.

    2. I’d always assumed that indicator positioning was to take the place of repeaters on the front wing.

  6. A Citroën Nemo is currently my car of choice, one of the most practical cars I’ve ever owned. It’s the smallest type of commercial car and with a partition wall behind the seats.

    The revelation of the Kangoo and Berlingo was the idea to give them a bespoke body unrelated to their underpinnings making them far more practical than their supermini high cube predecessors.

    The difference being a higher and more straight up seating position, in my Nemo I can just open the door and lean backwards and I have my ass on the seat. Getting out, just open the door and swivel out my leg for the most perfect position of just walking straight out of the car. The car have very straight sides with minimal upper tumblehome making it essentially a cube on wheels.

    I don’t know how it is in the rest of Europe but in Sweden these are extremely popular with traders and craftsmen with severe internal conpetition between brands and low prices between them. The VW Caddy seems to be the most popular, but all brands can be seen.

    The former owner of my car was a self employed commercial painter, and he mostly used the car as a go-getter to and from his jobs. Being registred a a light commercial vehicle the taxes and insurance is significantly lower, the drawback is that internal partition wall and the fact it has only two seats.

    As a runaround go-getter, I don’t think I could find a cheaper and better and more practical alternative.

    1. Ingvar, an excellent choice. We bought the Peugeot version (Bipper Teepee – stupid name) new in 2010. No internal partition, five seats (rears easily removable) and it was otherwise exactly as you describe. Totally reliable, took us the length & breadth of the UK from the Kent coast to the Outer Hebrides. We even shifted the entire contents of a relative’s house when she moved home, completing the job in four trips. Sold it to a friend who is still using it daily, having replaced, to date, one front spring and the clutch. A machine entirely fit for purpose and a good drive into the bargain.

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