New car road test: Renault ZOE

Renault’s ZOE aims to provide an affordable solution to those who quite like the idea of a practical electric car. Andy Enright reports (August 2014).

BACKGROUND

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. 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. Renault, with its fun Twizy lightweight city car, the Fluence Z.E. saloon and even a battery-powered Kangoo van, is looking to change that. Other manufacturers may offer an electric model, maybe two, but Renault is going all-out on this one. The best and most relevant of the lot so far looks to be its ZOE supermini.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

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, though Renault has done a good job on chassis refinement and the 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 inside the vehicle. This “Z.E. Voice” can be switched between three different sounds or completely switched off.

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.

DESIGN & BUILD

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 by folding the one-piece rear bench.

MARKET & MODEL

The ZOE is offered in three trim levels – Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens – and all feature the multimedia system, R-Link, as standard. Drivers can control its functions without taking their eyes off the road via a 7in 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. 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 comes with an on-the-road price of around £14,000, after the Government Plug-in Car Grant deduction, while the Dynamique Zen and Intens versions cost just over £15,000. You’ll need to add battery hire to that, which comes in from around £70 per month.

Standard equipment on the Expression includes R-Link voice-controlled TomTom satellite navigation, USB input, AUX-in, SD multimedia and Bluetooth, climate control, cruise control, a Renault keycard and speed limiter function. The Dynamique Intens and Dynamique Zen models get automatic lights and wipers, a better stereo, leather trim for the steering wheel, electric rear windows and rear parking sensors. The Intens gets a rear parking sensor and a dark interior finish, whereas the Zen gets a pale interior with Teflon-coated upholstery and an active scent diffuser.

COST OF OWNERSHIP

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 36 months and up to 7,500 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 130-mile range but in real-world conditions that will shrink to around 60 miles in cold weather and 90 miles when it’s a bit warmer. Three key technologies assist in giving the car a 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, it 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% of full battery power achieved within 30 minutes using a Rapid Charger 43kW 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 so have no way of recharging from a home power point.

SUMMARY

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 but most of these are due to the inherent nature of electric vehicles themselves rather than any flaw in the ZOE, which is a likeable little thing and might just be the most attractive electric vehicle currently on sale.

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. 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?

Source: Derby Telegraph

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