29.4.2021Renault Zoe Z.E. 50 review
Renault’s Zoe is one of Europe’s most popular electric cars - and for good reason. The compact Renault has long boasted a good range for its class, and has been subject to a raft of updates throughout its lifetime. The current version is Renault’s second-generation model, and having tested the Zoe Z.E. 50 at its European launch, we found that it benefited from a huge number of changes. Now we review the electric Renault for a week on UK shores to discover its strengths and weaknesses.
Review by Chris Lilly
RENAULT ZOE Z.E 50: PERFORMANCE
The model tested had Renault’s R135 motor fitted, driving the front wheels. It produces 100 kW - 135 hp, hence the model designation - and is good for a 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds. It feels quicker, however, particularly in short bursts of acceleration, and the Zoe is ideally suited to town work.
That said, it’s also comfortable out of town, either on country roads or motorways. It never feels out of puff, and the Zoe Z.E. 50 R135 is a good all-rounder for customers - not ‘too much’ power, nor too little. At motorway speeds the Renault cruises nicely and comfortably keeps up with traffic, but its strengths come to the fore in urban areas, particularly with Renault’s new brake energy recuperation settings.
Those drivers familiar with the previous generation Zoe - in any of its iterations - will instantly feel at home in this latest version. The handling set-up is near identical, and although I would prefer a little more control over body lean in the corners, and a bit more feedback through the steering wheel, I’m well aware these are personal preferences and in fact the Zoe will suit a great number of buyers.
The suspension is relatively softly sprung, meaning the Zoe isn’t an enthusiastic car when it comes to a twisty B-road. However, thanks to natural characteristics such as a low centre of gravity - due to the car’s battery being placed in the floor etc - the Zoe will deal with a spot of eager driving. It’s best kept more sensible, letting the springs soak up any road imperfections, and providing a comfortable ride.
This new Zoe has seen only subtle changes over the previous generation. In fact, I followed one briefly recently, and the main tell that it was a newer Zoe Z.E. 50 was the red paint which was added to this generation model - the rear looked a little too similar to easily differentiate. The front at least has seen a greater change, and when placed side-by-side, the new Zoe looks much sharper in the design details.
The rest of the model is essentially identical, as it’s built on the same platform as before and therefore shares many of the initial Zoe’s dimensions. That means that there is enough space for four adults, but it’s best to put shorter passengers or children in the rear seats - it is a supermini after all. The Renault has a good amount of space for its class in all areas - front, rear, and boot.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The original Zoe’s cabin always felt a little cheap and not particularly friendly for the driver or occupants. It was rather dated compared to conventional superminis, and when compared to the likes of BMW’s i3, it felt decades behind. Not any longer. Renault has taken the Zoe’s biggest weakness and turned it into a real strength, comparable to any supermini’s cabin electric or otherwise.
The quality of materials is now excellent, making the Zoe feel almost like a premium model, and the design is much better too. There’s a stubby gear selector and a portrait touchscreen infotainment system. The driver now gets a normally-sized digital instrument panel which is customisable, and there is the option to have recycled materials such as textiles fitted to the interior.
RENAULT ZOE Z.E 50: RANGE & RUNNING COSTS
Renault’s official WLTP range for this version of the Zoe Z.E. 50 is 235 miles on a charge. It’s rather accurate too, with a calculated figure by the end of my time with it coming in at 221 miles on a charge. This is an average over a few hundred miles, and should be a reliable return for most drivers, taking in all sorts of roads.
On a longer motorway stint, my calculations showed that the Zoe would return 187 miles on a charge, which is still a good figure for a supermini at higher speeds. Stick to more urban work however and the Zoe’s calculated range shot up to 270 miles on a charge. As ever with EVs, a true range will depend on how and where you drive it.
Renault has added more range to the Zoe by increasing the battery capacity to 52 kWh. It’s the same physical size as before, but features improved packaging and chemical design to boost capacity from the previous model’s 41 kWh battery. It’s only one such feature to improve range and efficiency, however, with one of the key elements coming with Renault’s revised brake energy recuperation system.
A new B mode on the drive selector makes the regen much stronger than was previously possible, and will almost bring the Zoe to a halt - not quite enough for true one-pedal driving however. I prefer the selectable levels available from the likes of Kia and Hyundai, or the full one-pedal feel from BMW or Nissan, but the Zoe’s set-up is efficient and can prove effective when used well.
Charging is now possible from DC charge points when the CCS option is selected. It allows for 50 kW charging which is better than before, though a 100 kW system would have been welcomed more warmly. AC charging is possible at up to 22 kW though. Should drivers ever look to travel further than around 200 miles on a trip, it’s advisable to opt for the optional CCS set-up.
There are three trims available for buyers - Play, Iconic, and GT Line. They see a good spread of powertrain options, with those requiring the cheapest, simplest Zoe able to pick the Play which has the R110 motor and no rapid charging option. Iconic has the choice of both R110 and R135 motor, and rapid charging with either motor, whilst GT Line is only available with the R135 motor, either rapid charge capable or not. The CCS option adds £1,000 to the list price wherever available.
Standard kit includes a head pump for more efficient heating/air conditioning, an eco-meter, Z.E. Connected Services, 10-inch digital driver’s display air conditioning, LED headlights, 7-inch infotainment system with smartphone integration, cruise control, eco mode, and keyless entry. The GT Line tested adds Easy Link Navigation with 9.3-inch touchscreen system, climate control, wireless phone charger, reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear, part-recycled textile part-synthetic leather upholstery, and 16-inch alloys.
RENAULT ZOE Z.E 50: MODEL SUMMARY
Renault’s Zoe has moved from being a very good electric supermini to being a very good supermini. The electric powertrain is flexible, and offers a highly usable range on a charge, and those charging requirements can now be completed faster thanks to the option of CCS. It remains one of the best EVs in its class, even since the entrance of the Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-e, and should be a serious consideration for anyone needing a compact car - regardless of fuel type.
Model tested: Renault Zoe Z.E. 50 R135 GT Line
Engine / CO2: 100 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Play, Iconic, and GT Line
On-road price: Range from £27,495. Price as tested: £30,995
Warranty: Three Years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars