What Car? says...
The Renault Zoe sets out to resolve two of the most common complaints about electric cars: the high price and the often feeble range between charges.
This five-door hatchback can do 200 miles on a full charge in warm weather, costs less to buy than many rivals and comes with plenty of standard equipment, including a wall-mounted 7kW charger installed at your home.
It's been around for almost a decade, but Renault has made regular improvements over the years, upping the interior quality and infotainment gadgetry, lengthening the range between charges and boosting performance.
You can pay a bit extra for the ability to use rapid CCS public charging points, which can charge the Zoe from 10-80% in just under an hour. A 22kW public charger will give you a full charge in around three hours, while it'll take about 8.5 hours for a full charge using a typical wall box at home.
The Renault Zoe's main rivals are the similar-sized Electric Fiat 500, the Honda e, the Mini Electric and the Peugeot e-208, as well as the larger but closely priced MG4. So, how does the Zoe stack up against those alternatives in the areas likely to matter most to electric car buyers? Over the next few pages we'll tell you everything you could possibly want to know.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
One of the great benefits of electric cars is that they have just one gear, so smooth, nippy acceleration is on tap the instant you squeeze the accelerator pedal. That slightly eerie, uninterrupted stream of power is what makes the Renault Zoe relaxing but also surprisingly enjoyable to drive around town.
A 134bhp electric motor drives the front wheels, giving a 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds. Plenty of rivals – including the MG4, the Mini Electric and the Peugeot e-208 – will get you up to motorway speeds in less time.
The Zoe turns into corners keenly enough, helped by light and reasonably precise steering, and there’s plenty of grip spread evenly front to rear. There's more body lean through bends than there is in the electric Fiat 500 and the Mini, but it handles more tidily than the Vauxhall Corsa Electric.
Frustratingly, though, the Zoe's grabby brakes make it difficult to slow your progress smoothly. The regenerative braking system, which recovers energy that would otherwise be wasted when slowing down, is to blame for that.
As well as working when you press the brake pedal, the system is also engaged to some degree when you lift off the accelerator pedal. If the mode selector is set to 'D', the slowing effect is quite gentle, but in 'B' it becomes more marked. After a bit of practice, using 'B' mode will allow you to do large parts of your journey without using the brake pedal at all.
Ride comfort is reasonable at low speeds, with broken road surfaces absorbed effectively enough – even potholes don't send a nasty jolt through to your backside. Overall, it's less fractious than the firmer Mini Electric, and the Fiat 500 has choppier ride. If comfort is a top priority, the MG4 and Peugeot e-208 are even more agreeable.
Compared with most petrol and diesel rivals, the Zoe is pretty quiet. There's no combustion engine chugging away under the bonnet, of course – just a subtle whine from the electric motor and a strange whirring at low speeds to warn pedestrians of its presence. Still, by electric car standards, the Zoe isn't actually that refined, with more wind and road noise than in the e-208.
It does beat most rivals for range, though. The official figures suggest between 223 to 239 miles on a full charge is possible (it varies depending on the trim level), but even Renault acknowledges that those numbers are very optimistic.
In our own independent tests on a warm July day, the Zoe managed 208 miles on a charge. That’s almost twice as far as the Honda e, the Mini Electric and the Peugeot e-208, but the MG4 Long Range beat all of them.
The Zoe's range will be significantly shorter in the winter (low temperatures aren't good for battery performance). You should still get 160-170 miles from a charge, unless you're thrashing it down a motorway for extended periods.
The interior layout, fit and finish
You sit quite high up in the Renault Zoe, and the fact that the driver's seat can't be lowered might prove an annoyance if you're tall. There’s enough adjustment in the seat and steering wheel to allow most people to get comfortable, though.
The view out of the front is largely unobstructed, but the rear pillars block some of the view when you’re looking back over your shoulder. Happily, all versions come with a rear-view camera to help with parking.
Although it’s a small and fairly cheap electric car the Zoe does a decent job of masking that with a smart-looking and reasonably high quality interior, although you will notice a few drab plastics and some flimsy-feeling air vents. Overall, it's not a patch on the Mazda MX-30 or Mini Electric for interior quality.
Both trim levels (Techno and Iconic) come with a 9.3in touchscreen infotainment system that’s located in the middle of the dashboard. It's reasonably intuitive to use, thanks to a logical layout and sharp graphics. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring come as standard.
The air conditioning controls are worth a mention, too. They're a combination of physical buttons and dials, so you don't have to stab away at a touchscreen just to tweak the interior temperature, as you do in the Peugeot e-208.
All trims get a crisp 10.0in digital display behind the steering wheel, rather than conventional instrument dials. You can set it to show a cute graphic of a leaf that grows and shrinks depending on how efficiently you’re driving.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s plenty of space in the front of the Renault Zoe for tall adults to get comfy, and storage is generous too. There's a convenient tray below the touchscreen to stow your phone, a couple of small cupholders and a shallow cubby for pens and other oddments above the glovebox.
All models have five doors, making access to the rear seats fairly easy. Once inside, shorter adults will be more than comfortable, but taller folk will find themselves a bit squeezed for head room and, if there’s a long-legged person sitting in front, knee room too. The Zoe beats the electric Fiat 500, the Mini Electric and the Peugeot e-208 for rear passenger space, but if you often need to put adults in the back, you'd be better off with the MG4.
Mind you, there's an annoyingly big lip at the boot entrance, and when you fold down the rear seatbacks (which split 60/40), you're left with a big step in the floor of the extended load bay.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Zoe is priced roughly in line with the Mini Electric, the Nissan Leaf and the Vauxhall Corsa Electric. If you're buying on PCP finance, Renault usually offers cheaper monthly repayments than those rivals, although you can expect to pay even less per month for an MG4.
Of the two trim levels, we reckon entry-level Techno makes the more sense. You get 16in alloy wheels, automatic climate control, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, along with all of the infotainment gadgetry.
Stepping up to Iconic trim adds 17in alloys and a CCS socket (optional on Techno trim) for faster charging, but also pushes up the price significantly. With the CCS option, the Zoe's battery can be topped up from 10-80% in just under an hour at speeds of up to 50kW. A 22kW Type 2 charger will take about three hours, while a 7kW home wall box will take about 8.5 hours.
Renault as a brand came 18th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, with the Zoe itself coming mid table in the electric car class. Every new Renault comes with a five-year warranty. There’s no mileage limit for the first two years, but a 100,000-mile limit applies thereafter, and the main battery is covered by a separate eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Sadly, the Zoe scored a shocking zero stars for safety when it was assessed by Euro NCAP in 2021. Disappointingly, automatic emergency braking (AEB) isn't available on any trim level, leading the the safety organisation to castigate Renault for its decision to 'debase' safety.
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Officially, the Zoe can do up to 239 miles on a full charge (it varies slightly depending on which trim level you go for), but in our summer real range tests carried out on a warm July day, it managed 208 miles. Expect 160-170 in winter.
There's only one power choice and two trim levels, and we reckon cheaper Techno makes the most sense. It comes with plenty of kit, although you have to pay extra for the ability to use CCS public charging points (Iconic trim gets that as standard).