The new Renault Zoe is probably the first all electric car to emerge from a major manufacturer which is aimed at a mass market. By that we mean it is not priced for Californian millionaires, has four wheels and no strange habits, and can carry the shopping as well as a bundle of family members.
In this respect therefore, the vehicle (alongside its sister the Nissan Leaf) marks a real departure in strategy for our global car makers, which seem to enjoy announcing ‘concept‘ electric vehicles (EVs) every few months which never see the light of day. Well the Zoe is definitely alive and kicking, and we’ve been discovering just what a great little car it is in lots of different ways.
Style & Exterior
Externally you immediately notice the Renault pedigree in terms of styling, with the high waisted profile and stubby tail of the Megane series, but look closer and you’ll notice immediate differences. For a start there’s no exhaust pipe of course, but there are also other interesting touches such as the cute recessed handles in the rear doors, reminiscent of Alfa Romeo (and dare we mention Tesla?).
At some angles it looks a little bulbous, but in others it just looks like a normal conventional super mini hatch back, with no indication just how technologically advanced it is. The overall effect we felt was pleasant, and certainly from a driving point of view the shape and design really helps with visibility for the driver.
Pop open the front of the car and you’ll be presented with a flux capacitor and fusion generator, or at least something very similar, since it bears no resemblance to anything under the hood of a normal car at all. The only points of reference you have as an owner are the brake fluid container, the washer bottle and a small water tank for cooling purposes on the right hand side.
That’s it as far as conventional DIY goes, anything beyond that is a trip to a dealer. Well apart from changing a tyre of course.
The practical styling doesn’t stop with the externals either, as the interior offers the same kind of light airy ‘roomy’ feel as the best of the super minis, with plenty of glass, and the raked windscreen leading to good all round visibility.
The driving position in general is excellent, with an adjustable steering wheel and lots of leg room. Nothing cramped about this piece of modern technical engineering. The steering wheel controls for the multimedia were a little obscured by the wheel itself, but that’s a minor point really.
The really impressive thing about this car is how boringly utilitarian it is. There’s a conventional hatchback, with a drop down rear seat and lots of room for your IKEA flatpacks. The rear seats offer enough leg and seat room for two to three adults, although they’ll have to squeeze in through rather narrow rear doors. But it’s totally practical and offers more than enough flexibility for the average owner. No compromise and not a battery pack to be seen, since they’re all under the seats.
Even the lack of a spare wheel is tastefully handled, with a small wheel well containing a sunken tire repair kit. No wasted room, but no lack of space either.
As you’ll see from the video above, the car is a blast to drive. It’s zippy in town, smooth, quiet and tractable, with no hint of all that battery weight sitting under your bottom (or should we say derriere?). The performance specs of the car are definitely respectable, with a top speed of 84 mph and a 0-60 mph in 8.2 secs, which is nearly hot hatch GTI numbers, and it definitely feels like it. With that front wheel drive, and torquey 75 HP electric motor, things get very brisk, very quickly at the traffic lights.
Read on after the jump for detailed specifications and our views on the major drawback of this neat little city car.
Where things tend to get a little frustrating, as you’ll see from the video, is with regard to the battery range. Almost all of this generation of EVs seems to come with something like an 80 mile range, which is perfect for poodling around town, picking up the kids from school, shopping trips and that sort of thing. But it’s just too short for going on a decent run anywhere distant. Which is a crying shame, since the car begs to be driven.
To say this is frustrating is an understatement, and we can only gaze jealously at Tesla owners as they sweep past our tethered Zoe as it sips up the power every 80 miles (with careful driving). Mind you, we don’t envy their purchase price! We’re assuming that you’ll see nearer a 60 mile range in the winter if you push the right pedal hard when driving around town.
We spent a fair amount of time either sitting around in the IKEA car park nearby sucking up a rapid charge, or enjoying a refreshing cup of something in a motorway service station as the charging went on. There is a concerted effort to install as many chargers as possible in as many locations as they can find, and we were told that on a good day they’re installing around 4 new charger boxes.
But it still means that right now you’ve got to plan your journey pretty carefully if it’s anything more than a simple jaunt down the local supermarket. After a few days it becomes abundantly clear why Renault call it a ‘city car’, because that’s really what it is. A city car which yearns to get a longer range and sprint out into the country like a free wild stallion. Just give it double the range from the battery pack, and it would be amazing. Ah well.
The car is stuffed with more tech than Dr Who’s Tardis, from the locking failsafe charging socket up front, to the regenerative braking which pushes power back into your battery pack when you take your foot off the accelerator and apply the brakes. The centrepiece of the system is the R-Link console in the middle of the car, which contains all the navigation and vehicle setup and controls.
The Zoe comes with a full TomTom navigation package embedded in the system, including Live traffic if you pay the subscription. Believe me, if you’re going to be driving an EV for any distance over 40 miles, you’re going to need the whole suite, because you rely on your satnav to get you to charging stations, avoid potential energy sapping traffic hot spots and basically keep you rolling.
As well as delivering your entertainment system (with all the usual frills) the console offers driving tips, outside air quality reports, interior air control (including an in-built ionizer on the Zen we tested) and tools to connect your hands-free mobile phone and contact Renault in case of an emergency. We had a minor scare our first day out with the car with an error light and had to contact Renault via the R-Link button and found them to be very helpful, although in the end the error seemed to clear itself.
We have to confess we really enjoyed our spell living with the Renault Zoe. If this is the future of the electric car, then it looks great. Apart from that issue of course… the stifling battery range. But the one thing that’s almost certain is battery and electric motor technology will continue to improve until the point where range is not a problem. And by then it won’t cost a fortune either.
The fact that Renault has managed to push out a practical, roomy and zippy city runabout at a starting price of just £13,995 (after rebates) is an excellent indication of where we’re heading. Yes it costs an additional £70 a month to ‘rent‘ the battery pack, but at current prices that’s merely the equivalent of a single fill up at the petrol station every month, which puts it into context.
Just about everyone we showed the Zoe to were impressed, with several acknowledging that this was probably the future of car transportation. We agree. Bring it on!
Gearbox – automatic gearbox
Maximum Power – HP 75
Engine – Electric
Connectivity – Bluetooth & USB
Wheels – 16″ alloy wheels
Maximum Speed – mph (kph) 84(135)
Wheels Driven Front Wheel Drive
No. of Doors 5
Body Type Classification – Hatchback
Front Discs (Diameter mm) DV-258
Rear Brakes (Discs = DV; Drums = TA) (Diameter mm) TA-228
Size/Profile 195/55 R 16
Kerb Weight (Excluding Driver) (kg) 1428
Gross Train Weight (kg) 1943
Maximum Payload (Including Driver) (kg) 434
Gross Vehicle Weight (kg) 1943
Fuel Type Electricity
Maximum Power – hp DIN (kw ISO) 88(65)
Maximum Torque – Nm ISO (mkg DIN) 222
Engine Type Electric 2.4
Emission Control Standard Euro 5
(A) Wheelbase 2588
(B) Overall Length 4084
(C) Front Overhang 839
(H) Unladen Height 1562
(J) Unladen Platform Height 724
(M1) Interior Elbow Cabin Width – Rear 1390
(D) Rear Overhang 657
(H3) Height with Open Tailgate 2028
Overall Height 1562
(M) Interior Elbow Cabin Width – Front 1384
Car as tested:
16” Aerotronic alloy wheels
4x35W 3D Radio with Digital sound by Arkamys: 2 woofers + 2 front tweeters + 2 rear “double-cone” speakers + double antenna
Rear parking sensors
Renault keycard with hands free entry
Automatic front lights and wipers with rain sensors
Z.E. Pre-conditioning of interior temperature from inside vehicle (to activate air con / heater whilst charging)
‘Zen’ Interior with Teflon treatment for maximum seat protection
Z.E. Interactive (remote battery charging and remote activation of air con / heater)
Price after Plugged-In Car Grant (PiCG) – starting at £13,995