Renault Megane E-Tech long-term review: recharging using hydrogen
Off to Cornwall. A trip I often make, so a handy benchmark. This was the Megane's first run there. Things start well. For a relatively short car, the boot is big. Not long front-to-back, but really very deep, so all our stuff piles in there easily. The AC charge cable has its own slot under the floor, so it's no great bother you don't get a froot.
On the motorway, it's quick and quiet. Quieter than most EVs even, as neither wind or tyres kick up much of a hubbub. We bowl along, enjoying the fine stereo. But the steering is both quick-geared (not a problem in itself) and over-light around the straightahead. That combination means it's too easy to drift out of the centre of your lane. The BMW i3 that I used to drive was just the same. The Megane has a capable driver-assist system that nudges you back to the right position, but ADAS shouldn't be needed as a sticking plaster.
Once onto my favourite Cornish roads, the Renault is properly gratifying: agile, taut, responsive and controlled. It helps that the county's default winter weather – endless blustery drizzle – has been replaced for the duration by piercing sunshine. In the damp the torque can overcome traction rather easily, but it's not an issue in the dry.
Even on what this Cornishman would call dry days, mind, you're still going to pick up a coat of finely atomised mud. So I treat the Megane to a hand wash. The fake-carbonfibre protection panels on the lower doors are basically impossible to get back to black. Dirt clings within their texture.
And then home to London. Despite all the recent scare stories about charger shortage, fact is both the A303 and M5/M4 routes have massively improved their availability and speed over the past two years. I'm sure they do get a bit busy at peak weekends, but so do lots of things. Have you never queued at passport control in the holidays?
Straight afterward, I had to go to Yorkshire for a funeral. That was 450 miles in a day, two half-hour charges, and absolutely no hassle.
Permit me one final charging anecdote. On my recent trip to Belgium (see update 3) I did a thing all you fuel-cell fans would approve of: recharged the Megane by hydrogen. I was over there for final judging of European Car of the Year. The Toyota bZ4x was shortlisted, so Toyota brought along its fuel-cell charging station.
It goes on the back of a truck, and comes with a crate of hydrogen cylinders. The fuel cells in the unit are as per those in a Mirai, but in this case their electrical output doesn't power a car's motor directly. It's hooked up to either a pair of 50kW rapid-charge outlets, or 8 AC sockets into one of which I plugged the Renault.
But, like fuel-cell cars themselves, efficiency is the issue. You're electrolysing the hydrogen from water, compressing it into cylinders, then reversing the process by running it through the fuel cell to produce water and electricity again. That takes three or four times the electricity per mile than just putting it straight from mains into battery.
Still, it's a potentially useful way to store energy, and to get serious electrical power to a remote location. And much quieter than a ruddy great diesel generator.