This is a massive launch: the new Zoe is an electric car Renault really needs to succeed, as it’s the tip of a four billion euro arrow, fired years ago by Carlos Ghosn.
Certainly, it’s a cracking looking thing, with its cute, stubby looks and stylish, airy interior that is techy without being weird. But is it four billion well sepnt?
Thanks to the relatively low entry price of £13,995, once the Government’s near-£5,000 in plug-in grant has been added, it is the first EV that from a cost perspective gets somewhere near its more traditionally-powered rivals. So that’s a good start.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
How is it so cheap?
The batteries for such cars as these cost about £10,000 (although Renault wouldn’t say how much it costs them) so in order to offset that cost, Renault is using a leasing scheme that lasts the eight to 10-year life of batteries. Buyers pay around £70 a month to ‘rent’ the pack for 7,500 miles a year or more for increased miles or if they are fast-charged more often, as it leads to premature wear. Renault will also insure them for you, and replace or repair if they are damaged, or you can use your own insurer.
Also keeping the overall cost down is a free home 7kW wallbox to charge it. British Gas will installing it, and it is being paid for using the recently announced 75% support on domestic wallbox installations from the Government’s £37m grant funding, with Renault contributing the remaining 25%. This is enough to charge the Zoe in eight hours. A more powerful 43kW version at public spots will fill it up to 80% in 30 minutes.
What is the range?
Renault reckons the car will generally achieve around 60 miles in cold weather and 90 miles in temperate conditions, even though the official combined cycle test rates it at 130miles. Having driven it, 90 miles seems an entirely reasonable claim: your predicted ‘reachability’ (a Renault euphemism) really is affected by how you drive, and if you keep a light right foot, it uses energy very sparingly.
It’s not going to be a car that will do all jobs, but at least at the price and with this range it feels like a likely urban runabout, or excellent second car.
Critics of EVs get very angry about them not being zero emissions, pointing out the well-to-wheel demands of supplying the electricity (yet often ignoring the logistical cost of getting fuel to a pump). Renault has calculated that the burden of filling your batteries will result in 54g/km using the UK’s energy grid. But this is still half the environmental burden of a small hybrid such as Yaris, it claims.
The Zoe is the first vehicle to be equipped with ‘Range OptimiZEr’ which combines three innovations: bi-modal regenerative braking (where the engine and brakes do the slowing to send energy back into the battery), a special heat pump that saves energy and bespoke Michelin Energy E-V tyres with lower rolling resistance.
Also, it will coach the driver should they want, and you can get Apps which help find charging points and offer range predictions and charging times.
How does it drive?
Because the batteries are under the floor, the Zoe has a low centre of gravity, and using the fourth generation Clio’s underpinnings it handles and rides well too. Thanks to the instant delivery of 160lb-ft from its 65kW/88bhp motor it also nips off the line with alacrity, which is great for inner city driving.
The oddest part of otherwise good driving characteristics are the brakes, which don’t always slow the car as effectively as you might expect, and at low speeds they are very grabby. That’s because they use a combination of motor braking and the usual pads to stop the car, while transmitting energy back into the batteries.
Clearly with its limited range, the Zoe is not going to be your first car. But if you’re looking for a second car or urban runabout, it is a very attractive proposition, not least because the costs are at last somewhere near acceptable for the first time in an EV. Add in that it looks great, has bags of character, and drives pretty well too and it’s clear that Renault has launched the first brilliant electric vehicle.