There aren’t too many Zoes in the world who have achieved stardom in their respective fields; TV presenter turned radio DJ Zoe Ball and big screen actress Zoe Saldana are the two exceptions. There is a third, however, and it just so happens to be a car. Since 2011, this particular Zoe from French company Renault has accounted for one in five electric cars sold throughout Europe.
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RENAULT ZOE: A SUCCESS STORY
Small electric cars are big business in the automotive world right now and the Zoe has, if you’ll excuse the pun, wasted no time in charging its way to the top of the sales charts. Building on the momentum of the first and second-generation Zoe, this third incarnation gives buyers the choice of two power outputs for stronger performance and better range, improved infotainment and gadgetry, and familiar styling that’s been ever-so-slightly altered to bring it into line with Renault’s current design language. After the government’s £2,500 EV car grant has been factored in, prices for the Zoe start at £27,595 for entry-level ‘Play’ and rise to £32,295 for the ‘Riviera Limited Edition’. On test here is second from top ‘GT Line’ with the larger 52 kWh battery and it commands a ticket price just a shade over £32,000.
WHAT’S NEW WITH THE ZOE MK3?
Given the fast-paced nature of small EV development, Renault prioritised those areas that needed improving and left those well alone that didn’t. Styling of the previous Zoe was a real selling point with buyers so the contemporary and unfussy look has been carried across pretty much unchanged; ‘If it isn’t broken why fix it?’ comes to mind. Equipment levels have been revisited in the face of increasingly stiff competition from the Honda-E, Mini Electric, Fiat 500e, Peugeot e208 and Volkswagen ID.3. Every model gets LED headlights that deliver a more contemporary look and 75% better illumination. The previous car’s diamond-shaped LED tail-lights have grown in size as have wheel sizes – 15-, 16- and 17-inches are available – and the number of paint options that includes our car’s ‘Celadon Blue’.
ANY CHANGES TO THE INSIDE?
Step out of Renault’s Clio straight into the Zoe and you might think your mind is playing tricks on you. Why? Because the Clio’s interior has been lifted pretty much wholesale and dropped straight into the Zoe. That’s a good thing because, all-in-all, this is a big step forward as far as quality, ease of use and technology count is concerned. Things we like include the denim trim on the chairs and door grabs, chrome highlights, and padded surfaces. The 10-inch display behind the steering well – standard on even the cheapest model – has crisp graphics although it isn’t as customisable as some rivals’ systems. And if your budget can stretch to ‘Iconic’ trim this secures a 9.3-inch tablet-like multimedia system that’s responsive to inputs. Things we don’t like is the lack of adjustment for the driver’s seat; you sit too high up, so the fact the steering has rake and reach to compensate for this is very welcome indeed.
WILL IT CARRY FOUR IN COMFORT?
Four adults, yes, but three across the rear bench is going to ask a bit too much of the Zoe despite head room being in plentiful supply. A flat floor – a USP of EV vehicles – delivers acres of foot space and average-sized adults shouldn’t be left wanting for leg room despite the contrast seats in our car being surprisingly deep. Storage space is adequate but not outstanding and amounts to a small tray beneath the touchscreen for a smartphone, two cup holders and a shallow cubby above the glovebox for pens and other oddments. Boot space is considerably better at 338-litres, rising to 1,225-litres if the 60/40 rear seats are folded. This does shrink somewhat if you plump for the £500 Bose sound system, though the upshot for music lovers is total wattage soaring to 220 Watts due to the presence of a subwoofer and amplifier.
QUICK CHARGING TIMES
This is quicker than before, and the Zoe can now support DC charging for 90-miles of range in half-an-hour – but the trouble is this is a £750 option. Really, Renault? Opt for a 22kW roadside charger and 78-miles is added in 60 minutes, or from zero to full in three hours. In terms of range, the 52kWh battery that replaces the old car’s 41kWh pack is said to give up to a third more range for a claimed 245-miles. During our time with the car the most we saw was 215-miles which is still pretty competitive. ‘Eco’ conserves the battery by dialling back the electric motor – a concept well-suited to motorway drives – but we’d leave it un-pushed for everything else. Do that and the ‘R135’ motor’s acceleration is a whole two seconds faster to 62mph than the less eager ‘R110’; little wonder Renault predicts that most buyers will cough up another £450 for the extra power. As for how the Zoe drives, predictable and unexciting best characterise it, while the ride doesn’t lend itself well to brittle Tarmac at high-speeds.
PROS & CONS
+ More potent motor
+ Strong range and efficiency
+ Free wallbox for customers
– High-speed ride is lumpy
– Driving seat set too high
– Fast charger costs extra
CHARGING: The charging port is concealed by an over-sized Renault badge and is opened via a button beside the steering wheel. A rapid charger will deliver a full battery in around an hour and rise to two hours 15 minutes when plugged into a public 22kW charger. Zoe customers receive a 7kW wallbox home charger that takes the battery from zero to 100% in nine hours 25 minutes.
STYLING: Our ‘GT Line’ Zoe sat on 16-inch diamond cut alloy wheels and was finished in striking £700 ‘Celadon Blue’; front and rear parking sensors and a 180-degree reversing camera also make it onto the equipment list. All models now boast LED lighting in the headlamps, wing mirrors and tail-lights, while the car retains similar proportions and aesthetics to its big-selling predecessor.
INTERIOR: Overall, cabin quality pleases, as does the technology on show. This includes a portrait-style centre touchscreen for controlling sat-nav and media functions and a vibrant digital driver display that relays information on available battery range. Part recycled fabric and part synthetic leather seats are comfortable – if a little bulky – with the driver’s and front passenger’s heated.
PRACTICALITY: Sold only as a five-door, access to the front and rear of the Zoe is easy. Shoulder space, especially in the back, is far from class-leading so two adults or three small children would be our rule of thumb. Despite having a decent-sized boot that is capable of holding six carry-on suitcases below the parcel shelf, a deep lip hinders you when it comes to lifting these in and out.
Price: £32,915 (after government grant)
Engine: 52kWh battery, one e-motor
Power/torque: 132bhp/181lb ft
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
Top speed: 87mph