At first glance, it might seem like the Renault Zoe has only come in for a mild facelift, but that's where you'd be wrong. Significant changes to the cabin bring a more upmarket look and feel to the car while simultaneously boosting perceived quality. And there are just as many changes going on beneath the skin. A new battery design increases driving range up to as much as 395 kilometres and the introduction of 50kW DC-charging adds another big plus to the Zoe's report card.
In the metal
Until now, the Renault Zoe could comfortably have held the title as the cutest looking EV on sale (though the impending arrival of the Honda e looks set to see the petite French car lose that crown). It's a car that has matured anyway, as you can see by its refreshed exterior styling. At the front is where you'll find the most noticeable changes, with the Zoe now sporting sharper looks. We'd stop short of calling them chiselled, but it no longer looks quite like the Pixar face it once had. New headlights with eye-catching and bright LED daytime running lights help it stand out in traffic, while the lower fog lamp design adds more definition to the front.
The overall silhouette of the Zoe remains unchanged, but revamped styling at the rear includes all-LED lights, complete with dynamic indicators that are very much in vogue. At 338 litres, the boot space is a useful size, and the addition of 60/40 split rear seats means it's possible to boost cargo capacity to 1,225 litres. Passenger space in the rear offers good amounts of headroom and legroom for a car of this size, too. While it might seem a little tight for whomever is in the middle seat, at least they don't have to contend with a bulky transmission tunnel further reducing foot space.
Renault's improvements to the cabin of the Zoe are just as welcome as the larger battery capacity underneath. New surface materials on the dashboard result in less reflection onto the interior of the windscreen, something that we had previously criticised the Zoe for. All models now get a 10-inch digital instrument display that looks modern and has stylish graphics. Navigation routes can be shown on this display, making it easy to understand at a glance. Meanwhile, a seven-inch infotainment screen features on entry- and mid-grade models. Upgrading to the top GT Line grade brings a more stylish 9.3-inch portrait-style display that is far nicer than similar items Renault has previously put into other cars like the Megane. The R110 version of the Zoe gets a Chameleon Charger that enables up to 22kW charging. Likely to be the bigger draw for people to move up to the R135 version is the fact that it includes a 50kW CCS fast charger. That should make it more appealing to those undertaking more frequent long-distance journeys, helping to cut down travel time.
Getting into a fully charged Renault Zoe with this latest 52kWh battery should put a smile on your face straight away. Even though only the base model is capable of the WLTP-certified 395-kilometre range, every other version of this Zoe is still good for 386 kilometres before needing to plug in again. There are two electric motors to choose from, starting with the R110. This unit produces a modest 108hp and is the one that can provide the longest possible driving range at 395 kilometres. Our drive in the more powerful 135hp R135 model offered good levels of acceleration and enough power to make the Zoe feel very zippy for urban environments. Roll-on acceleration is improved too, thanks to an extra 20Nm of torque, bringing the total to 245Nm. That improvement is also felt when overtaking at higher speeds, with Renault claiming that the 80- to 120km/h acceleration time reduces by two seconds.
Our only gripe with the driving position is that there isn't any height adjustment for the driver's seat, which left me (at five-foot-nine) wishing it could be just a bit lower. Ergonomically, everything else works well, including that 9.3-inch portrait-style infotainment display. The side and rear-view mirrors provide ample visibility and, from mid-grade, you get parking sensors. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Zoe seems most at home when nipping around towns and city streets. Its relatively compact size makes parking a doddle and the seating position, while not as adjustable as we'd like it to be, does put drivers almost at the same height as some so-called crossovers on the market. By far the best feature of this Zoe is the battery and following some normal and occasionally spirited driving, we believe the official driving ranges are achievable in the real world.
What you get for your money
There are three specification grades available for this latest Renault Zoe: Play, Iconic and GT Line, and these are split between the two motor types. The R110 is available with Play and Iconic trims, while the more powerful R135 motor comes in either Iconic or GT Line trims. Pricing for the R110 Play starts at €26,990, with a €2,000 price walk to the R110 Iconic. The R135 Iconic costs from €30,990 and has a smaller €1,000 price jump to the top-spec R135 GT Line. For anyone considering a Zoe as a company car, it falls below the current €50,000 threshold for BIK exception.
Adding this much range through the new battery comfortably makes the latest Renault Zoe one of the most relevant electric cars on the market today. It is competitively priced, not only for an EV, but even for premium combustion engined cars of a similar size. However, if you want to avail of the benefits that rapid DC charging can bring you will need to spend the extra money and go for the more powerful R135 model. And if you're going to spend the €30,990 on the R135, spending the additional €1,000 to upgrade to the GT Line, which adds more spec including that larger 9.3-inch display, is money well-spent.