Renault Zoe Electric Car: First Drive Of Europe's Leaf Alternative

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You might think that Europe, with its congested cities and relatively short distances between cities, would be the perfect environment for electric cars.

Whether or not that's the case, the choice of electric cars there isn't nearly as wide as it is in the U.S. But with the Renault Zoe you see here, it's just got wider, and a lot more affordable.

Renault's Zoe is the latest in a line of electric vehicles stemming from the Renault-Nissan partnership.

It's a subcompact electric car, based loosely on the platform used under a huge range of Renault-Nissan products, from the Renault Clio found in Europe, to Nissan's Cube, Versa, Juke and of course, the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

The basics

The Zoe's electric drivetrain isn't dissimilar to that in the Leaf either, though at 65 kW (87 horsepower) and 162 pounds-feet of torque, it's less potent than the Nissan's 80 kW (110 hp) and 210 lb-ft statistics.

It's also smaller and lighter though, helping to reach its European-rated 130 miles of range (on a 22 kWh lithium-ion pack) to the Leaf's European 120 miles from 24 kWh.

Given the 2013 Leaf achieves an EPA-rated 75 miles (84 miles from a full charge), Renault's own estimates of 93 miles in temperate conditions and 63 miles in cold weather seem accurate.

2013 Renault Zoe electric car

2013 Renault Zoe electric car

Enlarge Photo
Look and feel

Styling is a subjective issue, but furnished with neat details, finished in a pearlescent shade and basking under unusually clement British weather, we were quite taken with the Zoe's looks.

Its slim headlamps and striking curves would be quite demur in a darker shade, but the light paint and contrasting lights, badging and wheels look sophisticated even so. The lights themselves are as intricate as any we've seen on a production car, particularly at the back where the colors evoke images of the abalone in mollusc shells.

The interior is equally well-judged. A light color scheme dominates, with gloss white and chrome blue details to draw the eye.

Information is handed to the driver via a slim display screen through the wheel and a larger central screen, which also handles the car's infotainment features.

Importantly, everything feels nicely made. It's comfortable too. The seats have a slightly rustic canvas appearance to them (albeit softer--think summer trousers rather than sacks of potatoes) and would be more than up to the task of cossetting you during 100-mile stints between charges.

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Comments (10)
  1. Nice job with the photos. Cute car.

  2. A very good review, Antony, thanks. Since I'll probably never get to drive one, at least anytime soon, it is much appreciated. I'm sure you look forward to more market entries in Europe for fuller comparison purposes, too.

    Just better than the LEAF for me personally, simply because it's far more attractive. Let's hope that the LEAF, or an alternative, is better looking with the next generation.

  3. Can't wait to pick my Zoe up has been on order since Decemeber, managed to get a drive at Silverstone the other week so quiet and very good build. The car has a big following in UK and will sell well I'm sure

  4. The most talked about aspect of the Zoe is the built in 44 kW charger, no expensive Chademo or such needed. Just the "Type 2" plug that looks like a J1772 but has a couple more pins to handle three phase power which common in Europe.

    Not a word about it here. Last I heard, Zoe does "Mode 3" charging only, no plugging into a wall outlet at reduced power.

    Is this a three phase version of the AC Propulsion technology that uses the same circuitry for charging the battery and also for driving the motor? If so, it is not a galvanically isolated changer and probably requires double isolation of all High Voltage components. Maybe Mode 3 only for safety then?

  5. Hi Jim,

    I did omit info about the charger but we were eager to highlight the driving impressions mainly, having written about the technical aspects on previous occasions.

    You're right, the "chameleon" charger used by the Zoe is an excellent idea that saves the need to look for specific chargers or drag cables around.

    You're also right that what it can't do is plug into a regular wall socket, which I suspect is for safety. However, this won't be a problem with many owners at home, since Renault is providing free charging points to owners (in the UK at least, where we tested the car).

  6. Antony

    It might be a safety issue, but it might just be that the three charger modules are configured in a three phase "Delta" load topology, which does not use the Neutral wire (or functional Earth as they say in Europe). Without a Neutral connection, you cannot use the single phase connection of a regular wall outlet. The new Brusa NLG6 charger is configured for Delta topology also, making it similarly inflexible. There is presumably a cost benefit trade off at work, perhaps less of a step up in voltage since the Delta topology provides 400 volts in, not 230 volts for the Wye (or Star) topology.

    So many engineering trade offs, so little time...

  7. Yea. Its a city car with a forty five mile radius at best, because you either charge up for thirty minutes to get one hours worth of drive, or you leave it at home and take your other car which is not range limited. Only because Renault decided to ditch the swappable batt concept and saddle the buyer with the price of battery, trusting Government to pick up the costs.

  8. Not entirely true. The Zoe is actually prepared to be battery swappable, in case infrastructure would be introduced at a later stage. Also I don't understand what you mean with saddling up the buyer with the price of the battery? Whether you lease it or buy it (which Renault is keeping open as a possible option, even though leasing in the end is cheaper and gives more assurance), you still pay the price of the battery like any other consumable part. Trusting government to pick up the costs? I have to pay around 1000 euros to have a wallbox installed at my house in the Netherlands. No subsidy from the government, nor from Renault. There is an aftermarket 220V domestic socket charger for the Zoe, which will charge in about 18 hours.

  9. Emile, do you have any details on that aftermarket 220 V domestic socket charger for the Zoe? Everything I have heard is Mode 3 (hardwired 3 phase wall box) only.

  10. Renault's own estimates of 93 miles in temperate conditions. Better than the Leaf but what is with the talk of 130 miles of range?. That would be great since you could do 2 solid hours of highway driving with that kind of range. I am looking forward to the Gen III Tesla coming 2016 with 200 miles of range. That would allow me to almost totally eliminate the need to own a gasoline powered vehicle. I have a cabin 57 miles away and work about 48 miles away and have family about 65 miles away. Why would I want to buy a car that can not travel at least 130 miles since I travel these distances quite regularly and the Nissan Leaf although affordable is too range limited for me.

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