I’m currently sitting on a frozen lake, inside a giant tent heated by a wood fire. After two flights, via Stockholm, we’ve flown into Kiruna in the far north of Sweden, close to the Arctic circle.
Tomorrow is the last day of cold weather testing for Renault’s all-electric Zoe supermini and the French company invited us along to get a taste for the car before they pack up and head back to their HQ.
As we sit here in -5c conditions, another team of Zoe engineers are finishing up the hot weather testing in southern Spain. Production of the Zoe is just winding up ahead of the car going on sale in October. We’ll be here for the rest of today and tomorrow morning and, as yet, I’ve just had a quick passenger ride in the test car.
Seeing it out here under the blue skies reveals what an attractive car the Zoe is in the metal. It’s a neat and handy size, small but big enough inside, with excellent high-back front seats. The interior styling is in that self-consciously ‘sci-fi’ style that all 40-something designers absorbed as children by watching Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999.
The Renault test driver flung the car around on deep snow, demonstrating just how clever today’s ESP systems are today, as the individual wheels are braked with great speed and sensitivity to put a completely wayward car back on the straight and narrow.
Renault’s engineers say that a new type of heat pump is used in the Zoe, one which is much more efficient than that in the Nissan Leaf. It uses much less energy to run the heater, which should extend the range in the worst winter conditions to around 60 miles, rather better than the 45 miles that Leaf manages.
Renault’s test regime is different from what they use for ‘ICE’ (Internal Combustion Engine) cars. During the first trip to this frozen lake, the charging cable froze into a rod-like rigidity after the first night in Arctic conditions. There’s a lot of standing about during these ride and drive exercises, so the good news is that the tent-cum-press office is offering Lipton’s Yellow Label tea and biscuits.
The Zoe maybe a part of the brave new world, but it’s 4pm here in the Arctic, and that still means it’s time for the traditional quick cuppa.