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First drive: Renault ZOE

Feeling every inch the second-generation electric car, the arrival of the Renault ZOE is set to take battery-powered cars up a notch, easing out some of the minor flaws  that haunt the first-generation Nissan LEAF.

Renault ZOE by coast

The fourth and final model of Renault’s planned Z.E range of electric cars, this electric supermini, the most affordable electric car yet (if you ignore the only marginally cheaper, yet much smaller, smart fortwo ED), feels undeniably like the grand finishing flourish to the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s €4bn investment into electric vehicles (EVs).

It seems like the Alliance is really getting the hang of producing EVs now, as we welcome not only the ZOE but a second-generation LEAF this year, joining the existing Renault Fluence Z.E, Twizy electric quadricycle and Kangoo Z.E van to complete the line-up of electrics on offer.

Renault ZOE line-upWhat we know now is that the as-yet untested new LEAF (we’ll get the chance to drive it next month) has some serious competition from its smarter looking, nippy little sibling.

By far the most successful and practical EV so far, the first-generation LEAF, now feels much duller compared to this cooler, more capable and agile new kid on the block.

Real world range

Lighter by some 99kg than the first-generation LEAF, with a long driving range of 130 miles NEDC (109 mile NEDC for the old LEAF and 124 miles for the new version), the smaller B-segment ZOE also provides more accurate range predictions. Drive ten miles, and it more or less uses ten miles worth of power. Of course, the faster you go the hungrier it gets, but drive in crawling rush hour traffic in ambient conditions, as we did one morning, and ZOE barely breaks into a sweat.

Renault ZOE rear on the road

Starting with a predicted range of 145km (90 miles), we travelled 58.5km (36 miles) in this start-stop traffic, at the end of which the Zoe predicted we had 83km (51 miles) left vs. 86.5km (53 miles) we calculated we should have had. Not bad when you consider that I was by no means eco-driving, I used the brake liberally and accelerated more than was necessary at times.

While I have a tendency to try and find out just how good the range can be on a new electric car by using eco-driving techniques, my co-driver Alun Taylor of The Register kindly pointed out that with an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar routes, you never going to be able to accurately test the best the car can do.

Renault ZOE blue by the sea

With that in mind, Alun and I, while alternating driving and navigation duties, took the ZOE for more spirited test drives too, testing it on highways and dual carriageways to test the supermini’s full driving characteristics, varying our speed between 90 km/h (55mph) and 120 km/h (74mph) as we explored the roads around Lisbon on the international press launch for the electric supermini.

Renault estimates that depending on driving style and conditions, the ZOE should deliver real-world range of between 100km (62 miles) and 150km (93 miles)-the former of which should be easy to spank with a paddle, and while our time with the ZOE was brief, we think it would have to be freezing, be transporting a tonne of bricks or you’d have to rag it (or a combo of all three) to get such a poor result. Renault-we say, don’t be so modest.

Renault ZOE, thinking what's this old thing next to me for?

The car felt effortless and capable at high speed, with torque of 220Nm delivered from a standstill. While quieter than the old LEAF, lacking much of its electric ‘whirring’ noise, the ZOE’s cabin was far from unduly affected by external noise, as smelly, combustion cars whipped around it. Its steering is light and precise, and the car feels solid enough round the corners thanks to its low, centrally positioned battery. As Alun put it, it has to be the ‘least electric car-like electric car we’ve yet driven’-in other words it drives like a very quiet automatic and thanks to its long range, requires little adaptation for the hardened gas-guzzler driver.

Made for volts and watts

There is much that impresses in the ZOE for those already familiar with earlier electric models. It’s surprisingly spacious inside, officially a five-seater, though that Renault ZOE boot-plenty fits in itwill be a squeeze for all but the smallest passengers; but a boot capacity of 338 litres is generous for a supermini and better than the Clio’s 300 litre offering. The 22kWh lithium ion battery stowed underneath the car, is unobtrusive on interior, enabling plenty of room all round and despite a focus on aerodynamic shape, there’s good headroom.

Unlike the flawed Fluence Z.E saloon model, the ZOE benefits from being thought from the start as an EV, and while it borrows much of its platform from the Clio, the chassis has been adapted to suit its electric nature and new robust MacPherson struts take the strain of the 488kg extra weight.

Zoe interior-smart and simple

Zoe is a smart little lass too, with Renault’s new R-Link system adapted to provide EV-specific details and included as standard across the three trim range. The TomTom Z.E LIVE navigation system tells drivers whether the car has enough range to reach its destination and if not, where the nearest charging station is. The control panel also keeps drivers informed of driving range, charge status and driving style with tips on how to drive in a more economical manner. While the integrated Tom Tom sat nav system, fitted as standard, is not as intuitive as we’d like, R-Link’s 7 inch touch screen, multimedia system also includes radio, telephone, Bluetooth, audiostreaming, connection for portable devices, voice recognition and Text-to-Speech (TTFS) functions, so there is plenty of tech to keep owners happy.

Cabin experience

Inside the car, the driver is well looked after, a pre-heating or cooling function enables the driver to get the cabin to a comfortable temperature remotely before they even get in, while an activate carbon particulate filter ensures that you don’t breathe in the nasty tailpipe emissions of those dirty combustion vehicles around you, while sat in your nice clean ZOE.

Renault ZOE interior

There is also intelligent air-conditioning which automatically adjusts the humidity level to ensure it doesn’t leave you feeling dried out.

A choice of three trims; Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens all come as standard with aforementioned R-Link and Tom Tom navigation plus climate control, cruise control, LED daytime running lights, Hill Start Assist, rear privacy glass and a new system called ‘Z.E. Voice’- an alarm which warns pedestrians that the vehicle is approaching.Renault ZOE by the bridge in Lisbon

Optional Teflon coated seats available on the Zen model are stain-proof and waterproof. While a practical idea, we found the bog-standard seats were firmer and more comfortable than this choice.

Design wise, the ZOE is sleek and smart on the outside, and while the interior is fitted to a budget, there are some nice little design flares featured across the dash and seats. There is wonders that can be worked in cheap plastics, that’s all we’re saying. We also like that the ZOE has a normal automatic drive selector and conventional handbrake-unlike the Nissan LEAF’s weird nobbly gearshift.

Chameleon charging

Something that will please EV fans, is the inclusion of a Renault’s Chameleon charger, which means when you’ve finally exhausted the ZOE’s good range, you can charge from a 3kW standard charger in six to nine hours, from a 11kW in 2 hours, a fast 22kW charger up to 80 per cent in an hour or 43kW charge to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. Choice or what?!

Renault ZOE charging, plugged in

The only minor concern I have for the ZOE, is whether Renault can bring the British ownership-obsessed mind-set round to the idea of leasing the battery. It makes sense, while I’m confident that Renault’s battery is solid and reliable (the carmaker has absolutely battered the life out of it in tests-nothing short of outright abuse, testing it over 850,000km in extreme hot and cold conditions), there is no test that compares with ten-years of real use, as such I would say, let the carmaker take the gamble. If there is a problem, Renault will replace the battery, if capacity falls below 75 per cent, again, Renault will replace the battery. If you breakdown-for whatever reason (even if it is because you ignored the dwindling supply of your battery range)-within 85km of home, Renault’s breakdown assistance will come to the rescue.

Two Renault ZOE cars chargingStarting from just £13,650 after the Plug-in Car Grant (after a Plug-in Grant worth 25% off the car’s price-£3,412.50), the battery lease starts at £70 a month (based on a 7,500 miles per annum and 36 month contract)-we’d say don’t let that be a stumbling block-especially since this monthly outlay could be easily covered by what you save in petrol, if you are switching from a combustion car.

The winner of the 2012 RAC Future Car Challenge and a Euro NCAP 5 star car-the ZOE definitely earns a full five stars from us too.

It is already available to order in the UK with deliveries due to start shortly.

Quick stats

Range: 130 miles
0-62mph: 13.5 seconds
Max speed: 84mph
Torque: 220Nm
Bhp: 88
Battery: 22kWh lithium-ion
Fast charge: 80% battery recharge in 30 mins
Charging from household socket: 6-9 hours
Warranty: 4 years or 100,000 miles for the car, 5 years or 100,000 miles for the electric drivetrain
Price: £13,650 with a £70 per month battery lease (after a Plug-in Grant worth 25% off the car’s price-£3,412.50)
Available: Spring 2013

Renault ZOE on the roadside

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Faye Sunderland

Filed under: Electric cars, Road Tests, Renault

2 comments

Trevor Larkum

Nice review - very balanced.

Ray

We've had our Zoe for just over a week now. It has a real range of about 65-70 miles in "normal electric" use - that is keeping up with the traffic, trying to anticipate slowing down and maximising use of the regenerative braking. Public charging is really not a serious option at the moment, with the only public point we've tried (in Morrison's car park) not compatible with Zoe until there's a fix to a firmware problem in the charger.

Having no slow charge cable available to charge off 13A domestic sockets (and many older public charge points) is a real blunder to my mind. Apparently the charge rate at this level is slower that expected but the reality is that if you visit friends or family you may not care if it takes all day for even a half charge as an alternative to not being able to take the car more than 30 miles from home.

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