T3 Drives: Is the Renault Zoe the ultimate electric car?

Electric cars are undoubtedly the future, but so far they’ve been very hit or miss. The Tesla Model S is undoubtedly great, but very expensive, and in the past more affordable electric cars have lacked range and desirability. 

Earlier in the year Renault unveiled its updated electric city car, the Zoe, with a new ‘Z.E. 40’ battery which pretty much doubles the small car’s range. 

Does this make it the ultimate affordable electric car? We’ve driven one all the way around Portugal to find out.

Features

The Renault Zoe is a very small car, about the same size as a Renault Clio. Despite being so small, the updated Zoe has an impressive 250 mile range (NEDC - Renault think more like 186 miles), Renault has managed this by increasing the battery density and improving the chemistry, squeezing more power from a battery which is the same form factor. 

The average daily commute of 80 per cent of European motorists is less than 40 miles, meaning the Zoe would last a whole working week, from Monday to Friday, without needing a charge. However, that’s not how most of these vehicles will be charged, instead they’ll probably be plugged into the 7kW home fast charger (included) every night.

We think this vehicle really makes sense. Electric vehicles really shine in the city, they’re fast to accelerate, don’t cough out pollutants, and often receive special treatment (such as free congestion charge, or the ability to drive in bus lanes).

Our current favourite electric car, the Tesla Model S, isn’t perfect for driving in UK cities - it’s massive. Also electric motors aren’t ideal on motorways as it drains the battery faster. So in some ways, the Zoe makes much more sense, especially if you rarely venture out of the city. 

It’s not the last word in luxury, the interior is plastic fantastic - to save on weight and cost (we’re guessing).

Charging is also pretty simple to thanks to the 'Chameleon' smart charger, which adapts to the different power levels and plug available across Europe. It takes just 30 minutes on average to charge an extra 75 miles of driving range when the ZOE is plugged into one of the Quick Charging points dotted across the UK.

Specs

Top Speed: 84 mph
0-62: 13.2 seconds
Battery: 41 kWh Lithium ion,
Range: 250 Miles (NEDC)
Power: 92 hp
Fuel Consumption: 133 Wh/km
Carbon Emissions: 0 g/km
Weight: 1,480 kg

Performance

With a top speed for 84 mph and slow 0-62 time - the Renault Zoe won’t be beating the Model S in any drag races. However, the pretty much instant 225 Nm of torque from the motor does mean it’s zippy at low speeds and quick to pull away at junctions - perfect around town.

At higher speeds the Zoe struggles; an incline on at motorway saps juice at an alarming rate.

The steering is light, and the ride is bouncy over rougher roads, but the silent motor makes driving a very calming experience.

Tech

For such a small car, the Renault Zoe packs some impressive technology. While the built-in touchscreen isn’t the slickest we’ve seen, the R-Link smartphone app has some advanced features, such as door-to-door navigation, preconditioning the car’s temperature, and remotely checking the charging status and battery level.

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Top of the range cars also come with a Bose sound system. They’re not the largest speakers around (to save weight), but because they don’t have to compete with engine noise it sounds great.

Verdict

The Renault Zoe is a perfect city car, it’s zippy, small, clean, and now has an impressive 250 mile range (NEDC). It could be packed with more impressive technology, and it struggles on the motorway, but for the price this is a great introduction to electric motoring.

Now comes the price. The Renault Zoe is one of the more affordable cars. Prices start at £13,995 (including government grant) plus a monthly battery fee of between £49 and £110, and range up to £19,895 for the range topping Signature Nav Q90 Z.E.40. 

Over 90-percent of people lease the battery, but if you want to buy the car and battery, outright it’ll cost between £18,995 and £25,495. You could buy a lot of petrol car for that amount of money, so it does make the Zoe hard to recommend unreservedly, but if you want an affordable electric car - this is clearly the place to start.

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