► Upgraded Renault Zoe tested
► New batteries offer improved range
► Rivals the i3, Leaf and e-Golf
Renault’s revamped the batteries in its all-electric Zoe , turning an already excellent little car into a grown-up – one with a claimed 250-mile range, and one that runs rings around the BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf and Nissan Leaf.
But as with everything electric, it’s not quite as simple as that...
So it goes for longer? Who wouldn’t be happy with that?
In the real world, Renault reckons this new Z.E 40 version will cover around 190 miles in summer conditions and 120 in the winter, still putting it out of sight of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.
This is thanks to a series of battery upgrades, including packaging changes and modifications to the chemical make-up of the cells, resulting in a 41kW battery. The pack itself remains the same size and shape as the 22kW 80-mile range version, which stays in the line-up as a cheaper entry level model. And here’s where it all gets a bit complicated.
Without a doubt, longer range in an electric car is a good thing. It offers up all sort of possibilities, ownership profiles and ways of using the car. But the cost of this new battery tech isn’t cheap: even after the £4500 Government grant the basic entry level price of a 40 is £4500 more than a 22kW car – although it does admittedly also feature more kit. The question effectively is then, then, is double the range worth the extra cost?
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Handily, this issue is mitigated to an extent by Renault’s leasing offer, which mean you can lease car and battery together. And why wouldn’t you? There seems no reason to take the risk on the used value of the batteries.
As an early indication of pricing, for a Dynamique Nav (the second-highest model in the range) doing 7500 miles a year it costs of £270 after a £1995 down payment.
Time to get the back of a fag packet out then?
The beauty of running a Zoe is its elegant simplicity; charging at home from a free 7kW wallbox supplied with the car, the point-and-go drivability. But before you get to this point you really do have to test the grey matter and envisage its role in your life and do your sums. Certainly the 40 version is likely to play a more prominent one with its range – and we’ve found with our 22kW long termer that in fuel used you can save way more than £100 every 1000 miles compared to a very economical petrol supermini.
So the more you use it, the more you save, but at the same time the extra cost of the new model counts against that a bit. Put it this way: the 22kW’s price and range makes a brilliant second car, the more expensive 40 version makes it a decent first-and-a-half car, its cost now pitching into choppier waters full of competitively priced conventional cars.
I’m not entirely sure about the top-of-the range specification version either, where shiny leather seats and dark colours add a more sober air to a car that tripped along with a wonderful lightness of touch.
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And it now takes six to seven hours to fully charge from a conventional charger, rather than four, although most owners do this overnight anyway – and you can get to 80 percent in an R90 model in one hour 40 minutes when connected to a fast charger.
There’s also a more expensive quick-charge model that takes 65 minutes to get to 80 percent when plugged into a fast charger, but eight to nine hours to full charge from a home point. I do hope you’re keeping up. I barely am myself.
After all that you might be thinking that you’re better off with the cheap, short range one – but no! The 40 is a brilliant car. Renault launched this Zoe in Portugal, with the launch route taking in a four-hour drive up the coast road, which snaked up clifftops and down inlets. Bonkers – most EVs get launched in Holland, starting at the top of a very small hill and ending at the bottom.
At the end of this drive, where the car still does everything the Zoe did before, which means zippy acceleration from standstill, tidy steering a restful silent cruising, we still had 80 miles of range left. The level of smugness I felt at this result is at the Trump end of the scale.
The Zoe is the best electric car on the market and the option of the longer range models enhances its appeal even more, but you do need to take your time to work out which suits what you need most.
The big thing is though that now that thanks to the Zoe, the electric car is about to go mainstream.
Read more Renault reviews