Zero emissions motoring seems to be the latest craze in the motoring industry at the moment. Manufacturers like Toyota, Lexus and Honda have been surveying the land and offer hybrid cars like the Toyota Yaris, Lexus CT 200h, and the Honda CR-Z hybrid which deliver sub 100g/km of CO2 meaning customers pay no road tax or congestion charge. At the forefront of fashionable motoring, however, is Renault. Having diverted all research and development away from hybrid technology, Renault’s primary focus is now on electric zero emission cars.
While the uptake of electric cars has been rather slow – around 3,600 were sold in the UK in 2012 – Renault is hoping the latest addition to their Z.E. range, the ZOE supermini, will go some way in helping the expected double in electric cars sales in 2013.
What we have here is the ZOE Dynamique Intens and thanks to a £5,000 Government grant the ZOE, from a cost perspective, is the first electric car that comes mightily close to its conventionally-powered rivals. The entry level ZOE Expression comes in at £13,995 and the higher level Dynamique models start at £15,195.
Based on the same platform that underpins the Renault Clio and Nissan Note, there are no strikingly obvious tell-tale signs as to this cars green credentials. The lack of a fuel filler cap – the charging socket is neatly hidden underneath the enormous Renault badge – and the subtly blue tined rear lamp clusters are the only clues to it’s eco-warrior way.
At the SMMT test day earlier this month, the ZOE was often in a convoy of other small superminis such as the Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Alfa MiTo and Fiat 500 and never once did it look out of place. It wide, bold, grinning front-end and raked back headlights give it that chic 21st century supermini look. From the inside, it’s like any of its competitors. A 7in touchscreen multimedia centre dominates the dashboard and buttons and switches are clearly laid out. If it wasn’t for the futuristic read-out and symbol that indicates how aggressively you’re driving, you’d be forgiven for thinking the ZOE was a conventional supermini.
On the pricier Dynamique Intens I tested, standard kit included keyless start, rear parking camera, leather steering wheel, USB port, 3D digital sound system and automatic wipers and lights. Optional metallic paint (£495) and 17in alloys (£310) increased the on the road price to £15,800, which is still competitive in this market. Yet, while the car may be yours at that price, the battery will not. You’ll pay £70 a month to rent the battery with a limited annual mileage of 7,500 miles. You can increase the monthly payments to £77 per month for a further 1,500 miles and to £85 for an annual mileage of up to 10,500 miles. Happily Renault will fit a Wall-Box to your property when you buy a ZOE, enabling you to fully charge the batteries in around 3 hours.
On the road
Once behind the wheel and on the road, the ZOE begins to set itself apart from the crowd. Its 22kWh Lithium Ion battery is positioned under the floor giving a slightly elevated driving position but resulting in great visibility. A drawback to the battery however, is it is incredibly heavy. Weighing 290kg, the battery contributes substantially to the hefty 1,468kg kerb weight of the Zoe. Hills and steep inclines can be a struggle but around the flatter twisty parts the instantaneous torque from the electric motor means the ZOE is no slouch when getting up to city centre speeds, somewhere where it’s likely to spend most of its time. The 87bhp motor will get you to 30mph in a brisk 4 seconds but 0-62mph takes a lengthier 13.5 seconds.
Over the hills, bumps and bends of Millbrook the ZOE felt planted and responsive yet such energetic driving meant the claimed 130 mile range was dramatically reduced. In the real world you’re looking at a more realistic 62 miles in the winter and 90 miles in warmer conditions, which seems reasonable having driven it. Range continues to be the main drawback when it comes getting people part with their cash on an electric car. The Zoe uses a range optimiser system to squeeze every last mile out of the electric motor. It comprises of a regenerative braking system which sends energy to the battery every time the driver press the brake pedal or takes their foot off the accelerator, a heat pump which acts like reverse air conditioning capturing energy from the air to warm or cool the cabin and special Michelin E-V tyres which offer low resistance when driving without compromising on handling or braking distance. While the electric motor may not strictly produce any CO2, having to charge the ZOE equates to approximately 54g/km of CO2 produced.
I’ve always been a bit of a sceptic when it comes to electric cars. There is petrol coursing through my veins and I will always prefer a third pedal and a metal stick poking up from between the seats. But the Renault ZOE has done exceedingly well to divert me onto the electric path. I may not be a firm believer in electrically powered vehicle yet, but the ZOE will go some way to restarting the electric revolution that failed so dramatically in 2011.
Why not have a look at last weeks review: Nissan Juke Nismo