When this electric car bizzo first really got into its stride, legacy car makers were fairly timid about it. Ridiculous little cars like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV/Peugeot iON/Citröen C-Zero trio and Nissan’s rather more successful Leaf got the ball rolling.
Renault is Nissan’s sister company in what is (for the moment) the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. The Zoe is Renault’s first fully-electric car and has been on sale in Europe for a while now.
While it might be new to country, you can’t get away from the fact it’s six years old, which is near-pension age in car years.
What is the Renault Zoe?
The Zoe is what they call in Europe a B-segment hatchback. Smaller than Renault’s own Megane, it fits in the same bracket as the Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo and Kia Picanto (Australia’s best-selling light car, by a country mile).
It’s very small, close to the size of the Clio and with some of the Clio’s styling cues. I like the Clio a lot, even in manual 1.0-litre three-cylinder form. There’s just something about it that makes me smile and, in the case of the RenaultSport version, holler and hoot.
The Zoe has been kicking around in Europe since – get this – 2012, but Renault Australia held off until 2017. Even then, it started with a very odd B2B model that roughly worked out as, “Buy heaps of vans and stuff and we’ll give you a Zoe or three cheaply.”
In mid-2018 someone in head office took a deep breath and let a few metro dealerships sell the Zoe, starting at $47,490 for the Life and $49,490 for Intens, the car I had for the week.
What makes the Renault Zoe move?
Under the bonnet is Renault’s R90 asynchronous electric unit. Maximum power is 68kW between 3000 and 5000rpm, with 225Nm of torque available from zip.
It’s pretty smart off the line, firing up to 50km/h in around four seconds, which is the kind of performance that gets the jump on dozing ICE drivers. Performance tails off there through the single-speed reduction gearbox, with the next 50km/h taking another 10 seconds (0-100km/h therefore arriving in 14.5 seconds) and 135km/h is top whack.
Which most Zoes will never see in Australia. I’ll be surprised if many of them see 100km/h more than once or twice.
The original 22kWh lithium-ion battery pack was replaced in 2016 with a 41kWh unit with 12 modules of 16 cells for a total of 192.
Developed in conjunction with LG Chem, this battery delivers an NEDC range of 403km, although reality is, obviously, rather lower, closer to about 300km. Renault quotes a cold climate suburban range of 200km and a standardised consumption rate of 13Wh/km.
Renault’s supplied Chameleon charger will charge from 3kWh to 22kWh. The cable is a handy 6.5 metres.
Charge plug: Type 2
What’s in the Renault Zoe?
At the moment, there is just a single spec, the Intens, priced at $49,490 plus on-roads. It comes with:
- 16-inch alloy wheels
- Climate control
- Rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Leather steering wheel
- LED daytime running lights
- Automatic halogen headlights
- Keyless entry and start
- Digital dash instruments
- Auto wipers
- Electric windows
- Heated and folding door mirrors
- Heat pump
- Tyre inflation and repair kit (ie, no spare tyre)
That last bit, the heat pump, is worth a few words. A heat pump grabs what heat there is in the air outside – even it’s below zero, there is still some heat – and concentrates it before pushing it into the cabin. It’s particularly useful on the Zoe as it doesn’t drain any power. As it was a Sydney summer when we had the car, it wasn’t something we could test. The climate control uses conventional air-conditioning equipment and worked fine.
7.0-inch touchscreen with R-Link media system with DAB/AM/FM, Bluetooth and USB.
Boot volume seats up: 338 litres
Boot volume seats down: 1146 litres
Stability control (ESC)
Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD)
Tyre pressure monitoring
Three top-tether anchor points
Two ISOFIX points
Not many. Premium paint is a half-reasonable $550, but that’s four of the five available colours (Zircon blue, Titanium grey, Mars red and Arctic white), with just a flat Glacier white coming for free.
A wall box isn’t an official option, but Renault will direct you to third-party and reckons it will set you back between $1600 and $2000 installed.
On the road
Given the Zoe’s relative age – it’s closer to the first-generation Leaf than anything else – I wasn’t expecting much. When I caught sight of the Zoe’s Michelin Energy EV tyres, I expected even less.
Part of the Zoe’s problem in Australia is that nobody has one and nobody talks about it. Which, as it turns out, is a shame, because it’s not bad at all.
The Renault falls into one of two electric car categories – there’s either the “Crikey this thing is fast!” that Tesla, Jaguar and no doubt Audi, Mercedes and Porsche are going for. Along with a significant wedge of cash.
Renault joins Alliance-member Nissan and Hyundai in the “solid and unspectacular performance” category and there is nothing wrong with that.
Initial drive impressions are that it’s a bit on the soft side. It doesn’t step off the mark with great verve and nor does it ever feel very strong like those high-range high performance cars. But over the week, I came to really appreciate the Zoe. It looks great and drives mostly like a normal car, which I think most punters are looking for when making a choice with their head.
I’d like the Zoe to be more aggressive at kinetic energy recovery under braking and would really prefer it if it was more i3 than A3 e-tron.
You can choose between three modes – ECO, Neutral and Dynamic.
ECO is horrific unless you like that kind of thing, which includes sweating. Reducing the engine and air-conditioning performance, this mode is like most ECO modes – awful and not really worth the claimed ten percent range increase. Most drivers will skip it unless severe range anxiety drives them to slow-paced masochism.
Neutral is good enough for the every day without draining the battery unduly quickly. While the Zoe isn’t fast, it’s perfectly fine kicking around town so unless you’re indulging in some street racing, there’s little need for Dynamic. It’s worth reminding you I spend a lot of time in high performance cars (the Zoe shared the driveway with a Lamborghini Huracan Performante), so that’s saying something.
So is it any good?
As a city car, it excels in the same way as the BMW i3 – the range is good, it’s small and darty enough to keep up with traffic. It feels like an electric Renault Clio, which is a good thing – it’s one of the most dynamically competent light cars you can buy.
The Zoe’s problem is two-fold – image and price. With the Hyundai Ioniq EV coming in way under $49,490, it’s in real trouble on the pricing front. As far as image goes, it doesn’t have one, which is a real pity. Despite its age, it still looks and feels great and has that little bit of French flair neither Hyundai nor Nissan can replicate.