Innovative Zoe demonstrates that an electric future needn’t be earnest, or range limited

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.

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A brave new electric world, which you won’t need to be too brave to take the plunge into.

Kyle Fortune

Renault Zoe

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


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Orangewheels 21 February 2011

Re: Renault Zoe

I remember seeing something on TV about a year ago on a small firm in wales making thin light flexible & cheap solar panel strips, no idea on power outputs but if it's cheap enough and can contribute to the charging then why not.

As for the car, despite claiming it's a "Renault only" platform, I can't see how they'll be able to keep it away from Nissan, or see any financial reason why they would want to.

TegTypeR 21 February 2011

Re: Renault Zoe

theonlydt wrote:

TegTypeR wrote:
One question though and this isn't just solely aimed at this car but at all electrically motivated cars, why do none of the manufacturers fit a solar cell roof? I know this would increase cost and weight a little but surely the benefits in warmer countries (and who knows, sometimes during the summer in the UK!) would more than compensate.

Because they're heavy, expensive and barely produce enough electricity to run an LED, let alone recharge a battery. Until photovoltiacs improve and become cheaper, lighter and with greater energy density there would be no point. Also warmth has nothing to do with it ;)

Lol, yes, I am aware warmth has nothing to do with it.

Here's my theory - a very rough one at that.

Check out the product below. This is a relatively cheap and crude (compared to the more advanced stuff out there) panel. Sadly, no weight is shown but I have sold these before and if memory serves me right, it isn't that heavy and certainly if you were going to produce a roof panel out of then, not much heavier than a glass equivalent.

Now, Hughseynight has commented that covering the roof would produce about 300w and take 70 hours to charge the battery. The Zoe has a range of 100 miles. I am no where near an electrical or an electronics expert but assume that the battery uses it's charge linearly. We can therefore assume that if I were to cover, say, ten miles (a commute to work for instance) then the using the panels would take 7 hours to re-charge the battery (assuming it was fully charged when I left).

If I do an 8 hour work day and the car is parked outside, this would mean I would not need to plug the car in to charge it at all and at the end of the day the battery would be fully charged again.

I am not sure what percentage of urban commuters would do a journey within those parameters but I'd imagine it's quite a few.

I realise my limited understanding of battery and electronics means this could be shot down in flames on a technical basis but the concept makes sense.

artill 20 February 2011

Re: Renault Zoe

So this thing is going to be £13,000. Well not quite. Actually £18,000 but as the uk tax payer will contribute £5,000 to the person who buys one. But thats not it. The purchaser will then pay about £100 per month to rent the batteries, which they will then recharge at home instead of using a filling station as the rest of us do. However almost nothing will end up with the exchequer.

Those of us who buy conventional fuel add many hundreds of pounds a year to the tax take with our fill ups, whereas the owner of a Zoe will add just 5% of their electricity bill.

My big fear with electric cars is the extra tax they will have to get from all of us to pay for the electric car user. The odd one wont make any difference, but if they have any success the rest of us will end up paying even more to drive non electric cars.

And its not as if all of us car run these things. Most electric cars claim a range between 60 and 100 miles, yet a recent test on the Mitsubushi i by autoexpress showed its claimed range of 90 odd miles was between1/3 and 1/2 in the real world. I need a car that can be driven more than 50 miles a day, and occasionally 400, without the fear of running out of fuel without an 8 hour stop off to re fuel.

I wouldnt mind if these things were offered on a tax neutral basis, but they are a long way from that so far