• Electric drivetrain; compliant ride; battery range; practicality; potentially low entry price
  • Still new technology destined for rapid evolution; Limited public charging stations in Australia

OUR RATING
7 / 10



Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

The Renault Zoe is a full electric-vehicle with no internal combustion engine. This means that at no time are there any fossil fuels going into a tank, because it doesn’t have one, and emissions aren’t expelled from an exhaust pipe … because it doesn’t have one.

It may sound futuristic and far-fetched but the reality is somewhat ironic. Back in the very early 1900s, a third of vehicles on the road were powered by electricity, which is the highest portion of any time in automotive history.

Fast-forward 113 years and it’s the revenge of the electric car. Long forgotten thanks to the abundance of fossil fuel and its commercial and practical benefits, has the time come for electric cars to be taken seriously? Will they once again claim 33 percent market share?

The Nissan-Renault alliance seems to think so, having poured over $5 billion worth of investment into electric vehicles. The alliance has hedged its bets on electric vehicles being the future of mobility and although that is yet to be realised in countries such as Australia, the rest of the world is showing very early positive signs.

In Lisbon, Portugal, where we arrived for the international launch of the Renault Zoe, there were 700+ public fast charging stations already built. In the European continent there are now 20,000 public charging stations, 50 precent of which were built in 2012. In the whole of Australia, we have less than half of Lisbon’s public charging stations and most of those are located at car dealers. This is one of many reasons the Zoe is not destined for our market until 2015.

Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

The Renault Zoe is by no means the first mass-produced electric vehicle, with the likes of Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and Nissan’s LEAF having been available in Australia for some time. New entrants, such as the Holden Volt, mean that electric cars are no longer just a passing fad, but a reality that is only getting better by the day. In saying that, only 47 private buyers bought an electric car in Australia last year with a further 206 being bought by governments and fleets.

As with any new technology, market acceptance and technical maturity takes time and at the moment, the Zoe is leading the pack. The all-electric Renault has the longest range of any mass produced electric car, coming in at an official 210km in the European test cycle, which means it has a real world range of about 150km.

To test this, Renault handed us the keys to a Zoe at Lisbon airport and we embarked on a traffic-infested city and freeway loop that measured nearly 80km. Previously we’ve had to abandon an electric car on the side of the road that promised 120km of real world usage but couldn’t even manage 70km – so we hoped not for a repeat.

Zoe is powered by a 65kW electric motor that produces a healthy 220Nm of torque. It goes from 0-50km/h in four seconds and, given it’s powered by an electric motor, there’s no need for the revs to build up so acceleration is instantaneous. The LG-made 22kWh lithium ion battery pack (22 separate modules) weighs 290kg and sits below the floor of the Zoe for better weight distribution efficiency.

Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

Behind the wheel the Zoe is just like any other car. There’s nothing ‘out-there’ about it. You put it into D for drive and away it goes. If you didn’t know it was electric, you’d just think it was an ultra quiet petrol-powered vehicle.

What gives it away is the full digital display that shows you how many kilometres you have left before you need to recharge. It even highlights charging station locations (then programs them into the GPS) when you start to get a little low on juice. You can even use your smartphone to remotely pre-program the Zoe to begin charging at a certain time at night or to cool down or warm up the car before you get in; that way it can use the power from the grid to get the cabin to the right temperature without using its batteries.

It will indicate how your driving style is affecting battery depletion and try to provide some tips to improve your range (which Renault says can extend the battery cycle by up to 18 percent). A dozen graphic diagrams also show how battery power is being used and harnessed (via regenerative braking).

Around the hilly and poorly surfaced streets of Lison, the Zoe performed surprisingly well. The ride is compliant, thanks to the extra weight and the stiffer suspension (compared to Clio) while the steering, though weightless, is precise and suitable for a light car application.

Power and torque delivery is better than most cars of its size, meaning it gets up and goes really quickly. There’s instant torque from the get-go and acceleration only tapers past 120km/h. That’s okay, because it tops out at 135km/h anyway…

Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

We found it easy to manoeuvre and park – even in a city as crowded as Lisbon – and found the satellite navigation system to be one of the better ones we’ve tested, with almost seamless recalculations and spot on accuracy.

At speeds below 30km/h the Zoe makes a sound (from a single speaker placed in the engine bay) to warn pedestrians and other motorists of its presence. In fact, it has three distinct tracks (pure, glam and sport) depending on driving style, but they all reminded us of cheap sound effects from a sci-fi movie (probably one starring Christian Slater).

Regardless of the tones, this yet-to-be-regulated feature didn’t seem to do its job very well. On many occasions we slowly crept up behind unsuspecting pedestrians (okay, bit of exaggeration there) who for the most part were genuinely amazed that they didn’t hear our Zoe coming. So it’s not very loud and if you do somehow happen to hear it, you’re more likely to look up and search for that UFO floating around than look behind you.

After more than 50km of typically battery-sapping hard driving, the Zoe still had a 79km range remaining. For once, the claimed mileage seems accurate. Driving more sedately, we managed to achieve the last 30km of our route with the range only going down by 11km. In the end, we reached our half waypoint after almost 80km of driving, and still had about 68km left in the tank.

These figures are important because over 80 percent of Australians drive less than 100km a day, which means you can simply drive the Zoe to and from work as well as the supermarket, come home, plug it in to your wall charger overnight and drive away the next day. There’s really no need for fast-charging stations in public places. Renault happily admits that 90 percent of charging for its electric cars occurs at home.

Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

The main reasons charging stations exist is to extend EVs’ range outside the boundaries of where they can be charged and address what many refer to as ‘range-anxiety’ – the fear that you will run of charge and be stuck on the side of the road somewhere. You can liken the thought to your iPhone, which also uses Lithium ion batteries, dying midway through a busy workday day – a breakdown moment in itself for some people.

We stopped for a 45-minute lunch in central Lisbon and in that time, our Zoe was plugged into a fast charging station that saw it back to life well before we were done. These charging stations are ideal to bring the battery to about 80 percent capacity (100km), but aren’t suitable for a full charge (due to battery limitations). In reality, your home charging station will do the job from empty to full in about 6-9 hours, so you’d have no issues doing it overnight.

The Renault Zoe’s battery system can adapt to pretty much whatever power is coming in. From 3kW to 43kW, it doesn’t seem to matter. The Zoe has undergone more than 850,000km of testing (including in Australia). It has had its battery put underwater, been set on fire, nails have been hammered into the battery pack (yes, we’re serious) and despite all this has posed no greater risk than a conventional car. It’s certainly not going to electrocute you.

The car is built in France and in its home market is available for just €13,700 ($17,500) after a healthy €7,000 ($9,000) government subsidy. Renault sells the Zoe but leases the battery (roughly $100 per month) to bring the entry cost down. The battery contract covers the battery’s health and Renault will replace any underperforming battery for the life of the car.

Renault Zoe Review
Renault Zoe Review

Overall the Renault Zoe joins the Nissan LEAF as the two main EVs that have real world practical applications. Neither are suitable as a primary vehicle but make perfect sense as a second car or city runabout.


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Renault Zoe Review
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  • par3182

    …and still had about 68km left in the tank.

    You’re going to have to come up with a new expression.

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

      Good point :-) – how about 68km left in the ..uh, cells?

      • Zaccy16

        Were so used to saying “how much is left in the tank!”

  • interior is cräp!

    //

    • horsie

      the idea is to make electric cars affordable. not waste money on an interior. 

  • Gibbut

    new front and back on an old yaris much?

  • Shabu

    Do they have to stick the power lead right in her nose… looks painful…

  • Able

    Looks fantastic, especially the grey car with the bigger wheels. If Renault could do a petrol/diesel version and release it here now, and then bring in the electric model when our infrastructure improves, I’d be very happy. It looks infinitely better than the Fluence too!

  • F1orce

    Something about electric cars just doesn’t warrent universal acceptance

    Perhaps they just never were meant to be..

    • Matt

      That doesn’t matter. TVs aren’t used by everyone – so should we not worry about them? :)

      Same way they won’t be making an electric truck anytime soon.

      It’s only for a target market, everyday average people

  • Douglas9305

    Definitely on the right track!

  • Aus_poppa

    We will probably look back at this car as being the effective start of the revolution. A practical size – pretty much a Clio with a thin disguise – and therefore much the same size and interior room as its Polo/Fiesta/Corsa rivals this is a usable electric car, with remarkably few limitations, especially when used as a city car. Leasing the battery at around A$100 a month and the low cost of electric charges is very little different to running a petrol car.

    Fast forward a year or so , and with the increased range which will come, and we have the start of serious replacement of internal combustion cars.

  • AndrewF

    ” Leasing the battery at around A$100 a month and the low cost of electric
    charges is very little different to running a petrol car.” … and that’s where the problem lies. Why should I adopt a new solution that offers no advantage over the existing one? Because it’s “green”? Consumer fatigue is well and truly setting in when it comes to ‘being green’ – in the current economic climate being green matters less than being cost effective to most people.

    • Cars

      Yes, because it’s green. Why else would you do it? Because you are environmentally conscious and cannot afford the full price up front. This is a clever strategy by Renault to help lots of people buy an EV that otherwise could not. In turn this will help drive costs down. In turn this will drive prices down. Most motorists would spend more than $100 a month running their cars anyway.
      A big problem for EVs is to fight the misconceptions surrounding them. You know public transport isn’t a convenient solution for most people yet millions still use it. This will be superior to public transpost in many regards. Clearly it will not suit everyone. Hopefully in due course most people will discover it is ideal for them, at least as a second car in 2 car families.

      • Cars

         Sorry about the repeat. Just had a seniors moment…..

    • Tom

      How about – oil supplies aren’t going to last forever, electricity is much cheaper than petrol per kilowatt hour of energy, and regardless of your beliefs or lack thereof regarding anthropogenic global warming, there is no doubt that vehicle emissions have numerous negative impacts upon both the environment and the health of those exposed to them.

  • Matt

    I’m confused. Instead of using oil, we burn coal instead? Not trying to be smart, not sure of the legitimate benefits.

    I thought especially in summer, our power grid was already stretched in some parts.
    Burning coal can’t be any greener than petrol?
    Unless its “make cars for now, and maybe in 30 years well know how to get cheaper electricity from clean sources”

    • Yku

       Burning coal is significantly better (well “less worse” is a better way to put it) than burning oil. Otherwise we’d just oil power for everything like running your household appliances.
      Also, there is enough coal to last us for centuries and its incredibly cheap. The same can’t be said for oil.
      Most charging would be done overnight when there is a oversupply of electricity and taking advantage of the half price “off peak” prices – the as a typical household hot water system does.
      Independent studies show coal sourced electricity is far cleaner to power electric cars than a comparable ICE car. There are other “studies” funded by various oil concerns which say otherwise however…

    • Cars

       It is only part of the bigger picture. Oil is limited. We absolutely need another alternative for transport. We could just wait till our roads are full of dead cars that are useless because their owners can no longer afford oil, OR we can be proactive and provide transport alternatives to the inevitable oil crisis now.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ann.urch.58 Ann Urch

        its is more easier & more cost effective to deal with the pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in one location, i.e. the power station, then at millions of units on the road, some of which will still be running around with > 20 year old anti-pollution gear, that is in all likelihood not well serviced.

    • Tom

      The other comments already touched upon the point that it is much easier to control emissions at one source than thousands. I would also add that power plants are generally located away from major population centres, which limits the extent to which people are exposed to harmful emissions from fossil fuels. Additionally, there are cleaner alternatives to coal, you can choose to buy green power if it bothers you.

  • Aus_poppa

    We don’t have to drive electric cars for “green”reasons, although we should, but think of the savings to the nation if we consume less of something which, increasingly, is an imported product.

    • AndrewF

       Imagine a salesperson knocking on your door: they want to convince you to switch your phone, say, from Optus to Telstra, and their sales pitch? “It will give you the same features as your existing plan, and it will cost only a little bit more!” … would that convince you? Because that is exactly the pitch we are getting from the proponents of EVs. I’m all for EV, but I’m not going to get excited about them becoming sort of equal to petrol (and you need to do some pretty creative math to make them so). To gain acceptance in the market they need to be *better*, not just similar. If they can’t do that, then they are simply not ready.

      • Tom

         Same as any new technology – it will take time to evolve. Compare the Tesla Model S to the GM EV1 and you will see how far the technology has evolved. The first plasma TVs were terrible and tremendously expensive – but they quickly improved with widespread investment.

  • Karl Sass

    The black one with the big(er?) wheels looks bad-arse! 
    Ultimate stealth mobile. 
    I think this is the way forward with electric cars, just rent the battery. Pity about the pricing.

    • Zaccy16

      i agree, in black it looks pretty good, as electric cars go this one is decent, batterys still have their limitations though!

  • Resident

    This really is a case of forward thinking.

    Given the battery is $100/month – that works out at $23/week plus charge costs.

    Sounds pretty good to me, especially given you can do up to 100km/day whilst charging the vehicle at home overnight. And that is peak hour driving. Theoretically that means 700km/week is achieveable. Not to mention that I worked in an industry where I did plenty of inner-city driving, easily doing 500km in peak hour or streets litterred with speed humps.

    I think if people want to break down the cost of electricity vs petrol you really need to ask, “where do we stop?”. Sure electricity is produced with coal, but fuel has many other issues too. You need ships to transport it. You need trucks to truck it. These all have emissions released into the ozone too. Then once in the vehicle they’re then burned and again released into our ozone. But agreed that Electricity also needs the infrastructure. We need to build it. It needs extra funding and support if electric vehicles takes off and the climate keeps getting hotter requiring people to also use more air conditioning etc.

    An interesting future for sure.

    But I for one applaud Renault for thinking about a simple EV for the masses. $26,500 plus battery hire doesn’t sound like too bad a deal either. That still makes the vehicle $30,100 over a 3 year period.

  • F1orce

    The average electricity bill around my area is about $800

    Most people I know are paying over $1000

    I’m no expert, but wouldn’t the batteries of EVs need lots of electricity?

    • Karl Sass

      On a per kilometre basis, an electric car is significantly cheaper to run than virtually an ICE vehicle (not including upfront costs obviously). If a Volt uses roughly 19.5kWh/100km (something like an iMiev would use less) and electricity at 20c/kWh it works out to $3.80/100km to run. 
      To put that in perspective, if petrol is $1.49/L, it’s the equivalent of running a car that uses 2.55L/100km.

      • mo

        It gets even better if you get an off peak tariff. 

        • Karl Sass

          Very true, I was just being conservative.

    • Norm

      That’s correct. Your no expert.

  • Phil

    $100 a month for battery rental, cheaper than feeding a horse. Smells much better. Easier to steer. Doesn’t need to be reshod every fortnight. Could be a market for it. In France. Where they have good public transport to places it takes far too long to reach on horseback. Here, not likely.

    Allow shared registration for electric commuter vehicles, I’m in. But if you have to pay full rego, insurance etc for a car that requires you to own another just for trips over 130km, it has no chance.

  • Cars

    Two words – “Peak oil”.
    This is the most realistic cause of any future armagedon. Oil makes it possible to feed high populations in cities (fertilisers & farm machinery). Oil makes it possible for us to carry on our lives with the convenience we have become accustomed. Our futures are absolutely destined to change because we cannot indefinately consume oil as we currently do. The only viable solution is going to involve electricity and lots of it. Whether the best technology is battery cars, hydrogen or otherwise it will still demand lots of power generation and a distribution network. If the automotive giants do not take a lead in this, the outcome will be more wars and more povery as Nations fight over dwindling supplies. This is recently become clearly evident in Asia with China, Japan and the Philipines (among others) squabbling over potentially rich reserves of oil and gas in the China Sea.
    While I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, it’s hard to assume they are all wrong when we are talking big oil. Consequently it will be very interesting to see how the electric car is adopted by society and what obstacles become evident if it does start taking pride of place in automotive sales figures. In any case, this is a long way off. The oil cartels will play a delicate balancing act to preserve Terminal Gate pricing. They want people to remain dependant on their supplies. If the prices spike, people will buy EVs.  Once people adapt to them and realise their limitations were not so bad, many will be wondering why we were so worried about them.

  • Norm

    Dismissal of EVs as a purely a “green” exercise is lazy. 

    If a review describes a car as economical that’s just good right? If a car is quiet – that’s usually in the pros column?If it has plenty of zip from stand still does a reviewer say …hmmm…zippy…that’s so green?Apparently if these attributes are in an EV it’s all an expensive waste of time?People have got so used to the god awful racket that traffic makes. Entire walls get built around suburbs to keep the racket out but that’s civilised and those EVs are just a bunch of green.EV uptake has been weak. Too expensive and for reasons unknown – silly lookin’. [Not that being too expensive stopped people buying dreadful first gen flat screen TVs by the millions]Zoe is a decent looking – fuel and space efficient vehicle that would suit a great percentage of urban commuters.

    The love affair with the car runs deep. Who doesn’t love the rumble of a big ol’ motor in their favourite car. I miss my beloved Kingswoods. 

    Maybe that’s what’s missing – romance. Now where’s my horse ‘n buggy?

  • LeStori

    A trip from where I live in Melbourne (southern about 30 kms from the City Centre and still in the middle of the suburbs) to Melbourne Airport is 120 KMs return (on the limit of useability). If you travelled from Frankston to Melbourne Airport (still in Melbourne’s Suburbs) it is around 160 km return . This puts the car into perspective. Whilst ‘most’ of us live in Cities in Australia, the Cities are so large that this car could not do return trip from one side of Melbourne to the other without needing a refill which would take a lot more more than 10 minutes at the refueling station. An emergence trip to my parents is 600 kms (The length of the UK and I do not even leave the the  State of Victoria) …Now that would be an expedition.   “Dr Livingstone I presume….”
    Yes this car has promise as a local shopping trolley here i OZ, but for that it is extemely expensive.

    • Karl Sass

      Electric vehicles are only suitable as a second car at the moment. Although a range extender like the Volt or similar could be used as a primary vehicle.

      • Cars

        No, EVs are not suitable for you. Lots of people will be able to live their lives just like they do now while driving an EV.
        People should not assume everyone has the same motoring requirements as they do.

        • Karl Sass

          Yes I agree, I didn’t mean for all people. I was just pointing out that even most inner urban dwellers occasionally drive further than the current EV range, so the range extender comes into play. Full EV would be ideal as a second car for the vast majority of people. 

    • Cars

      Not everyone needs to drive into the city every day. And even of those that do, many will live closer to the city than you do.

  • Ivo Aroso

    don’t forget about the maintenance costs of EVs….errr, their absence, that is!

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