Renault Zoe (2013-2019) Expert Review
The Zoe is Renault's purpose-built electric hatchback, and a pioneer of relatively low-cost electric motoring. With a range of trims and power options, this could be one of the most affordable ways to go electric, and that's before you even factor in the low cost of electricity compared with petrol or diesel.
- Five-door hatchback
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- Nissan Leaf
- Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- BMW i3
What is the Renault Zoe?
While Tesla has been hogging most of the electric car limelight, since 2013 – and with considerably less fanfare – Renault has brought zero emissions motoring to the masses in the form of its Clio-sized and fully electric Zoe five-door hatchback. Thanks to generous grants from the government’s Office for Low Emissions, or OLEV, some Renault Zoe base models have been available from as little as £14,245, although to that you have to add between £49 and £110 per month (depending on battery capacity and annual mileage) for renting the lithium-ion battery from Renault. From 2016 you’ve been able to buy a Zoe outright complete with battery, but there’s a £5,600 premium for doing so, and with battery performance dropping off with age, the rental route might be the more sensible option.
As well as having price on its side, the Zoe is notable for its range between charges, which Renault claims is ‘the greatest range of any mainstream electric vehicle’. Electric vehicle technology has progressed rapidly over the past few years and in 2016 the Zoe’s battery capacity, electric motor and range were improved: there were further developments in 2018 that increased the ‘real world’ range (according to Renault) to 186 miles.
But the Renault Zoe has suffered electrical gremlins and other complaints – CarGurus has identified some of the key areas to be wary of.
How Practical is it?
In terms of size, the Zoe falls into the same supermini class as a Renault Clio or Ford Fiesta, but because the batteries have been packaged into the floor and because electric motors are much smaller than internal combustion engines, it’s a surprisingly practical little machine. The boot is larger than a Clio’s, although some of that extra space will be taken up with charging cables.
Space in the back seats is also not bad considering this is such a small car. There’s just enough legroom and legroom for a six-foot tall adult to sit behind a driver of the same height. With no transmission tunnel to factor in the floor is almost completely flat across the back of the car, which helps if you need to squeeze in three people (and it will be a squeeze, too).
Parents meanwhile will appreciate that not only do the two outer rear seats come with Isofix mounting points but so too does the passenger seat. And, sticking with safety, at the time of its launch the Zoe scored a maximum of five stars in Euro NCAP’s industry standard crash tests.
What’s it Like to Drive?
The first-generation Renault Zoe is really quite charming to drive. While not a particularly fast electric car (this is certainly no Tesla-beater), it’s sprightly enough around town, and will cruise on the motorway without complaint.
Thanks to having its battery mounted low in the car, the Zoe also has a low centre of gravity that helps with its handling. It’s no sports car, but the Zoe is still good fun to drive, turning in to corners keenly and offering plenty of grip. That said, the ride can be a little bouncy and the slightly elevated driving position won’t be to all tastes, so we’d certainly recommend a test drive before committing to purchase.
As far as range goes, the earliest Zoes shouldn’t be relied on to do much more than 50 or 60 miles on a full charge, particularly in colder months. Later models, however, were massively improved. For example, the Zoe R110 ZE40 has an estimated range of up to 186 miles. Admittedly this will drop to around 120 miles in colder weather or if you don’t drive in a sympathetic manner, but that’s still a useful distance, and kind of sums up where the Zoe is pitched. Which is to say, it is not designed to be a long-distance cruiser, but an urban runabout that can also cope with a reasonable length commute.
If you do want to tackle longer journeys and need the quickest charging time possible Renault offers a Q90 version of the Zoe that can use the kind of quick chargers you find at motorway service stations to gain an 80% battery charge in just over an hour. Charging a Zoe on a 7kW home wallbox meanwhile will take around five or six hours, depending on battery capacity.
Technology and Equipment
Good news: there’s also no such thing as a poorly equipped Zoe. For example, this best-selling Dynamic Nav spec gives you the ability to pre-heat the car when it’s plugged in, as well as features such as satnav, a DAB radio and rear parking sensors.
Even the dials look hi-tech, for they reside within a digital instrument display. It’s a good setup that’s easy to follow, with a large speedo and a clear graphic showing your remaining battery power and range.
Three Things To Know
- Although the Signature model is best equipped and has an excellent Bose sound system, the hi-fi’s sub-woofer seriously intrudes upon boot space. This could be an issue if you’re concerned about practicality.
- Electric recharging cables can be expensive – as much as £300 – so make sure they come with the car when buying used. A home recharging point should be only around £150-£350 to you, as the rest of the £500 it actually costs is covered by an OLEV grant.
- Below 18mph all Zoes emit a loud hum as a warning to pedestrians. You can manually switch it off, but it is a valuable safety measure. Above 50mph the Renault Zoe produces a less welcome sound – wind noise.
Which One to Buy
- For maximum range: any Zoe from 2018 onwards fitted with the more powerful R110 electric motor. EU figures claim it will travel 250 miles on a full charge, while Renault reckons in the real world it’s 186 miles. Owners suggest 90-130 miles in winter conditions.
- For best performance: the 108bhp R110 electric motor from 2018 onwards is the most powerful to date, and while its performance around town is on a par with the 89bhp R90 model, from 50-75mph it’s appreciably quicker, thus better on motorways.
- For town-bound commuters: pre-2016 Zoes don’t have the range of later models, but it’s plenty for city dwellers and cars are available for less than £6,000 with low mileage.
Not having to pay for petrol or diesel is an immediate advantage, and company car tax is lower, too. Depending on your electricity tariff at home, a full charge (which takes five hours using a Renault-supplied 7kW home charger) could cost as little as £3.50. The Zoe also attracts no annual vehicle tax, is exempt from London’s Congestion Charge, and in some cities can be parked for free.
Against those savings you must weigh the cost of renting the battery from Renault. This can be as little as £49 per month for an early Zoe with a 22kW/h battery in which you do less than 4,500 miles annually, up to £110 per month for the latest 41kW/h version and an unlimited mileage package. Starting with the facelift in 2016 there was the option to buy the Zoe and its battery outright: you’ll be paying more for one of these secondhand (they are identifiable by the prefix of ‘i’ ahead of their trim designation), but you should at least benefit from the residue of an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the battery.
A two-year/20,000-mile servicing plan costs £249, and a three-year/30,000-mile package is £459.
There seems to be an acceptance amongst early adopters of the Zoe that with electric vehicle technology still in its relative infancy, that they would be guinea pigs and things would go wrong. And things have. In some instances there have been major electrical systems failures that have rendered the car immobile and impossible to charge: the unlucky have had their electric motor and transformer replaced more than once, but at least it was under warranty.
Heating and air-conditioning systems were prone to failure in early cars, while some owners complained that Renault’s R-Link connection between the infotainment system and their mobile phones was unreliable: there were also grumblings about the satnav not being sufficiently well programmed with the locations of public charging points, critical to any extended journey in the Zoe.
Rattling rear doors that require a hefty shove to close securely have been an issue, as has the flap covering the Zoe’s charging socket – in some cases it flies open of its own accord, and in others it won’t open at all. The on-board range calculator tends towards pessimism, which is probably a good thing, while some owners of early cars claimed that the range dropped as low as 50 miles.
Historically, the biggest problem with the Zoe has not been the car itself but the public charging infrastructure. Obviously if you plan to charge at home, however, this isn’t such a big problem.
The CarGurus Verdict
Attractively styled, reasonably roomy and comfortable, a spirited performer around town, and with sufficient range for most of our journeys most of the time, the all-electric Renault Zoe is also a good option for those looking for a used electric car. There have been serious electrical issues with some examples, but by this stage pretty much all should have been sorted under warranty, though it’s still worth checking.
The Zoe is helping pave the way for more widespread acceptance of mainstream electric cars: it has made zero emissions driving practical and fun, and has spawned several serial owners already.