What is it?
Renault’s electric charge will be spearheaded by the Zoe Z.E. model. A Clio-sized supermini – powered by electricity alone – the Zoe Z.E. will reach UK showrooms in Spring 2012.
This Zoe Preview model is the very same concept car that was shown at the 2010 Paris motor show, although its creator, Axel Breun, Renault’s Director of Show Cars and Concept Cars, admits that it’s 90 per cent representative of the production Zoe Z.E. that will silently be rolling out of Renault’s Flins plant in France this time next year.
What's it like?
Without proper firewall soundproofing, this Zoe Preview is uncharacteristically noisy for an electric car on the road. That 90 per cent figure quoted by Breun clearly relates to the car’s styling, rather than the actual engineering underpinning the Renault. The whining noise from the front-mounted motor and the direct drive reducer transmission is ever present, and it manages to grow in intensity as the speed rises.
Even as a concept, however, the performance on offer feels brisk enough, and the regenerative effect when lifting off is smooth rather than severe. Renault quotes an 8.1sec 0-62mph time and top speed of 84mph. Plenty for those Parisian side streets, the potential range of 100 miles is also unlikely to be too little for its intended urban role.
The steering, unassisted on the Preview concept, will be electric on the final production car, although despite its heft it’s accurate on the move. The suspension is more or less nonexistent, with the Zoe Preview feeling busy on tarmac that wouldn’t even trouble the Renaultsport Mégane Cup.
The production car will ride more sweetly, with it expected to feature Clio-derived MacPherson-type front suspension and torsion beam, coil spring rear set-up. Hard semi-slick had-cut Michelin show-car tyres don’t help the ride either. The tyre firm has used specific production rubber with the emphasis on providing low rolling resistance for maximum economy.
Renault’s first fully developed electric-only platform will underpin the Zoe. The French firm claims the platform is exclusively for its own use. The batteries come from a joint Nissan-Renault programme though, and thanks to that EV-specific platform they are positioned as low down in the car as is possible.
That ideal weight distribution should help the production Zoe ride and handle better than this skittish, poorly suspended show car. Input on the dynamics from Renaultsport is possible, indeed, Breun doesn’t rule out an entire Zoe Renaultsport version of the car, with Renault’s more focused wing playing a key role in the development of the Zoe’s Twizy Z.E. sister vehicle.
Understandably, the production car will lose this Preview’s more overt interior styling and gain a simple bench seat in the rear, but the digital displays will remain, with the bold central screen containing all the information regarding the condition of the battery. Breun admits too that despite the low current draw of the show car’s LED lights the production car will feature conventional headlamps. Likewise, the glass roof will go, as to retain it would only cause additional energy pull to control the climate inside.
Should I buy one?
Cut through the show-car glitz and the Zoe’s conventionality is its biggest draw. Back that with good looks and the promise of an enjoyable drive and it could change the way we look at and use our superminis. It’ll be priced conventionally too, after the Government stumps up its £5000 subsidy the Zoe will be around the same price as a diesel Clio.
A brave new electric world, which you won’t need to be too brave to take the plunge into.
Price: £14,000 (est); Top speed: 84mph; 0-62mph: 8.1sec; Range: 100 miles; CO2: Zero (tailpipe); Kerb weight: 1392kg; Engine: Electric motor, lithium ion battery; Power: 79bhp; Torque: 163lb ft; Gearbox: Direct drive with reducer and forward/reverse inverter