Renault sold its 50,000th Zoe in April 2016; mid-life facelift expected in 2017

Renault sold its 50,000th Zoe in April 2016; mid-life facelift expected in 2017

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Overall sales numbers are modest but there's no doubting that the Zoe is finally becoming a success for Renault. A recently announced new battery pack which gives a far larger range might even make 2017 this B segment electric hatchback's best year yet.

UK market deliveries of Renault's electric vehicle line-up, which consists of the Zoe, Kangoo Z.E. and Twizy, were up by 25 percent in the first nine months of 2016. Of 1,648 vehicles sold, 1,482 were Zoes. That's a 33 percent increase on the first three quarters of 2015.

The pattern is consistent with the performance of Renault EVs across European markets, where the brand says it is number one in sales/leases for private and utility vehicles, with a 27% share of the market.

In September, an owner in Oslo took delivery of the 100,000th Renault electric car to be sold in the region, and this was a Zoe. Norway along with Germany, France and the UK, is one of the top four markets for plug-in Renaults. 

Norway is a great place to sell EVs, in fact, with the Tesla Model X being the second best selling vehicle (601 registrations) there in September behind the VW Golf (996). In the first nine months of this year, the US firm has delivered 2,500 cars to Norwegian customers.

There are no figures for the year to the end of September, but in the first half of 2016, Renault sold more than 15,000 electric vehicles (excluding the Twizy) across all of Europe, an increase of 32% on the previous year.

Having read all the stats, I wanted to properly try a Zoe, and to find out how it serves as everyday transport. There have been a couple of brief drives on previous occasions but each was just a few miles.

For a three-year old car that's based on the platform of the previous Clio, the Zoe feels remarkably contemporary. The looks and proportions are strong, and the blue filters in the headlights and tail lamps lend it a slightly exotic look. Here and there you can see some cheap detailing - a lack of separate head restraints for the front seats, a rear seat that doesn't split - but mostly everything is up to the standards of the European B segment.

To recharge, you first press the image of a plug on the keycard. This flips open the Renault diamond in the centre of the grille. There are the expected two bags of cables in the boot - one to fit an ordinary home or office socket and the other for fast chargers.

The 'eco' theme extends to the materials chosen for the interior. These look and feel superior to those in the similarly sized BMW i3 and apart from the wrap for the steering wheel, there is no leather. Instead, the seat fabric is cloth and in the test car this was grey with tiny white dots. Even though there is not one bit of soft-touch plastic anywhere, you don't notice, reason being it's all either textured or tinted in different shades of grey, black or beige. This works really well and the headliner is a light colour and covered in soft felt-like material.

The boot can be a bit tight at times and it isn't ideal to have to flip the whole back seat if you want to expand the capacity from 338 litres to the 1,225 litres that Renault says is available with the backrest tipped forwards. Why not provide a 40/20/40 arrangement, or even 50/50 or 40/60?

There's nothing odd or unfamiliar to stop anyone just jumping in and driving the Zoe. You have a conventional handbrake and what looks like an automatic transmission shift lever which has P-R-N-D positions. There are no paddles, no Sport mode; just those four slots. There is however, an ECO button to the lever's left which does a good job of extending the car's range. This limits speed of acceleration and top speed (to 60mph I found) and compared to non-eco mode, you do get quite a few more miles from a recharge. When in Eco, the usual blue background of the digital instruments changes to green.

Kids will love the big and deep rear windows and it feels as though all seats are higher placed than in other B segment hatchbacks. For the driver, the effect is almost like being in a Captur - you certainly feel that the views out are from a loftier position than in a Clio.

Like an i3, this can be either a fun car to drive, or a silent and relaxing one, depending on the conditions and your mood. It doesn't handle as nimbly as the BMW and the steering isn't as direct but ride comfort, even on the press car's 17-inch wheels and special Michelin E-V Energy tyres, is impressive. 

There are a couple of ways to take ownership of a Zoe. Firstly, under a battery hire scheme, pricing starts at GBP13,945 after the Government Plug-in Car Grant. But on top of this, you have to sign up for a battery lease, which starts at GBP45 per month (36 months and 3,000 miles a year limit for this, the cheapest option). The benefits include a lifetime performance guarantee for the battery and 24/7 roadside assistance which includes rescue if you run out of charge. There is also the option to buy the car outright. Pricing starts at GBP18,945 after the Government Plug-in Car Grant. With this scheme, the buyer owns the car and the battery.

The Zoe's Chameleon charger makes the best use of whatever electricity supply is available. From zero to 80 percent full can be achieved in as little as 30 minutes. For retail customers with a domestic address and off street parking, a 7kW Homecharger is available for free, including installation. With one of these, the car can go from flat-to-full in 3-4 hours. Using a domestic socket, I simply plugged in each night and managed anywhere between 60 and 80 miles. It soon became a fun challenge to see how smoothly you can drive so as to keep the LED battery display looking healthy.

A week was long enough to show me that a Zoe could well suit my needs, though I think I'd still prefer another vehicle for times when a bigger car is needed. The range wasn't really an issue, which came as a surprise. The new 43kWh battery pack and Q90 motor which Renault announced at the Paris motor show will also help to convince a lot of others that a Zoe could be an option for them too.  

The better battery has an NEDC range of 400km/250 miles but in real-world driving, Renault estimates the car's Z.E. 40 battery (43kWh) has a range of 186 miles (300km) in urban or suburban areas. The Zoe with the 22kWh battery, which was the one I tested, remains on sale as a cheaper option. The NEDC rating of this is 240km/149 miles or 170km/106 miles according to Renault's 'real world' rating. Its R90 motor has maximum power of 65kW (88hp) and torque of 220Nm. Top speed is limited to 85mph and 0-62mph takes 13.5 seconds. Battery weight is 290kg and the car tips the scales at 1,468kg.

Specifications and pricing for the Z.E. 40 should be announced soon, with the first cars due on sale in LHD European markets from November.