First Drive: The new Renault Zoe packs a big punch in a small package

What is it?

(Renault)

The automotive industry might be in the midst of a seismic shift towards electrified vehicles with manufacturers scrambling to get new models out the door as customer needs slowly shift and strict emissions regulations come into play, but with the launch of the new Zoe, Renault proudly points to the fact it’s been doing this all-electric thing for a while now.

Ten years of its all-electric supermini have passed by in a flash, but while on the outside its look hasn’t changed much – “our customers buy the car largely on its style, so they tell us to change only what we have to,” we’re told during the pre-launch briefing – under the skin there has been plenty of evolution.

With a 245-mile range, Renault reckons it’s no longer only looking at tech-savvy, eco-conscious buyers, the new Zoe will also appeal to the mainstream. With sales increasing year on year, that seems to be true, so can this new model serve to accelerate that?

What’s new?

(Renault)

This being a new generation, there are plenty of changes to go through. On the outside, a minor restyling see a look that’s resonated with buyers for years largely retained, while the inside has been completely overhauled, with a new portrait multimedia screen and optional upholstery made from recycled materials the headline acts.

There’s also a choice between the 100kW R135 and 80kW R110 motors, increased, segment-leading range, optional fast-charging and improved connectivity.

What’s under the bonnet?

(Renault)

With two motors you’re given the choice of the slower motor that optimises range to the full 245 miles, or the more powerful motor that sacrifices a little range at 239 miles in favour of sprightly performance. The entry-level Play trim only has the R110 available, but the mid-spec Iconic has a choice of either – the price difference between the two is negligible, and less than £2,000 more than the entry model, so we’d highly recommend making the step up because the R135 is fantastic.

If you’re coming to the Zoe from a petrol-powered supermini, you’ll be shocked at the performance of this EV. With 245Nm of torque available from a standstill, it shoots off the line without a moment’s delay, surging up to speed with impressive pace. Around town, this responsiveness makes darting through traffic a breeze, while undulating country roads are dispatched without fuss.

What’s it like to drive?

(Renault)

Our test route across mountainous Sardinia wasn’t particularly representative of how the Zoe will handle the potholed streets of a cold, wet Newcastle, for example. However, occasionally broken tarmac hinted that while it does transmit bumps into the cabin, it settles impressively quickly – the serenity of EV driving shouldn’t be shattered by a teeth-rattling ride, then.

The ultra-responsive motor is a delight, too, making even the shortest of journeys something to look forward to – even on a twisting B-road the Zoe remains stable and surprisingly fun. The eco tyres gently squeal at the slightest hint of the driver pushing on, which adds to the fun factor, all without needing to go silly speeds.

How does it look?

It’s no surprise that one of the Zoe’s key selling points is its appearance – this is a chic and stylish supermini. Renault listened to its customers’ advice and went for evolution over revolution, with each update retaining the ethos of its predecessors.

There’s a lightly remodelled front bumper with new LED fog lights, there are new C-shaped running lights surrounding new LED headlights, and new LED rear lights – all included as standard. There are also three new colours – the Celadon Blue is particularly lovely in bright sunshine – and a revamped wheel range.

What’s it like inside?

(Renault)

Previously, the interior was perhaps one aspect where the Zoe was a let-down, struggling to justify its high-because-EV price tag. Renault is clearly aware of that fact, giving the cabin an overhaul that makes it much more like the Clio and a little more befitting of a £25k-plus car.

On the whole, it’s a positive upgrade. The steering wheel feels good quality to hold with cruise control buttons now on its face, losing the hideous chunky dial usually fitted to Renaults, the dashboard insert in the same upholstery as the seats is a nice touch, the 10-inch digital instrument binnacle has clear, modern graphics and the central profile-oriented 9.3-inch infotainment screen is ultra-responsive.

However, it is still let down somewhat by cheap plastics on the doors, a cheap ‘gear shifter’ action, and seats that feel like the filling doesn’t go all the way to the edge. None of these are deal-breakers, but a shame nonetheless. Meanwhile, rear passenger space is extremely limited, making it only ideal for small adults and children.

What’s the spec like?

(Renault)

As is often the case with EVs, which are pricey because of the R&D costs – incidentally, Renault now says it’s making a profit with the Zoe, which has taken 10 years of development – so to make up for this, standard equipment levels are high.

The Zoe is no different, with standard equipment including air conditioning, the digital instrument cluster, DAB radio, automatic wipers, and a free 7kWh home charger installed for free. Step up to Iconic, and you get climate control, wireless phone charging, sat-nav, optional recycled upholstery and rear parking sensors. Top-spec GT Line models – only available with the R135 motor – add the larger infotainment screen (an £800 option on Iconic models), a leather upholstery option and front parking sensors with a rear parking camera.

Pricing-wise, you can either buy the vehicle outright or pay less then lease the battery separately. (Pricing for this is unconfirmed at the time of writing.) Prices for the battery lease option start at £18,670 for the Play trim and go up to £21,620 for the GT Line, with £7,000 added to the price of each model if you want to buy it with the battery included.

Verdict

(Renault)

Europe’s best-selling electric vehicle didn’t need to change much to get a positive review, but Renault has been clever to overhaul it where it needed it and lightly fettle where it didn’t. The result is a smart-looking EV with a delightfully punchy motor that makes it more fun to drive than any conventionally powered alternative.

The interior is a big step up, too, despite some minor frustrations and the lack of rear passengers space. Regardless, if you’re looking for a small electric car the Zoe represents great value for money, and with up to 245 miles of range, charging should be a rarity.

  • Model as tested: Renault Zoe
  • Price: £18,670
  • Engine: R135 electric motor
  • Power: 134bhp
  • Torque: 245Nm
  • Max speed: 87mph
  • 0-60mph: 9.3 seconds
  • Range: 239 miles
  • Emissions (g/km): 0 g/km
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