Renault Zoe

BATD ON Aug 13, 2013 AT 9:38 am

Zoe can be plugged in at home

Zoe Charges In

OK, so we’re probably not going to get that jetpack the future promised us, but electric cars are coming. The Nissan Leaf has won plenty of fans and the BMW i3 arrives in November, but the latest car to try to lure oil addicts from the pumps is the zippy and affordable Renault Zoe.

Renault has looked carefully at all the reasons people might shy away from  electric cars and has an answer for most of them.  The biggie is price – but at £13,995, after Government grant, the Zoe is comparable to a Fiesta.

People expect electric cars to be funny looking, but the Zoe is definitely cute, and it has a cute girl’s name.

The boot is huge, and it isn’t full of batteries. Plus, people fret about a potential huge bill hanging over the owner and the resale value when the batteries fail. So if you buy a Zoe, you only lease the battery pack. A lifetime guarantee means Renault will repair or replace the batteries if they drop below 75% capacity.

Getting into the Zoe, I liked the retro-futuristic cabin – ever so slightly Jetsons –but everything I expected was in the right place. It’s weird when you turn the key and there’s no sound, but I’m used to that in hybrid cars. We set off smoothly and it accelerates pretty fast. Again, it’s odd when you’re used to a car going RR-RR-RR as you change gear.  The Zoe’s sound simply rises in a linear fashion, and there’s more wind and tyre noise than mechanical noise.

Renault Zoe

 A Sound Idea

At low speeds, the Zoe would be almost silent. So, for the sake of wandering smartphone-staring halfwits, Renault has given it a ‘voice’ at below 18mph. I imagined the car humming to itself. Or maybe it would play a tune, like the ice cream van that used to chill my blood with its sinister rendition of Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Maybe in future we could download a sound like a ring tone, but it might to frenzied attacks by crazed pedestrians. Still, I was disappointed that the ‘voice’ seemed to be just a low moan.

In most respects the Zoe is disappointingly normal. It’s easy to drive and easy to park. It does make occasional sighing noises, and can stop a bit abruptly, but I could get used to that.

I don’t think I could have one as my only car, though, it would be just one more thing I’d have to ‘manage’. You can plug it in overnight, and the charge will be enough for most people’s commute. There are charging stations popping up all over the place, too, and the car’s R-Link multi-media system can direct you to them. But even a rapid charge takes 30 minutes.

My phone battery is always flat, so I can imagine dashing out heading for important meeting, only to find I’d forgotten to plug it in. At least Renault guarantees that if you do run out of charge away from home, a man in a van will rescue you.

Keeping The Lights On

The biggest question is not for Renault alone. We’re being warned there will be black-outs in the next few years if we don’t find more ways to produce energy.

So will the already-stretched grid be able to power up thousands, or potentially millions of electric cars?
Ben Fletcher, product manager for Renault’s electric cars, told me about all sorts of clever ideas, such as timers to make sure cars only charge up at cheaper times when there is less demand. Your house could even claim some of the cheap energy stored in the car’s batteries during the day, if you’re not going out. Used batteries could also be used to store electricity by power stations or businesses. All clever stuff, it just needs some joined-up thinking. Otherwise we’ll be fracking until Lancashire sinks.

Renault Zoe
£13,995 plus £70 per month battery lease for 7,500 miles per year, £77 for 9,500 miles, and rising with mileage
Compared to Ford Fiesta TDCi 75PS 5dr £14,095 plus £65 for a 45-litre tank of diesel

Zoe attracts no road tax, congestion charge or benefit-in-kind tax
It’s official range is 130 miles, but Renault reckons in real-world motoring it will do 60-64 in winter, 90 in temperate weather

Liz Turner was on staff at What Car? magazine for five years and has driven everything from a Smart car to the Rolls-Royce Phantom. www.liz-turner.com 

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