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Renault ZOE First Drive – “a genuinely desirable electric car”

Richard Lane of GreenCarDesign.com is blown away by a zero emission car that promises to redefine the EV look

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By Richard Lane, GreenCarDesign.com 03 Jul 2013
Renault Zoe-3
Verdict

What differentiates it from the competition is that it really feels like the complete package. The real talking point about this car is that Renault have created a genuinely desirable electric car.

Price: £ 14,750

Rating: five star

Pros:

Beautiful design, lots of clever green gadgets, and a really competitive price

Cons:

A fairly standard EV range and driving experience

REVIEW

When Renault’s all-electric ZOE goes on sale in June it’s going to buck several trends. Starting at £13,650 (plus battery rental from £70 a month), it’s going to cost considerably less than anything that bears comparison. With an NEDC range of 130 miles it will also go further than anything this side of a Tesla Model S. Perhaps most important, however, is that the Renault ZOE bucks the trend of aesthetically challenged electric cars. And how.

The problem has been that, though for a noble cause, cars such as the G-Wiz did considerable harm to the perception of electric cars. Small, cumbersome and neither lovable nor sexy, they set the tone for the aesthetics of sustainable mobility. Even Nissan’s Leaf – a formidable piece of engineering and a real treat to drive – succumbed to this design vacuum. Is it any wonder that electric car sales have struggled, especially given that as humans we’re extremely responsive to art and especially that which is easy on the eye?

Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the environmental deadlock may be about to be broken, to some extent at least, by a traditionally romantic brand in Renault.

The ZOE story began early in 2008 when project X10 – an electric supermini intended for mass marketing – was announced. Less than a year later pre-project teams had given X10 the go ahead for a car that’s design would be “friendly and reassuring for an innovative, responsible all-electric vehicle”. Fast forward through a concept unveiled at 2009’s Frankfurt Motor Show and the production car’s subsequent unveiling at Geneva last year and we’re finally driving a new kind of halo model. Not the halo model with the biggest, most powerful engine, or the halo model that costs the most with lashings of soft leather and walnut trim, but an easily accessible zero emissions vehicle that looks the part kind of halo model. That’s progress.

Whilst the ZOE’s range is nothing revolutionary (despite the NEDC range of 130 miles, Renault quote real-world benchmarks of 90 miles in temperate climates and 60 in cold weather conditions), several other innovations are. Three technologies grouped together under the ‘Range OptimiZEr’ banner include a regenerative braking system that works during both braking and off-throttle deceleration. Coupled with custom-made Michelin tires and a heat pump that uses a third the power of a conventional system they help extend range by 25 per cent.

As well as being a zero emissions vehicle, the ZOE will also let you know how economically you’re driving, too. The fully digital readout glows green for eco-driving, blue if you’re a bit more heavy on the throttle and brakes, and violet (not red) if you’re consuming a lot more energy than you need to. A dedicated ECO mode also exists, whereby power sent to the motor, air conditioning and heating is limited to increase range.
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