Shropshire Star

Updated Renault ZOE much improved

As a weak pound sends fuel prices climbing again, many motorists will be looking to cut their costs and some of them will be thinking electric.

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New Renault ZOE
New Renault ZOE
New Renault ZOE
New Renault ZOE

There are increasing numbers of hybrids – which use electric motors to supplement iinternal combustion enginesfor increased power and economy – but not too many practical electric vehicles.

But as more and more drivers get switched on to electric Renault is already ahead of the game with its cars and vans of the future.

It's Zoe (from Zero Emmisions in operation) would probably sell well as a superbly equipped, modern supermini if it was conventionally powered. Even the driving experience is little different (except it's considerably quieter).

Now, with the launch of an updated model, Renault has gone a long way towards resolving one of the issues for buyers – 'range anxiety' - by doubling the real-world range to up to 186 miles between charges.

This is now a choice of two battery types, both of which you can buy along with a new Zoe, or you can save some of your capital by buying the car at a lower price and leasing the batteries on a monthly basis.

For example, the cheapest Zoe comes for £13,995 on top of which you pay from £49 to £110 per month depending on battery choice and annual mileage. If you buy the same entry-level car and batteries outright, it will cost you £18,995.

The price includes a free wall-mounted charger fitted at your home (essential for overnight charging) and a 'Chameleon' charger to minimise charging time from any other type of charging system.

The new ZE40 battery gives a maximum of 41Kw of power (compared to the standard 22Kw) and according to official NEDC tests has a potential range of 250 miles.

Like official tests of conventionally powered cars, though, few will achieve that in the real world and Renault is very honest about this – it says 186 miles is more likely, dropping to around 126 in cold weather.

The new car has a redesigned regenerative braking system – essentially free 'fuel' when you lift off or brake, and the system puts power back into the battery. A world first from Renault is the new 'heat pump' which acts like air conditioning to heat or cool the cabin but uses three times less energy – and it works more wuickly, too.

The test car was a mid-range Dynamique R90 ZE which costs £17, 845 with battery leasing costing from £59 a month, or £23,455 to buy outright.

Even if you are not intto the engineering and can't admire the Zoe as a technical tour de force, it's a pretty car, with a smart and modern interior and as practical as any rival supermini.

With the motor at the front and battery pack under the rear floor the Zoe is well-balanced. While it is based on the same platform as the Clio, it's some 35mm lower with a wider track which aids stability. It also has a quick, specially tuned steering rack and suspension.

The result is that the Zoe would match the best superminis when it comes to on-road agility and cornering ability. It is a relaxing car, too, thanks to the particularly low noise levels and comfort-biased suspension.

The official 0 to 62mph sprint time is a modest 13.5 seconds, but in every day used it really does feel quicker than that. That's because the 92bhp electric motor has a hefty 230Nm of torque – more akin to a small diesel than a comparable petrol unit – which is all under your right fit from just 2,500rpm: and bear in mind as an electric motor maximum revs is well over 11,000rpm.

You can feel the effect in particular when overtaking: since it's an automatic transmission all you have to do is press a bit harder with your right foot.

The interior, which seats four adults comfortably, is very smart too. There is a quality feel to the fixtures and fittings, while the instruments are a model of simplicity and clarity.

The digital driver's display includes plenty of information including the two gauges of most interest – the speedo and the mile by mile remaining range indicator. In the centre of the dash is a colour touch screen with full Renault R-Link multimedia system, voice control, navigation, Bluetooth and audio controls.

The Zoe achieved a maximum five star safety rating from EuroNCAP and includes ABS, emergency brake assist, electronic stability and traction systems. An innovative system gives an audible warning to pedestrians and cyclists of the Zoe's approach around town.

Air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control and a speed limiter are also standard.

The midrange Dynamique Nav version also gets rear parking sensors, bigger (16-inch) alloy wheels and automatic lights and wipers, as well as the longer range ZE40 battery.

There's a new flagship to the range, the Signature Nav spec version which adds leather upholstery, heated seats, a rear parking camera and an upgraded Bose sound system.

While the Zoe may not be the cheapest supermini, even if you take account of its high specification, there are some longer term advantages.

Apart from the tax advantages for a zero emissions vehicle, electricity used to recharge your electric vehicle at home attracts only five per cent, instead of 20 per cent, VAT, and the cost of servicing is up to 20 per cent lower as there are no disposables such as various filters to worry about.

For the company car driver, benefit in kind tax is at the lowest level (seven per cent) and there is no BIK on electricity used – it's not classed as a fuel like petrol and diesel.

So there are sound economic as well as ecological reasons to like the Zoe, which with its extra range EV40 battery is a state-of-the-art electric vehicle as well as a smart and practical supermini.