Renault Zoe long-term test: dissent in the ranks

Published: 24 May 2021

► CAR lives with the latest Zoe
► Renault's EV has changed...
► Has our perception of it changed, too?

Of the many cars I've lived with over the years, very few have ever caused even a flicker on my wife's small but no doubt perfectly calibrated radar. The Caterham 160, Honda CR-Z, Volvo XC70 and Mazda MX-5 all received her approval.

The others? Just transport; they served their purpose but then they were instantly forgotten. Harsh, but the same approach that the vast majority of non-enthusiasts adopt. The Zoe, however, currently sits at the top of her shortlist of best-ever cars.

So what rockets this French electric supermini in to pole position? Its engaging pace is a good place to start. Its 9.5 second on-paper sprint to 62mph may not be worth getting all frothy about, but the way the Zoe catapults from standstill to 40mph without pausing for breath is not only a boon on busy roundabouts and when gap-chasing in heavy traffic, but also entertainingly useful when seeing off tailgaters and putting traffic bullies in their place.

The elevated driving position is also on her list of positives. Where I find the towering driver's seat a pain in the neck, Mrs Whitworth loves the enhanced visibility and eye-contact confidence it brings to daily driving. Heated seats, warm steering wheel, the ability to defrost before driving off in the morning or being capable of instantly pouring out ice-cold air on a warm day are also greatly appreciated. As is the crisp clarity of the superb sound system, and the ease with which it hooks up with her iPhone. Strangely, it can be a bit prissy when it comes to recognising my phone...

We both agree – there's a first – on our dislike of the Zoe's brittle and abrupt ride quality. It takes the shine off what would very easily be a car we would and could live with all year round. The other minor black marks I've touched on – bullet-proof plastics, scuff-prone door surrounds, tricky rear door handles – don't even raise an eyebrow.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Renault Zoe GT Line R135

Price £28,620 (£30,120 as tested)
Performance 52kWh battery, R135 e-motor, 134bhp, 9.5sec 0-62mph, 87mph
Efficiency 4.6 miles per kWh (official), 3.9 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.4p per mile
Miles this month 316
Total miles 4981


Month 4 living with a Renault Zoe: it's been e-motional

renault zoe infotainment

The Zoe's list of irritants is growing. I've previously mentioned the harsh ride and high driving position. To this you can add the infotainment system's occasional refusal to recognise my phone; the ease with which you can snag yourself on the sharp leading edges of the doors; the rear door handles that easily defeat smaller hands; and the tough cabin plastics.

But all of this is forgiven and forgotten the moment the Zoe zips off at the start of another journey. Why? Because the Zoe is full of tail-up and zesty character. It feels chic, effervescent and savvy – a refreshing riposte to the many bland boxes that all too often get bought instead.

Very few long-term test cars that I've had the privilege of running can match the Zoe's generosity of character and charm. It joins the select group alongside the Caterham 160, Mazda RX-8, Renault Clio Trophy and Volvo XC70. It also means the Zoe can be judged, driven and enjoyed without any caveat around its power source. It's not an excellent little supermini despite being electric. It's just an excellent little supermini.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Renault Zoe GT Line R135

Price £28,620 (£30,120 as tested)
Performance 52kWh battery, R135 e-motor, 134bhp, 9.5sec 0-62mph, 87mph
Efficiency 4.6 miles per kWh (official), 4.0 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.3p per mile
Miles this month 620
Total miles 4665


Month 3 living with a Renault Zoe: off to the dentist

renault zoe rear tracking

A couple of niggles about the Zoe. I've tackled the towering ride height, but running a close second is the inexplicably brittle and harsh secondary ride quality. On smooth, fast roads, the Zoe feels calm and composed.

But here in West Sussex, most of the roads are rather more challenging, and I wish Renault's ride and handling engineers had experienced the feeling of their fillings coming loose before deciding that the Zoe Mk3 was ready to meet its public. I appreciate it's not easy to make a chubby 1502kg supermini glide like a Phantom, but it's a shame when so much about this car is so good.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Renault Zoe GT Line R135

Price £28,620 (£30,120 as tested)
Performance 52kWh battery, e-motor, 134bhp, 9.5sec 0-62mph, 87mph
Efficiency 4.6 miles per kWh (official), 4.2 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.1p per mile
Miles this month 721
Total miles 4045


Month 2 living with a Renault Zoe: range woes? Non-existent...

Renault Zoe LTT front tracking

So this pretty little car is pretty damned good at meeting our daily driving needs. A real-world driving range of 215 miles means longer trips can be undertaken with none of the range anxiety Honda E and Mazda MX-30 drivers will endure. It took me less than a week before I stopped constantly checking the range and started feeling confident about 200-mile trips.

Performance up to 50mph is enjoyably swift. With an instantaneous 181lb ft of torque (same as a VW Corrado VR6!), the Renault snaps smartly off the line, and even at higher motorway speeds it feels alert and responsive. There's more than enough room on board for day-to-day trips, CarPlay hook-up is seamless, and the audio system is loud enough to embarrass my children on the school run.

But the driving position really grinds my teeth. I understand that skateboarding the uprated 52kWh battery between the front and rear axles optimises packaging efficiency, but it also means the seat – which is not adjustable for height – positions taller drivers far too high for comfort, reducing visibility levels and forcing them to peer down at the bonnet rather than out at the road ahead. Not ideal when you're 6ft 2in.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Renault Zoe GT Line R135

Price £28,620 (£30,120 as tested)
Performance 52kWh battery, e-motor, 134bhp, 9.5sec 0-62mph, 87mph
Efficiency 4.6 miles per kWh (official) 4.2 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.1p per mile
Miles this month 2762
Total miles 3324


Month 1 living with a Renault Zoe: hello and welcome

Renault Zoe LTT cornering

'Oh, what a pretty little car you've got there!' Not quite the anticipated response from my brother, sternest of car critics, the first time he spied our Zoe. He's not wrong. Renault's third-generation pure-electric supermini is a very dinky bit of design, helped by its perky proportions, neat detailing and zingy Celadon Blue paintwork.

While the Zoe's silhouette may be familiar, it's beneath the skin where the real transformation has taken place. When it was unveiled in 2013, the Zoe had a motor-dependent real-world range of between 70 and 110 miles. This latest Zoe has a reliable range of 238 miles, which means in seven years the Renault's range has more than doubled. Imagine a petrol car pulling off that trick...

Imagine, too, having the wedge required to put this Renault on your driveway. This is the – deep breath – GT Line R135 Z.E. 50, the Zoe range-topper that weighs in at £28,620 after the government's plug-in car grant.

According to Renault UK's latest finance deal, that's £332 a month for four years after a £2500 deposit. Punchy. But the flipside is that on my current electricity tariff of 14.23p per kWh it will cost me £7.40 per recharge, which equates to 3.1p per mile. That means an annual electricity bill of £373 if you cover 1000 miles a month. Colin Overland's Clio – similarly sized but running a 1.3-litre blown petrol four – averaged 13.4 p per mile. He'd have to pay £1608 to cover the same annual distance.

The Zoe comes with a vast array of safety and infotainment kit for that money, and the installation of a 7kW domestic wallbox charger. Our test car included the 50kW DC rapid charge capability (£1000) and Winter Pack (£500) for hot seats and steering wheel.

In my first month with the Zoe I've found there's a lot to love here, over and above those 3.1p-per-mile running costs. Up to 40mph it's entertainingly brisk, and the quick if lifeless steering means it can be satisfyingly hustled along. The calibration of the throttle and brake pedals is excellent, as is the well-judged level of dialled-in regenerative braking in one-pedal 'B' driving mode. The interior swallows mounds of shopping with ease, and as long as you don't look too closely at some of the plastics, the cabin has an appealing style.

Only three negatives so far, but all quite serious. The ride quality is inexplicably and horribly firm. A corollary of this rigidity is that some of the trim has already been shaken loose – I lowered the sun visor yesterday and the vanity light dropped out. And the driving position is inexplicably high. For anyone over five and half feet it will feel like sitting on one of those chairs used by lifeguards.

By Ben Whitworth

Renault Zoe GT Line R135: logbook

Price £28,620 (£30,120 as tested, after plug-in grant)
Performance 52kWh battery, e-motor, 134bhp, 9.5sec 0-62mph, 87mph
Efficiency 4.6 miles per kWh (official), 4.7 miles per kWh (tested), 0g/km CO2
Energy cost 3.1p per mile
Miles this month 562
Total miles 562

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

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