Features - March '13


28.3.2013Renault ZOE review 

Renault ZOE review

 

Renault ZOE Expression

Renault ZOE

Model/Engine size: Expression

Fuel: Electric

Fuel economy combined: N/A

Green-Car-Guide rating: 10/10

The new Renault ZOE is a game changer for electric cars – from £13,995, it’s half the price of a Nissan LEAF, it has a longer range (130 miles), it’s good to drive and it's well designed.

Summary 

• The first affordable and capable electric car is here

• 130 mile official range

• Good to drive

• Good to look at

Background

There’s been much debate about electric cars, and so far most people’s overall conclusion is that they’re too expensive relative to their capabilities – particularly their limited range. The Renault ZOE is the car that’s likely to change that view – starting at £13,995 (plus battery rental) it’s just less than half the price of a Nissan LEAF, and it has one of the longest ranges yet of an EV, at 130 miles, so this should be the car that finally helps electric vehicles take off.

The ZOE is part of a range of four electric vehicles that Renault has on sale. There’s the Fluence, which is an all-electric family saloon. There’s the Twizy, which is a two-seater quadricycle. It’s great fun to drive but has limited weather protection, meaning that it’s never likely to be a big-seller in the UK. Then there’s the electric Kangoo van, which makes complete sense for urban deliveries in cities such as London.

The Fluence, Twizy and Kangoo are all niche vehicles, so it’s the ZOE that has the potential to bring electric motoring to larger numbers.

Renault ZOE Expression Electric carRenault ZOE design

Design & Engineering

The Renault ZOE is designed from the ground up as an electric car. However it does share some elements of its platform with the new fourth-generation Renault Clio. One of the key differences is that the ZOE has a large lithium-ion battery positioned under the rears seats, and an electric motor under the bonnet.

There are some new advances with the ZOE, including a range of features under the name of the ‘OptimiZEr’system, which increases vehicle range by almost 25%. The Range OptimiZEr system is comprised of three technical innovations: new-generation regenerative braking, a heat pump, and Michelin Energy E-V tyres.

The regenerative braking recharges the battery during the deceleration and braking phase, using the motor as a generator. When the driver releases the accelerator pedal, the motor recovers kinetic energy from deceleration and turns it into an electric current that recharges the battery.

The heat pump maintains the ZOE’s range when the heating is in use. To cool the cabin, the system works in the same way as a normal electric air conditioning system. To heat the cabin, the system reverses the cycle of operation. For an equivalent level of heating, the heat pump consumes up to three times less energy than a conventional system.

The Renault ZOE is the first vehicle to be fitted with Michelin ENERGY E-V tyres, which increase the range of the ZOE. Tyres account for up to 30% of energy consumption on an electric car. As tyres rotate they deform, heat up, and lose energy. The Michelin ENERGY E-V tyre generates very little heat build-up when driving, therefore lowering energy consumption. Note that if you specify the optional 17-inch alloy wheels, these are not available with the Michelin ENERGY E-V tyres (meaning that the official driving range will also be lower).

Renault ZOE plug-in charger ‘Chameleon’

The ZOE also has a ‘Chameleon’ charger, which can take charge at different levels of power, from 3-43kW (ie. single or three-phase electricity supply), including from a fast charger which can provide an 80% charge in just 30 minutes.

You can pre-heat or pre-cool the ZOE before you get in while it’s charging, ie. using electricity from the grid rather than from your battery.

The exterior styling of the ZOE is modern - without scaring people off by being too futuristic - and we think it looks good. The wheels seem to be the most conventional-looking element of the exterior design.

The interior follows a similar theme, with modern, minimalistic design. The dashboard is dominated by the central Renault R-Link, an integrated, connected multimedia tablet with a 7-inch screen, with a full range of multimedia functions in a single system including navigation, radio, telephone, Bluetooth audio streaming, music, connections for portable devices, and connected services (depending on the version).

In front of the driver is a digital display showing key information such as the remaining battery charge.

Up front there’s sufficient space for the driver and front seat passenger, but the base of the seat is quite small and there’s no adjustment for the seat height or for the angle of the seat base. 

Life in the rear seats is somewhat more cramped. The ZOE is officially a five-seater, but legroom is limited, and the main issue is that the rear seats, sitting on top of the battery, are quite high. Combined with a low roofline, adults over six feet tall will find their head in contact with the roof. But this is a car in the supermini class, so it’s more likely that children will be chauffered in the rear rather than adults. The relatively tight rear space is offset by the boot, which, at 338 litres, is one of the largest in its class.

The ZOE offers all the normal qualities of an electric carRenaults ZOE test road

Renault ZOE Driving Experience

Lots of people talk negatively about electric cars, but in most cases such people haven’t driven one. As soon as people drive an electric car they’re normally surprised and impressed by the experience, and change their view about EVs.

The ZOE offers all the normal qualities of an electric car – it’s quiet, refined, smooth, has progressive, linear acceleration (thanks to 220Nm torque always being available), and there’s no clutch or gears. So it’s ideal to drive in cities and other built up areas. Because it’s a compact supermini size it feels lighter on its feet than other larger EVs – although it still carries a substantial (290 Kg) battery weight, contributing to a total kerb weight of 1468 Kg).

The steering is light and the suspension is relatively soft, which endows it with a generally comfortable ride and ideal driving characteristics for city driving. We did explore some twisting hilly roads and it wasn’t long before we discovered that the ZOE doesn’t have sports car-like handling in such an environment.

The way that the brakes operate is interesting. When you first press the pedal the brakes work hydraulically, in order to check that the system works. The car then goes into regenerative braking mode, but this stops at around 2mph, and you can feel a slight difference in brake pedal feel in the last few moments of braking because of this.

One slight issue is that although the dashboard looks modern and stylish, the top of the dashboard is shiny and too reflective.

Something that the ZOE has in common with all electric cars is the ability to run people over because they’re not aware of you. The ZOE does emit a noise – in fact you have a choice of three sounds - ‘pure’, ‘glam’ or ‘sport’ - between 1-18mph, but it’s still not enough to stop people walking out in front of you in areas where there are lots of pedestrians.

Renault ZOE road test

Renault ZOE Economy and Emissions

There are no miles per gallon figures to quote for the ZOE, instead the headlines are that this is a car that needs no petrol or diesel, it has zero tailpipe emissions, and has a range of 130 miles. However that is the official NEDC range, and Renault quotes a more conservative 60-90 mile range in everyday use, although during our test we found it to have a genuinely longer range in real life use than other EVs on the market.

After a two-hour drive, we still had half of the battery capacity left. There’s an Eco mode which increases range by up to 10%; this is achieves by slightly dulling down the car’s responses. When fully depleted, it will take 6-9 hours to fully recharge the ZOE from a domestic electricity supply.

How does the ZOE stack up against a conventionally-powered supermini?

The ZOE may have zero tailpipe emissions, but the energy used to propel the car has to be produced somewhere, so taking into account the emissions associated with the electricity generation. 

Renault claims that it has done extra homework in this area, and it quotes the following emissions figures for the ZOE based on recharging in the UK:

  • tank-to-tailpipe 0g/km CO2
  • well-to-tank (ie. production of the electricity) 54g/km CO2
  • total well-to-wheel 54g/km CO2 (the figure for Europe as a whole is said to be 58g/km CO2)

The same figures for a Ford Fiesta 1.6 diesel are: tank-to-tailpipe 98g/km CO2; well-to-tank 15g/km CO2; total well-to-wheel 113g/km CO2. Based on these figires the ZOE has lower emissions in use, but these figures don’t include the CO2 involved in the manufacture of the respective vehicles (such figures are currently difficult to verify on a like-for-like basis).

Renault ZOE dashboardRenault ZOE luggage space

Price, Equipment and Model Range

The ZOE comes in three trim levels: Expression, Dynamique Intens and Dynamique Zen. Expression costs £13,995 (after the UK government plug-in car grant), Dynamique Intens and Dynamique Zen, which feature extra equipment,  both cost £15,195. You also get a free home wallbox charger when you buy any ZOE.

As well as the purchase price, you’ll need to lease a battery, which costs from £70 per month. This price is based on 7,500 miles per year and a minimum contract of 36 months. For covering 12,000 miles per year and for a contract for just one year, this rises to £113 per month. Renault’s rationale for renting the battery is that you don’t buy three years’ worth of petrol when you buy a petrol car, so why not spread the cost of the battery over monthly payments? It does mean that the battery is ‘guaranteed for life’; if at any stage the battery falls below 75% of the level of performance that it has when it's new, it will be repaired or replaced.

The area of insurance throws up an interesting situation. If you buy a ZOE then you will own the car but not the battery, so you can insure the car, but the battery needs to be insured separately. Renault offers insurance for the car and battery, which it claims is competitive, but if you go to other insurers it’s certainly something worth being aware of.

There are no official residual values for the ZOE, so depreciation is somewhat of an unknown.

Renault ZOE car facts and figures

Conclusion

The Renault ZOE is the first electric car that may make sense for many motorists. It was never intended to compete with cars that regularly undertake high mileages, so if you accept that, the ZOE is an ideal car for many other uses, such as commuting in London, as a second car to take the kids to school anywhere in the country, or even as a vehicle for businesses that operate in a local area, ranging from estate agents to doctors. It looks good inside and out, it’s quiet, smooth and refined, it has a good range of up to 130 miles, it’s more affordable to buy than other EVs, and it’s very cheap to run.

There’s very little stopping the Renault ZOE from getting a Green-Car-Guide rating of 10 out of 10.

Car Facts and Figures

Renault ZOE Expression data

Fuel economy extra urban: N/A mpg

Fuel economy urban: N/A mpg

Test economy: N/A mpg

CO2 emissions: 0 g/km at tailpipe

Green rating: VED band A - £0 a year

Weight: 1468 Kg

Company car tax liability (2012/13): 0%

Price: £13,995 (after the UK government plug-in car grant)

Insurance group: Tbc

Power: 65kW/88hp

Max speed: 84 mph

0-62mph: 13.5 seconds

Paul Clarke

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