From £14,2458
Much-improved range and same suite of strengths make the Zoe an EV that more people than ever before can now consider

Our Verdict

Renault Zoe

Bespoke battery-powered supermini aims to advance the cause of electric cars at the mainstream end of the market

Neil Winn - Autocar
16 December 2016
2016 Renault Zoe R90 Z.E.40 Signature

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.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

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

Join the debate


16 December 2016
We've two cars and we've NEVER done more than 100 miles in both of them on the same day, so a genuine 190 miles is a bit of a land mark because I'd need no more for my commute of 105 mile daily.
Hopefully going forward Renault etc will take the Telsa approach and do the same model with different ranges/prices.
Looks like I've a big decision next time I'm buying

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

16 December 2016
It seems like the Germans are always on the news when talking about advances in this field (Tesla notwithstanding) with e-trons, i-series and electrified B-classes, but the reality is that Renault has made major inroads in this technology, and this is further proof; it's the perfect runabout, with the bonus of not having to recharge it every night, possibly even only once a week if your commute is an average one.

The fact that you can actually travel some considerable distances without having to worry about charging it on the way is the icing on the cake. London - Cotswolds and back, anyone?

16 December 2016
Ah, no thanks.

16 December 2016
Really ? Drive one, its cool, handles well, doesnt feel anywhere near as slow as the figures suggest even at 90 on the motorway, plus it looks really great (stupid clear rear lights excepted), much nicer than the Clio.

XXXX just went POP.

16 December 2016
It's the way to go, but let's hope the batteries can cope long term, and don't do a Samsung!

17 December 2016
This seems to be the first proof that battery technology is really advancing - how far and fast remains to be seen, but I reckon that in five years time, with a charging infrastructure hopefully in place, EVs will be entirely viable. To nearly double the energy density of the Zoe's battery in a mere few years bodes extremely well for the future and i keep reading about advances in the pipeline. I am really surprised that the Leaf hasn't benefited similarly; that should be able to do well over 200 miles.

18 December 2016
streaky wrote:

This seems to be the first proof that battery technology is really advancing - how far and fast remains to be seen, but I reckon that in five years time, with a charging infrastructure hopefully in place, EVs will be entirely viable. To nearly double the energy density of the Zoe's battery in a mere few years bodes extremely well for the future and i keep reading about advances in the pipeline. I am really surprised that the Leaf hasn't benefited similarly; that should be able to do well over 200 miles.

The Leaf uses battery cells manufactured by AESC (a Nissan joint-venture), which don't seem to be particularly competitive. The Zoe uses LG Chem cells, which have become much denser during development of the 60kWh $37k Chevrolet Bolt. They're probably the second-best supplier in the world right now, after Panasonic.

Interesting to note, the Hyundai Ioniq also uses LG Chem cells, at a significantly lower energy density than the Bolt and new Zoe. No way of knowing whether they're using a heavy pack design or old cells, but either way, that car should have a major upgrade over the next year or two.

Battery upgrades are commonplace for EVs though, the industry moves quickly. Tesla's 2 upgrades have been much smaller (proportionately) than the Zoe and BMW i3's, but remain way out in front when it comes to energy density: the Zoe's is either 134 or ~148 Wh/kg (depending on whether 41kWh is usable or total capacity), whereas Tesla's P100D is around 175 Wh/kg.

18 December 2016
Here's how you can fill up your bank account with additional cash each week... Read more by visiting this page>>


18 December 2016
This is the GAMECHANGER. Pity it had to be French.

19 December 2016
If it's a 7kwH charger then it can only output 7kw of energy, so mathematically 41kwH will need almost 6 hours to charge from empty, a bit less if not fully discharged, but certainly significantly more than the 3-4 hours in the article.


Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week