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The design

  • Electric-powered supermini concept
  • Maximum range of 100 miles
  • On sale 2012, from 12, 000 with grant
Words ByWhat Car? Staff

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Renault was taken to court a few months ago by a couple of girls called Zoe. Apparently, they believed that if Renault was to use the name Zoe for its new electric car, theyd be subjected to a lifetime of comments such as and we quote Can I see your airbags? and Can I shine your bumper?. Well, Renault won, and this is the car.

Its a fully electric, Clio-sized supermini with a range of up to 100 miles. Its still in the concept stages, but it will definitely go into production and youll be able to buy one in mid-2012. Better still, the final car wont lose much of this ones va-va-voom, and itll cost about the same as a mid-spec Ford Fiesta. Who said electric cars couldnt be desirable? Not us!

The design
The Zoes teardrop profile is dominated by whats probably best described as its friendly face. The sweeping headlights blend seamlessly into the grille, and the nose looks unusually clean because fewer air intakes are needed than on a petrol or diesel car. Its the first time weve used this new front end on a car thats going into production, and were getting some great feedback, says Axel Breun, Renaults design director of concept and show cars. It proves Renault is getting back to its best at building emotive cars.

Remember the previous-shape Mgane? Well, the Zoe is vaguely similar round the back, albeit curvier and more fluid.

The concept is 90% ready for production, and Renault describes it as an exaggerated version of the Zoe youll be able to buy in 18 months. The final car which will be unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in September will be 5-7cm shorter and narrower, but Renault assures us the basic look will be left alone.

Thats not too tricky a promise to keep, because this isnt an outlandish concept with gull-wing doors. Its essentially a normal-looking supermini, which is something Renault sees as very important. It knows a big chunk of the car-buying public already has reservations about buying an electric car, and doesnt want people to have to get their heads around something that looks like an iPod on wheels.

There are some futuristic features on this concept, but most will make way for more humdrum alternatives. Youll notice there are no door handles, for example. The door pops open when you simply stroke a metal square thats surrounded by squiggles of light. Very clever, but expensive and not practical. Conventional door handles will be the order of the day on the final production car.

The same goes for the lights. The LED units on the concept car have a halo around them, which flashes orange when youre indicating and glows blue when youre not. The final car may have LED daytime running lights, but the head- and tail-lights will be conventional.

Other changes?
Other minor exterior changes will include larger door mirrors to meet legislation and smaller wheels. The 19-inch alloys fitted to the concept look great, but 17-inch wheels are more practical.

The Zoe will be near enough identical in size to the current Clio after the miniaturisation process its about to undergo, but Axel Breun says it doesnt offer a preview of Renaults next supermini: The next Clio will obviously share one or two design features with the Zoe such as this new front end but it will be very different overall, he says.

Renault is keen for a more cohesive look across its range, though. Simon Luque, deputy programme director of Zoe, says: We want anyone who sees one of our cars to immediately know its a Renault, but we dont want to fall into the trap of, say, Audi where you have to study every model carefully to work out if youre looking at an A4, A6, or an A8.