The problem with electric cars to date is that the ones you'd want to drive have been hugely expensive. Renault is bent on changing that and the ZOE supermini brings a sub-£14,000 price tag with a realistic claimed range of just over 100 miles. What's stopping you?
If you've ever hankered after an electric car, there might have been a few impediments to an impending purchase. The first wave of electric cars looked nothing more than mobility scooters used by disability benefit frauds. Never a good look. Then came a second generation of vehicles that looked more like cars but which carried price tags that read like a bad joke. Electric cars were either cheap and horrible or expensive and barely adequate. One manufacturer above all is looking to change that and it's Renault. The brand has already brought us the fun Twizy lightweight city car and even a Kangoo van featuring battery power. With this ZOE supermini though, the company's got really serious about all-electric concept.
The ZOE is designed for city driving, so the steering has been geared to offer a smooth effortless feel. Likewise, the throttle pedal doesn't offer too much in the way of resistance but the brake responds to a good hoofing which seems a little odd at first. Like all electric cars, the ZOE feels eerily quiet as it pulls away, with no discernible engine noise other than a faint whine. This usually means you'll hear every bump and thump from the road as a result, but Renault has done a good job on chassis refinement and ride quality is excellent. To prevent pedestrians waltzing out in front of its silent approach, the ZOE emits a sound at low speeds but you can barely hear it at all from inside the vehicle. The 'Z.E. Voice' can be switched between three different sounds or can be completely switched off if you fancy a new bonnet ornament. Handling is as good as you'd imagine for a car with such a low centre of gravity. The synchronous electric motor with rotor coil has a power output of 65kW, equivalent to 88hp, and instantly delivers maximum torque of 220Nm. Acceleration and pull-away are responsive from low speeds, while its top speed is limited to 84mph. Renault says this car has managed a 149 mile range in the unrealistic New European Driving Cycle tests but admits a real world range will be in the region of 71 to 106 miles for most versions.
Remember this moment, because it might just be the time that electric car technology finally flirted with the mainstream. Most people would walk past the ZOE and not take it for anything other than Renault's latest cute little car. Rather refreshingly, its design inspiration doesn't appear to be a Jolly Cab from Total Recall. Instead it's pertly-styled with a large underbumper that some have compared to the protruding lip of a surly toddler but with its curvaceous flanks and neat one-box shape, it's quite a good-looking thing. The fascia is decidedly futuristic with a digital strip in place of the traditional clocks and a moulded centre stack dominated by a large colour touch screen. Some of the plastics aren't going to give Audi designers anything much to think about but being built down to a price is very much the point of this car. It's no bad thing. The view out is extremely good as you sit rather high but a lack of seat height adjustability might prove an issue for taller drivers. As with most superminis, space in the back is more mini than super but access is good thanks to the standard five-door layout, and there's more than enough room back there for the kids. One substantial plus point is the 338-litre boot which extends to 1,225-litres should you fold the one-piece rear bench.
The ZOE is offered in three trim levels: 'Expression Nav' and 'Dynamique Nav' variants feature a higher-tech power unit with a slightly longer range, while a third 'Dynamique Nav Rapid Charge' version has the older unit. All derivatives feature the multimedia system, R-Link, as standard. To enable drivers to control its functions without taking their eyes off the road, R-Link features a big seven-inch display, steering wheel-mounted controls and voice recognition. It also delivers integrated connectivity with motoring services and applications available from the R-Link Store. Programmable pre-conditioning heats or cools ZOE's cabin when the vehicle is charging, so when the driver gets into the car, the cabin is just the right temperature and battery charge is saved in use. As a further neat touch, this can be activated remotely via the owner's smartphone on Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens versions. The base ZOE 'Expression Nav' comes with an on-the-road price of around £13,500, after the Government Plug-in Car Grant deduction, while the 'Dynamique Nav' and 'Dynamic Nav Rapid Charge' versions cost around £15,000. You'll need to add battery hire to that though, which comes in from around £70 per month. Standard equipment on the entry-level 'Expression Nav' model includes the R-Link voice controlled TomTom satellite navigation with 7" touchscreen, USB input, AUX-in, SD multimedia and Bluetooth, climate control, cruise control, a Renault keycard and a speed limiter function. The 'Dynamique Nav' variant adds a hands-free Keycard, a rear parking camera linked to the touchscreen, Z.E. Interactive (remote battery charging, remote charge scheduling and remote interior temperature pre-conditioning), 3D digital sound by Arkamys, rear electric windows, bespoke upholstery, a leather-rimmed steering wheel and gearshifter, 16-inch Aerotronic alloy wheels and automatic lights and wipers.
Once you've paid the upfront cost of the car, you'll still need to budget around £70 per month for the hire of the battery. This covers you for use of the battery for 36 months and up to 7500 miles per year and adds just over £2,500 to the three-year costs of running the ZOE. This brings with it a bunch of its own calculations. Add the £2 per day additional electricity costs and this would buy you maybe 750 miles of travel per month in a diesel supermini, or to put it another way, more than your ZOE battery hire agreement is buying you. Renault quotes a 149 mile range but in real world conditions that'll shrink to around 70 miles in cold weather and 100 miles when it's a bit warmer. The 'Dynamic Nav Rapid Charge' variant has an older power unit where the range will shrink to between 64 and 93 miles. Three key technologies assist in giving the car respectable range; bi-modal regenerative braking, a heat pump and MICHELIN Energy E-V tyres. Customers also get the clever Chameleon charger. Patented by Renault, this charger is compatible with all power levels from 3kW up to 43kW. Charging batteries at a charging station can take between 30 minutes and nine hours, with 80 per cent of full battery power able to be achieved within 30 minutes using a Rapid Charger 43 kW AC power source. Where the ZOE scores a knockout blow is if you need to travel into congestion zones. London offers 100% exemption while Westminster council offers four hours free parking and a number of charging points. Renault still hasn't fully got round the issue that most urban drivers have to leave their cars parked on the street and so have no practical way of recharging from a home power point.
The Renault ZOE is another step towards the electric vehicle becoming a genuinely practical mode of transport for the average motorist. There are still a number of caveats that will inhibit mass take-up but most of these are due to the inherent nature of electric vehicles themselves rather than any flaw in the ZOE in particular. On the contrary, it's a likeable little thing and might just be the most attractive electric vehicle currently on sale. If you have off-street parking and a short-ish and predictable urban commute, the numbers don't work out at all badly and there aren't many small cars that are much more relaxing to pilot through the city streets. With a range that will tend to vary between 70 and 100 miles on a full charge, the ZOE is capable of most average commutes but the arithmetic still works out in favour of small diesel superminis on a pure costs basis. Until congestion charge areas only offer exemptions for zero emission vehicles, that's going to be very hard to change. The gap is small though and many drivers will be willing to pay a small premium for the ZOE's smooth ride, silent acceleration and feel-good vibe. If it works for you, why not?
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|Name||Renault Zoe 65kW i S Edition Nav Q90 40kWh 5dr Auto||Nissan Micra 1.0 IG-T 100 Tekna 5dr [Leather]||Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 SRi Vx-line Nav Black 5dr||Suzuki Swift 1.2 Dualjet Attitude 5dr||Honda Jazz 1.5 i-VTEC Sport 5dr Navi CVT||Peugeot 208 1.5 BlueHDi Active 5dr [5 Speed]|
|CO2||-||105 g/km||130 g/km||108 g/km||125 g/km||90 g/km|
|0 to 62||13.5 sec||-||13.2 sec||11.9 sec||10.1 sec||-|