A zero-emissions Renault Zoe gave David Williams’ twins a taste of the future of driving, providing a very different approach to the way we drive
Lurching down the road in a series of kangaroo hops after each change of gear as you teach your son or daughter how to drive could soon be a thing of the past as the calm, quiet, more mature nature of the electric car promises to usher in a new generation of learners with a very different approach to the way we drive.
I’ve put my daughter and son into the driving seat to find out. With a melodic but barely audible sci-fi-style hum, of which Trekkies would surely approve, we inch slowly away from the kerb and glide ethereally towards a row of cones set out in the car park.
There’s no crashing of gears, no angrily revving engine and little stress. Anna beams as the sleek all-electric Renault Zoe quietly picks up speed and she deftly push-pulls the steering wheel to negotiate the first bend. It almost seems too easy.
As I sit in the back to watch my 15-year-old twins’ first “proper” driving lesson at Bluewater’s Young Driver facility in Kent, it seems a million miles away from my first attempts to co-ordinate juddering clutch, throttle, non-synchromesh gearbox and (yes, let us admit it) semaphore-arm indicators on my parents’ ageing, polluting Morris Minor Estate, some 35 years earlier. Even Gary Webber, the driving instructor whose familiarity with this special practice circuit is finely honed thanks to many hours teaching budding learners aged 11-17, is impressed with the calm, fuss-free zero-emission Zoe.
“Amazing – the loudest thing you can hear is the indicators,” he says, scarcely disguising his astonishment as he helps Anna insert the smartcard into the dashboard and press the Start button to “fire” up the car. Instead of the staccato bark of exhaust pipe, rattle of cam chain, puff of emissions and vibrations through the steering wheel, there’s a gentle synthesised “bong” and a cheerful “ready” message lights up in the space-age instrument panel.
“You certainly won’t be able to stall it,” adds Gary. “There’s no clutch and as it’s automatic, there’s no gear-changing to worry about, either.”
We’ve joined Gary at the Admiral Young Driver arena in Bluewater to see what it’s like to learn to drive in an electric car, and it’s a great location to grapple with the basics of getting behind the wheel — and while they still have to master manual gear changes and the like, a wealth of new technology, such as sensors and cameras, makes learning to drive easier.
The rest of the year, the instructors have made it more challenging, using hundreds of cones to represent lay-bys, cul-de-sacs, vehicles, traffic lights and buildings. Normally, there’d be six other cars on the circuit, as youngsters get a taste of motorised freedom, accompanied by a fully qualified ADI driving instructor – and with the benefit of dual- control cars.
Today, for our electric Renault Zoe acid test, we have the place to ourselves and Joseph and Anna are loving every moment. Even Gary seems relaxed about the lack of a spare brake pedal on the Zoe – for emergencies.
As Anna tackles her first roundabout, crossroads and T-junction, the Zoe is fully charged; we know this as it was topped up overnight at an electric socket; the dashboard readout tells us we have enough amps stored in the batteries to cover 78 fume- free miles for around £1.50. We won’t need them, but it’s comforting to know there are two charging cables in the boot – one for public charging points or dedicated home chargers (which will fully charge in four hours), the other for three-pin domestic electric points, which charge the car up overnight.
After Anna has negotiated the fake but sunny town centre for 45 minutes – grinning as she improves her steering technique, impressing Gary with her reversing – it’s Joe’s turn, and the readout now tells us we still have 76 miles of motoring time left. That is enough to get us to the seaside at Margate if we wished.
Joe – who has spent hours observing the finer points of car control from the Stig on Top Gear – is perfectly happy on our closed circuit. He has a heavier right foot and whizzes away, quickly acclimatising to the Zoe’s smooth power delivery, light powered steering and deft handling.
When he’s asked to park parallel to a kerb and reverse in a straight line for about 50 feet, he swiftly spots the high- tech reversing camera and demonstrates his prowess with brake and throttle, as well as the electrically controlled door mirrors. That’s the computer generation for you.
“It’s really good fun. Much smoother than the diesel car we tried earlier,” says Joe. “There’s less to think about as it’s an automatic so it’s perfect to learn in. You just put it into gear and go; it seems to put you in a really calm mindset.”
“It’s less scary than the manual diesel car we tried earlier, even though it accelerates fast. I like the fact that it’s quieter and, because you just have to slide the automatic gear lever into Drive, it’s simpler.”
It’s all good fun, but there’s a serious point, too. Stacked in the Young Driver bus, where they dole out drinks and Drive Diaries to the novices who turn up are leaflets outlining what novices should expect. It asks: “Why do we encourage 11 to 17-year-olds to drive?”
“Being taught to drive away from the road, at a younger age, is a big benefit,” says Gary. “It means they hit the ground running when they start lessons on the road. It gives them a valuable advantage.”
With sales of electric cars up by more than 300 per cent in the first five months of this year and manufacturers bringing more and more models to market, from city runarounds and family hatchbacks to 4x4s and sports cars, surely the cleaner, greener future of driving is gliding smoothly and securely into place.
Source: The Telegraph