If there is to be a global transition from combustion-engined to electrically powered cars, it has not thus far proved quick, smooth or particularly profitable for the car makers leading the field - so can the Renault Zoe change that?

The most viable EV to have undergone the Autocar road test so far is unquestionably the Nissan Leaf, yet it has proven a tough sell – limited not only by the inherent range dilemma although that has been increased to 150 miles, but also by an initially high asking price that pigeonholed it as an early-adopter extravagance rather than a truly mass-market car. 

Renault's involvement in EVs is now extensive. Underwritten by the billion-pound investment made by the Renault-Nissan Alliance in an EV programme, the brand publicly kicked off its ZE (Zero Emissions) programme with a series of concepts that included previews of the Zoe the Twizy

The commercial Kangoo ZE and saloon-shaped Fluence ZE entered production first, in 2011. The Fluence faltered due to the financial collapse of its battery swapping network, but the Kangoo was named Van of the Year in 2012.

With the Renault Zoe, the French half of the Renault-Nissan Alliance is attempting to break through. Its car, conceived as electric from the outset rather than adapted from a combustion-engined model, is supermini-sized.

It has broadly similar range and performance to the Leaf but, like most of Renault’s EVs thus far, will be part-sold and part-leased via a battery rental scheme. Which means that, with the continued assistance of the government’s EV grant, the Zoe can actually be had for supermini money. Although the end of 2016, saw the Zoe get a facelift which saw the standard 22kWh battery joined by a 41kWh version and a 250 mile range.

So is the Renault Zoe a potential tipping point or a car still hamstrung from the outset?

Top 5 City cars

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Honda Civic
    Car review
    21 April 2017
    Honda’s 10th-generation Civic hatchback goes global — but is that good news?
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in
    First Drive
    21 April 2017
    Second-generation Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid gets a bigger battery with new 39-mile electric range, more tech and styling updates, but it's expensive
  • Seat Ateca 1.4 EcoTSI 150 DSG
    First Drive
    20 April 2017
    Addition of DSG automatic gearbox in this top-spec model doesn't show the Ateca small SUV in its best light
  • Isuzu D-Max Blade
    First Drive
    20 April 2017
    Isuzu treats its rough-and-ready D-Max pick-up truck to a new engine, revised looks, better hauling ability and more equipment
  • MG ZS
    First Drive
    19 April 2017
    We drive MG’s upcoming Ford Ecosport rival in China-spec; good looks and a smart interior bode well for the UK version