2 Aug 2013

Renault Zoe review

The Renault Zoe is a CO2 free electric car that looks like a normal car and costs the same as a normal car.  Renault want us to think of electric as just another choice of powerplant rather than anything special or unusual.  Is the Zoe just another car?
Renault Zoe electric car

The Renault Zoe sits there looking all normal.  It's a small hatchback that's slightly larger on the inside than most other hatchbacks.  It looks similar to the Clio but is slightly smaller.  There's more room in the back seats though because it has no fuel tank.  It costs the same as a base model Clio - £14k.  It's got the same power as a base model Clio - 90bhp-ish.  0-60 is split only by a second.

The government doesn't pay £5,000 towards the cost of your Clio though.  The Zoe actually costs £18,995 and UK plc chips in 5 grand.  Oh, and whilst you buy your Clio and that's it, you buy your Zoe but Renault still own the battery which you lease for upwards of £70 a month.  When you come to sell your Zoe the buyer must carry on with the lease.  If they don't then Renault will remotely zap it and it won't move until the new owner has stumped up the cash.
Renault Zoe dash
Renault Zoe's dash.  With 19 miles in the tank my range anxiety was at hyper levels
The Zoe is as good looking as any modern hatch.  In fact it's better looking than most.  I'd prefer it a little lower and wider but modern fashions, and the fact the floorpan is filled with battery, dictates a tall, narrow car.  The interior is pretty good, although not quite in the same league as the Clio.  I could hardly find fault with it.  It's ergonomically sound and all the buttons and screens look and feel good.

The seats are fine and spacious and the steering wheel feels nice in your hands.  It has a gear lever.  Like any other auto you can select drive, park or reverse.  This is slightly odd given there is no gearbox.  It's also got an engine Stop/Start button which is also odd.  If you get out with the 'engine' running it beeps and shouts from the dash 'Engine Running' when, plainly, it isn't.

The only problem with the test car was the beige dash top which reflected off the windscreen. You can see that in this photo which was taken on a cloudy day.  Black is not an option so you're stuck with beige.  The external colours are limited too to black, white and various shades of pale blue.
Renault Zoe interior
The beige dash reflects off the windscreen
Driving the Zoe is both weird and familiar.  Familiar in that you drive it like an automatic - it goes, turns, stops and starts like any other car.  Weird in that it does it all without noise.  Once you've got used to this then the matter of noiselessness becomes insignificant.  I hate diesel engine noise so I'd rather no sound than an oil-burner's clatter.

If you press the Eco button then you hear some noise as the battery harvests energy used during braking and coasting.  It all becomes quite fluid after a while.

It drives as well as a Clio diesel.  The Clio TCe 90 does 0-60 in 12.2 seconds but feels slower whilst the Zoe does 0-60 in 13.5 seconds but feels faster.  Ignore the elephant in the room and drive the Zoe with vigour and it's a decent handling little car - that makes no noise.

The elephant in the room is of course its range.  Officially this is 130 miles.  In reality it is 60-80 miles during the winter months and 80-90 miles in the summer.  For me this is unacceptable.  For others who don't drive very far it may be feasible.
Renault Zoe electric car

There's a charger in the boot so you can plug it in wherever you can find a charging point.  Actually the Zoe will show you where the nearest charging point is via its satnav.  From 0 to full takes 3.5 hours.  To put this into perspective my journey to meet with Renault and drive the Zoe was 65 miles.  In winter I would not have made it.  I would have had to have stopped at a motorway service station (where there is apparently a charger) and waited a couple of hours whilst it took on board a few kW.

I suffered range anxiety from the moment I got in the Zoe and took it for a spin.  The fact it has as many miles range when full as when the fuel light would come on in a petrol car is the killer, for me at least.

You might disagree.  You might never use your car for more than short journeys.  In that case the Zoe is a great car.  It's cheap and well designed and built and it won't cost much to run.  Don't forget, though, that when you sell it on Renault have a remote kill switch if the buyer doesn't keep up the payments for the battery.

The Renault Zoe almost succeeds in its aim to compete with normal cars.  It is a normal car except it will only travel a quarter the distance of a normal car and will take 3.5 hours longer to fill up with fuel than a normal car.

If you can cope with this then the Zoe is recommended.


Price - £13,955 (£15,195 as tested)
Engine -  electric, 22kWh battery
Transmission - erm.  Electric?
0-60mph - 13.5 seconds
Top speed - 84 mph
Power - 88bhp
Torque - 162 lb ft
Economy - difficult one this. If the battery has 22Kwh and it does 60 miles then 0.37 miles per kW?
CO2 - 0 g/km from the car
Kerb weight - 1,468 kg

Review by Matt Hubbard