What is the Renault Zoe?
The Zoe isn’t Renault’s first electric car but it is the most compelling. About the size of a Clio supermini, it is affordable, looks cute and has an officially recognised range between charges of 130 miles. However, Renault is refreshingly upfront about real-world range, suggesting that it will more likely be 90 miles in warm weather or 62 miles in winter. For that reason, the Zoe isn’t the right car to ferry you to the south of France and back but for everyday use – commuting, the school run, shopping – that’s probably plenty. In fact, Renault says the car’s real-world range is enough for 83% of typical supermini journeys.
Renault sells the Zoe in three trim levels: the entry-level Expression, Dynamique Zen and range-topping Dynamique Intense. All have the same 88bhp electric motor, however, so which one to choose boils down to how much comfort you want. The Expression has everything you need, including TomTom sat nav, climate control, airbags at the front, side, body and head, and a 7in touchscreen multimedia system, so going for anything more is a bit of an extravagance.
Buying one will set you back £13,995, after the government’s Plug-in Car Grant, which brings it in line with a similarly specced Clio and makes the Zoe look like the most affordable electric car by far. But bear in mind that that figure doesn’t include the all-important battery pack; instead, Renault leases it to you for upwards of £70 per month, depending on your annual mileage and the length of the lease.
On the flipside, Renault includes in the Zoe’s price the installation of a home charging unit. The 7kW wall box charges the car faster than would a standard electrical socket, taking approximately four hours from flat. Plug it in overnight and the Zoe will be fully charged in the morning, without a worry.
Making things quicker still (but slightly more complicated), Zoe’s “chameleon” charger will take more than 7kW. If you can find a charge point that delivers 22kW (mainly at dealerships), charging to 100% takes one hour, while a rare 43kW rapid charger can charge the Zoe’s battery to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes.
Driving an electric car is as simple as it gets; think of an automatic with only two gears: forward and back. Fortunately, the experience isn’t as bland as you might expect.
The Zoe is fun to drive thanks in part to the electric motor’s full 162 lb ft of torque (the same as the Clio’s 90bhp diesel engine) being available from standstill but also because its suspension, borrowed from the Clio at the front and the Mégane at the rear, allows it to zip through corners eagerly, both in the city and out on A-roads. The Zoe has little noticeable body roll but seems to soak up imperfections in the road surface, resulting in a smooth, balanced ride.
There are two driving modes: standard and eco. In eco mode, engine power is muted and the air con settings are adjusted to eke out an extra 10% from the battery. Top speed is also limited to 60mph. Turn off eco and there’s enough power available for decent acceleration up to the new top speed of 84mph. Driving fast quickly saps the juice, though, so drivers with a less heavy right foot are rewarded with more miles behind the wheel.
Progress at all speeds is quiet. Not only is there no big internal combustion engine beating away under the bonnet but Renault also seems to have insulated the cabin well against noise from the tyres and wind. Below 18mph the Zoe emits a synthesised but pleasant whirring noise, akin to that of a flying saucer from a 1950s sci-fi film, to alert pedestrians to the car’s presence.
The Zoe’s cabin is quite basic and hard plastics abound but it’s designed with minimalist style. The glossy black or white plastic centre console isn’t covered in unnecessary buttons; instead, the 7-inch R-Link touchscreen is used for most infotainment system functions, including setting the TomTom sat nav, which comes as standard. We found the TomTom got confused as to our position a couple of times, so a quick reset was required, but otherwise it was very simple to operate.
Climate control also comes as standard across the Zoe range and it works very effectively, though nothing drains power like pumping out hot or cold air. Owners will find they use it less indiscriminately than they might were this a petrol or diesel car.
Helpfully, battery range is very easy to follow on the Zoe. Unlike the swing-o-meter of a range gauge found on the Nissan Leaf, that rises and falls rapidly depending on how you’re driving at that particular moment in time, the Zoe’s is less skittish and adjusts itself in a more controlled and accurate manner. That means a sudden burst of acceleration won’t leave you fearing you’ve dramatically cut your range.
In terms of comfort, the Zoe’s front seats are quite soft and spongy, and not overly supportive. They also cannot be adjusted for height, although taller drivers won’t have a problem with headroom. In the rear, space is tight, just as it is in the Clio; the Zoe is, after all, standard supermini fare. However, a pleasant surprise comes when you open the rear hatch to reveal a decent-sized, and quite deep, boot.
The one to buy
Renault Zoe Expression
- £13,995 (includes grant; correct at first publication)
- Electric motor:
- Synchronous with rotor coil
- 88hp @ 3000-11,300rpm
- 162 lb ft @ 250-2,100rpm
- 0-62mph in 13.5sec
- Top speed:
- 22kWh lithium ion
- 130 miles NEDC, 60-90 miles in real worldh lithium ion
- None at point of use
- Road tax band:
- A (free)
- L 4084mm, W 1730mm, H 1562mm