The Zoe’s trim levels are called Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens. Standard equipment levels are impressive, including an R-link voice-controlled TomTom sat-nav with a seven-inch touch-screen, USB, aux-in and SD inputs, Bluetooth, ZE Connect for your smartphone with cabin pre-conditioning, climate control, cruise control and Hill Start Assist. The top trim levels add a hands-free keycard, remote battery charging and air-con activation, a stereo upgrade, automatic lights and wipers, and rear parking sensors.
Renault’s goal with the design of the all-electric Zoe was to make it immediately identifiable as an electric model, but without alienating or scaring-off existing supermini customers. To our eye, the designers have been largely successful on that brief. You’ll see blue-tinted lights and badging, tinted windows, aerodynamic wheels and bodywork, along with flowing, pure lines that echo the clean nature of its eco credentials. However, it’s not so futuristic that it’s unrecognisable from other small hatchbacks.
The dashboard is made from a single block of material for a cleaner design, which also helps give the cabin a sturdy feel. The quality of the plastic on display is reasonably appealing, too. Pastel colours in the cabin echo the relaxing nature of electric motoring, while a circuit board design adorning the headlining and dashboard reminds you of the advanced technology under the skin. A seven-inch touch-screen provides not only navigation and entertainment, but also information about the efficiency of the car and its driver. Thankfully, the system is dead easy to use. Choose the Dynamique Zen trim level and the light upholstery is protected with a stain-resistant Teflon coating. However, the seats themselves have no height adjustment, so even though there’s two-way steering adjustment, you might struggle to find a comfortable driving position (it’s rather high). The thick rear pillars also mean your over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t as clear as it might be.
Driving the Zoe could not be simpler, with just forward and reverse gears to choose from and seamless acceleration when you press the right-hand pedal. Its electric motor has the equivalent of 88bhp and the Zoe is limited to a top speed of 84mph. On paper, the Zoe’s acceleration from 0 to 62mph in 13.5 seconds is rather pedestrian, but in reality the Zoe feels quick and effortlessly flexible around town, thanks to the instant pulling power of its electric motor and the absence of gearchanges.
Every Zoe buyer is offered a free 7kW (32amp) home charging wall box, but if you use a 43kW public charging point, the Zoe will fast-charge its batteries to 80% of their capacity in just 30 minutes. Power levels from 3kW to 43kW are accepted, with charge times spanning from nine hours to under one hour. You can check the progress of each charge and other useful information from your smartphone or PC while you are away from the car, even pre-heating or cooling the cabin before the journey, saving battery power while you’re on the move. A full charge can theoretically take you over 120 miles, according to official laboratory tests, but in the real world, a range of 90-odd miles can be expected in good conditions, falling to about 60 miles in the winter. That’ll completely rule out the Zoe for any drivers whose journeys aren’t exclusively short. Designed from the ground-up as an electric car, the batteries have been placed low in the car. That means they don’t impinge too heavily on the boot, which is a decent 338 litres under the parcel shelf, or 1,225 with the rear seats stowed. There’s decent space for four adults in the cabin, too, even if rear legroom is a little on the tight side.
The Zoe should prove to be extremely reliable, simply by virtue of the fact that it’s electric. Electric motors have far fewer components than internal combustion engines, so there’s less to go wrong. The big question mark with electric cars is how long the lithium-ion batteries will last: since their application in cars is still a relatively young science, nobody really knows. However, Renault’s battery leasing arrangement protects you from any nasty surprises on that score. You’re protected from other nasty surprises by Renault’s four-year, 100,000-mile warranty, which also includes servicing and roadside assistance.
Ride and handling
The Zoe is one of the best electric cars we’ve driven so far, with intuitive handling and strong grip. There’s no getting away from the fact this supermini weighs almost 1,500kg (its battery pack alone is 290kg), so will never be as agile as a Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo. But this weight gives the Zoe a stable and assured feel, even at motorway speeds. It rides comfortably on most surfaces, too, only losing its composure tackling big potholes.
You’ll no longer pay any road tax or need to fill up with fuel, while business drivers benefit from a 0% BIK rating. And although the Zoe is expensive by regular supermini standards, it’s cheap by electric car standards. That’s not the end of your outlay, though. You pay a monthly fee to lease the battery from Renault (for example, a three-year contract based on 7,500 miles a year costs you around £70 per month) and you’ll pay for the electricity you use to charge it up. However, that arrangement does mean that you’ll get a free replacement battery when yours reaches the end of its serviceable life. The unique Michelin Energy EV tyres (which you’ll need for optimum range) should last a long time, but could prove expensive to replace if you get a puncture.
The Zoe comes with stability control and six airbags across the range. It’s also already received a five-star EuroNCAP crash-test rating, proving it’s one tough little car. During its development, its batteries were subjected to ‘torture tests’, which included fire, immersion, combustion, short circuits, loosening, compression, dropping, pressure and even sticking nails through them.
If you fancy an electric car, then the Zoe is one of the best. It’s good to drive, affordable to buy and run, and you don’t have to make many sacrifices in practicality. However, the Zoe is hamstrung by the same thing that blights all electric vehicles: the limited range means that, no matter how keen you are on having an electric car, it won’t work for you unless all your journeys are short and tightly regimented.