ZOE an electric

dream machine

Renault ZOE, interior
Renault ZOE, rear
Renault ZOE, upright
Renault ZOE, touchscreen
Renault ZOE, boot
Renault ZOE, charging
Renault ZOE, side, action
Renault ZOE, side
Renault ZOE, Jean Simereva imprint on rear door
Renault ZOE, front

IT'S a car called ZOE and it is part of an electric dream that for Renault has to become reality.

The French firm has bet the bank on the electric revolution and at the moment the odds are stacked high.

Regardless of how good a car the ZOE is - and it is quite remarkable - the challenge is convincing drivers that electric motoring is viable.

And rule number one is that it is not for everyone.

So if the ZOE is going to be the game changer that Renault intends, what does this little beauty bring to the party that previous electric cars have lacked?

More to the point, can it jump start the market to justify the Renault/Nissan alliance investment of some four billion euros in electric vehicles?

Strip away the eco flannel and basically the ZOE is a five door supermini that costs the same as a diesel Focus or Polo to buy and run, is cheaper to service and doesn't cost a penny in tax or congestion charge for private or business buyers.

It also runs out of fuel every 90 miles.

Useless? Well not really.

If you travel long distances then just don't bother but if you are one of those who help create the statistic that 87 per cent of daily journeys are less than 40 miles then you're in.

A trip to the shops, the school run, the everyday commute - do the maths and if that tots up to less than 60 miles then the ZOE could become your best friend if you are in the market for a quality supermini as well appointed as one costing twice as much.

According to Renault, 60 miles is the minimum range for a fully charged ZOE in cold conditions which sap battery power.

In normal temperatures 90 miles is the figure to have in your head and although the ZOE is officially rated as having a range of 130 miles, that is never going to happen.

However, it is possible to increase the range marginally by driving carefully and on one of our runs in the ZOE we set out fully charged with a range of 80 miles showing, travelled 23 miles in rush hour traffic and ended up with 60 miles of power remaining.

To drive it is great fun, very quick if rapid acceleration is needed - power delivery is instant and 0 to 30mph takes less than four seconds - and on board it is absolutely silent apart from a bit of road rumble.

Not only is it nippy it is also capable of motorway work with a top speed of 85mph and with the battery pack slung below the floor there's a low centre of gravity which results in some slick handling.

The ZOE - it stands for zero emissions - is realistically a luxury hatch complete with climate control, cruise control, sat nav and Bluetooth for £13,650 after the Government grant for electric vehicles.

Full price would be £17,333 but its EV competitors such as the Nissan Leaf and the oddball Mitsubishi i-Miev would be pushing £30,000 without the grant.

Higher grade ZOE models come in at £14,750 and include upgraded trim, wear resistant Teflon upholstery, scent diffusers, a digital sound system and a smartphone link enabling remote activation for battery charging and switching on the air conditioning before you get in.

That's space age kit for the price of a regular family hatch and on this front alone the ZOE has to impress.

It looks stylish, the boot is a handy 338 litres (although the charging cables which have to be carried at all times take up the space of a shopping bag) and cargo space extends to 1,225 with the back seats folded which makes it quite practical.

A neat touch is the rear door handles which are concealed in the back pillars and are monogrammed with the thumbprint of designer Jean Semeriva.

Renault has managed to screw the price of its EVs down by leasing out the battery pack instead of including it in the price.

It's a contentious move but a 36 month contract allowing 7,500 miles a year costs £70 a month.

Do more miles and you pay more (12,000 a year costs £93 a month), travel less and you get a refund and the battery is guaranteed for life and protected by 24/7 emergency back up.

If you keep the car longer than the eight years estimated battery life, you'll get a new one as part of the agreement.

Recharging at home is only a little more trouble than hooking up your mobile phone overnight and it costs about £3 for a full charge which takes between six to nine hours.

Roadside chargers are faster - one hour will give 80 per cent battery capacity - but such charging points are still few and far between although more will be on the way following the Government's recent £37million plan to stimulate the take up of electric vehicles.

As part of that initiative Renault has just started to install home chargers for free on suitable properties for anyone ordering a ZOE which is due to arrive from June.

It is a sea change in the way that we look at everyday motoring and while it is obviously more environmentally friendly - the so-called well to wheel carbon dioxide calculation for the ZOE is 54g/km compared to 113 for a diesel Fiesta - the luxurious qualities of the ZOE may be enough to get more drivers to make the switch from combustion engines.

To make it really worthwhile there need to be more incentives to make electric motoring genuinely cheaper. Renault's lease charge for the batteries works out at the equivalent of running a typical diesel car with fuel costing £1.40 per litre.

Renault and its sister brand Nissan have put themselves at the vanguard of the electric revolution and last year the French firm managed to shift some 550 EVs in the UK - most of those being its battery powered Kangoo van.

Nissan sold most cars with the Leaf taking the lion's share of the 1,200 EVs which were registered in Britain last year. Renault's other electric car, the Fluence, clocked up just 60 sales. Says it all really.


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