Zoe, the Cute Affordable Little French Electric Car

By · March 20, 2012

La Renault Zoe, une voiture électrique française

The Renault Zoe is a French-built EV.

There are already two electric models in the Renault lineup, but neither are very interesting. They are electrified versions of gas cars. The Zoe isn't. This is a clean sheet design, the first real electric car from the French brand, fully designed with the European driver in mind. Renault expects it to be a hit, and it has built production capacity to go with that ambition. The factory in Flins, just West of Paris, can build 150,000 each year. The battery will be built there too, starting next year, while the motor will come from the Cleon factory, further West, to make the Zoe a true French car, a rare feat these days.

The Renault Zoe's interior

The Renault Zoe's interior

The Zoe was unveiled in Geneva, with instant success thanks to its cuteness. Many people criticized the Nissan LEAF because of its unoriginal design, but nobody will say that about the Zoe. Renault has been a leader for decades in designing small cars, and this model matches the company's history. The Zoe looks good from every angle, and it was even nicer to discover the interior with its fantastic sky blue seats. It's always awful at a large motor show to see hundreds of cars with their interior a boring grey or a dull beige. Let's have more interior with bright colors. The dashboard was not as nice. It doesn't look automotive. There's a big touch screen in the middle that looks like a smartphone, and in some ways, it is one. Renault says it is an "integrated and connected multimedia system," and users will be able to download apps for it at the R-Link store. The Zoe is the first car to get it, but it will also come to its gasoline models. Of course, it has several specific features for the electric car, like showing the car's operating radius with a map of all charging stations (depending on country), as well as their real time availability. That may sound nice, but it may prove superficial for a while. It's important for a car to connect with its environment—but the most important is the wheels connect to the road, and how the driver connects to the driving experience via the steering wheel.

Carlos Ghosn introducing the Renault Zoe in Geneva

Carlos Ghosn introducing the Renault Zoe in Geneva

The Zoe is front-wheel drive. Its motor gives 65 kW and 162 lbs-ft of torque. Top speed is 84 mph. This is not a car for the autobahn, but it'll be perfect for everyday driving, with a 130 miles range according to the European calculation methods. Renault concedes that real-world range will vary, and that it could go as low as 62 miles if the air conditioning is used to the max. But for many drivers, the normal range value of about 130 miles is real, and can even be bettered. Some guys last year, in an electric Renault Fluence went hypermiling, and they achieved 20 percent more range than the official value. The Zoe has a 22 kWh battery pack, and Renault explains that it has gained a lot with improved regenerative braking compared to its other EVs. The manufacturer hasn't revealed the Zoe's weight but length is a modest 161 inches, so lightness is expected. Compared to a Nissan LEAF, there's nearly as much room in front, and trunk space is equivalent. Only the back seat is significantly smaller, but it'll be fine for kids.

The Zoe's price is €20,700—about US $26,500 at today's exchange rate. Not exactly cheap, but a Honda Insight costs €22,500 in France. With the French government giving a €5,000 incentive for buying an EV, price is down to €15,700 (or US $20,700). That's two thirds of an Insight. That sounds good to me! The only issue is that this price doesn't include the battery. The battery is rented at a price that varies with mileage and contract's length. The monthly fee is €79, about a hundred US bucks, for a 3 year deal, driving 7,767 miles per year. Still sounds damn good.

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