It is easy to regard fully electric cars as city cars. Granted, the Renault Zoe does not look very big, but it’s too easy to dismiss it as a city car.
(For the Dutch car website www.dagelijksauto.nl Renault Netherlands supplied us with a new Renault Zoe R135 First Edition for a week. We used it as a daily driver so we could find out what it was like. Luckily the car came with a charging cable to we could plug it in at home)
This is already the third generation of the Renault Zoe, which has always been a fully electric car. It has come a long way: the first Zoe in 2013 was a weird looking car with a limited range. The new one certainly looks a lot more grown-up, with a redesigned front and back. With a battery pack of 52 kWh the new Zoe has a range of 245 miles (395 kilometer) according to WLTP. This is no longer a weird electric car, but a serious alternative for a lot of people.
Looking at it from a distance, the Renault Zoe does not look very big. The amount of space inside surprised us though. Apparently leaving out a combustion engine and a gear box frees up a lot of space inside a car. The high ceiling enhances the feeling of space. In the back there’s not much room for full-grown adults though: the rear bench is high, so long adults will hit the roof. Leg room is also limited. However, compared to competitors with similar outside dimensions, which are common in Europe, the Zoe does certainly not have less room, probably more.
Behind the collapsible rear bench is a spacious boot. Under the trunk floor is also storage, where loading cables can be stored. There is no front trunk. The interior has some nifty storage as well, like an open storage box on top of the glove compartment.
The third generation Renault Zoe has a brand new interior. Behind the leather steering wheel is a completely digital dashboard. The center console is dominated by a large verticle 9,3 inch screen (or 7 inches for the lower trims) with EasyLink, the successor of R-Link. The screen is clear and easy to read. Luckily the most used functions can be controlled with physical buttons, so you are not dependant of the screen. Below a large row of buttons are three large knobs for the heating and ventilation. The audio controls are hidden on a seperate stalk on the steering wheel.
Also the gear changer is completely new. In completely French Renault logic the gear changer is moved forward to go backward, and backward to go forward. Next to the normal “D” for Drive is a B-mode, where the car automatically brakes when lifting the go-pedal (gas pedal it is not). This allows for one-pedal-driving. In city driving, this works very well.
The seating position behind the wheel is quite high. This makes visibility excellent and the lower edge of the side window is at a nice height. Because traffic lights in Europe are on your side of the intersection, you do need to move your hear forward to see the lights if you are the first in line, though. Because of the seating position the Renault Zoe never feels like a sporty car. The seats are nice but are quity flat, so they do not give a lot of support if you decide to take a corner at speed.
While the Zoe does not feel sporty, it does not mean it is a slow car. The electric engine, that produces 135hp, is enough for nice quick driving. Given the acceleration of an electric car, it means you will always be the first one off the line at a traffic light. The acceleration is always there, at any speed, but it is clear the Renault Zoe is not made for hooning. In eco-mode, the possibility to launch forward is limited even more.
Driving the Renault Zoe is very relaxing: the electric engine produces no sound and causes no vibrations. There is only the sound of the wind and the tires. Exciting it is not, but it makes for a relaxed drive. If your speed drops below 18mph (30kmh) the Zoe produces a humming sound to warn people on the street. This sound is hilarious and makes the Zoe sound like a space ship.
Because we got the Renault Zoe in the middle of European winter, we were able to test the range in less than optimal conditions. The maximum range probably is no problem in summer time, but what will it do in winter driving, with the heating on? And then on the highway, where the speeds are higher and no energy is generated from braking?
To test this, we entered morning traffic for a regular drive to work, consisting of 28 miles of highway. The temperature was about 44 degrees F (7 degrees C) and we maintained the highway speed of 62 mph (100kmh). We turned up the heat to 68 degrees F (20 C) and turned on the seat and steering wheel heating. This drive took twice as much range as the distance we had driven. This means our range was cut in half.
This however did not mean we were in a constant fear of running out of electricity. The range of the Renault Zoe is more than enough for daily drives and we could go several days without charging. Not many people will drive more than 200 miles daily, and even than half an hour (a.k.a. a cup of coffee) at a quick charger is enough to continue. Charging is very easy via the front of the car and can be done at a fast charger, a regular charger or even a regular wall outlet (which we used).
The Renault Zoe proved itself as a regular car. It is not correct to dismiss it as merely a city car. Of course highway driving will take more electricity, but a regular car will also use more gas in similar conditions. The Renault Zoe is a very logical alternative for a gas powered car: it is very comfortable and practical. Plugging it in at the end of the day is less work than pulling up for gas at a gas station.
Compared to a regular car, there are two main considerations: firstly, you need a place where you can charge the car, preferably at home. Secondly, there is the price. A Renault Zoe costs about twice as much as a similar gas powered car. Of course electricity is cheaper than gas and also maintaining an electric car is cheaper, but it is still a lot of money. If these two things are no limitation for you, than the Renault Zoe is a perfect alternative for daily driving.