Renault Zoe Review
When you think about it, the ideal electric vehicle is not a huge SUV or a massive luxury saloon, but a little urban hatchback. Sure, a battery-powered 4x4 might provide a greater CO2 saving on paper, and they certainly provide more profit margin for the manufacturers, but they’re designed for long journeys – a discipline to which diesel power is particularly well suited.
City cars, on the other hand, are made for electric power. Low mileages mean range isn’t a great issue, and charging can be done on a wherever, whenever basis. You also avoid spewing nasty gases onto city streets, and the instant acceleration of an electric motor is well suited to zipping through urban traffic.
Despite this, the curvaceous Renault Zoe largely had this section of the market sewn up. With few obvious flaws and even fewer obvious rivals, it has almost automatically become the market leader. But the world is catching up, and numerous electric hatchbacks have hit the roads of the UK, including versions from Vauxhall, Peugeot and Mini. Against this newfound competition, is the Renault still among the best you can lease?
Select's rating score* - 3.9 / 5
The Zoe is the market leader when it comes to small electric hatchbacks. That’s partly down to a lack of competition, but the Zoe’s unquestionable talent plays its part. With a decent all-electric range, ample interior space and a handy ease of use, this is a great urban runabout. Unless your lifestyle really suits the car, it probably won’t replace your Ford Mondeo or Skoda Kodiaq family bus, but it’ll be the ideal second car.
Customers get a choice of two electric motors and three trim levels, with the basic Play and Iconic models coming with the standard R110 107hp motor as standard. But GT Line models get the 134hp R135 motor, while the iconic can also be specified with the more upmarket propulsion system.
Although it has a very modern powertrain, the Zoe is not one of those cars that seeks to amaze with cutting-edge, never-seen-before tech that invariably won’t work properly. Instead, the French city car uses more conventional tech that’s been proven on the road over the past few years.
Customers will really appreciate the standard equipment, which sees the basic Play model fitted with a customisable digital instrument cluster and a seven-inch toucshcreen. The instrument display is very clear, modern and simple to use, and it feels like a feature only usually found on more luxurious models.
Less luxurious but equally useful is the Zoe’s 338-litre boot. It’s very competitive in the supermini class, offering more room than you would get in a petrol-engined Ford Fiesta or a battery-electric Vauxhall Corsa-e. Granted, a big boot isn’t the most exciting feature ever fitted to a hatchback, but it’s a very useful addition.
As standard, the Zoe comes with a 52 kWh battery pack, which gives you an official range of around 240 miles on a single charge. The exact range varies depending on which version you choose, with the entry-level Play R110 variant managing 245 miles on the official economy test. The high-end GT Line R135, meanwhile, will do 238 miles between trips to the plug.
Of course, whether you achieve this depends on a range of different things, including your driving style, the weather and the roads you’re using. In our experience, the Zoe tends to offer its best performance in urban areas, allowing it to make use of the regenerative braking while the slower roads prevent too much strain being put on the motor.
Leasing a Zoe gives you a choice of two different motors, with each offering different performance and range characteristics. The entry-level option is the R110 motor, which comes with 107hp and is available with the basic Play and mid-range Iconic trim levels. With that motor on board, the 0-62mph time is 11.4 seconds, but the 0-31mph time is a much more impressive 3.9 seconds.
And that kind of sums up the Zoe driving experience. The motors aren’t all that powerful, and the cars aren’t all that fast, but there’s plenty of low-down punch. You can get away from the lights in a heartbeat, and you have more than enough grunt to nip around in traffic, but the Zoe is best suited to that environment. On the open road, it has a little less going for it.
That’s not to say it’s a bad car. The performance is no worse than in most small hatchbacks, and the more powerful 134hp R135 motor gives you very respectable figures. The sprint to 62mph takes a solid 9.5 seconds. You just get the feeling the car isn’t at its best.
For example, the height that makes the car feel light and airy and gives you such good visibility in town feels like a burden on a country road. The car rolls through corners more than, say, a Ford Fiesta or even an electric Mini. And although the car is quiet and refined, it doesn’t feel as accomplished on motorways or fast A-roads. It is quite comfortable, although again it feels most composed at lower speeds.
But that’s no problem, because the town centre is the Zoe’s natural habitat. The range is good, but the car’s size and electric cars’ charging limitations mean it’s the perfect second car. If you have a larger, petrol- or diesel-powered car on the drive, you’re going to use that for longer trips. The Zoe just gives you the ability to have an eco-friendly, cheap-to-run and good-to-drive hatchback for day-to-day stuff.
Renault itself recommends charging the Zoe at home as often as possible. If you have a drive, garage or some other off-road parking arrangement, that won’t be an issue, but it’s worth considering a wallbox domestic charging point. You can charge electric vehicles using conventional 13-amp sockets, although manufacturers often advise against it, and doing so will mean refilling the battery takes an age.
If, however, you take Renault’s advice, you can charge the Zoe from empty to 100% in nine hours using a 7kW wallbox. If you’re out and about, you can use more powerful public charge points, which often cost more but charge more quickly. As standard, the Zoe comes with the capacity to charge at up to 22kW, but high-spec models have a 50kW charging system that allows compatible chargers to add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes.
How much the Zoe costs to run will depend largely on who supplies your energy and when you choose to charge. If you’ve got a competitive off-peak electricity rate, you could pay peanuts to charge overnight at home. If you have a less competitive provider and you charge at peak times, it’ll cost a little more. And if you charge out and about at public charge points, you could pay even more. On the whole, though, it’s likely to work out cheaper than using a conventional petrol or diesel car.
It’ll certainly be cheaper if you’re a company car driver. With taxes based on carbon dioxide emissions, the zero-emission Zoe enjoys a Benefit-in-Kind tax rate of just 1%. A conventional supermini such as a Fiesta or a Polo is going to be far more expensive in that respect alone.
The Zoe’s cabin has improved dramatically over the years, although it was always quite a stylish place to be. Nowadays, the whole thing centres around a central toucshcreen, while the driver gets a 10-inch digital instrument display as standard. The displays are clear and modern, but the Renault software leaves something to be desired. The on-board computers don’t respond to inputs as quickly as some other brands’ systems, and the menus aren’t always especially intuitive.
That said, the Zoe does come with physical controls where it matters (such as the climate control system) and there are buttons on the wheel. And if you really want to swerve the on-board system, you can use the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration systems that come as standard.
Better still, the cabin feels more solid than you might expect from a French car. Sure, some of the switchgear is less solid than it might be in a Mini or a VW, but it’s all well put together, and the cabin materials are competitive in a segment where cost-cutting occurs more often than car makers like to admit.
The Zoe’s 338-litre boot is impressive for a car in this class. It’s bigger than that of the conventionally powered Ford Fiesta or the electric Vauxhall Corsa-e. In fact, it’s only slightly smaller than the larger Ford Focus family hatchback. Fold the rear seats down and it grows substantially when you fold down the rear seats. Do that, and you’re left with a 1,225-litre load bay.
But there’s more to practicality than just luggage space, so the Zoe comes with decent, if not stellar, passenger-carrying credentials. The standard five-door layout is good, and those up front will find adequate headroom. Those in the back will find headroom a little tighter, but it should still be enough for all but the tallest passengers. Things are less comfortable if you’re sitting behind a tall driver or passenger, though, because legroom is only average for the class. Still, the Zoe is roomier than a Mini Electric or a Fiat 500e.
Despite being a small, French hatchback, the Zoe is very safe. Smaller models often struggle in the Euro NCAP crash test, but the little Renault flew through with flying colours. The five-star rating included an 89% score for adult occupant protection and a respectable 80% result for child occupant protection. Admittedly, the car was last tested in 2013, and the test has become more stringent since, but it’s still a strong result. Particularly when the latest-generation Corsa scored four stars and the Fiat 500 managed just three.
We all hope you’ll never have to find out how well the Zoe protects you, and it’s good to know the car is trying its best to prevent that from happening. Basic versions don’t have that much technology besides the usual passive stuff – airbags and ABS and so on – but the Zoe is available with autonomous emergency braking that automatically stops the car if the driver does not respond to a hazard. You can have lane departure assistance tech, too, as well as blind-spot monitoring. And you can also get rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, to help prevent any low-speed bumps.
Zoe customers effectively have a choice of three different trim levels, ranging from the entry-level Play model to the top-of-the-range GT Line. They’re all relatively well equipped, but the higher-end Iconic and GT Line models are, unsurprisingly, the ones to go for.
If you must stick with the entry-level Play, however, you’ll have to make do with 15-inch steel wheels and black plastic door mirror caps, but you do get a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, automatic air conditioning and keyless motor start, not to mention automatic lights and wipers. You also get a digital driver’s instrument display, and the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration technology.
Stepping up to the Iconic gets you 16-inch alloy wheels and body-coloured door mirrors, as well as climate control, rear parking sensors and a synthetic leather-trimmed steering wheel. Better still, you get satellite navigation, USB sockets in the rear seats and electric windows in the front and back. The mid-range model also gives you the security of active safety tech, including automatic high-beam assistance and lane departure warning.
But the top-end GT Line gets you even more. Not only does it add a rear-view camera and front parking sensors to the Iconic’s specification, but it also comes with blind-spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking. And you get leather upholstery, electrically folding door mirrors and a larger 9.3-inch touchscreen.
Optional extras are few and far between, but you do get a choice of really smart colour schemes. We’re big fans of the pale Celadon Blue and the deep purple Aconite colours, but they’re joined by some less outlandish whites, greys, blacks and silvers. There’s a lovely, lustrous red, too.
The Zoe’s list of rivals has grown dramatically in recent years, with a host of new players on the electric hatchback scene. It wasn’t so long ago that you had to decide between the Zoe and the smaller VW e-Up! or the larger Nissan Leaf. The e-Up! was the better car to drive, but the Zoe’s range put it ahead of the curve. The less said about the previous-generation Leaf, the better.
Today, though, the Zoe has to wage war against the new Vauxhall Corsa-e and its sister, the Peugeot e-208. There’s an electric version of the Mini, too, and Honda has built the cute little E hatchback. All four are good cars in their own right, although the Mini and the Honda are let down slightly by their range.
There’s also the question of the smaller Seat Mii Electric, VW e-Up! and Skoda Citigoe iV, all of which are almost identical and equally brilliant, even if they are ageing slightly. For something more modern, consider the new Fiat 500e.
If you want an electric hatchback, the Zoe has to be high on your list. It doesn’t have the iconic design of a Mini, a Fiat 500e or even a Honda E, but it still has a stylish image. Better still, it has the capability to match the looks. As a second car, an urban runabout or even as a small everyday hatchback, the Zoe is still up there with the best of them.