The Renault Zoe is definitely the ‘looker’ of the three cars, its cute almost feline like front end makes the car look small, actually it’s not that small, parked beside my Golf it’s actually taller and looks bigger, so let see how we get on with the Zoe.
Renault….. Renault…. I swore I’d never have another Renault, after some bad run ins with a couple of new Scenics, issues were many, ranging from major electric issues to a Blown Turbo which left me with a 3-year-old paperweight. After this I didn’t want to see another Renault ever again, but damn it if the Zoe isn’t a cute looking car and by all reports a good drive, so we decided to give it a go.
I called into the Renault Dealer, while at the neighbouring Nissan dealer organising the Leaf demo, spent some time with the Sales guy discussing my requirements and other cars I was considering. I explained that BMW and Nissan were lending me their cars over a weekend to see how they fitted our life, but he told me Renault will only allow a 24 hour test drive. I was happy with this so we agreed I would call back to select the day we would want the car on the following week.
We had a minor issue in that the sales guy actually had moved branches after that and hadn’t organised anything, even after a couple of calls by me, but it ended up OK as after dropping the Leaf back to the Nissan dealership I called into Renault and a different Sales guy organised the Zoe for later in the week. So a little bump with the dealer experience, but nothing major. While leaving the dealership I took the photo below of the Zoe on the Sales floor, painted in the new Zircon Blue colour, it really did look fantastic.
Upon arrival to pickup the Zoe, I met the sales guy, had another brief chat and again signed the required documentation and was brought out to the Demo Zoe, a White Dynamic Nav model with the standard 22 kWh battery. After a brief handover I was ready to go, however this was when I noticed some issues, some minor problems and some quite poor. The first thing was that the car was dirty, like spilt coffee on the centre console, in fact the offending coffee cup was still in the cup holder. Not a major thing, but disappointing none the less. The next issue was the car Sat Nav was not working as someone had removed the Memory card, not important, but again not exactly showing the car (or the dealers attention to detail) in the best light.
But finally the bigger issue was the car was showing about 70% battery left, at a guess, because the Zoe’s instrumentation is quite basic…., but the remaining range was only showing as 36 miles….. oh dear not a good first impression, it seems there is a real possibility of range anxiety here. However after a little poke around it turned out the previous test drive must have been the Stig as he averaged a low 2.8mi/kWh and this was why the remaining range was so low, resetting the trip updated the range to show a more respectable 54 miles.
My main point here is the dealers should realise small things like this can put potential buyers off. If I hadn’t been comfortable to poke around and reset things, I could have assumed the range of this demo vehicle was severely restricted and ultimately put me of the car.
My Initial Impressions
After the poor first impression, I drove from the dealership down to Lisburn, to test a 43 kW AC charge at Sprucefield and show Mark from NIEVO team the Zoe.
The run down the Motorway confirmed a few things I had previously read, the Zoe is slower than the Leaf and i3, it’s not a slow car, not by any stretch, quite close to the Leaf performance, but definitely slower. It’s also noisier than the other two cars, not that I’d say its loud or particularly annoying, but you can actually hear the motor, especially as it kicks into Regen mode on slowing down.
There are also more creaks and rattles than I would expect from a new car, which brings me to the interior, It looks quite good and modern on initial look, but I found the plastics are quite scratchy and hard, evidence of this was there were more than a few scrapes and gouges in the hard plastic already on this new Zoe demo, that may be because the demo is not looked after well, but I fell it’s still a little below par. On the more positive side the drive is very comfortable, smooth and familiar as the controls follows the more traditional layout with Handbrake, gear lever etc all in the common location. Unfortunately I couldn’t fully test the entertainment system because the aforementioned RLink memory card was missing.
I was off work on this day so my work colleagues never got to look at the Zoe, but Mark from NIEVO team had a quick look round the car as well as a passenger run in it. Mark confirmed my view that it’s a pretty car, larger than it looks in pictures, but not as large as the Leaf, In theory its a 5 seater, but with Mark and I in the back seats, it’s definitely more of a 4 seater, Mark also noted the interior materials felt cheap and hard. The boot is surprisingly large but this was when I noticed another problem, sitting in the boot was the center arm rest, which had obviously broken off, again not a good thing for the dealer to leave in view but also evidence of the cheaper build quality of the Renault .
Again the Zoe’s strength is how it looks, showing my wife the car the first time she’s smiling and looks happy with the exterior. My Daughters both think the car is ‘cute’ as well, so big points to the Zoe on this front . The interior is again an initially pleasing place as far as my wife is concerned, until she took a closer look and spotted the same issues I’d noticed with regard to cheaper materials.
My wife took to driving the Zoe very quickly and easily, as it has a normal handbrake, the ‘gear’ stick is in a normal position, it was all so familiar and extremely easy to drive, again kudos to Renault for this approach and not trying to make an electric car different just for the sake of it!
Range and Charging
There’s both good and bad news here, from a charging point of view the Zoe uses a standard Type 2 charging socket, so visually very similar to the Golf. My home charger is a Rolec 32 amp 7.2 kW model, so I was able to use this successfully. The front charging flap is also something I wish other Manufacturers could use, I know its a personal thing but for some reason I like the front charging of the Golf and Zoe. The ability to use AC at up to 43 kW is also a welcome addition that brings near-Rapid charging speeds all from the single socket (at least for those cars enabled with the feature).
However because of the electronics required for 43 kW charging the normal charge speed is reduced, where as the non 43 kW models charge faster on 7.2kW. Confused? Yeah it’s not an easy discussion, especially when talking it over with the family, they just cant understand why it’s so complicated across different cars and in the Zoe example different between fast charge and rapid charge versions.
I tried to discuss the different charging speeds with the salesman, but he just kept referring to the Chameleon and you can get 80% charge in 30 mins on public charging. I pointed out that I thought that was only 43 kW posts and on the rapid charge Zoe, he said no the Zoe uses the Chameleon charger and adapts to the available power and you’ll get 80% on public posts. I was going to argue, but decided to leave it.
Other problems with Zoe charging is the ‘Zoe Scream’ while charging, some people can’t hear this high pitch whine noise, but I certainly can and it is annoyingly loud for me, but I dare say I’d get used to it and in a way it confirms the car is charging.
Range is pretty good, if a bit of a mixed bag. By that I mean I picked it up it was showing 39 miles of range with about 85% of battery remaining, quite low I thought and the dealer just said, yeah drive in Eco you’ll get more. What it actually turned out to be was the previous driver had only managed to average 2.4m/kWh and when I reset this the remaining miles jumped to 58. Bit of a poor show by the dealer and something they should reset before every trip.
We went out for a run towards Larne, at night and the temperature was rather cold, the car performed faultlessly, even if our own navigation skills left us more than a little lost at times. With no car Sat Nav available, because of the missing memory card, I had to revert to Google maps on my phone while my wife drove.
We drove about 40 miles that evening, upon return we only had 15 miles left, so 55 miles total range. I was initially disappointed with this, but I then realised this is ONLY a 22 kWh battery, the others are 30 and 33 kWh so significantly bigger and unfair to directly compare, also it was Cold, night driving and it was raining as well, We also had the heating on the whole time set to 24 degrees (offsetting how cold it was outside). So after the initial disappointment of the range, I mellowed to the realisation, this was a worse case scenario, we really didn’t attempt to drive with economy on our mind, on this trip we averaged about 2.5mi/kWh, not great I know, but the trip was a victim of the environmental conditions, on other, albeit shorter, trips I was high 3 range, 3.7-3.9 average. Not as good I believe as the Leaf or the I3, but again with only the 24 hour test drive I didn’t get long enough with the car to fully test range. Reading online it appears that efficiency of over 4 should be fairly easy to achieve and I dare say over a longer period I may have managed to get up to that comfortably, especially if using Eco mode more, which leads me to a gripe. Eco mode on other cars ‘dulls’ the throttle response, you can certainly feel the difference, however on the Zoe, Eco mode was just plain slow, maybe this was just the order I had tested in, I3, Leaf then Zoe, but the Zoe in Eco mode felt overly slow, in non Eco mode it’s perfectly fine, not as fast as the other two but still nippy enough to work well, but Eco mode, I found, was not fun.
A much shorter trip than the other cars, but still useful, the Zoe is a good little electric car and it is by far the best looking one outside of a Tesla, Charging is easier because of the sheer number of options drivers will have with the type 2 port, but also more complicated as the users may not understand why sometimes it will charge very fast and other times not so much on the Public charging facilities. At least the other cars have ‘Rapid’ charge ports, so realising the difference is clearer. I only say this as explaining to my better half about the speed of charging for the Zoe was met with more confusion than both of the other cars.
One other minor thing I noticed, although I don’t know if this is related to the missing RLink memory card, but the Entertainment system had some annoying issues, such as the Clock was not visible on all screens, I wanted to drive on the Eco screens to monitor my consumption, but this removed the clock?, not that there was anything replacing the clock in that location, it just went blank. There were a few other, admittedly minor, issues with the Entertainment system that left me feeling I would be frustrated with the system, surprising on a relatively mature EV.
Costs may also be a difficultly here, last year there was superb offers for the Zoe, low deposits and £159 a month where commonplace, battery included, which I think is fantastic value, but right now as I test drive the car, these offers have all evaporated. While the Zoe is good car the costs are not much less than the Leaf, so currently I find it difficult to justify.
So in summary, this is a great little EV, it does however feel a little cheaper than the other two cars, both with the materials used and the increase of noise in the cabin in comparison to other cars, not that there is anything wrong with that, if priced appropriately the Zoe could be a serious contender.
The exciting news is I’ve literally just placed the order for my brand new EV. All will be revealed in the concluding part of our review series soon.