At last week’s 2012 Geneva Motor Show, Renault unveiled the production version of its 2013 Zoe Electric hatchback. 

The fourth all-electric car from the French automaker, the subcompact Zoe is quickly causing a stir in Europe thanks to its impressive specifications and low price. 

Renault has been absent from the U.S. market for many years, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see it go on sale in the U.S., but would the Zoe the natural compliment to the Nissan Leaf?


Starting at around $28,850 before incentives in Europe, the Renault Zoe is certainly one of the cheaper electric cars we’ve seen. 

While that price doesn’t include battery cost -- you have to rent your battery separately -- it does price the Zoe at a comparable price to other subcompact gasoline and diesel cars on the European market. 

A point to note of course, is that prices  rarely translate well between continents. Even if the Zoe made it to the U.S. -- which we’re pretty certain it never will -- we’d expect it to be priced competitively.

Sub-compact charm 

About the same size as a Ford Fiesta, the Renault Zoe ZE fits firmly into the growing subcompact market segment. 

Inside, the Zoe’s interior looks fresh and modern, with a similar level of appointment to the current Nissan Leaf. Instead of the strange hockey-puck gear lever however, there’s a more conventional floor-mounted shifter and lever-operated parking brake. 

Renault ZOE electric car interior

Renault ZOE electric car interior

In short, inside and out, the Zoe looks normal.

Decent Performance, Range, Charging

While the Zoe is no sports car, Renault says it can handle the 0-60 dash in around 8 seconds, putting it on par with many other cars in its class. 

As for range, Renault refreshingly honest. Under ideal conditions, Renault believes 130 miles is possible per charge, while hard driving in poor weather should yield no less than 60 miles per charge. 

Perhaps more attractive however, is the ability of the Zoe to recharge itself quickly using an on-board charger capable of charging at up to 43 kilowatts, equivalent to a 100 percent charge in between 30 and 60 minutes. While this is slightly less powerful than the Direct Current charging offered on the Nissan Leaf, the Zoe doesn't require an expensive external charger to charge this quickly. 

Instead, all it needs is access to a public charging station capable of providing three-phase power at 240 volts. That's considerably more powerful than current Level 2 charging stations -- which normally charge electric cars at rates between3 and 7 kilowatts depending on what the car can receive --  but does pose an interesting alternative for future charging stations. 

Predictable Operating Costs

Unlike the 2012 Nissan Leaf and other electric cars on sale in the U.S., the 2013 Renault Zoe doesn’t saddle owners with the cost of an expensive battery at point of purchase. 

Instead, Renault rents customers the Zoe’s battery pack on a monthly basis, with the cost dependent on how many miles you expect to drive annually.  As an example, Renault is offering a 6,000 mile per year battery lease contract at around $110 per month, taxes included. Whether that kind of figure would be applicable to the U.S. we couldn't venture a guess.

While many prefer buying the car and battery up-front, not everyone can afford the extra money that entails. 

A lower purchase cost should make it easier for more customers to obtain car finance, while the battery plan takes the worry out of unknown battery life, future maintenance costs and residual value. 

Renault ZOE electric car live photos

Renault ZOE electric car live photos

A Good Offering?

Admittedly, the Zoe is a lot smaller than the quirky Nissan Leaf. But with a larger trunk than the 2012 Mitsubishi i, it offers a cheaper, smaller alternative to the first electric car from the Renault/Nissan alliance. 

With faster charging capabilities built in, the Zoe is a lot more practical for those wanting to make regular longer-distance trips, while predictable ownership costs and lower sticker price mean it could be easier to budget for than the 2012 Leaf, 2012 Volt or 2012 Ford Focus Electric.

What do you think? We’re convinced we’ll never see the Zoe in the U.S., even as a Nissan-badged car. But would you buy one if it were available? Why? 

Let us know in the Comments below. 


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