The Renault Zoe has received what appears to be a very minor facelift for 2017, but trust me when I say this - looks can be deceiving. Quite often we come across minor facelifts. For example, a few months ago, we reviewed the facelifted Volvo V40, and apart from the option of Thors Hammer headlights, a nicer colour range, and some upholstery tweaks, it would take the very eagle-eyed to spot the difference. Nearly the same can be said about the 2017 Renault Zoe. It looks just like what we reviewed back in April 2014. However, the devil is in the detail. What we reviewed back in 2014 had a 22kw engine - which only gave an NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) range of 220km. The 2017 Renault Zoe comes with a 41kw battery, which gives an on-paper increase of 67% when it comes to range compared to the 22kw battery. That's a lot.
Okay, so... in my reviews I often use the term "on-paper". You'd usually see it when I talk about the technical statistics of most cars. You see, when we review a car, we get a technical spec sheet with it, and on the page you will find figures like 0-100km/h in X, and top speed of Y. Generally, I would have trust for these figures - however, I do realise that the tests for them are done in optimal conditions. A figure that I rarely trust is the fuel economy figures. For example, I usually find that if a spec sheet says that the car can achieve 4.4l/100km, I know that at best, and driving like a saint, I might be lucky to receive 5.4 or 6.4 l/100km. The same can be said about electric car ranges. On-paper, we're told that after NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) tests, the car can achieve a range of 400km. This is not real world testing. The manufacturers aren't telling lies (they might be a little economical with the truth though), they’re quoting figures from tests that are done on their cars. What the consumer should really look for is the "real-world" fuel economy of a car.
Renault were frank about the NEDC result of 400km. They reckon that potential owners can expect a return of 300km - which is excellent. Of course, they also said that this figure is a reality only if the motorway is avoided. They’ve told us that if there is excessive motorway driving, that figure will reduce further. They've also pointed out that the summer range is better than the winter range. The reason for this is because, when the car has to deal with colder weather, firstly, it's more likely that a heater will be used inside the car to keep passengers warm - this heater uses the same battery as the car, and as well as that, the electrons within a battery work harder when it is colder. We're told that if we had a bad winter, the range of the battery could reduce to circa 200km during that spell. It's the same across the board for all EVs, so you can apply the same rules to the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq, the Nissan Leaf and even the Tesla Model S. One of the best things about the Zoe though, is the range. It’s 41kw battery, according to NEDC range figures, puts it in second place only to Tesla when it comes to EV range among cars that are available in Ireland – (how you drive the car will determine the range).
The mild facelift also brings with it some new colours and a new top-spec Signature Nav trim, which means that you will get nicer upholstery, a BOSE stereo and a parking camera. The other new news is that if you buy a Renault Zoe, you get the whole car. Some of you mightn’t know what I mean here, but in the past, Renault would sell an electric vehicle. The car is what you bought… but the battery was leased – which in my view was never really going to work. Why would anyone only want to own the shell of a car, but not the thing that powered it?
So, who will be considering buying one of these? Well, if you think you might be in the market for any electric car, you need to make sure it’ll work for you. Ask yourself how much you drive every week? Where do you drive? Do you take long journeys? Is there a charge point near where you work? You see, electric cars are ideal for people who mainly use their cars in cities. I mean to charge the car is extremely inexpensive when you compare it to paying for petrol or diesel. The other thing is that EVs are a lot more fuel efficient in city traffic and when driven efficiently on open roads. Electric vehicles aren’t just for city drivers though. Even if you live in commuter counties like Clare, and you have a daily commute to Limerick or Cork, or if you live in Louth, and you journey to Dublin or Belfast. If you do the maths, you might find that owning an electric car is more efficient than paying for a tank of fuel a couple of times a week.
With all of that said though, an EV is not for everyone. While the range on the Zoe may be excellent, 300km may not cure range anxiety for most people. For example, an EV would be great for my daily commute, but I have a habit of going to Donegal, Wexford, Meath, and Cork regularly – sure the range might bring me most, if not all the way, but when I drive from A-B cross country, I don’t want to have to worry about whether the car can complete the journey. I like being able to pull into any fuel station if I need to and not worry about whether it has an electric charger or not. I also prefer being able to consistently drive at 120km/h on a motorway in the knowledge that I have enough fuel for the journey.
Driving the Renault Zoe is pretty much as it was when it was released in 2013/2014. It’s a relaxing drive, and like all electric cars, it’s a strange feeling turning a key or pressing a start button and the result is silence. The Zoe now comes with an artificial sound for pedestrians – truth be known, we barely even heard that. The first half of our test route covered circa 80km, and we travelled maybe 10 kilometres on the M50 at 100km/h and the rest was on hilly and country roads with generally a maximum speed limit of 80km/h. We tried to drive as normally as possible and our clock read that there was 172km left in the battery after that journey – which is very good considering hills and motorway (which is part of a lot of people’s journey, so it’s all relevant).
Of course, like with all electric cars, acceleration from stand still feels very quick because of instant torque. I also found that on overtaking on the Naas dual carriageway (on the return leg of our journey, which was mostly dual carriageway and motorway) that the delivery of torque between 80km/h and 100km/h was good, which means, the car can overtake capably. Accelerating from 100 to 120km/h feels a little slower – but a natural environment for an EV is not above 100km/h.
On those twisty and hilly roads, the Zoe did throw back a bit of body roll, but the steering was good through the bends and the car felt in control. The driving position is raised because the battery sits below the front and the rear seats.
Because those seats are raised, you would expect head room to be lacking, but the Zoe is tall enough and the head room was good for me (I’m a little under 6-foot). Leg room to the rear is not excellent for people of my height, with the driver’s seat in my own normal driving position. Push the driver’s seat forward just an inch or so and things are better. The car is slim in terms of width, and while there are three seatbelts to the rear, there are only two headrests, which in real life means that the back is good for two adults or two children on booster seats. A third adult will fit in at a squeeze, but I’m not sure if a third booster seat would fit (we’ll look at this if we get a longer test drive).
One very surprising thing about the Zoe is that it has a very good-sized boot. Some manufacturers place their batteries under the boot of their cars, and this sacrifices the luggage capacity. With the Zoe’s battery tucked under the seats, it doesn’t go into the boot and this results in a good 338-litres. To put that into perspective, the current Ford Fiesta offers a luggage capacity of 290 litres.
One of the problems of the 2013/2014 Zoe (a colleague had to remind me of this) was that the dashboard reflected in the windshield – which meant that the visibility was slightly obstructed through the front window. The dash is darker now and while there is still a bit of reflection there, it is not as bad.
On our way back from the main test drive, we took motorways and dual carriageways most of the way back to Dublin. We decided to drive it exactly like we would a normal ICE car. So, we went for the ill-advised 120km/h on the motorway and the 100km/h on the dual-carriageway. The effect on fuel consumption is immediate and prolonged driving at 120km/h reduces the range quickly. However – if you are in the market for one of these, you’ll know that driving at 120km/h is a battery killer.
The Zoe uses what’s called a Chameleon Smart Charger for charging. This charger adapts to different power levels which are available at charging points. We’re told (we didn’t test this) that it takes 30 minutes to charge an extra 80km into the car (see estimated 0-100% charge times below - FYI, most of the public charge points in Ireland are 22kw chargers). The Q90 column represents a quicker charging battery which is also available. These cost a little more, and the range is slightly lower.
In terms of price, the Zoe is available from €23,490 (after all grants, etc. are extracted). For this money, you get the “Expression Nav” trim. The bad news if you opt for one of these is that you will be stuck with the old 22kw battery. If you want the longer range, you will be coughing up at least €27,490. This is for the “Dynamique Nav” trim. The top of the range “Signature Nav” trim starts from €29,990. With this you get a BOSE stereo, leather seats and a parking camera. According to Patrick Magee, Country Operations Manager of Renault Group Ireland, he wants to get bums in seats. So, Renault will be offering 24 hour test drives and will be letting customers use the Zoe as a courtesy car while their own cars are being serviced.
In and around 2010, the Irish government announced that they planned that 10% of all cars on our roads by 2020 would be electric. We are a long way off this figure – as far as we’re aware, the current fleet stands at in and around 0.3%. Renault’s objective is to represent 20-25% of that market share.
I’m a big fan of EV technology. I think it has its place, and I understand that it’s not for everybody. But for electric cars to become at least a little more popular, there are a lot of things that stand in the way that need to be sorted. There is range anxiety – thankfully, as technology advances, this is beginning to improve. Then there is infrastructure – yes there are 1,200 charge points in the country, but more are needed, and so too are more fast chargers. Then there is attitudes and legislation – why have I never been able to charge in my nearest public charge point? Because somebody in an ICE Toyota Yaris is constantly parked there – these spaces are charge points for electric cars! Incentives also need to be given to people and to manufacturers. At the moment, we have SEAI grants and VRT reductions, which is okay, but the results are miniscule. People still aren’t buying them. More incentivisation is needed. Maybe it would be worthwhile if the government even considered allowing EVs use the bus lanes, or avail of free city parking. If the government is taking this technology and emission-free driving seriously, then they really need to pull up their socks and start making people want to buy an electric vehicle.