The Renault Zoe is one of the cheapest electric cars on sale, and also one of the most appealing
Renault has been one of the more forward thinking manufacturers when it comes to electric cars, and its Zoe has been well received, not least for its relatively low cost. It has also worked to address concerns of potential buyers who might suffer from so-called “range anxiety”, or the constant fear of running out of charge, because the Zoe is now available with a range of “up to 249 miles” from a single charge.
In reality this figure was achieved in the unrealistic NEDC test cycle, and even Renault admits the true range in normal driving will be more like 186 miles in good conditions, or at worst 124 miles.
For those who don’t need to do such long distances, the Zoe is also available with a less sophisticated battery that restricts range to a realistic 70-80 miles but is significantly cheaper to buy or lease.
Boot is a good size
The Zoe is just about spacious enough for an average-sized adult to sit behind a six-foot driver, who also benefits from a slightly raised seating position.
Every version has five doors, and the boot is a good size, with more space than you’ll find in a Ford Fiesta. As such as small baby buggy or a couple of cases will fit with no problem at all. It is worth noting, though, that the rear backrest can only be folded in one piece, rather than a 60:40 split.
Seats are quite soft, but it’s a very quiet car
Where the Zoe really scores is in how supremely quiet it is on the move thanks to the electric motor, with only wind noise to disturb the peace. It’s fair to say that once you’ve sampled this element of electric motoring, even the most advanced petrol or diesel engines sound a little old fashioned.
As with the Renault Clio, the seats in the Zoe are quite soft, which means they feel comfortable at first, but on longer journeys lack a bit of support. It’s a shame, therefore, that lumbar support is only offered on the top-spec Signature Nav model.
Although the ride is rarely harsh at low speed, you can feel the car moving around over small bumps when you are travelling more quickly.
Dashboard layout 7/10
Touchscreen connectivity could be better
All Zoe models come with a central touchscreen display, which looks smart and for the most part is easy to use. Essential vehicle information is displayed including how much charge is left in the battery and, on higher spec versions, the monitor for the rear-facing camera.
The styling of the dash is similar to Renault’s similarly sized Clio, including the very good ventilation controls, although in places the perceived level of quality does not feel quite as high.
Easy to drive 9/10
Cars don’t get much easier to drive than this
Power is delivered instantly, so the Zoe feels responsive off the line, but it then tails off as speeds increase up to the 84mph maximum. That said, the Zoe still cruises quite happily at the motorway speed limit (even if it does drain the battery at a faster rate than in-town driving), plus there are no gears to worry about and the brakes are very responsive.
The steering is extremely light and the fantastic turning circle means it is very easy to drive around town. It’s a shame that over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t a bit better though.
Fun to drive 7/10
Some rivals handle better, but it’s still enjoyable to drive
The Zoe’s lack of outright power also hinders driving enjoyment on the open road, although the low centre of gravity afforded by the battery means that it grips very well.
While there is quite a bit of body lean in corners, the Zoe never feels difficult to control. In fact, through a series of corners it changes direction very well.
As with all electric cars, driving the Zoe in an enthusiastic manner will place a much greater strain on the battery and drastically reduce the car’s range.
Strong warranty, and Renault’s reputation has improved
Renault has an average record in the JD Power UK Vehicle Dependability Survey, finishing 14th out of 24 manufacturers in 2016. The Zoe does, however, come with the reassurance of a four-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and the battery and motor technology are proving to be reliable. Renault gives you the option of buying the battery or leasing it. Do the former and you’ll get an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty, while if you opt for the latter (as 90 per cent of buyers do) Renault is obliged to replace the battery if capacity ever drops below 75 per cent of its full potential.
Renault also provides four years of UK roadside assistance (which you can use even if you’ve just run out of battery) and three years of Europe-wide assistance.
Fuel economy 10/10
Incredibly cheap to run
Charging the Zoe’s battery takes between 30 minutes and 9 hours depending on the power source. Either way, powering your car with electricity is hugely cheaper than doing so with petrol or diesel (at its most efficient, the Zoe costs about £3 for a full charge).
Included in the Zoe’s purchase price is a 7kW wallbox charger installed at your home.
Complicated pricing structure, but ultimately good value
At first glance, the Zoe may look a bit expensive, but factor in the £4,500 Plug-in Car grant and tiny running costs, and the overall outlay could potentially be much lower than on an equivalent petrol or diesel model.
It’s worth noting that the entry level model can only be had with the less powerful battery, so if you want the extended range of the ZE 40 model you’ll need to spend an additional £3,850. You also need to consider whether you want to lease the batteries, which costs from £49 per month, or buy them outright with the car, which increases the Zoe’s price by £5,600.
After the initial outlay there is no road tax to buy, recharging costs a fraction of what you’d need to spend on fuel, and the Zoe is exempt from the London congestion charge, making it a good option for those who do a lot of driving in the capital, provided they have somewhere they can charge it.
Good safety score, but lacking in the latest equipment
The Zoe achieved the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test and is fitted with four airbags and an electronic stability system that will help you to regain control if the car begins to skid.
As with other makers of electric cars, Renault has also need to take pedestrian safety into account, and so when the Zoe is driven at speeds below 18mph it emits a noise to warn of its presence (above that speed the tyre noise does the same job).
What it doesn't have are some of the latest active safety systems, such as one that will automatically apply the brakes if it senses an impact is imminent with the vehicle in front. With this now being available on most small cars, its omission from the Zoe’s options list stands out.
Standard spec 9/10
All models feature lots of equipment
Standard equipment is very good, with even the entry-level Expression Nav model fitted with cruise control, Bluetooth, climate control, 15-inch alloy wheels and a TomTom-derived satnav, which is displayed on a 7-inch touchscreen.
Moving up to Dynamique Nav adds not only the more powerful ZE40 battery, but also 16-inch wheels, rear parking sensors and remote activation of the heater or air-con, meaning you can pre-warm or cool the car while it’s plugged in and charging, saving battery power for additional range.
At the top of the range the Signature Nav features heated leather seats, a Bose sound system and rear parking camera.
Our favourite version
Expression Nav with battery lease, list price £13,995 (after Government plug-in car grant), plus monthly battery leasing
Options you should add: Metallic paint (£495), DAB radio (£240)
The verdict 8/10
The Zoe’s headline act is theoretical 250-mile range offered by the ZE40 model. However, if your driving consists primarily of short journeys, the entry-level model with its shorter range is a significantly cheaper option. Either way, the Zoe marks a great entry point into the world of electric motoring.
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