Good intentions, but lacking on most fronts.

Introduction

Sometimes a ground-breaking product catches on, and sometimes it doesn’t. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any less ground-breaking. The Renault Zoe is such a product: the first fully electric supermini on the market, made of lightweight materials to help improve battery range and able to manoeuvre around cities as well as any comparable petrol-powered car. There’s now a longer-range battery option, too.

 

Body Styles: 5-dr supermini          Seats: 5         MRP from £13,995 - £19,895 (plus battery rental) or £18,995 - £25,495

 

Did you know? A new 40kw battery extends the Zoe’s driving range to as much as 250 miles between charges.

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Verdict:★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

The Zoe is a car that desperately wants to succeed. It tries to do everything right, from comfort to driveability to space to running costs. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite get there, but still puts up a decent fight if you fit the (admittedly limited) core buyer profile. It scores well for the novelty factor of its excellent drivetrain but doesn’t really make financial sense for anyone outside London. The Zoe makes a brilliant fist of urban driving aside from its silly ‘voice’ feature, but money talks, so as a new buy it’s not quite there yet.

Design & Exterior

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Interior & Comfort

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

Technology & Connectivity

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Performance & Handling

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Safety Features

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Spec & Trim Levels

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Running Costs & Fuel Economy

★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

Pricing

★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ (4/10)

 

2017 Renault Zoe

We Like

Near-silent urban driving

Lots of equipment

Improved interior quality

We Don't Like

Much too expensive

Real-world range is poor

Road noise at speed

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Design & Exterior: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

In the early days of modern electric car design, it seemed as though companies were deliberately making their EVs look different, and that ultimately put a lot of people off. The Zoe is very obviously an electric car, with vast expanses of plain bodywork at the front that quickly get dirty or fly-splattered and end up looking terrible. There’s so much available space, but the headlights are very thin, with a smiling lower grille for aesthetics’ sake more than for any cooling demands – the electric motor doesn’t need it.

This is a car that needs to be cuter than it is. At present, it’s caught between cuteness and sportiness like a chubby five-year-old who turns up to a birthday party wearing ripped jeans, designer shades and a backwards baseball cap. The headlights are aggressive above the gaping grille, and the flared rear wheelarches give an angrier stance – albeit reined in by the dinky little wheels and rounded front end. It’s not a bad-looking car, but it needs a more consistent direction from its designers.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Interior & Comfort:★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ (6/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

There’s good and bad news as far as the interior goes. Compared to the pre-update model, the Zoe is much more like a conventional supermini inside, which is a good thing. Previously, its obviously lightweight, recycled-material dashboard just looked cheap, rather than giving off desirable eco-friendly vibe. With a silver or coloured trim insert and a better-looking two-tone trim arrangement, the new Zoe is quietly stylish – and certainly beats Renault’s own Clio.

The shiny plastic centre console fascia isn’t brilliant, but in this application it looks good enough, like the shiny black surround of a new TV. It picks up fingerprints instantly, though, so owners will need to keep a cloth in the cabin somewhere.

Worse news comes for the driving position, which offsets the pedals to the right and the seat to the left. Sitting in the centre of the seat, both the steering wheel and the pedals are slightly further to the right than you want them to be, which leaves you sitting with a twist in your back. Ultimately, this becomes uncomfortable, so it’s perhaps a good thing that most owners will only cover short journeys.

Practicality

The boot makes a good imitation of a normal supermini, with just a slight intrusion at the back of the load bay, where the top edge of the battery packs sticks out from under the rear seats. There are load lashing hooks on the boot floor and carrier bag hooks at the sides. For such a small car it’s a big boot, matching the Skoda Fabia’s 330 litres.

It’s less practical for carrying rear passengers, though. Like most small cars, it’s cramped in the back.

Boot space

Min: 330 litres
Max: 1,225 litres 

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Technology & Connectivity:★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

As a fully-electric car, the Zoe has some extra technological tricks up its sleeve. An Eco mode limits the standard climate control to a low-power state to eke out a few extra miles of range, for example, and the ‘Take Care by Renault’ pack, standard on the most expensive model, which filters and ionises the air before it enters the cabin, helping purify the atmosphere inside the car.

On top of the electric car specifics, there is navigation, cruise control, electric front windows and a comprehensive stereo system with USB and Bluetooth connectivity – all on the base model. The much more expensive versions get keyless entry, automatic headlights and wipers, rear electric windows, rear parking sensors and heated front seats. There’s even a Bose ‘3D Sound’ stereo system with DAB radio.

A new battery, added to the range this year, extends the Zoe’s driving range to an official 250 miles, although Renault itself says 186 miles is the realistic summer maximum in typical real-world conditions, falling to about 130 on winter days. That’s plenty, though, and with the psychological barrier of 100 miles no longer an issue, the Zoe makes much more sense.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Performance & Handling:★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

There’s no gearbox, with the motor instead being linked to a single-speed gear best-suited to urban life, but more than capable of holding 70mph as well. Acceleration is hardly Tesla-fast and it even gets left in the dust by the BMW i3, but it’s plenty for urban duties and can see the little Renault spring away from the lights ahead of unsuspecting drivers in bigger cars.

Its best performance is up to 40mph, after which it starts to tail off. On faster and hillier roads, it can be a struggle to maintain the predicted range because the motor is having to work quite hard. However, the same goes for any electric car other than the likes of the Tesla Model S, which has much bigger motors and is less stressed at a high-speed cruise.

Even though the batteries are mounted low in the chassis, the Zoe still feels quite heavy through corners. That’s obviously because it is. Renault doesn’t even list the weight on its website because it’s at least 1,468kg: about half a ton, or 50 per cent heavier than the lightest superminis you can buy. That dents any dreams of speed or handling finesse, but it doesn’t roll a lot and has adequate grip.

It’s therefore competent rather than exciting, but it really is a pleasure to simply bimble around with no engine noise, no vibration and instant throttle response.

Recommended engine: ZE 40 R90

0-62mph

13.2 seconds

Fuel economy

140-186 miles per charge

Emissions

0 g/km

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Safety Features:★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

Electric car makers are well aware that buyers might perceive the batteries to be a risk in the event of a crash, so Renault has thoroughly over-engineered the Zoe’s safety structure. It even scored the Euro NCAP Best Supermini 2013 award when originally released. The battery pack is thoroughly well shielded from both front and rear impacts, and the electric current should automatically cut off after a smash. Plus, with no fuel on board there’s a much-reduced fire hazard.

Stability control is standard alongside hill-hold assist, but a deeply off-putting and potentially deal-breaking safety feature is the ZE Voice, which plays silly, mock-soothing humming sounds below 18mph to warn pedestrians of the car’s presence. It’s difficult to imagine anything more annoying from the driver’s point of view.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Specs and Trim Levels: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

Colours

Eight colour options theoretically give buyers plenty of choice when it comes to the paint job, although not all of them are available on every model. The Expression Nav is available in free Glacier White, or for a steep-sounding £625 in Arctic White, Titanium, Mars Red and Zircon Blue.

Dynamique Nav spec has the same range, plus Diamond Black and Calico Grey, the latter of which looks very drab. Finally, the Signature Nav has no proper colour options at all, sticking to a fairly boring mix of blacks, whites, silvers and greys, which is a shame because Mars Red is easily the most attractive colour for the Zoe.

Trim Levels

There are two sub-ranges: one that includes the batteries as an owned part of the car, and another that requires additional battery leasing payments. But across both ranges the trim levels are the same. The difference on the spec sheets, apart from a big price gap, is that those that come with the battery as part of the car have the letter ‘i’ before the trim designation.

Navigation is standard across the board, with special EV-aware software that knows the locations of charging points, and even base-model Zoes feel well-specified.

Two higher trim grades echo those elsewhere in the Renault stable, with the traditional mid-range Dynamique Nav present and correct, followed by Signature Nav. The latter is the one to go for if you want the best technology, but be aware that adding more electronics can potentially mean a shortened driving range. Heated seats, for example, are a big battery-drain.

Size and Dimensions

The tiny Renault belongs in the city and has been sized to suit. It’s a little bit longer than a Ford Fiesta but shouldn’t cause any restrictions in terms of parking. It’s also slightly wider than the likes of the Fiesta, but the interior spaciousness, at least in the front seats and boot, comes at a price.

Length

4,084mm

Width

1,730 mm (1,945mm with mirrors)

Height

1,562 mm

Max towing weight without brake

N/A – not approved for towing

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Running Costs & Fuel Economy: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

There’s less than usual to say on this front. Once owned, the Zoe’s running costs are directly related to either your home energy supplier’s rates or the cost of using public charging stations. Some employers have fitted subsidised charging stations in their car parks, making it even cheaper for employees to run an EV.

At home, Economy 7 tariffs are the cheapest for overnight charging, but homeowners need to do the maths to see whether significantly higher daytime and evening electricity rates make Economy 7 savings redundant.

Reliability and servicing

With no moving engine parts and no fuel injection systems, the Zoe should, in theory, be mechanically unburstable. But Renault has a chequered history with getting electronics to work properly, and the Zoe is heavily reliant on them.

Servicing is simple, of course, and shouldn’t cost as much as a petrol car’s does, either in time or parts. It needs no oil, for starters. Some dealers have been known to charge well over the odds to make themselves undeserved extra profit.

Minor

12 months or 12,000 miles - £90 est.

Major

24 months or 24,000 miles - £150 est.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Pricing: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ (4/10)

2017 Renault Zoe

Sadly for the Zoe, its pricing is just too high. It’s cheap for an electric car, but outrageously expensive for a supermini. With the batteries included, allowing you to run-up as much mileage as you like, prices start at £18,995, doing a £4,450 long-jump to mid-range i Dynamique Nav at £23,445 and a further £2,050 for the top-spec i Signature Nav, at £25,495. The cheapest Nissan Leaf is £21,680, with the longer-range Leaf 30kw Acenta at £25,790.

Without batteries, the prices look more sensible, with a £5,000 reduction on the Expression Nav and a £5,600 drop against the i Dynamique Nav and i Signature Nav, which use the larger-capacity and much better battery pack. But battery leasing adds anything up to £100 per month extra onto the finance payments, and since the Zoe’s residual values are so poor, the car is not a good investment at all.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Recommendations

First Time Driver

Q90 i Dynamique Nav – the faster-charging battery pack option meets plenty of kit and good colours.

Tech Junkie

Q90 Signature Nav – quick charging and loads of technology make this the tech fiend’s supermini.

Green Car Buyer

R90 i Expression Nav – the smallest wheels and longest range per charge are the eco-warrior’s allies.

Rivals

Nissan Leaf

The quintessential electric car, offering a great balance of attributes and a smooth, enjoyable drive.

BMW i3

The least conventional, but – ironically – most desirable electric car, the i3 is fast and upmarket.

Volkswagen e-Up

The perfect electric city car, with restricted space and practicality, but supreme ease of parking.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Exactly like a normal Golf, but electric, so it’s comfortable, easy to live with and well-built.

Kia Soul EV

A good all-round electric car with great styling and an adequate driving range, plus an attractive interior.

What others say

Autocar

“If you’ve been tempted to take the plunge into EV ownership, the Zoe now makes an even stronger case for itself than it did before.”

Car Buyer

Although petrol and diesel rivals have an advantage in terms of cost and range, the Zoe still offers the best package we’ve yet seen to tempt motorists away from fossil-fuelled cars.”

 

Be part of something big

2017 Renault Zoe