Renault's all-electric small hatchback, the ZOE, gets a significantly longer operating range than before and some great updates.
Renault's ZOE now goes further in its efforts to help customers make the decision to go green with their next small city car with a vastly updated maximum range of 242 WLTP-rated miles. A newly introduced 100kW R135 motor ensures more precise acceleration, plus there's a smarter more modern look for both the exterior and interior. If you've always liked the image of an all-electric city car however, needed more convincing to own one, Renault hopes that their fresh Zoe will help make this decision a no-brainer.
If you've ever thought about owning an electric vehicle, there might have been a few negatives which influenced a final decision. The first wave of electric cars weren't styled very appealingly (quite horrendous actually!). Then came the second generation of EV's that looked more like 'normal' cars but carried hefty price tags that read like a bad joke. Electric cars used to only be either cheap and horrible or expensive and very difficult to justify ownership. Even when designs and prices improved, manufacturers still couldn't offer a credible level of battery range for most potential customers. Still leaving customers with more negatives to positives on electric cars. Renault wants to change this. The brand has already brought us the fun Twizy lightweight city car and even a Kangoo van featuring battery power with great success. With the improved version of this ZOE supermini though, the company's got really serious about all-electric concept, notably so with the introduction of the version we're going to talk about here with its more capable 52kWh Z.E. battery and uprated R135 electric battery.
The ZOE is designed for city/town driving, so the steering has been altered from the previous model to offer a more smooth effortless feel. Likewise, the throttle pedal doesn't offer too much in the way of resistance but the brake response is extremely sensitive which seems a little odd and takes a bit to get used to! Just like other electric vehicles, Renault's ZOE feels eerily quiet as it pulls away from the lights, with no discernible engine noise other than a faint whine from the batteries. This usually means you'll hear every bump and thump from the road as a result, however, Renault has done a good job on chassis refinement and ride quality is excellent with next to no road noise. To prevent pedestrians waltzing out in front of its silent drive ability, the ZOE emits an exterior sound at low speeds to warn people of its presence but you can barely hear it at all from inside the cabin. The 'Z.E. Voice' can be switched between three different sounds or can be completely switched off if you fancy a new bonnet ornament. Handling is as good as you would think coming from a car with such a low centre of gravity. The improved R135 electric motor with rotor coil has a power output that's way up on the orginal unit fitted to this car. This battery unit delivers the equivalent of 135PS and improved torque for faster acceleration. The motor packs a healthy 245Nm from zero rpm and drives through a single speed automatic gearbox, assiting the ZOE to sprint from 0 to 62mph in less than 10 seconds and onto a top speed of 87mph. More than enough for most people. As an indication, the 100kW model can accelerate from 50 to 75 mph in just 7.1 seconds, which is 2.2 seconds quicker than than the 80kW 110PS R110 engine, which is also still available as an option. Of course if you drive like this there's no way you'll acheive the claimed 242 mile WLTP driving range figure.
Most people would walk past the ZOE and not take it for anything other than Renault's latest cute little car, this isn't a bad thing though. Rather refreshingly for a car of this kind, its design inspiration is modern and appealing. With curves and a neat box shape, it's quite a good-looking car and even more so in this revised and updated guise. The updated Zoe features full-LED headlamps, smarter bumpers and bigger LED tail lights. The interior has been updated too, mainly with a new 10-inch TFT instrument cluster, which is standard across the range. A nice touch. The dashboard has been completely redesigned to significantly improve the quality of its finishes and on 'Iconic' models there is 100 percent recycled seat upholstery for an even greener feel towards the environment. The centre of the dashboard houses the Renault EASY LINK multimedia system, which on certain models, now benefits from a large 9.3-inch touchscreen which controls main features within the car. There's now an electronic parking brake too. Otherwise, things are much as before with improvements here and there. Some of the plastics aren't going to give premium designers anything much to think about, but being built down to a price is very much the point of this car and is very understandable. The view out is extremely good as you sit rather high but a lack of seat height adjustability might prove an issue for taller drivers with the roof line being so low. As with most small city cars, space in the backseat isn't the best but access is good thanks to the standard five-door layout, and there's more than enough room back there for the kids or adults on smaller journeys. One substantial plus point is the 338-litre boot which extends to 1,225-litres should you fold the one-piece rear bench.
There are two ZOE specification levels available; the old 'R110' 80kW battery version; or the newly introduced 'R135' 100kW model, with its faster acceleration and longer operating range. Either way, there are two options to choose from when buying a ZOE. There are 'Play', 'Iconic' and 'GT Line' trim levels available. All derivatives feature Renaults multimedia system, R-Link, as standard which can now feature Android Auto & Apple CarPlay smartphone-mirroring. To enable drivers to control the infotainment system's functions without taking their eyes off the road, R-Link features a big seven-inch display, steering wheel-mounted controls and even voice recognition. It also delivers integrated connectivity with motoring services and applications available from the R-Link Store. Other standard ZOE features include Bluetooth, climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, a Renault keycard and a speed limiter function. Programmable pre-conditioning heats or cools ZOE's cabin when the vehicle is charging, so when the driver gets into the car, the cabin is just the right temperature and battery charge is saved in use. As a further neat touch, this can be activated remotely via the owner's smartphone. This is the future!
The key question on all potential buyers' minds concerns the driving range. This model's original 22kWh battery could only take this car 93 miles on a full charge; not good enough for the average driver. The introduction of the brand's much improved 52kWh battery is very important, boosting the WLTP test cycle reading to 242 miles. That could make all the difference for potential electric car buyers. What about charging? The standard type-2 cable provided with the car and its Cameleon charger are used for everyday AC charging use, such as at home with a Wallbox, at work, in the car park or on public roads using anything up to a 22kW supply. When using a 7kW Wallbox a 100kW ZOE model can charge from 0 to 100 percent in 9 hours and 25 minutes. This ensures that a complete recharge can comfortably be achieved overnight ready again for what the next day brings. Around 190 miles of range can be achieved in just 8 hours. Users charging their vehicle at home can also benefit from the programming options, adjusting their recharge to correspond with tariff fluctuations from their electricity supplier, very smart! Plugging the ZOE into a public 22kW roadside charger can deliver a useful 78 miles of range in only one hour. However, the fastest recharge times are achieved with the new 50kW DC charging option, which is perfect for longer trips. Replenishing the battery in this way can add around 90 miles of range in as little as half an hour. Where the ZOE scores a knockout blow is if you need to travel into congestion zones. London offers 100% exemption while Westminster council offers four hours free parking and a number of charging points - a very key incentive if you live in or around areas which have these in place.
This improved Renault ZOE represents yet another step towards the electric vehicle becoming a genuinely practical mode of transport for most drivers on today's roads. There are still a number of caveats that will inhibit mass take-up, but most of these are due to the inherent nature of electric vehicles themselves, rather than any flaw in the ZOE in particular. On the contrary, it's an extremley likeable little car and might just be the most attractive electric vehicle currently on sale. If you have off-street parking and a short-ish and predictable urban commute, the numbers don't work out at all badly and there aren't many small cars that are much more relaxing to pilot through the city or town streets. We think the potential WLTP range increase to as much as 242 miles will make all the difference for potential buyers, but the arithmetic still works out in favour of a small petrol supermini on a pure costs basis. These options are there to be weighed up and should definitely be considered. Until taxation legislation more completely favours Evs, that's going to be very hard to change. The gap is small though and many drivers will be willing to pay a small premium for the ZOE's smooth ride, silent acceleration and feel-good vibe. If it works for you, we say why not?
16th February 2021
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