Renault Zoe

Debut: 2013
Maker: Renault
Predecessor: No

 Published on 2 Apr 2013
All rights reserved. 

Until now, Carlos Ghosn's bet on electric cars does not come to fruition as he expected. 3 years ago, he estimated Renault-Nissan alliance will produce 500,000 to 1 million electric vehicles a year by the end of 2014. That's why he invested some 4 billion euros into EV projects. Now half the period has passed away and it is time to have a mid-term review. Since sales of Nissan Leaf began in late 2010 to the end of last year, the group sold a cumulative 68,000 EVs, including Renault Kangoo Z.E., Fluence Z.E. and Twizy. It is fair to say the original target was wide off the mark. Nevertheless, to judge its failure is probably too early, because the most important model in the plan is entering the market just now. Renault Zoe is a supermini-sized 5-door hatchback. It should appeal to more customers with its keener prices yet practical packaging.

In UK, Nissan Leaf is currently sold at £23,500 (after a recent price cut) including the government grant of £5,000. That might be too much for most motorists. In contrast, the Zoe is priced at £14,000 including grant, which is right at the same level as many well-built diesel superminis. Admittedly, the battery is not part of the deal, thus you need to rent the battery at £70 a month (or more if you are high mileage user). Still, the overall cost is significantly lower than Leaf, and the lower entry fee is easier to be swallowed by working class. Moreover, it won't give you an impression of "less car for more money", so you are unlikely to cross-shop a car of higher class. The same can't be said to Leaf, where its potential customers may find BMW 320i a better alternative. In short, Zoe is probably the first production EV priced comparably to conventional rivals.

It is well styled, too. Its face looks futuristic, especially aided by the blue tinted lights and Renault logo, just as a high-tech car deserves. It is sized like a Clio IV because it is built on the same platform and assembled in the same plant in France. There are significant modifications though. An 88 hp synchronous motor replaces the piston engine to drive the front axle through a single-speed step-down gearbox. Under the elevated floorpan sits the lithium-ion battery, which has a capacity of 22 kWh and weighs some 290 kg. As usual, such a low placement of battery actually improves the car's center of gravity, which is said to be 35 mm lower than the outgoing Clio III. Weight distribution is also improved slightly to 59:41 front to rear – it won't be difficult to improve even further, but a slight bias to the front is preferred on the ground of traction I would say. Renault also claimed the chassis is 55 percent stronger in torsional rigidity than Clio III.

Blame to the battery, the Zoe tips the scale at 1468 kg, a massive 460 kilos more than a Clio 0.9TCe with similar power. To cope with the extra weight, its front suspension gets a stronger subframe and lower suspension arms from Megane. The rear torsion-beam is the most robust one available in Renault parts pool, while polyurethane bump stops have been added for better shock absorption. Meanwhile, the steering gets heavier duty assistance motor, faster ratio and stronger linking rods from the previous Clio RS.

Before you get to drive it, you may use a dedicated App on your smartphone to check the battery level so to make sure the car can take you to the destination and back. Through this App you may also remote control the air-conditioning to pre-heat or pre-cool the car in your garage using plug-in electricity, so it will consume less energy on the drive and leaves you more mileage in reserve. Speaking of mileage, the car is rated at 130 miles (210 km) in the usually optimistic EU combined cycle. Renault said in reality you are likely to get closer to 90 miles (145 km), or in case of freezing temperature (which worsens battery performance) at least 60 miles (100 km). It won't be a cross-country tourer, of course, but it will be more than competent to be used as a city car. Recharging time is reasonable. Plug into a household 230V 16A socket and it will take up to 9 hours. If you use the dedicated 3-phase 63A quick charger, it will take 1 hour for a full charge or half an hour to charge to 80 percent full.

Get on board, you will find the seating level much higher than that of Clio or any other superminis because of the battery sitting underneath. This gives you a good view on the road. Headroom is not a problem as the roof is set 114 mm taller than that of Clio. Legroom is also very good for a B-segment supermini. Predictably, the cabin cannot afford soft-touch plastics, but the material quality is not bad. Many switch gears come from Clio, including the iPad-style center console with R-link infotainment system, but the digital instrument is new, as it needs to display information regarding battery status and driving range. The boot is pretty large at 338 liters, 38 more than Clio, thanks to the lack of exhaust and fuel tank.

On the move, the strong torque of the electric motor – some 162 lbft from as little as 250 rpm to 2500 rpm – offsets the extra weight and pulls the car happily in urban area. At higher speed the car feels less energetic as its torque fades out at higher rev. Top speed is limited at 84 mph to avoid draining the battery too much. However, if you primarily use the car in city, its performance is hard to fault. More remarkable is refinement. The operation of electric motor is super-smooth and near silent compared with piston engines. The lack of gearshift also contributes to a seamless acceleration. The Michelin Energy low rolling resistance tires generate little road noise. Light steering and a supple low-speed ride add further to its likeable city car manner.

Inevitably, the EV is not engineered to be a driver's car. Although it controls body roll and resists understeer well, you can feel the extra weight when you up the pace. Its suspensions fail to soak up fast bumps and expansion joints on highway as if they are not designed to handle so much weight. In bends, the low rolling resistance tires run out of grip sooner than the case of Clio. The braking is hampered by the non-linear switchover from regenerative to mechanical braking, thus the pedal feel is poor. There is not much fun to drive the car hard.

If you buy this car for driving fun, you will miss the point. An electric car should be driven with a peace of mind to deliver the low-carbon benefit it is supposed to offer. The Zoe is a good companion to achieve this objective. Renault calculated that its well-to-wheel CO2 emission is only 54 g/km (considering the electricity generation mix in Europe), just half the level of a conventional diesel supermini. At the same time, you will have virtually no sacrifices in other areas. This is unquestionably the most realistic EV to date. Carlos Ghosn might be relieved to hear that.

Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4084 / 1730 / 1562 mm
2588 mm
Electric motor
88 hp
162 lbft
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1468 kg
84 mph (limited)
12.5 (est) / 12.3*

Performance tested by: *Autocar

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