First drive: Renault ZOE

First drive: Renault ZOE

Renault's latest all-electric offering is arguably one of the most important pieces to the zero emissions motoring puzzle. A car that looks, feels and drives like a hatchback yet produces nothing in the way of O-Zone layer-destroying gasses. But ZOE's most important trump card is its price... £13,650 on the road puts it on a level with a new diesel-engined Clio. Could this be the car to tempt all-electric sceptics? AOL Cars were among the first to find out.> What is it?

The fourth and arguably most important car in Renault's burgeoning Z.E (Zero Emissions) range that includes the van-like Kangoo, the four-door saloon Fluence and the tech-lovers plaything Twizy. ZOE fills the gap for an all-electric, zero emissions hatchback that looks and drives like an everyday car.

What's under the bonnet?

It' not really about what's under the bonnet - which is a lively 65kW electric motor that produces the equivalent of 86bhp - but what's under the seats, which is a large stack of state-of-the-art lithium ion batteries. Combine the two and you get a nippy city runaround that can hit 30mph from standstill in around four seconds. The lack of gearbox also makes acceleration surprisingly smooth and refined, but more about that later.

What's the spec like?

Three trim levels are available (all with typically funky titles): Expression, Dynamique Zen and Dynamique Intens. The former includes 15-inch Aerobase wheels shod with special decreased-resistance Michelin ENERGY E-V tyres, Renault's simple but brilliantly effect R-Link touch screen infotainment system, climate and cruise control. Step up trim levels and you're treated to a rugged Teflon fabric interior, reverse parking camera and a remote access system that allows owners to pre-heat or cool the car's cabin while it charges, ensuring vital juice isn't zapped while on the move. In our opinion, this feature should come as standard, especially with a temperamental British climate.

First drive: Renault ZOE

Any rivals?

Discounting hybrids such as the Vauxhall Ampera and Toyota Prius, the most obvious would be the Nissan Leaf. Arguably the original electric vehicle offers the same emissions-free driving experience but is a great deal more expensive and lacks ZOE's character and sprightly drive. Both Ford and Volkswagen will be offering an all-electric version of the Focus and Golf soon which will greatly expand the menu for environmentally-considerate car buyers. But for now, ZOE's range, practicality and affordability are virtually unmatched in the E.V market.

What's it like to drive?

Surprisingly good, actually. Electric vehicles tend to be terribly heavy, wallowing beasts that roll through corners and crash over potholes but Renault's engineers have done a stellar job in making the ZOE behave like its rival superminis. Torque is nearly always available, making squirts away from the lights fun and the electric motor handles average motorway speeds with relative ease. The steering is slightly on the vague side, with a fair bit of movement around centre and the driving position is a bit high thanks to the stacked batteries beneath the driver but these are minor quibbles.

The ZOE was never designed to be a sports car and it is more at home darting in and out of busy, inner-city traffic than it is flat out around country bends. But that said, it's comfortable, peaceful and extremely easy to get on with - meeting all the demands of a modern family car.

The AOL Cars verdict

Range anxiety is still going to be a major hurdle for consumers and the ZOE can only manage 93 miles if driven sensibly but more like 62 miles if the roads get interesting. But Renault insists that its patented Chameleon charging system will make life easier as its one-size-fits-all approach allows the ZOE to be charged in just 30 minutes from a 43kW outlet. If fast charging isn't available, it will take 9 hours from a standard socket.

Electric Vehicles remain a difficult concept to fathom, however Renault assures us its salespeople will never force the ZOE onto their customers. But if the many criteria are matched (their commute is within range, they cover more than 9,000 miles a year, their home can facilitate a wall-mounted charging point etc.) then the ZOE is a viable and cost-effective option, especially as Renault will throw in the wall-mounted charging point free of charge. Still unsure? Take one out on a test drive and it soon becomes clear that it's not so different to other hatchbacks after all.

The knowledge

Model: Renault ZOE
Price: £13,650 (after UK Plug-In Grant) battery leasing from £70 per month
Engine: 65kW electric motor
Power: 86bhp
Max speed: 84mph (limited)
0-62mph: 13.5 seconds
MPG: NEDC Driving range 130 miles (real world 62-90 miles)
Emissions: 0g/km CO2

Renault Zoe
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