Living with Renault Zoe simply electric

Renault Zoe is a smart-looking all-electric purpose-built supermini.

Renault Zoe is a smart-looking all-electric purpose-built supermini. - Credit: Renault

Renault's Zoe was designed from the outset as a full electric value supermini and that makes it more attractive to buyers, says Iain Dooley of the Press Association.

With every new electric car being launched you could be forgiven for thinking we are getting closer to an environmentalist's dream of carbon-free motoring. Of course, there's still the dirty little secret that the electricity used to charge the cars has yet to be generated entirely from rainbows, but with each new arrival comes fewer and fewer everyday compromises.

A prime example of this is Renault's Zoe, an electric alternative to the likes of its maker's own Clio supermini. Cars like the Zoe herald the introduction of products designed from the outset as full electric vehicles, and not modified existing cars complete with all the inherent compromises.

We've seen most of this before with Nissan's similarly-sized Leaf, although the Japanese company's offering is pitched at more affluent buyers. The Zoe's interior might not be as plush as the Leaf's but the upside is a price tag closer to that of the Clio – if you want to generate mass-market appeal you need to focus your attention on the buyers of Clios, Ford Fiesta and the like.

Visually, the Zoe is as sensible as they come and, in truth, puts some of its engine-powered rivals to shame in the looks department. Inside, the light and airy cabin is a welcome attribute. Clearly influenced by the latest-generation Clio, the Zoe's main controls and displays offer no-fuss motoring.

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Then there's the driving and ownership experience – the downfall of so many electric cars in recent years.

The Zoe drives very much like a conventional supermini with an automatic gearbox. Acceleration from rest is brisk, the overall experience a smooth one, with modest acceleration available instantly for the occasional burst of speed needed to maintain pace with rush-hour traffic. Predictably the car feels perfectly at home around town – all in all, a good effort.

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The potentially thorny subject of living with and charging electric cars is dealt with neatly by the Zoe as the charging hardware is stored in the car's easily accessible nose, while the charge time can be reduced to just a few hours if you opt for a domestic wall box to supplement the ability to take power from a conventional outlet.

Officially the Zoe's range is around 130 miles, but even Renault admits the real-world figure will likely be lower depending on driver behaviour and outside temperature – the latter can influence range when it's very cold. That said, around 80 miles should be achievable even without resorting to turning off the air-con or radio. And, realistically, the daily commutes of buyers in the market for a Zoe are likely to be modest compared to those of a motorway-munching company car driver, removing any serious range anxiety concerns.

As far as the current crop of electric cars go, the Zoe appears to be one of the most conventional in the way it looks, drives and integrates into your life. The car's price tag is attractive, although to get down to such a figure Renault has separated the battery from the car in the overall financial equation.

Average mileage drivers will pay an all-inclusive monthly charge of £70 to lease the battery, with that figure rising or failing slightly if you decide to rack up greater or fewer miles respectively. Along with this worry-free charge there's also the prospect of modest regular running and servicing costs. It's expected that major component wear – brakes, suspension for example – will easily be less than for a conventional car, while the zero-rated road tax should please you as much as the presence of a generous government grant to take the sting out of the purchase price.

While there's little any car-maker can do to hurry along the expansion of the public charging network, making its products more appealing should go a long way to increasing the take-up of such vehicles. In turn, this is believed to be the best way to encourage that expansion.

That the Zoe delivers a cost-effective, easy-to-live-with and aesthetically-pleasing proposition could be the shot in the arm advocates of electric motoring are looking for.

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