First Drive: Renault ZOE
Sector: EV Supermini Price (May 2013): £13,995 – £15,195 Fuel: up to 90 mile range CO2: 0g/km
For the last couple of years Renault executives have been saying that the ZOE will be a new benchmark in electric vehicles, the car that finally achieves widespread acceptance.
Now having been launched and with sales underway, it certainly it looks the part, with cute styling and a very well designed, high-quality airy cabin.
But the aesthetics are barely half the story, as good as they are. It’s all about range, practicality and infrastructure for this car.
Thanks to the relatively low entry price of £13,995, once the Government’s near-£5,000 plug-in grant has been added, it is the first EV that from a cost perspective gets somewhere near its more traditionally powered rivals.
Renault reckons the car will generally achieve around 60 miles in cold weather and 90 miles in temperate conditions, and having driven it, these seem entirely reasonable claims. So it’s not going to be a car that will do all jobs, but at least at the price it feels like a likely urban runabout, or excellent second car (salary sacrifice anyone?).
One of the major issues of EVs though is the cost of the battery – the price of the batteries is still too high at about £10,000 for a set, and it’s difficult to get that unit cost down because there’s not enough volume.
Renault is offsetting that cost by using a leasing scheme that lasts the eight to 10-year life of batteries. Buyers will pay around £70 a month to “rent” the pack for 7,500 miles a year, with the cost increasing for higher mileage or if they are fast charged more often, as this leads to premature wear. Renault will insure them for you, and replace or repair if they are damaged, or you can use your own insurer.
It’s a novel solution, and although there has been some consternation in the fleet industry, most of the leasing companies are happy with the situation, and at defleet time there should be no issue either, as all the owner does is pass the new buyer’s details on to Renault and they will set up a new lease.
When it comes to charging Renault will supply free 7kW home wallboxes to private and business buyers, with British Gas installing them, using the recently announced 75% support on domestic wallbox installations from the Government’s £37m grant funding, with Renault contributing the remaining 25%. This is enough to charge the ZOE in eight hours. A more powerful 43kW version at public spots will fill it up to 80% in 30 minutes.
Critics of EVs get very angry about them not being zero emission, pointing out the well-to-wheel demands of supplying the electricity (yet often ignoring the logistical cost of getting fuel to a pump). Renault has calculated that the burden of filling your batteries will result in 54g/km using the UK’s energy grid. But this is still half the environmental burden of a small hybrid such as the Yaris, it claims.
The ZOE is the first vehicle to be equipped with "Range OptimiZEr", which combines three innovations: bi-modal regenerative braking (where the engine and brakes do the slowing to send energy back into the battery), a special heat pump and bespoke Michelin Energy E-V tyres.
Because the batteries are under the floor, the ZOE has a low centre of gravity, and using the fourth-generation Clio’s underpinnings it handles and rides well too. Thanks to the instant delivery of 160lb.ft from its 65kW/88bhp motor it also nips off the line with alacrity, which is great for inner-city driving.
The oddest part of otherwise good driving characteristics are the brakes, which don’t always slow the car as effectively as you might expect, and at low speeds they are very grabby.
The Renault executives are right: the ZOE is a brilliant little car, the first EV that genuinely feels like you could live with every day. It is packaged stylishly, drives well, has enough range for its second car/runabout role and the cost parameters are about right too. The future starts here.
Watch the Renault Zoe video here