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 joins the Fluence saloon, Kangoo van and tiny Twizy in the firm's all-electric line-up, and 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.
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The ZOE is based on the same platform as the current Clio. But while it's the same width and wheelbase, it's longer and over 10cm taller. The slightly bulbous exterior styling makes the Zoe seem quite a bit larger than a Clio, too, in the same way that a Golf Plus looks bigger than a Golf. There are some neat touches, though, 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 neat centre console is carried over from the Clio, but there's now a TFT screen instead of dials which show you the car's range. Although flourishes include a dashboard design inspired by the blade of a wind turbine, the overall effect is very similar to any other conventionally powered supermini, and that's a good thing.
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. The battery pack runs under the front and rear seats, which forces an elevated driving position but this doesn’t take long to get used to, and gives a commanding view of the road. It aids visibility and doesn't compromise headroom, either, which when added to the lack of a gearbox and light steering, make the ZOE very easy to drive around town. It's actually pretty fun on the open road, too, although it does feel like a car that weighs over 1,400kg in the bends. The regenerative brakes are quite aggressive, and take some getting used to, so that you can ensure that you're smooth when you come to a stop.
The ZOE comes with a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating – and that's using the latest, most stringent tests introduced in 2013, too. In addition to the normal durability testing that Renault does with its regular cars, including racking up over 850,000km in test driving, the ZOE batteries have also been subject to all manner of endurance testing, including being dropped from a height, set on fire, and having nails shot into the battery cells. Leasing the battery also means that you get a free replacement as soon as performance deteriorates below 75 per cent, while Renault also guarantees that each battery will be properly recycled after use in the car.
The battery is located under the Zoe's floor, in between the wheels, resulting in a seating position that’s much higher than in a Clio. However, this aids visibility, and doesn’t eat into bootspace – meaning you get 38 litres more than in the Clio's, at 338 litres. However, you do have to keep your charging cable with you, which comes in a bag the dimensions of a small, fat briefcase. The rear seat backs fold, but don't go flat, but practicality is right on a par with conventional superminis. The range is the only concern – the car has a claimed range of 130 miles, but around 100 miles is about what Renault expects in normal driving. This can fall as low as 60 miles in cold temperatures, although you can programme the air-conditioning to get the car's interior to a set temperature while it's still plugged into the mains, so range isn't compromised on a hot or cold day. Renault does offer a 25 per cent discount on 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.