Renault Zoe first drive

Renault ZOE The less than viable sales so far of electric cars in the UK, just a few thousand units despite the Government’s £5,000 purchase discount and the millions Pounds they have poured into Nissan’s Leaf facility and their UK battery plant

plus financing the nationwide charging infrastructure to the tune of £37 million, but three recent developments could give sales a jump-start.


Firstly as of 1 July changes to the London Congestion Charge now means only the owners of the lowest or zero emission vehicles below 75g/km of CO2, will NOT have to pay the £10 a day charge. Even hybrids and low CO2 diesels do not comply so there are an estimated 20,000 drivers who were previously exempt now have to pay the Congestion Charge adding up to at least an extra £2,500 to their annual motoring costs.


Secondly with customers reluctant to buy electric cars due to their price and worryingly low driving range, especially in cold weather, BMW will enter the market this year with their i range. With a premium brand manufacturer entering the market this should give electric cars an image lift and perhaps promote confidence in their viability.


Thirdly POD-Point, the installer of charging points for electric vehicles, has used the current heatwave as a timely reminder that the nation’s 450,000 households with solar PV systems could use the electricity generated to provide miles and miles of free motoring. Of course PV system do not need sunshine to operate, any light works all the year round. Using the electricity generated through a PV system could take years off the payback time for solar installation especially as POD-Point, in association with the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles, will provide one of their vehicle charging points completely free of charge to households equipped with solar PV.


Renault ZOE POD-Point’s comparison cost saving figures, using a Nissan Leaf electric car versus a petrol powered one achieving 51mpg, shows that with a 10kw PV system over 34,000 miles an electric car owner could save £3,702 a year whereas a petrol car owner would spend £4,084 on petrol. At the other end of the scale 1kw PV system would save the owner covering 3,400 electric car miles £370 against a petrol cost of £408.


So Renault’s introduction of their ZOE electric powered supermini is very timely and a potential game-changer for their electric vehicle sales in the UK.


The ZOE joins Renault’s electric vehicle line up which is made up of the uniquely styled two-seat Twizy priced from £6,895, more conventional C-segment Fluence saloon costing £17,845 and the Kangoo ZE van priced a t£12,995 ex Vat. A Twizy Cargo van is coming too later this year priced at £6,241 ex Vat. These prices include the Government’s Plug-In vehicle grant.


Renault ZOE The five-door ZOE compares in size to the conventional Clio but underneath is a bespoke platform with pure electric powertrain. That uses a 65kw or 88hp electric motor and single speed gearbox driving the front wheels and it has electrically assisted steering and energy harnessing disc/ drum brakes.


ZOE comes with its own charging cable and can be topped up or recharged overnight to give a range between 60 and 90 miles depending on weather and use.


It is one of the few vehicles now qualifying for exclusion from the new tough London Congestion Charge which has hit hybrids and conventional petrol and diesel powered cars that were previously exempt or only carried a modest daily charge.


Fully charged and in the right conditions, the ZOE will reach 62mph from standstill in about 13.5 seconds and run to a maximum 84mph. That lively performance and reasonable range has been achieved because it was designed from the outset as pure electric model. It is comparatively lightweight at 1,468kg, has ultra low rolling resistance tyres and an on-board heat-pump to turn unwanted heat into energy which it can utilise.


There is room for five and the boot holds 338 to 1,225-litres so it’s quite a useful and practical design.


Renault UK product manager for ZE vehicles Ben Fletcher, said it is not only a practical car for many commuters who will save money on their motoring, but it also says a lot about the perceived image of the users.


He added, “ZOE is the first mainstream supermini which is electrically powered but which can hold its own against conventional diesel and petrol powered rivals. We know it will not appeal to everyone but it has a strong case for some users and our specialists in each dealership will sit down with a potential customer to discuss their requirements to ensure they are best off with a ZOE rather than, say, a Clio diesel or petrol model.”


The ZOE attracts the UK Government grant towards its cost so the three model range of Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens cost from £13,995 including the Government’s £5,000 grant. There is a four year, 100,000 miles warranty and a life time warranty for the lithium-ion battery as it is a rented unit.


Renault has drawn up a unique battery rental only proposition for ZOE, which removes a big unknown cost for users and costs from £70 per month over three years with 7,500 miles limit. Two out of the three major UK residual forecasting companies will also quote future values on the ZOE. Although the battery rental fee might seem high it equates to around the same as one tank-full of fuel for a Ford Fiesta 1.6 diesel. A free domestic Wall-Box charging point installed by British Gas is included in the price with every ZOE.

ZOE looks eye-catching but not eye-popping or quirky like its Twizy stablemate.


It’s easy to get into, fairly roomy in front but less so behind and the boot is suitable for a couple of cases or a lot of shopping bags at weekend. There is also reasonable oddments room throughout.


Starting is straightforward with a key-card but its silence is eerie and it moves off very smoothly when drive is selected and the only noise comes from the tyres crunching gravel or brushing tarmac. In town it can emit a warning sound below 18mph to alerts pedestrians.


There is no gearchange/clutch to delay progress or increase noise level, just push the accelerator and go. It pulls strongly thanks to the 200Nm (162lb ft) of torque available from just 200rpm and can cruise easily with main road traffic. Top speed is 84mph, but the faster you drive the shorter the driving range. The brake pedal effort sometimes feels odd and inconsistent as the system recharges the battery and the steering also felt slightly different to normal. It handles safely, rides slightly stiffly but still comfortably and it has good visibility for the driver and passengers.


We tried the ZOE in its Dynamique Intens level of specification priced at £15,195 after the £5,000 Government grant. The spec is really very good for that price and includes such items as TomTom navigation, Chameleon charger and cables, POD-Point home charging socket, climate control, cruise control, stability control, anti-lock braking, touch-screen multimedia, ZE Voice – the low speed warning noise for pedestrians, radio/CD, electric windows and mirrors, 15-inch wheels shod with low friction tyres with aero wheeltrims, tyre repair kit and a full range of airbags.


Driving range is the big issue for the majority of would-be electric car owners but commuters, the ideal target audience, rarely cover long daily journeys outside the scope of the ZOE. The charging time depending on the kw power level of the charging point, can take as little as half an hour to 80% charge the battery, most owners charge overnight at home or more and more people will now take the opportunity to charge up either at work if a point is available or at one of the ever-increasing Government financed public charging points. Some locations, mainly shopping centres/restaurants even offer free charging.


Renault ZOE Renault ZOE Renault ZOE Official figures say the ZOE will cover 130 miles on a full charge. Renault with a fair amount of honesty say in cold winter weather the range is around 60 miles on a full charge but in warmer weather the real-life range is around 90 miles.


Over a comparatively short 30 mile rural route we saw the available range drop only slightly from its initial 60miles projection. Over a conventional commuting day and providing you could top up or recharge the battery as necessary, the ZOE offers a real alternative to conventional superminis.


With the likes of the premium BMW brand entering the electric car market, such vehicles, backed by huge amounts of UK Government funds, will gain a much higher profile so perhaps it’s time to switch on to at least considering battery power.


MILESTONES. Renault ZOE Dynamique Intens 5-Door/5-Seat Hatchback. Price: £15,195 after the £5,000 Government grant, £70 monthly battery hire fee. Drivetrain: 88hp electric motor. 162lb ft of torque from 200rpm, 22kw lithium-ion battery, gearbox with one forward speed and reverse. Performance: 84mpg, zero to 62mph 13.5 seconds, driving range on a full charge 130miles ( real-life 60 to 93 miles depending on cold/hot weather), normal charging time zero to 100% 1-4 hours depending on the capacity of the charging point, currently over 1,700 UK charging points. Taxes: No road tax/no BIK company car tax. Insurance group: 16E. Dimensions /capacities: L 4,084mm, H 1,562mm, W 1,730mm, boot/load space 338 to 1,225-litres. Warranty: 4-years/100,000 miles, battery lifetime warranty as it’s a rented item. For: Low cost to run with zero taxes, easy to drive, comfortable, affordable purchase cost, practical design. Against: Firm ride with road noise intrusion, £70 monthly battery rental up to 7,500 annual miles and up to £93 per month for 12,000 miles, unproven long-term future for electric vehicles.  Miles Better News Agency

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