Editor's choice
1 Oct 19

First Drive Renault Zoé: improvement on many lEVels

When we tested the Zoe Z.E. 40 R90 last year, we (and others) were disappointed by the interior quality, the lack of a DC charging port and the meagre safety equipment. Has Renault taken this criticism to heart and raised the bar sufficiently high to fight off the new kids on the block, like the Corsa-e and e-208?

Six years after the launch of the first-gen Zoé, it was high time the European e-pioneer passed the torch to a successor. The 2017 model year had an improved 40kWh battery yielding nearly 280 km of WLTP range, but that was not enough for the Zoé to survive well into the 2020s. The competition has finally caught up and interestingly, it’s not Japan or Korea that Renault has to fear: Hyundai, Kia and Nissan play in a different league, whereas Toyota has yet to reveal its first electric city car.

The danger comes from its domestic rival, PSA. The Peugeot e-208 and the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa-e have made their (impressive) appearance and will try very hard to kick the Zoé out of the top three in Europe. Their USPs? A 50-kWh battery for 330 to 340km of WLTP range, the ability to charge DC at 100kW, a plethora of comfort, safety and connectivity features and an attractive price tag of roughly €26,000 excluding VAT. And those are just the rational arguments. The Corsa and 208 also look and feel a lot more mature than the outgoing Zoé. That’s why Renault urgently had to make amends.

Visibly and tangibly better

You would have expected Renault to have made more effort on the outside. The man in the street will find it difficult to tell a new Zoé from an old one unless they are parked next to one another. It’s a different world when you open the door, though. Inside you find a dashboard that finally matches the price tag of this car – if you pay extra for the 9.3” high-resolution tablet with connected services. It is intuitive to use and complements the 10-inch digital driver display, which now also projects the navigation map.

The materials used also exude more quality, even though they are largely made of recycled seatbelts, plastic bottles and fabric. Bravo! The seats seem to offer better support than before and the driving position is still comfortably high. The so-called e-Shifter - a fancy word for the "gear" selector - allows you to switch between Drive and Brake – the latter position increases the level of regenerative braking, without however going as far as the one-pedal driving feature Nissan introduced with the Leaf.

Dynamically better, but not necessarily safer

The new Zoé offers a more powerful e-motor, which now develops 99 kW and 245Nm of torque. The extra ponies make this 1.5-tonne Renault a lot zippier, without becoming a BMW i3. It is a smooth operator on every level. Renault has invested in extra soundproofing and re-engineered the suspension, much to the liking of those who occasionally like to take advantage of the low centre of gravity to accelerate out of long corners.    

Indeed, driving the new Zoé purveys a lot of fun. But what about the safety aspect so blatantly neglected by its predecessor?  We scrutinized the equipment list and found that incredibly, AEB is (still) not included – it’s not even available as an optional extra. Bye bye 5 Euro NCAP stars. The Zen trim level gives you access to lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition, the Intens adds blind spot warning. Point final. Clearly, Renault finds connectivity and infotainment more important than keeping pedestrians and cyclists out of harm’s way. The only “active’ safety system they can count on, is the humming sound this Zoé makes at low speeds.

Fast charging battery

The enhanced battery now holds 55kWh, 52kWh of which are effectively usable. That will get you between 350 and 400km from home, depending on the use case. On 200-odd kilometres of winding and occasionally steep Sardinian roads we averaged 13.5kWh/100km, which is reassuringly low. Things will definitely look different on motorways, where this Zoé is out of place – even more so because it cannot be had with adaptive cruise control.

As to the charging possibilities, the Renault Zoé is the fastest AC charging car on the market. It’s onboard 22kW charger means it can be topped up at a regular public charging station in less than 3 hours – provided that this station yields 22kW. By way of comparison: the Hyundai Kona is limited to just 7.2kW, whereas the Peugeot e-208 can handle 11kW, like most recent EVs on the market today. A welcome addition is the (on some markets optional) DC charging capacity – which the previous Zoé lacked. It is limited to 50kW (the Pug can take 100kW), but then again, that’s also the maximum output of the majority of today’s fast chargers.

 

 

Starting at €20,000

What Renault hasn’t changed is the possibility to either buy or rent the battery. The base price of roughly €20,000 excluding VAT (before discounts and premiums) seems very attractive, but indeed does not include the lithium ion cells. Renting them costs between roughly €60 and €100 per month, depending on the mileage you want. On a 5-year use cycle, that means you need to add at least €3,500 in rental costs. That’s half the purchase price of the  battery.

If you want to compare the Zoé with the entry-level Peugeot e-208 Active, you need to take the Zen trim. Battery included, the Zoé R135 ZE50 costs about €29,000 excluding VAT. The Peugeot is about €2,000 cheaper and includes AEB – plus a central armrest, which we really missed on the Zoé. In its defence, the Zoé does give you about 50km of extra range. Last but not least, the Zoé is readily available and Renault has a decade of EV experience. PSA still has to prove it can walk the talk.

PROS

  • Vastly improved look & feel, even with recycled materials
  • Digital dashboard, connectivity, car sharing feature
  • Low consumption, long range (350-400 km), 22kW AC charging

CONS

  • Deceptively cheap: battery not included
  • Mediocre safety equipment: no AEB, no adaptive cruise control
  • Discrete aesthetic evolution on the outside

 

 

Authored by: Dieter Quartier