Cars

Published on August 16th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

25

Renault Zoe Test Drive Review (Exclusive)

August 16th, 2015 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

I finally got to test drive a Renault Zoe. Two years after trying out the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Up!, Smart Electric Drive, and Renault Twizy, I got my hands on the popular electric car that barely escaped my grasp a few times at EVS27 in Barcelona. For the most part, it was better than I expected it would be. However, there were some downsides to the vehicle that I wasn’t prepared for as well.

Renault Zoe 1 Renault Zoe 4

Renault Zoe Acceleration

First of all, let’s talk about the big dog — acceleration. Instant torque and the wonderful acceleration that comes with it is the first or second biggest consumer advantage of electric cars for most electric car drivers. Like I said, it has been a couple of years since I drove all of those electric cars listed above. The biggest thing that caught my attention at the time was the wonderful, quick acceleration those vehicles had, and also how smooth and quiet that acceleration was. But I was starting to wonder recently if my perception had been warped, or if I was flowering it up too much in my memory.

I recently (in the past two months or so) rented a Mercedes A180, a Mercedes C180, and a BMW 320i. They were much nicer than the other gasmobiles I rented in the past year or so, so I was starting to wonder if they perhaps compared more favorably to affordable electrics like the Leaf and Zoe. I also drove the Tesla P85D a few months ago, which completely messed me up and warped my perception of reality and “what a car is.” Then, about one month ago, I test drove a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Expecting to love the acceleration like I had when I first drove the electric cars listed above, I was a little let down, as it wasn’t as thrilling as before. So I was thinking, “Is my memory warped? Were those electric cars as nice as I think I remember?”

Indeed, I did remember correctly. Electric drive rocks. I love it, and I can’t imagine anyone not loving it. Test driving the Renault Zoe, I could quickly tell that it totally kicked the butts of the Mercedes A180, Mercedes C180, and BMW 320i… and every other gasmobile I’ve ever driven. Of course, it didn’t compare to the Tesla P85D (at a price ~$100,000 lower, how could it?), but it was much better than those three gasmobiles, the Toyota Auris Hybrid I recently drove, and also the two plug-in hybrids I’ve driven — the Outlander PHEV and the Audi A3 e-tron (which I test drove about an hour after the Zoe — review coming soon, along with more on the difference between 100% electrics and PHEVs).

Bottom line: The Zoe’s acceleration was great. I didn’t keep my eye on the speedometer, but the high-quality acceleration did taper off at some point, which I think was around 30 mph. Again, it’s no P85D, but it’s often just that first 30 mph or so where quick acceleration comes in handy. We don’t typically drive on 0–60 mph race tracks.

Interior

One thing that impressed me was the great visibility, particularly in the front. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to phrase this and talk about the specifics of such matters, but the bottom line is that there was a lot of glass and I could see around the car really well, which I (and many others) hugely appreciate. It makes driving much less stressful… and much safer.

Both in the front and the back, you feel like you are sitting up quite higher, somewhat like in a crossover/CUV. The Renault sales guy pointed out that the battery sits underneath the seats, and thus bumps the humans inside up a bit.

Overall, that left for quite a lot of space, yet another thing I was impressed with. There was a lot of space the in front, what looked like a ton of space in the trunk, and more space in the back seat than I would have expected. At about 6’1″, I was able to sit in the back seat comfortably, with extra room (not at all like on my Ryanair flight to the UK). It doesn’t look that way in the pictures, but I’ll share them anyway:

Renault Zoe 6 Renault Zoe 2 Renault Zoe 3


 

One place where Renault clearly cut some costs was in the interior materials. They are not what you’d find in a $50,000 car, but this certainly isn’t a $50,000 car. The starting price is £13,445 (~$21,000). But I’ll get to pricing matters in a minute.

The steering wheel was not my favorite — it wasn’t like the thick ones I had in the Mercedes A180, Mercedes C180, BMW 320i, or Tesla Model S — but it was quite okay. Certainly good enough, I’d say.

The Zoe also had a backup camera, much like the one in the Nissan Leaf or BMW i3. I don’t care for many of the extras they throw in many higher-end cars these days, but I like me a good backup camera, so it was nice to see that in this super affordable car.

One more thing I found to be a really nice surprise was the comfort of the seat. I don’t know if my body was built weird, if my body design simply doesn’t match many driving seats, or what, but my lower back often gets very tired after driving for a bit. My back was quite tired from activities I was doing in the morning that put a lot of strain on it, and I was very pleasantly surprised out how comfy the seat was. For my body, it was clearly better than the Mercedes A180 I had rented as well as the slightly better Audi A3 e-tron’s seat. That’s a really important factor for me, so it just made me love the Zoe that much more.

Renault Zoe 5

Price

The sales guy I talked with noted that about 99% of customers got a lease (or what they call a PCP) rather the purchasing the car. Renault knocked £5,000 off the starting price with that option (but not with the purchase option). After the £5,000 UK EV grant, that brought the ~£20,000 model I was looking at down to ~£10,000 — based on mileage figures I pulled out of the air.

The thing is, you lease the battery as well, and the price of that depends on how many miles you intend to drive. (Go over your mileage, on average across the term of your lease, and you end up paying much more per mile — just like what happens if you use your phone beyond the minutes in your monthly phone plan.) Of course, the monthly payments are also lower if you put more money down up front, but either way, the total I came to was a bit less than £10,000 (+ ~£70–90 a month for the battery) after the UK and Renault incentives. The car sells pretty well in the UK. I doesn’t match the Leaf, however.

Customer Service

Aside from the car, I was curious how well the salesman would sell the car. He said almost right off the bat that he wasn’t super knowledgeable about the car, and that I probably knew more since I was an electric car fan (I told him that off the bat too). However, I found that he knew quite a lot, and certainly more than me about the three Zoe trims they sell. He seemed to know the answer of every question I had.

He was proactive when showing me the car too, had a positive attitude about it, and didn’t try to steer me elsewhere. He didn’t come across as an EV fanatic, unfortunately, but he maintained a positive attitude about the car and its competitiveness throughout. I found out from him that the Zoe actually sells quite well there. This small salon moves about 8–9 of them out each month. It would have been cool if he was really into the technology, but as things go, he was more positive and knowledgable than I expected, so that’s a + for Renault.

Aesthetics

Visual taste is, of course, a highly subjective matter — despite many people talking about how “beautiful” or “ugly” cars are as if it’s a matter of fact. Personally, I love how the Zoe looks. The sales guy and I talked a bit, via my prompting, about what made buyers choose a Zoe over a Leaf, and it turned out the look was a big reason. I actually like the look of the Leaf quite a bit, but I do prefer the Zoe.

Zoe vs Leaf?

Other benefits over the Leaf, by the way, were reportedly a bit more range in real-world driving, and that the Zoe came with a single charging cable that provided various charging options whereas you’d have to get an extra charging cable for the Leaf to have the same capability.

I’d have to check out a Leaf again, and see pricing in the UK, to make a decision between these two vehicle. At the moment, though, I’m actually leaning toward the Zoe.


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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



  • Ronald Brakels

    The higher seating is probably a good selling point as a lot of elderly people have difficulty getting in and out of cars and higher seats can be a big help.

  • Larmion

    A very thorough review of the driving experience, as usual. What’s missing (imo) is more detail about cabin tech (is the infotainment system any good, for example?) and about safety features.

    I’m in the market for a (PH)EV, but I couldn’t care less about acceleration and torque. A car is something that should get me from A to B safely and reasonably comfortably. For people like me, your review falls slightly short. But perhaps I’m simply not the intended audience…

    • The infotainment systems in EVs seem to match the price very well. It’s basic, but offers what anyone would actually *need* in my opinion. Very similar to the Leaf and VW e-Up! Not at the level of the BMW i3. Obviously not close to the Model S. But better than the Audi A3 e-tron (as well as the Smart ED and Renault Twizy). I’d have to have more time with it to explore all of the options there… but I imagine the website shows all of that quite well. I imagine you’d like to do so yourself anyway, though.

      • Larmion

        Yeah, I’ll definately be taking a test drive in one soon – even though I’m currently leaning towards an eGolf.

        I meant that comment more as a general suggestion for future reviews. Most car reviewers dedicate a bit more space to things like interior, safety and tech gadgets, whereas your reviews are centered squarely on the driving experience.

        That’s good, but there are people who buy an EV for reasons other than the crazy acceleration. Your reviews might convince a broader audience of EV awesomeness if you would point out more that they are still pretty damn good cars even if you don’t intend to drag race at your local traffic lights.

        • 1) That’s one of the EVs I haven’t driven yet, but looks like a good option. Which country?

          2) Thanks. I’m taking it as such and will try to spend more time on it. Much easier to do in a long-term test drive, and when I tell the salesman the reasoning for taking a bunch of pics, but should make it a standard no matter what. I guess these features haven’t impressed me nor let me down… except in the case of the i3 (I liked its infotainment stuff quite a lot) and Model S, of course. But if they are important to some people, I should spend more time on them no matter the model…

          Thanks!

          • Larmion

            Belgium. The eGolf is a bit pricey, but I find it by far the best looking EV (except the Model S of course) and it’s very well equipped.

            I was also looking at the e-UP, which is enough car for me. The problem is that my husband wants what he calls a ‘real car’ (read: traditional styling and at least the size of a Golf). He’s not too keen on the Zoe either, for the same reason.

            The Ford Focus EV , which we both found good looking and quite well-equipped, was also briefly on the list. The problem is that it’s very hard to find and insanely expensive. Same thing for the Volt by the way, which GM rebadged as ‘Opel Ampera’ and charges way too much for…

          • I also considered a new Ford Focus EV, and solicited bids from 5 local dealers. They all came in around US$28,000 except one, which offered US$23,995! With our federal tax credit (which I would be able to use) and the Texas rebate, this would actually have been slightly LESS expensive than the 2012 gently used Leaf SL that I eventually bought. Alas, the Focus EV lacks a fast charger, and I (correctly) decided I would need that given the size of the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area.

            But if you like the Focus and car buying in Belgium is similar to the USA experience, you may want to shop several dealers and see if one is highly motivated to give you a good deal. You may be as surprised as I was. 🙂

          • Larmion

            Ford charges 40 000 euros for the most basic version of the Focus here – that’s 45 000 USD! Small wonder that sales are abysmally low. For reference, the gasoline Focus here in Belgium starts at about 21 000 USD.

            I’m still not sure what Ford and GM are playing at. Their hybrid and electric vehicle offerings in Europe are priced much higher than in the US, whereas their gas cars sell for petty much the same price after accounting for differences in tax.

            Oh well. if they they are that desperate not to sell any cars, I’d be happy to oblige them 😉

          • I really don’t get it either. If someone here can explain, I’d love to learn more. I mean, are they basically just satisfying country regulations but trying to not sell them? Are they just offering them in very limited numbers and at high prices… just because?

          • Interesting. But yeah, the Focus EV is a much better deal in the US. Didn’t realize it didn’t have a fast charger. Deal-breaker there, eh?

          • Yeah, the Zoe & e-Up! definitely use cheaper materials and have more basic interiors. I liked the e-Up!’s 4 regenerative braking modes, but I think the e-Golf might have those as well? I really liked the great visibility in the Zoe, and the surprisingly comfy seats when it comes to my lower back (hard to find), but I can understand going for a slightly more upscale model. I mean, I’m still going between the Leaf (sensible), Model S (best in so many ways), and i3 (compromise between the two).

            Planning to test out the Focus EV and Volt in October. Can’t wait. But yeah, very unfortunate that their makers are not making them a better option in Europe. Much more competitive in the US.

            Whatever you do, though, don’t get a PHEV! 😀 A3 e-tron review coming soon…. 😛

    • Adski

      For what it is worth ten months later, the sound on the infotainment system on the Dynamique models is very, very good. And no engine noise of course.

  • JamesWimberley

    Why are Renault (which owns Nissan) selling another car in the same market segment as the Leaf? Is it smaller, or just assembled in France?

    • Damien Vigneron

      It is smaller, about 50cm shorter, and Renault does not sell it everywhere (not in the US, the brand is not present).

      • Right. And while they are very similar, I’d see them appealing to different people — different flavors, you might say.

    • Larmion

      Renault does not own Nissan. The two companies have a loose ‘strategic alliance’ cemented only by cross-shareholding. Nissan is considerably larger than Renault by the way.

      As for the question why they released two rather similar models: no idea.

      • The sales guy also basically said Renault owned Nissan while I was there. 😀

        • Larmion

          Renault owns 43,4% of voting shares in Nissan. That’s enough for de facto control, but it’s hardly outright ownership.

  • don’t take for granted that visibility either! 😀

    where’d you buy it? UK?

  • “the Zoe came with a single charging cable that provided various charging options”

    Could you please elaborate on these? Does the Zoe you’re considering still offer 43 kW 3Ø AC fast charging? A little reading indicates no CHAdeMO or CSS DC fast charging option – correct? Is fast charging a consideration for you when comparing the Zoe to the Leaf?

    • It’s complicated, and I think best is for an individual to check out the trims available to them. There were 3 trims available there — a basic one, one with fast-charging capability, and one without it but with a bit more range. I’d personally go with the fast-charging one, i think, but the sales guy said most people preferred getting more range (and apparently didn’t feel the need for fast-charging capability). It is hard to know where to draw the line in such a review, as it gets very individual, so I’d just recommend anyone with the option of getting a Zoe look into the options in their area.

      (Also note that these trims have changed from the original Zoe options. So if you are looking at a used Zoe, there are differences again.)

      • Adski

        The Zoe Rapid Charge is still available in the UK at a £500 premium (though the bit of kit on the car that allows rapid charge is apparently worth a lot more than that which might be one reason they are not over-selling them). It has the older power train and battery though mileage difference isn’t that great and not really a factor if you mostly charge at home every night. From what I’ve seen the newer non-Rapid Charge unit does appear to have a bit more mileage in colder weather. In the summer it seems less noticeable. I’m getting a Rapid Charge as I need to do a semi-regular 200 mile motorway round trip ferrying my kid to and from University for three years.

  • wattleberry

    The test is particularly interesting as there are now plenty of used buys in Europe. Being a hatchback is a useful feature and there looks to be a decent space behind the rear seats. How did the ride compare with the Leaf as that was nothing special on a short trial run In one?

    • I think the drive quality is basically the same. Though, iirc, the regenerative braking was stronger/better on the Leaf. It’s been 2 years since I drove a Leaf, so I need to get my hands on one soon to make a clear comparison, but I slightly prefer the Zoe personally (bcs of the benefits I outlined in the article).

  • Bubba Nicholson

    I read Zachary Shahan’s Clean Technica daily finding it fascinating.

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