Advances in battery technology have enabled Renault to significantly increase the driving range of the Zoe without impacting on interior space or driving performance. The addition of a faster-charging version, as well as the option of either leasing the battery or purchasing the car outright, gives consumers a wider choice.
In the metal
The Renault Zoe R90 Z.E. 40, to call it by its full title, doesn't look different from the previous models. That's no bad thing as the Zoe is, by electric car standards, quite a chic and stylish supermini. There is a choice of three new colours; Mars Red, Titanium Grey and Ytrium Grey, which along with the existing colour options bring the palette size up to eight different hues.
Upping the style stakes further is the introduction of a Signature Nav specification. Similar named range-topping specifications exist in other models in the Renault range, and with the Zoe it too brings a more premium feel to the car. The darker Ytrium Grey paintwork is exclusive to this specification, as are the 'Grey Shadow' 16-inch alloy wheels and discreet BOSE badging on the front wings to signify the upgraded stereo system.
Inside, Signature Nav models get a distinctive, if not divisive, bronze-themed cabin made up of a mixture of leather, synthetic leather and fabric. The 'floating' centre console is lifted directly from the larger Renault Clio. This includes Renault's R-Link infotainment system that uses a seven-inch colour touchscreen and features sat nav. A TFT instrument display continues the techy feeling.
In the back, there is seating for three, but in reality, it's only going to be comfortable for two adults. The outer seats both carry ISOFIX points, as does the front passenger seat, while rear door apertures are generous enough. By housing the battery in the floor, boot space benefits to the tune of 338 litres - a good 50 to 60 litres more than most other similar sized cars.
Driving range aside, Renault hasn't applied any changes to the technical setup of the Zoe. For its size, the electric Renault does have quite a smooth ride and masks its added weight well when on the move. The battery packs make it around 400kg heavier than cars of a similar size with normal combustion engine setups. But as the battery pack is housed in the floor of the car, the centre of gravity is low enough to give the Zoe ample agility to suit most tastes.
The obvious benefits of an electrical drivetrain are there too. It's very quiet on the move around town, so quiet in fact that Renault employs a futuristic sound that plays externally at speeds up to 20km/h to warn pedestrians. At those low speeds, the instant power and torque delivered by the electric motor make it feel quite nippy. That pace is enhanced by the near silence of its operation and the fact that it uses a single gear rather than a traditional automatic, so there is no sensation of it changing up through gears, rather it is one linear surge.
At higher speeds and on poorer road surfaces the Zoe doesn't feel quite so polished. Bumps and potholes can unsettle the car, and it's worth remembering that its 16-inch Michelin Energy E-V tyres are designed more for lower rolling resistance than outright lateral cornering grip. One other less impressive feature is the fitment of halogen lights rather than higher intensity LED units.
The extended driving range will be the most important feature for most with this car. While the standardised NEDC cycle indicates that the Zoe Z.E. 40 is capable of 403km on a single charge, even Renault admits that in real world driving users should expect to get 280km. That figure falls by about 60km in winter months where greater need for cabin heat will deplete the battery that bit quicker.
During our time with the car and using some simple calculations it seems that a 280km range is indeed very realistic. When it comes to recharging the car, Renault has numerous options covered thanks to what it calls its 'Chameleon Charger'. This technology means that it can adapt to a variety of charge rates to optimise charging time. While it doesn't accept the larger DC-type charger unlike its relation, the Nissan Leaf, the Zoe's battery can be charged to 80 per cent capacity in 1 hour 40 minutes with a 43kW public charge point. Renault does offer a Quick Charger option reducing charge time to 1 hour and 5 minutes, but this does also reduce the overall driving range and power slightly. Using a conventional 7kW home charger expect it to take around seven to eight hours to charge fully.
What you get for your money
Thus far, Renault has always sold the Zoe with a battery lease, and it will continue to do so with this new version, but buyers will now have the option of buying the car outright. This purchase option means that although it will have a higher cost, subsequently you will only need to pay for your actual charging costs, which should be around €4 for a full charge based on off-peak overnight rates. Exact pricing options for the Zoe will be confirmed in early 2017.
There will be three trim levels to choose from starting with the Expression Nav. This specification is the entry point to the range, and it is important to note that this model is not available with the longer-range battery. This model still uses the existing 22kW battery that will give you a shorter real world driving range of approximately 170km. You still get the same interior with seven-inch R-Link system and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Moving up to Dynamique Nav gets you that improved battery, larger 16-inch 'Black Shadow' alloy wheels and a keyless ignition. Other useful features include automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, rear electric windows and electrically operated and heated door mirrors. A leather steering wheel and gear selector add to the interior. The Dynamique Nav trim also includes a complimentary one-year subscription to the Z.E. Interactive app. This app allows users to remotely set and control charging schedules, as well setting cabin temperatures to pre-condition the car via your smartphone.
The new higher Signature Nav spec adds a leather interior, heated front seats, rear parking camera lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat and the aforementioned seven-speaker BOSE audio system. It rides on 16-inch 'Grey Shadow' alloy wheels and can be ordered in a colour exclusive to this trim.
By adding a substantially longer driving range to the Zoe, Renault has instantly increased the appeal to this already stylish electric car. Most importantly its real-world driving range will suit the vast majority of people considering the move the electric power. One further bonus will be the ability to purchase the car outright, doing away with the monthly battery lease cost.