Renault ZOE review
The Renault ZOE EV is now available to buy outright instead of leasing batteries. But is it still a good buy?
Quite a few carmakers have dipped a toe in the water of mass marketing pure electric cars, but Renault has jumped in with both feet over the last few years. 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 quiet, smooth and green electric powertrain, well-equipped interior and instantly torquey town performance, all for a much more reasonable price than we've so far seen from electric cars. Its main rival is the similarly priced and larger (yet lesser equipped) Nissan Leaf. The range in the ZOE is limited to about 100 miles of mixed driving.
However, it's so much like a traditional combustion-engined supermini (but quieter) to drive that only the reduced range and 'refuelling' infrastructure issues make it less practical.
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 VW 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 flips out and doubles as the charging point.
Inside, the dash is carried over from the Clio, but instead of conventional dials, you get a digital TFT display that shows range and speed. The R-Link info screen – which includes sat-nav, Bluetooth and downloadable apps – is standard as well and packed with useful features, 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 if you regularly carry children.
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 off the mark – 0-30mph takes four seconds. However, push on and you’ll notice the ZOE runs out of puff, as it struggles at higher speeds and on steep inclines. The Nissan Leaf provides better acceleration past 40mph.
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 generally composed, although it sends a thump through the cabin on larger potholes. Road noise is reasonable, but wind noise is intrusive at higher speeds. 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 nice and relaxing to drive, but the light trim reflects in the windscreen (although 2015 models have fixed that), while the sweeping A-pillars can 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 and with the use of lights and heating.
The ZOE doesn't come as standard with a traditional three-pin home charging socket, meaning those with occasional longer trips away from home will need to fork out for it on the options list. 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.
As of 2015 there are two ways to get yourself in a ZOE. You can now buy the car outright for around £18,500 after the £5,000 government grant, with no battery lease to worry about. This is reasonable in isolation, but thanks to generous discounts a Nissan Leaf can be had for about the same. The models bought outright will be differentiated by an 'i' badge on the bootlid in an effort to improve residual values.
The original way of paying under £14,000 for the car and leasing the batteries for a (newly) reduced) sum of £25 per month is still available, although paying full price at the start should still work out cheaper.
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. A home wall charger is provided free of charge for buyers, but those who require a traditional three-pin household charging plug have to pay an additional £495 (as of 2015).
A full charge from the direct plug is upwards of 15 hours, so it's only of use for occasionally topping it it up away from home. 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. The 'i' badged Zoe bought outright may see an increase to these values.
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.