Extended test: Renault Zoe electric car

Is it time to go fully electric?

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The Driving team has been testing the three types of car with electric power: a Toyota Auris Touring (hybrid), a Volkswagen Golf GTE (plug-in hybrid) and a Renault Zoe (pure-electric, below). Which will prove the most practical solution during the winter months for three full-time workers with young families?


Specifications

  • Model 2017 Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav R90 Z.E.40
  • Motor R90 electric motor (5AGEN3 synchronous with rotor coil)
  • Power 91bhp @ 3,000-11,300rpm
  • Torque 162 lb ft @ 250-2,500rpm
  • Top speed 84mph
  • 0-62mph 13.5sec
  • Battery 41kWh, 400v Lithium ion
  • Range (NEDC lab test) 250 miles
  • Range (Renault real-world estimates) 186 miles temperate, 124 miles winter
  • Charging time 15hrs @ 3kW; 7hrs 30min @ 7kW (e.g. home wallbox); 2hrs 40min @ 22kW (on-street fast charge); 1hr 40min to 80% full @ 43kW (motorway fast charge)
  • Road tax Exempt
  • Benefit in kind tax 9%; £508 or £1,016 (2017/2018; 20% or 40% tax payer)
  • Price after PiCG £18,170 plus £59-110/month battery rental (or £23,770 to own the battery)
  • Price after PiCG with options £19,495 plus £59-110/month battery rental
  • Options fitted Heated front seats (£250); Renault i.d Zircon Blue metallic paint (£650); Rear view camera (£250); Blue interior touch pack (£175)

Test details

  • Test period October 17, 2017 to March 17, 2018
  • Starting mileage 1,993 miles

Updates

 


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November 15, 2017: A shaky start

Renault Zoe collection at dealer

The future is electric, so they say. In truth, I’ve believed this for years and freely admit to loving all things four-wheeled, regardless of what powers them, as long as they’re fun. I also know my way around an electric car, having written about many, many of them in an earlier life (pre-Sunday Times).

The Zoe is no stranger, of course. The first model launched in 2013 with a 22kWh battery and an official range of 130 miles, which was pretty good at the time. It was a favourite EV at the time, with cuter looks than the Nissan Leaf and more engaging handling. The latest Zoe, which arrived at the end of last year, is equally as cute but with greatly increased range — officially 250 miles but Renault says in the real world, 186 miles is more likely in temperate weather. It also now has a “Chameleon” onboard charger, which means it charges faster and smarter. I was very much looking forward to seeing how else she had grown up over the last four years, and indeed, how a pure-electric supermini copes with winter temperatures and my family.

And it all started so well: my introduction to the Zoe at Renault London West flagship was fantastic. They gave me the full customer treatment, pulling the wraps off the car, giving me a full tour of its ins and outs, taking a snap of me with it, which is printed there and then and presented in a smart “Thank you” sleeve, and handing me a Renault-branded cake (this is standard for new car buyers, I was told), before I merrily went on my way. The whole process makes you feel like you’ve just made the best decision ever, which is what you want when you’ve just handed over the best part for £20,000 (plus £59 per month to rent the battery), of course.

A couple of quality issues began to present themselves early on, though. The first was in the dealership, when the SD card containing UK & Ireland mapping for the sat nav system wouldn’t stay in the card reader, below the screen. A mechanic from the service department was summoned to sort it out, and it was quickly resolved.

Later, when removing a dash cam plug from the 12V socket, the housing came away from the centre console; I carefully pushed it back inside, being sure not to break off any wires.

Renault Zoe touchscreen fault

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the touchscreen stopped responding. At the same time, I noticed the Z.E. mobile app stopped showing me the battery charge level while it was charging, and the digital instrument binnacle didn’t switch off at night, while the car was locked outside my house. It’s likely all three things were related.

Renault took it back for repairs and reset the system, and all is well with the electronics now. The 12V socket seems to have been fixed, too. I have no doubt the worst of the gremlins are behind me and I can enjoy driving the car, but of course, I’ll not shy away from reporting on all the details, good or bad. Which, next time, will be the main topic: favourite features and niggling irritations.

The good news is I managed some pretty impressive eco driving over the first hundred miles and then again for the next hundred, managing 4.8mpkWh, or miles per kilowatt-hour (think of miles per gallon, in old money). I’m getting less than that more recently, which may be down to the recent temperature drop or the fact that I’m trying less hard to hypermile, having settled into a more normal style of driving, but it’s still around 4mpkWh or more.

I’ll go into costs of electricity in more detail in a later update, but the Energy Savings Trust states the average price per kWh of electricity in England, Wales and Scotland is 14.37p, meaning if I were charging at home (I’m not — again, more later), each mile would be costing me less than 3.6p. If I were in a petrol-powered Renault Clio Dynamique Nav 1.2 16V 75, paying 120.5p per litre (today’s UK average price), it’d cost me 11.4p per mile. No wonder electric car drivers are thought to be smug.

  • Distance since start 612 miles
  • Average consumption 4.3 m/kWh

Update: As pointed out in the comments, there is also a monthly battery rental fee to factor into running costs (unless you buy the car outright). I’ll go into costs in more detail soon.

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December 11, 2017: Look and feel

2017 Renault Zoe long-term road test review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving

You’ll be pleased to read that the Zoe has been absolutely trouble-free since my last update. In fact, it’s been a pleasure to live with and it’s a delight to drive, too. I think it’s fair to say the the Zoe doesn’t give me what Clarkson calls “The Fizz” every time I get behind the wheel. He also reserves the term “priapic” for certain really exciting cars. There’s not a bit of that with the Zoe, but it would be wrong to say I haven’t developed a fondness for the little guy.

For starters, the shape of the car is sensational. I really, really like its rounded, teardrop-like front end with the front edge of the bonnet jutting just slightly over the narrow headlights, giving the Zoe’s face a stern look. This is exaggerated by the gaping air intake and LED dimples make the car appear to be shouting, “Hey, get out of the way.” The first Zoe was a little too cutesy; this one is a bit more of a rebel.

It’s good as you head round the back, too, with curved lines running along the doors to a particularly attractive pair of light clusters, above which is a C-pillar that appears to have been pinched forward, giving the car a look of speed. Honestly, I love walking out to the Zoe every morning — it just looks fabulous. There are some major practicality issues with the design, however, that I’ll get into at a later date, but to look at? Stunning.

2017 Renault Zoe long-term road test review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving

The Renault Zoe looks good from any angle.

 

Inside, it’s not quite the same story. It’s certainly not ugly, and there are some nice touches, such as the smart-looking (and comfortable) all-in-one seat and headrest, glossy black touchscreen surround, and blue detailing on the dashboard, and around the speakers and drive select lever. But frankly, it’s still a bit dull. While Tesla is making electric cars with interiors that make you think, “Bloody hell, I’m in the future,” Renault is going down the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” route.

And if you’re used to Renault switchgear, you’ll find it all very familiar inside the Zoe. If you’re not, you’ll wonder why on Earth the stereo controls are on a stalk behind the steering wheel, rather than on the wheel itself, and what the “R” and “O” buttons that are on the wheel are supposed to mean (reset and off for the cruise control, as it happens).

2017 Renault Zoe electric car long-term road test review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving - dashboard interior

The Zoe’s interior isn’t unattractive but it’s also not that electrifying.

 

Curiously, Renault has decided to give the Zoe a manual handbrake rather than an electronic parking brake; it’s what customers wanted, I was told. It’s an odd move, though, given how most new cars have gone the other way and chosen electronic parking brakes, for convenience and space saving; for the Zoe, it’s almost a backward move. And on an automatic or electric car, a physical handbrake makes even less sense, given they’re not needed for a hill start.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a proper, old school handbrake as much as the next car enthusiast, but it’s not important for the Zoe to have one and, worse still, it takes up valuable space between the front seats. So much so that the cupholders take cans but my reusable plastic coffee cup for the morning commute doesn’t fit in there properly with the handbrake down. Fortunately, there’s a cup holder for the rear passengers further back, behind the handbrake int he centre console, which I use instead.

You might think this is a minor consideration but it just makes you wonder why Renault didn’t spend a bit more time thinking about this sort of thing, which is a matter of customer convenience and I’m reminded about every time I get into the car.

Also ridiculous is the tiny glovebox, so small that even the car’s manual doesn’t fit. This is because in converting to right-hand-drive, Renault didn’t bother switching over the position of the fusebox, so it takes up half the glovebox space in the UK version. This is common to many Renault models, and it drives me crazy.

2017 Renault Zoe electric car long-term road test review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving

The manual doesn’t fit in the Zoe’s tiny glovebox.

 

Out on the road, though, the Zoe is a joy. Thanks to it having maximum torque (twisting force) from zero revs and no gears to shift through, it has smooth, rapid acceleration and will beat just about everything away from the lights, including many motorcyclists. Over about 40mph, petrol and diesel cars will begin to catch the Zoe again but by then you’ve got road position, and proved a point to electric car naysayers.

To say the Zoe doesn’t have body roll would be a lie, but it does feel remarkably stable and sorted for a car with such a short wheelbase. It doesn’t feel as light and nippy through the corners as a Fiesta with a small Ecoboost engine (the Zoe is more than 200kg heavier) but it does have a spot on amount of suspension travel with well-judged firmness and shock damping. Combined with a nicely-weighted steering feel and the responsive accelerator, it is a fun car to drive, if you want to have fun.

There is a slight lack of zing over a petrol equivalent, though. In an three-cylinder turbocharged petrol car the engine thrums away in the background and it feels like there’s a bit of drama to proceedings. There’s not much of that with the Zoe. It’s quick, it’s responsive, but it isn’t entirely thrilling. Whether you really want that from a car is another question — I suspect most people don’t — and I feel that I get more satisfaction from driving a car that is saving me money in fuel and isn’t emitting pollutants into the atmosphere every time I hit the road. It’s a good trade-off, I think.

  • Distance since last update 758 miles
  • Average consumption 4.0 m/kWh

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