The Renault Zoe is designed to solve one of the biggest problems associated with pure-electric cars – cost. They might be cheap to run, but they’re certainly not cheap to buy, with rivals such as the bigger Nissan Leaf costing nearly £15,000 more.
The Clio-sized Zoe is priced from £17,983, which falls to just £13,995 after the Government’s electric car grant.
However, it’s not a done deal yet. In order to achieve such a low purchase price, buyers will have to lease the car's lithium-ion batteries – adding a minimum of £70 per month to the cost of running the car. This covers you for use of the battery for 36 months and up to 7500 miles per year, and adds £2520 to the three-year costs of running the Zoe.
There are various other contracts available with higher mileage allowances, and it means that Renault will replace the battery for free if it breaks or drops to less than 75% of its as-new performance.
Even with the battery costs included, the Renault Zoe seems to be one of the most appealing electric cars out there. As well as being the most affordable way into a practical electric car, it’s got a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating and a claimed 130-mile range, although 90 miles is a more realistic figure.
Using its 'Chameleon Charger' technology, the Zoe can be fully charged in less than one hour when using a 43kW fast charger, although standard charging from a domestic socket will still take between six and nine hours.
What’s the 2013 Renault Zoe like to drive?
Very easy. One of the great benefits of electric cars is the lack of any gears, which means a smooth, progressive power delivery.
This slightly eerie, uninterrupted stream of power is matched to light and predictable steering, making the Zoe relaxing yet fun around town.
Ride comfort is great at lower speeds; even broken surfaces are absorbed effectively and with little suspension thump. However, the Zoe is less composed on faster roads, where ruts and potholes send the car juddering and skipping over the surface.
At least the handling is more than acceptable; the Zoe turns in to corners well and has plenty of grip. True, the soft suspension does mean there’s plenty of body lean, but the Zoe never feels unstable or disconcerting.
Refinement is excellent, with little of the whine that can be generated by some electric cars. Road and wind noise is well suppressed, although still noticeable – particularly at higher speeds – because of the lack of engine noise.
To aid safety, the Zoe emits a whirring sound at low speeds (there are three tones to choose from) to warn pedestrians of its approach. Fortunately, the noise is barely audible in the cabin.
The only big frustration with the Zoe is its brake responses. The initial bite is overly sensitive, then there’s substantial resistance that requires lots of pressure to stop the car with any urgency. It threatens to ruin an otherwise hassle-free motoring experience.
What’s the 2013 Renault Zoe like inside?
Even entry-level Expression cars get climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a touch-screen infotainment and navigation system.
The large, colour touch-screen is easy to use and looks great in the glossy, upright centre console that serves as a focal point for the dashboard. That said, there are some cheap-feeling plastics elsewhere, particularly around the door handles and the substantial manual handbrake lever.
You sit high, and the shortage of height adjustment will irritate some taller drivers, but there’s enough room and seat movement for most to get comfortable in the light and airy cabin.
Passengers in the back will be a bit squeezed for legroom if there’s a taller adult in the front, but access is easy thanks to the standard five-door layout, and kids will be perfectly comfortable even on longer journeys.
The Renault Zoe is cleverly packaged to include a substantial 338-litre boot, which can be extended to 1225 litres if you fold the solid rear bench forward.
Should I buy one?
If you’re sold on the prospect of an electric car for regular use, then yes; the Zoe is the best option available at the moment. It’s a great supermini with an electric motor, rather than a car that is defined and restricted by its zero-emissions mantra.
Whether it’s a better choice than one of the super-economical diesel superminis (including Renault’s own Clio) that are available for similar money and without the range limitations and monthly contract is a decision that has to come down to individual lifestyle and priorities.
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