The 2020 Renault Zoe is an all electric supermini with a 100kW motor and 52kWh of usable battery capacity, and while it’s by no means the most expensive EV you can buy, I wouldn’t exactly call it cheap. But it might just be worth it… To the right buyer. It’s rather cute aesthetic makes it attractive to anyone looking for an understated EV that doesn’t stand out as being overly ‘futuristic’, and offers a relaxing driving experience meaning as your city car to commute to work, it’s a great choice.
Let’s start with a look around the car, up front you have a fairly short nose, with the Renault badge concealing the Type 2/CCS connector you’ll need for charging up, and plenty of parking sensors wrapping around it all too. There is a small air vent at the bottom that feeds the car’s heat pump air used to heat and cool the interior.
Around the side is where you are most likely to notice the height – it’s a very tall car and actually has a fair bit of ground clearance too, not that I’d ever try to utilise it. It’s roof line remains pretty flat, with a standard hatchback design. Despite being a 5 door, it’s not overly long at around 4m, although saying that the VW ID.3 is only 25cm longer, and a new Mini is about 20cm shorter. You’ll also notice the wheels, with either 15”, 16” or 17” options available, and this model is running Michelin Primacy 4 tyres which should give reasonable economy and grip.
At the back you’ll see what is the incredibly flat rear end, complete with parking sensors and a rear view camera, and boot space is ample with 338L with the rear seats up, or 1225L with the rear seats down. There is a pretty big load lip though as the boot floor skins down quite a bit from the height of the rear seats.
Inside the Zoe in the front seats is pretty nice. This GT Line version has these synthetic leather and recycled fabric seats which for a larger build like me aren’t all that great, but for a slimmer frame is apparently rather comfortable. Even 6ft me has plenty of headroom in the front though, and with the fully adjustable steering wheel and basic forward/back and rear tilt adjustment on the seat you can generally find a comfortable driving position.
The gauge cluster is really nice, it’s got a fully digital display with two dials either side, one for your charge and the other for power use and regen, with the centre acting as the standard info display for things like your tyre pressures, radio station or even your next turn when using the built in navigation.
Speaking of navigation, the infotainment display is great. This is the 9.3” touchscreen easy link tablet, which lets you use the built in maps which are powered by Google, or if you spec it, Android Auto or Apple Carplay which work via the USB ports just below the display. You can also use this to control the cars assist features like the rear view camera, blindspot warning and lane keep assist, and even charging timers to make use of variable electricity tariffs at home. The only feature that’s missing is being able to limit charging to say 80% to help extend the batteries life span, although it’s covered under an 8 year or 100,000 mile warranty so I wouldn’t be worried.
Moving into the back, it’s pretty tight here. I’ve got the front seat set to where I’d be comfortable driving and I don’t fit back here. If I try and sit upright, I have to twist my head over to fit, and even slouching in the seat I still can’t really get in nor get comfortable. For smaller people or children though, this should work really well. You even have ISOFIX child seat anchors everywhere, and technically 3 seats back here, although everyone would need to be pretty good friends to enjoy a ride in this. You do get 2 USB ports back here too so the kids can charge their iPads while on the go.
So that’s the basics, what is it like to drive?
The first thing you are likely to notice if you aren’t coming from an SUV is the ride height and seating position. You can see over most car’s roofs, and strangely thanks to the heavy batteries being down on the floor – which is the reason you sit so high – it doesn’t drive like the height, or 1.5 tonne weight, would imply. It’s definitely not what I’d call sporty, but this 100kW version packs enough punch to get you up to speed even on dual carriageways and motorways, and gives ‘playful’ handling. This isn’t the sort of car you’d buy to actively enjoy the driving experience, but if you do you can have a little fun in it, even if that means the tall aspect ratio tyres folding over with any amount of steering input.
Acceleration isn’t exactly fast, and the standing start 0-60 is pretty neutered with a muted throttle response, but if you are doing 30 and need to overtake a bus in town the pickup works pretty well there especially with what would normally be the kickdown button at the bottom of the throttle pedal.
As for braking, this is where it gets a little unusual. In the “D” driving mode, when you lift off the accelerator pedal it will start to regen brake with about the same rate of deceleration as an internal combustion engine car would engine brake. Then, when you lightly press on the brake pedal, it will start to regen harder, although you should know that you aren’t using the physical brakes at all, and when you get to around 5mph the car will stop it’s regen and start creeping forward. This almost caught me out as I was pressing on the brake pedal lightly as you do to come to a controlled, slow stop, but the regen cut out and the car lurched forward under it’s creep power meaning I had to press the pedal much further to get the friction brakes to kick in. It’s something that will only happen once to you, but it gave me a good scare when it did.
Then there is the “B” mode. This is the mode that in their plugin vehicles will do regen braking using the second gearbox side electric motor. This does the same thing, and it’s effectively a one pedal drive mode except the creep still happens so you still need to press the brake pedal to bring the car to a complete stop. The problem? The brake lights never come on. The level of deceleration you get with full regen is significant, and the number of times motorists almost rear ended me as I was slowing down so rapidly without brake lights on was scary. I would actually prefer to use this mode, if the brake lights came on. But since they don’t, I only use the standard “D” mode.
When you finally get down to the physical brakes, they are.. Fine. You don’t end up using them all that often so they get a little rough at slow speeds. I’m not overly confident in their stopping power from high speed, especially with the added weight in this relatively small chassis, but for the type of driving this is destined to do, they’re fine.
In and around town, this is remarkably zippy and maneuverable. The ability to instantly change between drive and reverse is amazing, and despite the steering being incredibly light and generally disconnected, it’s really easy to dart around city streets. It’s suspension offers a very muted and soft ride, with a lot of body roll and nose diving under braking, but it’s the sort of ride you would want in a little city car like this.
If you need to do a stint on a motorway, it’s alright for that. You can definitely get up to speed fine, and while the steering is light and a bit vague, it’s stable at speed. I didn’t have much of an issue driving it on the motorway, only that it took a bit more effort to keep it straight and centered than I’m used to.
Of course we can’t talk about an EV without covering range. Renault claims a WLTP figure of 238 miles for this GT Line R135 model, which sounds amazing. In practice, the best I’ve seen out of it was around 180 miles, and in more average use it might be closer to 160. If you only drove it around town in eco mode, I think you’d get closer to 200, but if your commute involves even one junction on a motorway or a dual carriageway, it’ll be more like that 160, and for a long motorway journey I’d expect between 100 and 150. Again, for it’s class, that’s plenty and if you can top it up at home each night you won’t have any issues.
All of this sounds great, it’s a relaxing easy car to drive, plenty of range for a city car, easy to charge at home or out and about and a good amount of space inside for the kids, pets and shopping. What’s not to love? Well, most likely, the price. This GT Line model will set you back a cool £30,000 AFTER the plug in car grant. That’s a lot to spend on a little city car like this when you can buy a plug in hybrid Clio from Renault themselves for almost £10,000 less. That high barrier to entry, on top of basically requiring you to be able to plug it in at home, means it’s not going to be suited to a large portion of it’s target market.
Not being able to plug it in at home is actually a pretty big deal. I don’t have space here so I had to use public chargers, meaning I either had to leave the car in a public car park and walk home, or sit for between 30 minutes and an hour every time I wanted to top it up. That would be a deal breaker for me if I owned one myself and I imagine it would be the same for many prospective buyers.
On top of that, the 50kWh fast charging is great, but for longer journeys where you are using a lot of the car’s range, spending an hour and a half charging it back up every 150 miles (from my testing) isn’t a great option when that hybrid Clio will do that distance and back on a single tank of fuel.
This is clearly a great choice as a household’s second car, where they can plug it in overnight, zip to work in the morning, to the shops in the afternoon and plug it back in again in the evening. For that kind of usage, it’s perfect. It’s a great choice. But if you can’t plug it in at home, or you need one car to do everything including longer journeys, or just straight up can’t afford a £6,000 deposit and £200 a month to get it on PCP, well you should probably look elsewhere.
When looking back at the last few generations of Zoe, it’s impressive how far it’s come, how much of a usable daily driver it is and how it offers a decent for the size range. I’m really excited to see where the EV market, and the new generations of Zoe end up, but for now it’s still definitely a well off early adopter’s game.