In the fiercely competitive car market describing a car as ‘ordinary’ is tantamount to outright criticism. These days a car has to have a feature, a gimmick, a unique selling point to stand out. But when I say that the Renault Zoe is a very ordinary car then believe me when I say that I sincerely mean this as flattery.
The Renault Zoe, if you didn’t already know, is an all-electric car. Not a hybrid that combines electric with a traditional petrol or diesel engine but a fully fledged, battery-powered electric car. For many that comes with the stigma of poor performance, dismal range and concerns about replacing expensive batteries. That’s where the Zoe is so clever. It responds to each of those worries and turns the electric car into an ordinary car, the sort you could easily live with.
The five-door Zoe is slightly smaller than a Clio but shares a lot in common with its bigger sister. The cabin uses some of the same switch gear and touch screen as the new Clio and feels welcoming, thanks to bright plastics and materials.
When you look at the kit you get on this Dynamique-spec Zoe you get a sense of just how ordinary it is. Electric windows, automatic wipers and lights, automatic climate control, heated rear window, cruise control, Bluetooth and USB connections, sat nav and even a rear-view camera. It may be an electric car but you don’t have to sacrifice any of the luxuries of a conventional car.
The safety tech is there too. Airbags, ABS, stability and traction control, all looking after you as they would in an ordinary car.
It’s when you press the ‘Start’ button that you remember there’s something different about the Zoe, something special. The dashboard lights up and presents you with a battery display and estimated range. There’s no whirr of a starter motor, no clatter and vibration as an internal combustion engine bursts into life. Just silence.
The gear lever is ordinary too, working just like an automatic. Select Drive, release the handbrake and lift your foot off the brake pedal and the Zoe creeps forward with the faintest hum. Squeeze the throttle and the hum gets a little louder as the speed increases but it’s still very, very quiet.
The electric motor is rated at 75bhp, perfectly adequate for a city car, but it’s backed up by an impressive 222Nm of torque. The beauty of electric engines is that full torque is available at any speed and this makes the Zoe feel quite sprightly. Once up to speed the Zoe made easy work of all but the steepest sections of Millbrook’s hill route, and with a top speed of 84mph you’d never need to worry about heading onto the motorway.
The Zoe struggles if you want to take corners with any enthusiasm. Understeer is always present but that’s a fault of the skinny low-resistance tyres and the weight penalty from the batteries. Drive it sensibly and it rides well.
Range anxiety really needn’t be a worry for most people. Officially the range is ‘over 100 miles’ but is predicted to be nearer to 90 miles outside of a laboratory test. Even then that’s a lot more than most people travel in a day and as long as you can charge it up overnight you should never need to worry about running out of juice. Admittedly you’re going to struggle to break the John O’Groats to Lands End speed record but Renault aren’t pretending that this is anything other than a car for commuting and city driving.
Even the asking price of the Zoe is quite ordinary. With the £5,000 Government grant you only have to pay £15,195 for a well-equipped 5-door hatchback. That’s expensive for a city car but considerably cheaper than the Zoe’s closest competitor, the larger Nissan Leaf that costs over £23,000.
It’s the topic of batteries that is the only fly in the Zoe’s ointment. Renault’s solution to concerns of battery life is to lease you the batteries. A typical contract for 7,500 miles per year over 36 months requires you to pay a monthly charge of £70. That’s roughly equivalent to fueling a 60mpg car over the same distance, significantly hurting the ‘cheap to run’ appeal of an electric car. The upside is that you never need to worry about the life of the batteries.
If you can overlook the costs of the battery lease you’ll see that this is the closest we’ve come to an affordable electric car. The Renault Zoe manages to bring the benefits of an electric car in a package that’s surprisingly ordinary and that makes the Zoe very special indeed.
Renault Zoe Dynamique Specifications
|0-60 mph:||8.1 seconds|
|Top Speed:||84 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||0 g/km (Band A)|
*Prices taken from Renault website, May 2013