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Renault Zoe Electric Van Review

Introduction

Think of a van and you probably don’t think of an electric city car. That’s what the Zoe starts life as, but a quick conversion by Renault sees the rear seats removed and a flat cargo area installed in their place.

The result is a tiny van that, with its emissions-free motor, might just be perfect for some urban businesses. Can it really compete against a dedicated model, though?

Select's rating score* - 3.9 / 5

At a Glance

The Renault Zoe has been around since 2014, but it’s only recently been converted into a car derived van. That means every model gets the latest updates from Renault, from a huge battery pack to provide an impressive driving range to an interior that, if not quite as high tech as the latest electric cars, won’t leave you feeling like you’re pinching for pennies.

Converting the passenger car to a van means removing the rear seats, so it’s a strict two-seater, and adding an opaque covering to the rear windows. Beyond that, it’s much the same as the road car which is one of our favourite urban EVs.


Despite its city-based credentials, the battery pack is a significant 52kWh unit, which is enough to keep you motoring for as far as 245 miles, at least according to official figures. There’s 108hp available, translating into perky if not punchy performance - it’s more than enough to keep up with a bustling city centre.

Available in two trim levels, Business and Business+, there’s not much choice but each comes well equipped and ready for work. Just so long as it’s not too heavy duty.


Key Features

There’s only one feature worth talking about on the Zoe, aside from its amusingly compact dimension, and that's the fact that Renault has managed to squeeze an electric motor and impressively large battery pack under the bodywork.

While it’s a van that will remain almost exclusively within the city limits, the ability to cover 245 miles or so on a single charge means it's a viable option for all but the longest distance drivers. Rapid charging extends that usability further, and it works; a 300 miles journey was covered with barely a half-hour stop - just long enough to queue at Starbucks for a coffee before getting back into the van for the last leg. If even the Zoe's impressive range isn't quite enough for you, take a look through our top 10 longest range EVs of the year!

None of that capability affects the load capacity either although, as a car derived van, there are plenty of other things limiting space to carry your cargo.

The car derived nature means there’s one other significant benefit - it feels like a car to drive. If you’re spending a long time in stop-start urban traffic, that will pay dividends.


Performance & Drive

The 100hp electric motor in the front of the Zoe is up to the job of zipping around the city streets. It takes 11.4 seconds to reach 62mph, but it starts to run out of power before it reaches those heady heights - accelerating from 50 to 75mph, for example, takes a ponderous 9.3 seconds, which makes overtaking moves something that needs serious planning.

At the other end of the scale, it positively rockets off the line and reaches 30mph in under four seconds, which will catch a lot of other drivers by surprise. Being electric, all of the 225Nm of torque the motor provides is available immediately, so there’s no delay from wanting to go and actually going. That makes pulling out of junctions into traffic safer and easier.

Designed to be an electric vehicle from the outset, Renault has placed the battery pack nice and low in the van, which helps the handling. It’s no sports car, but the suspension is tuned nicely to ride over most bumps and imperfections. With a load on board, it’s remarkably comfortable and settled, helped by squishy tyres (there are no super-stylish alloy wheels with low-profile tyres here) and comfortable seats.

You do sit rather high up, as the battery pack that’s mounted underneath takes up a bit of space, but the driving position is comfortable and it aids visibility a little.


Running Costs

While it promises up to 245 miles, that’s likely to be optimistic. However, after a week’s motoring along motorways and city centres, frequently in freezing temperatures, the Zoe returned 3.6 miles per kWh. That translates to a 188-mile range. Stick to urban centres and you’ll do better, or drive harder across country and you’ll do worse, but it’s probably a reasonable expectation. We've got you covered if you're not quite sure what kWh and kW really mean.

Even at today’s crazy rates for electricity, that means you’ll be paying a little under £700 for 10,000 miles of driving, assuming you can charge at home. You’ll pay two to three times that or a similar diesel-powered vehicle. Need some more information about keeping down costs? Look no further than our guide all about EV charging. You can even read all about how solar panels can help.

However, if you can’t charge at home then the costs can crank up; commercial energy isn’t capped like residential electricity supplies, so that rate can soon increase. Charging on the public roads isn’t free either, with a rate of 40p/kWh being typical - some are cheaper some are vastly more expensive. This is why if you can charge at home, it's vital to pick your ideal charger.

However, you’ll avoid road tax charges, will escape any congestion and ULEZ fees (which can add up to £27.50 a day in London) and businesses can claim the lease payments as a tax-deductible expense, while VAT is reclaimable.

Servicing costs are also low - there are fewer moving parts and it’s even possible to select a driving mode that reduces reliance on the brakes, saving wear and tear there too - and it’s only required once a year or every 18,000 miles, depending on which occurs sooner. A three-year service plan is just £299, adding predictability to your costs, while any issues will be covered by a five-year warranty limited to 100,000 miles, so make sure you check out our servicing and maintenance packages.


Interior and Technology

Slide into the Zoe’s driving seat and you’ll never know you’re in a van. The cabin is identical to the passenger car version, which is a rather nice place to be after a significant upgrade a couple of years ago.

A 7.0-inch touchscreen sits in the middle of the dashboard, and that’s where you’ll find controls for most items. There’s a DAB radio included, as well as the usual connectivity options you’d expect to find. Pleasingly, there’s also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, so you can bring your own navigation system and banging tunes into the van.

You’ll also find climate control in place, with easy to use rotary dials for setting the cabin temperature, and there’s keyless entry and start which is a technology we shouldn’t need but it does make life easier.

The instrument binnacle houses a 10.0-inch digital screen that tells you all you need to know about what battery power you have left, how far you can go, what speed you’re doing, and all the other usual warnings and notifications you need. It’s not the clearest of user interfaces, but it does the job.

It’s all wrapped up in a dashboard that’s pleasant if unexciting. Gone are the days when electric cars needed to be wacky and futuristic, but Renault has taken the Zoe back to basics and, while it’s perfectly laid out and useable, it’s not particularly interesting.

The seats themselves are functional too, with recycled fabric upholstery that looks good, feels hard-wearing, and reinforces the van’s green credentials.

The bulkhead behind the seats reminds you this is, after all, a van. It restricts just how far back the seats can slide which was fine for me but could cause a problem for taller drivers. Despite its diminutive dimensions, you won’t struggle for knee or elbow room.


Payload and Practicality

When your van is only just over four metres long, you’re surely not going to expect a large payload area. And you’d be right but, despite its compact measurements, there’s ever so slightly more space than you would find in, say, a Fiesta Van.

How much? There’s exactly one cubic metre, which is 4% more than the Fiesta provides thanks mainly to the Zoe’s less raked roofline.

It’s possible to slide a load that’s 1,221mm long into the Zoe, as long as it fits through the rear tailgate. That’s 960mm wide, which limits the ultimate size of any cargo, although there’s a maximum internal width of 1,120mm. Get creative with small packages (which you can load in through the opening rear doors) and you can squeeze more in than you might imagine.

There’s a removable load cover included, although that’s really a glorified parcel shelf which cuts the capacity in half.

If it’s weight rather than volume that’s important, you’re limited to 457kg, which is around 70kg less than the Fiesta can manage.


Safety

The Renault Zoe passenger car was a five-star scorer under Euro NCAP’s safety regime, but that’s recently been reduced, and quite significantly. It now fails to score a single star.

So what’s changed? Euro NCAP’s tests are now more demanding than when the Zoe was originally launched back in 2014, and Renault has made some changes to the safety equipment in the Zoe.

Chief amongst these is a new side airbag that protects the occupant’s upper torso but doesn’t extend to protect the head. That showed up in a crash test that simulates sliding into a tree, where the crash test dummy’s head impacted the pole. It’s also been marked down for lack of safety technology, but Renault has boosted that since the result.

It now comes fitted with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and effective understeer control system in the stability control software, automatic lights and wipers, and cruise control with speed limiter, as well as airbags and other essentials. Parking sensors, a rear-view camera, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beam lights are options or included with the higher-spec model.


Options

Two trim levels are all you get with the Zoe van; Business and Business+. There’s not much to choose between them, but the Business+ does get front fog lights, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels and some extra safety equipment. There’s also a beefier stereo system with six speakers rather than just two, and built-in navigation, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability mean that’s not essential.

Once you’ve picked one of the eight colours available (only white if included at no extra cost) and the trim level you want, options are rather limited. Key options include a larger 9.3-inch infotainment centre and a winter pack that includes heated seats and steering wheel. The latter is something that’ll save a bit of battery power in colder months.

If you’re sticking with the entry-level model, you can also add the ability to rapid charge the battery at a suitable charge point. This cuts charging times from empty to 80% from around seven and a half hours to just over an hour. It’s included in the Business+ model but adds £875 to the lower Business model.


Rival Vans

Small car derived vans are few and far between, but it’s the Ford Fiesta that is the most obvious rival. Rather than being electric, the Ford is powered by a petrol engine so will still avoid any restrictions on diesel models that cities may introduce.

Cargo capacity on both is nearly identical, although the Zoe edges slightly ahead. However, the maximum payload is bigger on the Fiesta. Neither is exactly cavernous, though.

The Dacia Duster is based on a larger SUV and offers the options of four-wheel drive. Despite its extra size and the extra room in the cargo area you get because of that, payload limits are surprisingly low - you may be able to carry a heavier load in either of these smaller models.


Verdict

The Renault Zoe electric van fills a niche within a niche. In isolation, it's rather difficult to recommend, but if the limitations of the model fit your needs, it’s a thoroughly pleasant option.

It’s surprisingly capable of longer journeys and is a cinch to drive in urban areas. Rapid chagrin ability extends its usefulness too, although you’ll never need to do more than plug it in overnight if you’re cruising the city streets.

Thrillingly low running costs and a sense of style that’s missing from many other compact vehicles just add to its charm.

Verdict & Next Steps

Overall, the BMW i4 is a fantastic example of the future finally being here.

It handles well, is comfortable even on larger alloys and has lightning-quick acceleration with a familiar feel on the inside.

The infotainment system is on another level to anything that has come before it and is ahead of its nearest rivals.

It isn’t necessarily the most exciting car to drive, and we would still advise a petrol-powered 3 or 4-series for those who prioritise the driving experience. Plus, the lack of charging infrastructure means that the i4’s feat of exceeding the Tesla Model 3’s range is something of a dubious accolade.

Nevertheless, the i4 is just the first example of the sort of thing we can expect from BMW – and, no doubt, its premium rivals – in the not-too-distant future.

Where to next?

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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Renault Zoe Electric Van

**Correct as of 28/04/2022. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,752.11 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.

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