Renault ZOE review
The Renault ZOE is the firm's fourth electric vehicle, and one of the best electric cars yet
Some carmakers have dipped a toe in the water of mass marketing electric cars, but Renault has jumped in with both feet. The ZOE is the fourth model to join the Fluence saloon, Kangoo van and tiny Twizy in the firm's zero-emissions line-up and is the most convincing effort yet.
It offers a zero emissions powertrain, well-equipped interior and acceptable performance, all for a much more reasonable price than we've so far seen from electric cars. It currently has no obvious rivals, but costs a similar amount to a diesel Clio, although while it is better equipped, the range in the ZOE is limited to about 100 miles of mixed driving.
However, it's so like a normal car to drive that only the reduced range make it less practical than an ordinary supermini.
Our choice: ZOE Dynamique Zen 5dr
The ZOE is based on the same platform as the Renault Clio. But while it’s the same width and wheelbase, it’s longer and over 10cm taller. The slightly bulbous exterior styling means the ZOE seems huge parked next to the up!, although the high shoulderline and small window area are designed to cut heat build-up and loss, which reduces the demands on the battery-sapping climate control.
There are some other neat touches, too, like the blue detailing in the head and tail-lights, and the blue tint to the windows, while the oversized Renault badge on the front doubles as the charging point.
Inside, the dash is carried over from the Clio, but instead of conventional dials, you get a digital display that shows range and speed. The R-Link info screen – which includes sat-nav, Bluetooth and downloadable apps – is standard as well, but it’s a little fiddly.
Renault has tried to create a modern, minimalist feel with lots of light trim, but material quality isn’t up to the VW e-up’s standard, and the pastel cabin will be hard to keep clean.
The ZOE has an electric motor that develops 87bhp in normal mode, and 60bhp in Eco mode. More important is the 220Nm of torque it develops as soon as the motor turns, giving very sprightly acceleration – 0-30mph takes four seconds. However, push on and you’ll soon notice the ZOE run out of puff, as it struggles at higher speeds and on steep inclines.
Just like in the VW e-up!, the ZOE’s conventional gear selector and handbrake mean the initial driving experience is refreshingly normal.
You simply power up, select drive and accelerate away. On the move, the ZOE’s steering feels more artificial than the e-up!’s and with 290kg of batteries to lug around, it’s a little inert compared with the VW (which is 254kg lighter). Body control isn’t bad, with the batteries mounted beneath the floorpan, but the Renault seems nose-heavy.
The ride is also a little stiff, and there’s a fair bit of road and wind noise, too. The grabby brakes make it hard to slow down progressively, thanks to heavy regenerative braking when you back off the throttle.
Around town, the light steering and silent running make it pretty relaxing to drive, but the light trim reflects in the windscreen, while the sweeping A-pillars cause nasty blindspots.
Renault uses the latest Clio platform for the ZOE and builds it alongside its more conventional stablemate in Flins, France. The electric model also shares battery tech with the Nissan Leaf. But with 60 new patents, this car is the most advanced EV we’ve seen from Renault.
The battery and electric motor tech has been rigorously tested and hiring the battery means you get a replacement as soon as performance deteriorates below 75 per cent.
Renault's 21st position in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey is of concern, but a strong dealer performance (up from 23rd in 2012 to ninth last year) takes the edge off that. Safety isn’t a worry, either, as the ZOE gets a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, six airbags and parking sensors.
As a full five-seater with a 388-litre boot (that’s 38 litres more than in a Clio), the ZOE is a better choice than the VW e-up! if you regularly carry passengers and luggage.
However, the rear seats don’t split when they fold down, and the location of the batteries under the rear seats means you don’t get a flat load area. As with all electric cars, range is a big concern. Renault claims 130 miles of potential motoring, but around 100 miles is about what you’d expect in normal driving, although this can fall as low as 60 miles in cold temperatures.
The ZOE doesn’t come with a three-pin plug charge lead, either, so range anxiety is multiplied by not being able to rely on emergency top-ups from domestic plug sockets. At least Renault and its partner British Gas will fit a home wall charger for free if you’ve got a driveway or garage.
Failing that, Renault offers a 25 per cent discount on a conventional petrol or diesel car rental from Enterprise, should you wish to drive further afield.
The purchase price isn't the only thing to factor into ZOE ownership, as you also have to rent the battery from Renault. The cost is dependant on the miles you drive, and starts at £70 per month. Don't pay up, and Renault can remotely disable the car's ability to charge its battery, too.
The ZOE has a chameleon charger as standard, which adapts to the power source it's plugged into. A charge costs around £3 and takes between 30 minutes and nine hours to complete. You can't just plug the car into the mains, but a home wall charger, fitted by British Gas, is now included in the purchase price.
The car has zero emissions, but if you take into account the carbon dioxide produced by making the electricity in the first place, the ZOE's CO2 rating is around 54g/km.
Our experts predict the ZOE will retain 36.5 per cent of its value after three years, which means £9,649 of depreciation – a concern for private buyers.
Renault’s 4+ roadside assistance and warranty package helps minimise running costs as well, while a four-year servicing pack will set you back £299. Plus, zero company car tax and London Congestion Charge exemption are big plus points.