The Renault Zoe has been a long time coming – on sale in France since 2012 and totalling a little over 33,000 sales since then.
Renault then updated the Zoe in October of 2016, introducing a bigger 41kWh battery that added range to the city electric vehicle. It was around a year later that Renault Australia officially confirmed that the Zoe would be sold in Australia.
I'm a fan of electric vehicles and wanted to get a better idea of how the French electric vehicle would cope with Australian roads, in addition to city and extended distance driving.
Let's kick off with the basics – the Zoe range starts from $47,490 (plus on-road costs) for the Life variant, while the top-specification Intens variant tested here is priced at $49,490 (plus on-road costs).
For that price, you're not getting a great deal of features. The top-specification Intens model comes with single-zone automatic climate control, passive key entry and start, electric windows, cruise control, rear parking sensors with reverse-view camera, power-folding door mirrors, automatic halogen headlights, DAB+ digital radio with auxiliary and Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation with smartphone connectivity and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Compared to the BMW i3, the Zoe is around the same size with measurements coming in at 4085mm long, 1730mm wide and 1562mm high. Cargo capacity is 338L with the second row in place, which expands to 1225L with the second row folded. It's a decent space and is surprisingly big for a car of this size.
Climb into the second row and you'll find it a cramped and fairly barren place. There's little knee or head room for taller passengers, and the floor sits quite high, which means your knees will sit in an odd position while you're in the second row. There's little storage space, no map pockets, and the doors are lined with hard plastic materials, which makes it a place for short-distance trips only.
Step forward to the front row and, while it's nicely presented, there's a lack of quality materials used throughout all touchpoints, making it feel like a great $15,000 hatchback, but an expensive $50,000 one. The doors are lined with hard plastic, there's nowhere to place your phone, and central to the cabin are hard-to-reach cupholders. The doors close with a hollow thud, and the centre console is a little flimsy and doesn't feel solidly fixed.
The centre of the cabin features a 7.0-inch R-Link infotainment system with a colour touchscreen and smartphone connectivity. It's a reasonable infotainment system, but is let down by clunky menus and hard-to-use navigation. The voice-recognition system is fairly useless and struggles with even basic voice commands in comparison to other vehicles with similar systems.
Ahead of the driver is a configurable LCD display that offers driving range information and battery charge state. It's nicely presented and uses a quick refresh rate, so there is little lag when accelerating or presenting new information on the screen.
Electric motivation comes in the form of a 41kWh battery pack powering a 68kW synchronous electric motor that produces 220Nm of torque, allowing the Zoe to accelerate from 0–100km/h in a leisurely 14.5 seconds, sending torque through the front wheels.
While that 0–100km/h figure may seem eternally slow, the 1480kg Zoe does the 0–60km/h dash in a much quicker fashion with acceleration tapering off from there to 100km/h, which makes it perfectly reasonable to drive in city driving conditions.
Renault claims a driving range of 300km (Renault refers to it as 'real-life range'). I wanted to put that figure to the test with a trip from my home in Melbourne to Geelong. The journey is around 90km door-to-door, and we left my home with a full charge and two passengers on board, with the automatic climate control set to 22 degrees.
The trip computer showed an available range of 300km as we left and hit the highway. Unlike internal combustion cars, electric cars hate highway driving because it's a constant draw of power from the batteries, with little or no chance to generate electricity through deceleration. As a result that real-life range dropped quickly, with a final range presenting as 140km for a 90km journey.
The highway drive gave us a chance to dwell on some of the equipment missing from this pricepoint. You won't find blind-spot detection, radar cruise control or autonomous emergency braking. At night time, the lack of headlight power will also immediately become obvious due to the lack of intensity on offer from the halogen headlights (even with high beam).
In and around the city, the Zoe has plenty of torque available almost instantly. It accelerates briskly, and is easy to park and manoeuvre around tight spaces. At low speeds it emits a humming sound for pedestrian protection, which is a handy feature given how quiet it is.
Catch the Zoe off-guard and it's possible to spin one of the front wheels with some steering input. This results in immediate torque reduction until the traction control settles and ramps torque output up again.
Steering feel is good, but the steering wheel feels too big for the car – just a minor complaint, but worth taking note of. Unlike some electric vehicles that bring on regenerative deceleration quite hard, the Zoe brings it on smoothly all the way down to a crawl, which makes it a fun job of easing off the throttle early to bring it to a stop without using the brakes.
Renault has done a good job with the ride. It uses a pseudo MacPherson-type suspension at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, while riding on 195mm wide, 55-profile tyres and 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inch alloy wheels optional). The ride is compliant and absorbs bumps with little complaint, but it can get a bit busy on continuous undulations and when fully loaded with passengers.
Renault offers a number of charging options for Zoe, but doesn't have a DC fast charging option. If you charge the car on a 10A, three-pin Type 2 plug, charging takes 19 hours at 10A. A home charger that runs on a single-phase circuit at 7kW reduces that time to around 6 hours, while the fastest option, a three-phase circuit can operate at up to 22kW, which reduces that time to two hours.
Renault offers a less-than-impressive three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for the vehicle, and a slightly longer five-year warranty for the battery system. Servicing occurs every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first) and costs $231 per service. Over a period of three years, the Zoe costs $693 to service.
One of the big benefits of owning an electric vehicle is the lack of 'regular' servicing required. Unlike an internal combustion car that relies on braking friction to slow down, the Zoe can use regenerative braking to not only slow the vehicle down, but also capture energy that would have otherwise been lost as heat within a braking system.
While the Renault Zoe fits the bill as an electric city vehicle, it falls well short of justifying its eye-watering price tag. The interior feels quite cheap and it lacks even the most basic of safety features now standard on entry-level, sub-$20,000 hatchbacks.
The Zoe will become largely insignificant, even irrelevant, when Nissan finally unveils pricing for the Leaf and Hyundai continues its EV rollout that began with the the Ioniq and will be followed by the Kona EV.
It's a car that should have been here well ahead of its competitors to establish a presence. It should also have been priced a little more realistically for early adopters to jump on board.