What is it?
When the groundbreaking Nissan Leaf appeared in 2010, we were fed statistics that should, on paper at least, have alleviated a number of common fears and misconceptions that surrounded all-electric motoring. For example, the claim that a 100-mile range is enough for more than 75% of all journeys undertaken made the Leaf, with its 124-mile range, look positively practical.
However, what these statistics failed - and still fail - to take into account is that the car as a concept has been such a success over the past century thanks to its unparalleled flexibility. Having the freedom to go where you like, when you like and with a minimum of inconvenience is something the public simply don’t want to give up. In short, people care about that extra 25% of journeys.
Over the years a number of manufacturers have responded to the public’s fear of range anxiety, with BMW and Nissan recently taking steps to increase the performance of their pure EVs. However, as of yet, only Tesla offers an ‘entry-level’ EV capable of true long-distance motoring, in the form of the Model S P60D with its 267-mile range.
Thankfully, Renault now claims to have rectified this situation, with its new mass-market Zoe R90. Despite costing a whopping £34,345 less than the Tesla, the R90 is theoretically capable of travelling up to 250 miles on a charge – only 17 miles short of the premium US saloon. Granted, in real-world driving conditions that astonishing figure is predicted to fall to just 186 miles, but that’s still 80 miles more than the entry-level 20kWh Zoe and, according to Renault, is "the greatest range of any mainstream electric vehicle".
This extra range comes courtesy of a new battery which has almost double the storage capacity of the current Zoe's (at 41kWh) but, crucially, is no larger or heavier. This has been achieved by increasing the energy density of individual cells rather than adding more battery modules, thus Renault has been able to pack the battery into the same compact space as before.
Combined with a free home 7kW fast-charger, which takes just three to four hours to charge a Zoe to full capacity from empty, and new satellite navigation software that allows drivers to access paid charging points regardless of the operator, Renault says range anxiety is a thing of the past.
What's it like?
One of our criticisms of the 30kWh Leaf was that it weighed 21kg more than its 24kWh stablemate, itself a portly car that already suffered from poor body control. Thankfully, there are no such complaints with the 41kWh Zoe. Like the car it replaces, the R90 turns in keenly and stays flat while resisting understeer, thanks in part to a centre of gravity that’s lower than that of the latest Clio. Granted, it’s not as sharp as its petrol-powered sibling once the road becomes tight and twisty, but that’s to be expected of a car with a kerb weight of 1480kg.
That said, these cars are predominantly used as short-hop, urban-environment runabouts, a task at which the Zoe excels. Performance is in effect unchanged with the addition of the new battery (the run from 0-62mph still takes more than 13 seconds), but in normal day-to-day driving situations the electric motor’s instant 166lb ft results in peppy acceleration at speeds below 40mph - perfect, then, for the stop-start nature of Lisbon’s packed inner-city streets.
That initial friskiness on getaway fades significantly as speed rises however, which can mean that some overtaking requires a little more planning. Even so, that didn’t stop us from leaving our test car in Eco mode for the majority of our journey. Sacrificing a little speed for another 10% of range just feels right in a car such as this.
Not that we had to sacrifice speed, as it turned out. Initially, the on-board computer promised 186 miles, and after 25 miles of gentle suburban cruising, the readout showed a respectable 162 miles of remaining range - so only one mile out. The range then briefly dropped to 130 miles after a further 30 miles of enthusiastic driving, but after ambling through a number of sleepy Portuguese villages, we managed to eventually match the range calculator, and then maintain it, all the way to our destination. Aside from in the more expensive P60D, we’ve not experienced the same level of all-electric flexibility.
Not everything has improved with this facelift, however. Renault now offers a new top-level Signature Nav trim, which should, in theory, bring the Zoe’s interior closer to that of the luxurious i3. But in reality, the leather upholstery, Bose sound system and brash bronze colour scheme does little to lift what is effectively a dated Clio cabin. We’d rather save our money and go for the more restrained Dynamique trim instead.
Should I buy one?
If you own a current-generation Renault Zoe and use your car predominately in the city, then the new R90’s extra range is unlikely to offer you a measurable day-to-day advantage. However, if you're new to pure EV’s, the extra flexibility, perceived or not, over competitors such as the 150-mile Leaf and 195-mile i3, is compelling.
On top of that, the Zoe, viewed simply as a conventional car, is still a practical five-door hatchback with a well-equipped interior, a smooth ride and a torquey engine. If you’ve been tempted to take the plunge into EV ownership, the Zoe now makes an even stronger case for itself than it did before.
2016 Renault Zoe R90 Z.E.40 Signature
Location Lisbon; On sale December; Price £19,895 plus battery rental from £59pcm or £25,495 outright; Engine Electric motor; Power 91bhp at 3000rpm; Torque 166lb ft from 250rpm; Gearbox Single-ratio, ‘reducer’; Kerb weight 1480kg; 0-62mph 13.2sec; Top speed 84mph; Range 250 miles; CO2/tax band 0g/km at tailpipe, 0%; Rivals Nissan Leaf; BMW i3