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Early adopter of electric power has been refined rather than reinvented

Like many French models, Zoe was at the cutting edge of fashion when she burst onto the scene in 2012. There weren’t many similar models doing what she did, and she quickly gained popularity with her convivial, easy-going nature and quietly subtle style.

But times change and, in the past few years, plenty of younger models have caught onto the trend Zoe helped to start – and while those models brought attention to her and increased her popularity, Zoe was starting to risk looking a little behind the times.

Not the last word in performance but, aided by the instant availability of the torque, it’s capable of holding its own on faster roads in a way that earlier versions couldn’t.

Renault has already given Zoe a few nips and tucks, but has now treated her to a full makeover, and she’s emerged revitalised, refreshed and ready to prove that she still has what it takes against some trendy young upstarts.

We’ll end the tortured fashion/car analogy there, in order to focus on the changes Renault has made to what it calls the third-generation of its Zoe electric hatch, which is built on a reworked version of the same basic platform as the original. The exterior design has been refreshed, with new lines, a bigger, bolder Renault logo (which hides the charging ports), a new front bumper and new standard LED lights. The appearance is a little more stylish, and closely tied to the recently launched Clio.

More has changed inside the car, with a refreshed interior that feels a big step forward from the previous model. There’s a 10in digital instrument display as standard, customisable lighting and a revamped dashboard centred on an infotainment touchscreen (up to 9.3in in size) featuring the latest version of Renault’s Easy Link system. The perceived quality is an improvement, and the mix of physical buttons and the touchscreen makes the car pleasingly easy to operate.

Renault claims the soundproofing has also been substantially improved, and while some road noise did permeate at high speeds, the car does offer the quiet, engine-noise-free cruising many EV buyers enjoy.

More significant is the work Renault has done under the skin, with an upgraded battery and a new motor giving the Zoe more power and more range. The battery is 52kWh, compared with the previous Zoe’s 41kWh version, giving a range of up to 245 miles on the WLTP test cycle – which the firm claims is 32% more than the previous model.

Significantly, that range is close to the Nissan Leaf, and ahead of similarly priced entry-level versions of the forthcoming Peugeot e-208, Vauxhall e-Corsa and Volkswagen ID 3, some of its key future electric rivals.

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Understanding the Renault Zoe model line-up

The R135 model we've driven here is priced at £27,620 if you buy the batteries outright, or £20,620 if you choose to lease them (all prices include the UK government's EV grant). The cost of a battery lease is yet to be set, but is expected to be similar to the outgoing model, which starts from around £49 per month. 

The lower-powered R110 model now costs £25,760 outright, or £18,670 with the battery lease. While the Zoe was first launched buyers had to lease the batteries, but the option to buy them outright was introduced in 2014. Buyers are now split evenly between the two models. 

Both models feature a standard AC charging port, capable of charging at up to 22kWh, and the cost includes a 7kWh wallbox home charger. A 50kWh CCS DC charging port, which can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes, is a £750 option in the UK on medium and higher trims.

The previous 106bhp R110 motor has been retained as an entry-level option, alongside the new R135 unit, tested here, which produces 133bhp. The extra power reduces the 0-62mph time from 11.4sec to 9.5sec and increases the top speed from 84mph to 87mph, although it does slightly reduce the car’s range. Both units have identical torque of 181lb ft.

The increase in power offered by the new motor is noticeable when you’re behind the wheel, without exactly transforming the driving experience of the Zoe. As you’d expect, it’s not the last word in performance but, aided by the instant availability of the torque, it’s capable of holding its own on faster roads in a way that earlier versions couldn’t.

The ride and handling will be familiar to those who have driven the previous Zoe: it’s light and nimble, without offering vast levels of feedback. The generally good ride is at its best at lower speeds, but can feel unsettled on faster, flowing roads.

Along with the new motor, Renault has kept up with the EV pack by adding a new ‘B mode’ function, which features more aggressive regeneration under braking similar to the Nissan Leaf. While not as expansive as the system available on the Kia e-Niro, it allows the car to be controlled with a single pedal, and helps to extend the range.

That mode is particularly suited to urban driving – which the Zoe was designed for and where it continues to thrive thanks to its light, nimble steering, comparatively high seating position and good all-round visibility. It retains the five-seat layout and a useful 338-litre boot.

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Does the Renault Zoe still compare favourably to other EV hatchbacks?

For the sort of limited-mileage semi-urban running most Zoe buyers are likely to undertake, it remains an ideal choice as an electric hatch – one enhanced by the improvements Renault has made. It’s the sort of makeover that will help to keep Zoe relevant as the electrification movement gathers pace.

On price and range – still the key considerations for most EV buyers – Zoe can hold her own with her key new rivals. We’ll have to wait until all those new rivals have strutted their stuff to conclude fully, but it seems there’s plenty of life in this comparatively old model yet.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Zoe

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