Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 First Drive
Renault's new Zoe Z.E. 40 promises the greatest range of any mainstream EV on the market today. With an official range of up to 250 miles depending on model, only Tesla's line-up can beat that range figure, but they cost far more than twice the amount of the little Renault. Next Green Car got behind the wheel of the new longer-range EV to see how it performs on a cold and misty winter's morning in the UK.
Review by Chris Lilly
We'll start with the biggest and most significant change to the Zoe - the battery. Previous models were equipped with a 22 kWh battery which is good for an official range of 149 miles on a single charge. The new version now packs a 41 kWh battery with a quoted range of 250 miles. The previous 22 kWh model is still available in one specification, but it is the Zoe Z.E. 40 with almost double the battery capacity that is the big news and the model being pushed.
The extra range has been achieved by 'chemical wizardry' according to the presentation from Renault's PR team, but essentially the engineers have made a battery with greater energy density through tweaking and improving the materials used. All of this means that the extra capacity battery is the same physical size, so it fits in the Zoe without the need for costly re-engineering.
Other changes include a new top-of-the-range trim level Signature Nav, which includes leather upholstery, bronze highlights inside, rear reversing camera, new alloy wheel design, and Bose stereo. All models get slight design tweaks inside and out, though you will be hard pushed to list them.
Charging has changed only in the sense that it now takes longer to top up the battery. Available in both rapid charge-capable 230 mile specification, and non-rapid 250 mile trim, the Zoe Z.E. 40 will take varying amounts of time to charge. The 250 mile model tested can connect to a 43kW rapid charger, but will only be charged from 0-80% in one hour and 40 minutes. A 7kW home charger - which comes free with a new Zoe Z.E. 40 - will complete a full charge in a little under seven and a half hours. The 230 mile model cuts rapid charging time to just over one hour, but increases the 7kW charge time by an hour. This is compared to the one hour rapid charge, and four hour 7kW charge offered by the 22kWh model.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The Renault Zoe was a fun car to drive, and incredibly easy to get behind the wheel of and get going quickly. The new Zoe Z.E. 40 is no different in terms of driving dynamics, with a decent turn of speed thanks to the 68kW (92hp) electric motor under the bonnet. The car's relative light weight means that power is plenty for the drivers of the supermini, and will comfortably both potter around town or sit at motorway speeds.
The handling is light and ideally suited to urban driving. It gets heavier at higher speeds when out of town, though you could never describe the Zoe as a true 'driver's' car. Spirited driving is not what the Renault was designed for though, and the Zoe performs as you expect a supermini should, with an agile and nippy nature to the handling and performance.
The car's brake energy regeneration system is very good too, recapturing a lot of the energy normally lost under deceleration. Although I prefer the adjustable systems found on some rivals - whether that is simply a 'B' function, or further degrees of regeneration as found in the Hyundai Ioniq - it does make the Zoe simpler to drive without one, which will appeal to some buyers.
WHAT'S IT LIKE INSIDE?
If you've had a nose around a previous Renault Zoe, there will be no surprise with the new version. Essentially it's exactly the same and very normal - in a good way. The Zoe has 'electric' touches to hint at its plug-in nature, but otherwise the Zoe looks like a standard supermini's interior which will help new EV drivers get used to the changes in driving requirements. The dash in the car tested was trimmed in black plastic, but had the blue interior option touch pack too, which lifts what can be a particularly dark cabin with flashes of electric blue.
There is a surprising amount of space inside for occupants, with four adults accommodated without fuss, and a family having no problems using the Zoe as a regular runabout. Leg space might be a little restricted for large adults in the back with tall drivers in front, but not uncomfortably so. Children and shopping can both be bundled inside with space to spare, and the seats are comfortable though a little lacking in lateral support. When getting into the driver's seat I automatically reached for the height adjustment lever, before remembering that there wasn't one. You sit high up in the Zoe which some will love - I prefer a lower seating position - but it does give you a good view out of the Renault and visibility is not bad at all.
Levels of equipment are good if not class-leading. The touchscreen system is easy to use but trumped by some conventionally powered rivals in size and usability. Controls are easy to find and intuitive to use, with materials and build quality good but not great, let down only on a few sections of the cabin made from hard and cheaper feeling plastic. Load space is excellent for the size of car. However, opening the boot reveals a lip that is both quite high and rather tighter than the wide tailgate would lead you to expect.
WHAT'S THE RANGE LIKE?
Renault is one of the best companies for quoting real-world EV range, with the French firm very honest about the difference between the headline NEDC figure, and what's actually likely to be possible on normal roads in normal weather. Although the model tested has an official range of 250 miles, Renault says that it is more likely to achieve 186 miles on a warm day, and 124 miles in winter. Although these figures sound considerably below the 250 miles of the NEDC range, they are still well ahead of those achievable by any of the competition.
I put those assertions to the test, albeit on a short drive of about 25 miles and 35 minutes. The route took in a few towns and villages, some twisty B-roads, and open A-roads, all with some elevation changes mixed in to the route too. The only thing missing was a stretch of motorway, but the A-roads saw me get close to motorway speeds anyway.
There are three different notes made along the route, with efficiency figures allowing me to make a decent calculation as to actual range. Driving purely around town, the Zoe was showing an average of 5.34 miles per kWh. Even rounding down to give conservative figures and make the maths easier in my head while driving, that would equate to 200 miles (5 miles x 40 kWh) on a single charge for those driving around a city.
That figure is rarely going to be seen though, and a more realistic value was the 4.24 miles per kWh which was seen driving the half dozen miles to town, pottering about a bit as though going to the shops and supermarket, and then returning. It's a fairly typical journey that will be completed by many, going to get their weekly food shop for example or taking the kids to school. Again, rounding down for more conservative realism and to account for harsher conditions, this make a real-world range of 160-170 miles on a single charge.
Finally, the most realistic of them all was the complete route average of 3.5 miles per kWh, which would give a range of more than 130 miles over a good mix of roads. It must also be remembered that although conditions weren't particularly arctic, the weather was a little under 10 degrees Celsius, with plenty of grey clouds and mist around - pretty typical for the UK really then.
I'd go so far to say that Renault's real-world quotes are a little reserved then, and that in the majority of conditions and for most drivers, better range should be achievable. That's especially true of experienced EV drivers. Those initial real-world claims are likely to be almost the worst case scenario, for new EV drivers travelling in colder conditions.
IS IT THE BEST IN CLASS?
With the new battery pack you would have to say that the Zoe Z.E. 40 is not only one of the best EVs in its class, but one of the best EVs full-stop. The range available will remove a large 'complaint' from those who dismiss EVs as only being able to cover short distances and impractical. I prefer the way the VW e-up! drives - with it's nippier nature and lower centre of gravity - while larger cars such as the Leaf are naturally more practical. However, the Zoe's longer range will make life considerably simpler, remove much of the anxiety on long distance trips, and allows the Renault to become a more flexible tool. The rest of the car is good, with only niggles rather than faults on the list of negatives - and some of those are my personal taste and won't apply to others.
In short then, the Zoe is a very capable supermini. It's basically gone beyond the need to categorise the Zoe as an electric supermini because many drivers of small cars don't cover long distances regularly anyway. Even when they do, one rapid charge on a trip will allow between 250 and 300 miles of range on one journey. The Zoe is practical, easy to drive, ideal for use around town, and will allow some drivers to recharge once a fortnight, or even less. It's not perfect but it is very good, and the Zoe Z.E. 40 is a watershed moment for EVs; the time when long range became affordable.
Model tested: Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 Dynamique R90
Motor: 92hp / 68kW electric motor
Performance: 0-62mph - 13.5 seconds / Top speed - 84mph
CO2: 0 g/km
Electric Range: 250 miles (NEDC)
Trim grades: Expression Nav (22kWh only), Dynamique Nav, Signature Nav
On-road price: Zoe Z.E. 40 from £23,445 full purchase inc. PiCG. Price as tested £24,745
Warranty: Four years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars