First Drive: Convincing Renault Zoe Will Become Best-Seller

By · March 26, 2013

The electric Renault Zoe

The electric Renault Zoe

The all-electric Renault Zoe doesn't look impressive, but this small car should quickly become the best-selling electric car in Europe. Compared to a Nissan LEAF, it's about a foot shorter, with the big difference in the back seat. Six footers don't comfortably fit. But the front seats are good and the cargo space in back is excellent, larger than a LEAF.

Small Renault cars have always looked nice inside and out, and the Zoe doesn't disappoint here. This is a stylish small car. Young urbanites will love it. Everything looks fresh and modern, especially inside, with brighter colors than in any Asian cars which are so often a boring grey.

The electric Renault Zoe

The electric Renault Zoe

Starting it up is easy. The battery's state of charge lights up the dashboard as soon as the driver opens the door. The bad thing is that once the car has initialized itself, the SOC disappears and you can't get it back. What you get instead is a computer estimation of the remaining range according to your driving.

There is a work-around. If you want to know the battery state of charge, you stop the car, you switch it off, you switch it back on, and you'll get SOC. It's French engineering at its worst.

Nonetheless, the Zoe is very convincing. A 60-kW motor is more than enough, and so is the 22 kWh battery (usable capacity). It has more range than a LEAF, about 95 miles with my driving, when I couldn't get more than 83 miles from the LEAF. Top speed is meager at 83 miles per hour, but I took it to 80 mph and there was no sign the car was near its limit. Driving was engineered not to shock, and there's hardly any regen when the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. The Zoe feels a lot like a gas car, minus the noise of an engine. It has a noise-making device to warn pedestrians below 20 mph, but it's not automatic, the driver must turn it on.

The electric Renault Zoe

The electric Renault Zoe

The design and features of the Zoe were created to be familiar. It feels so conventional that after only a few minutes at the wheel, I had forgotten it was electric. The braking is different, but Renault's engineers worked hard to hide what's going on. If you divide the braking process in ten steps, from the moment the driver's foot touch the brake pedal till the car comes to a full stop, only the first and last steps are performed by the brakes. The eight middle steps are the work of the motor which regenerates energy. The driver can fool the system with several repeated braking moves, but otherwise you don't feel it. The engineers did a really good job. It works and you got a lot of energy back. This is French engineering at its best.

Finally, there's the Chameleon charger which I believe is the best on the market today. The owner can choose among various home equipment options. Budget buyers can get the basic 3.3-kW wallbox. But for those willing to spend a bit more, there's AC 3-phase 11-kW wallbox. The cord given with the car accepts up to 22 kW.

The only thing wrong is that the Renault Zoe is sold without its battery. The car costs €20,700 ($26,623) with France's 19.6% sales tax included, and one must add €79 ($102) each month to rent the battery. This rent will have to be paid forever. If the Zoe fails, it will be because of this payment scheme.

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