What is it?
The Renault Zoeis the French firm’s totally electric supermini, and it has been knocking around on the scene since 2012 – yup, those of you that are quick at maths (and even those of you that aren’t) will be aware that that represents TEN years on sale. And although electric cars have, in primitive forms, been around since the 19th century and the dawn of the automobile, in realistic terms the Zoe is therefore one of the forerunners of the modern boom in attainable zero-emissions personal transportation.
Related to the Nissan Leaf, which is an even longer-serving EV, and yet sold in a class beneath its Japanese cousin, the Zoe is a straightforward, pragmatic electric runaround – there’s no flashy styling nor highly digitised interior to talk about here, so if you’re after unmatched kerb appeal it might not be the EV for you. That said, it does have a spacious and practical cabin, and with its 52kWh battery pack fitted in can now go up to 239 miles on a single charge – making the Renault Zoe's range the longest in its class.
Facing a variety of EV rivals of various shapes and sizes, the principal opposition comes in the form of Stellantis machines, like the Peugeot E-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-E (both electrified versions of hatchbacks that are otherwise available with internal combustion engines, whereas the Zoe is a bespoke EV model), and also stylish, upmarket city cars such as the MINI Cooper S Electric, the Fiat 500 Electric and the Honda E.
What’s good about it?
Well, it’s that range, isn’t it? When Renault launched the Zoe back in the year that London hosted the Olympics, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still on The Avengers and Venus made its last transit across the face of the Sun for this century, the 22kWh battery gave an official range of 90 miles. Which, in reality, would’ve been more like 50-60. Eek.
However, Renault has been tweaking and fettling the Zoe over the (many) years since, giving its EV a 40kWh battery pack in 2016 and then an even larger 52kWh unit in 2019. That means its official WLTP maximum range of 239 miles eclipses the E-208 (217 miles) and the Corsa-E (211 miles) by a fair old distance, while the city cars we listed above all do less than 200 miles to a charge officially (500 Electric = 199mi; MINI Electric = 145mi; Honda E = 137mi). So if you need to go longer distances in your small EV, the Zoe is definitely the car for you.
What could be better?
Without being ugly on the outside or being particularly cheaply made inside, the Renault Zoe lacks a lot of star appeal. Its ethos is one of flying under the radar, so on the outside it looks fairly plain, although it does come in a variety of finishes and colours which you can see in our handy Zoe colour guide.
On the inside top models have a 9.3-inch touchscreen set-up, which is OK, and the cluster isn’t analogue, but it’s all very prosaic to look at and operate. Which is both a blessing, in terms of intuitiveness, and a curse, in terms of lacking the requisite ‘wow’ factor that a lot of EV buyers look for.
Also, the Renault Zoe is an old car, with old underpinnings and old technology. So while it picked up a 5-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating when it was new in 2012, by the 2020s the much more stringent testing resulted in it being stripped of all its stars. Yes, that’s right – it has a 0-star rating. This is mainly because it is very weak for driver assist technologies, rather than it being a fundamentally flimsy vehicle, but the Zoe’s age counts significantly against it here.
What’s it like to drive?
The Zoe is as ordinary to drive as it is to look at – which, again, will play in its favour in certain circles, mainly because it feels like a conventional supermini hatchback from behind the wheel; it just so happens to be one without an engine, is all.
Renault offers 2 powertrains for the Zoe. The first, called the R110, has an 80kW (109hp) motor and 225Nm, allowing for 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds and a limited top speed of 84mph. The, um, brawnier R135, meanwhile, has a 100kW (136hp) propulsion system that develops 245Nm, which cuts the 0-62mph time to 9.5 seconds and raises the nominal top speed by just 3mph to 87mph. Neither model of Renault feels particularly quick, even by the standards of other modestly powered EVs, but they are of course smooth and quiet, with the Zoe making an odd sci-fi keening noise outside at low speeds to let pedestrians know it’s coming.
For handling, all the controls of the Zoe are notably light and lacking feel, so there’s no much joy in throwing it into a series of corners at a pace known as ‘full tilt’. Weirdly, though, there’s an underlying firmness to its suspension that means it isn’t quite the most comfortable and refined of EVs of its type when all you’re doing is pottering about in it, although the ride quality is generally more than acceptable and pliant for daily duties.
In short, if you just want a car to get you from A to B with the absolute minimum of fuss, and yet you also want said car to emit nothing from its tailpipes as it goes, the Zoe is probably the choice motor of the lot.
How practical is it?
Space inside is good and the Zoe has a relatively large boot, measuring 338 litres with all seats in place and rising to 1225 litres with the 2nd row of seating folded down. As the driver, you sit nice and high behind the wheel – maybe too high, by about 6 inches or so, especially if you’re unusually tall – and visibility out is good in most directions, although the large and chunky C-pillars do inhibit the view over your shoulder when you’re reversing at walking speeds.
In terms of charging, the Zoe will go from 0-100% of its 52kWh battery in 17 hours on a domestic 3kW AC connection. Have a 7kW wallbox installed and that time reduces to a much more acceptable 7 hours, meaning overnight charging at home will be your friend, but the Renault also has the capability to be optioned up with 50kW CCS Combo 2 DC rapid charging connections, which’ll put 0-80% charge into the battery in just 45 minutes if you can find a suitable public charging point. If the Zoe will be your first electric car and you have questions about topping your battery up daily check out our home charging guide.
How much will the Renault Zoe cost me?
The Renault Zoe is one of the most affordable EVs we have on offer, and when you lease one with Vanarama we’ll also throw in a free home charger!
Equipment levels are good across the board, with the top-spec GT Line+ coming with automatic lights and wipers, climate control, front and rear parking sensors with a reverse parking camera, a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, cruise control, keyless entry and go, and 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, among more.
Anything else I should know?
Its distinctive, feminine name is the Greek for ‘life’, and it was also useful for Renault which tends to call its ‘zero emissions’ EVs ‘Z.E.’ in other ranges – thus Zoe fitted the bill on both counts. Sadly, when it was announced, it didn’t exactly please French people who had christened their daughters Zoe – there was uproar in the Renault’s homeland and even petitions demanding the carmaker changed the vehicle’s name before it signed it off for production. Clearly, Renault got its own way… much to the chagrin of at least 2 French girls who were called Zoe Renault, whose parents brought an official legal case to court in an attempt to get the company to change its mind (and the EV’s model name).
What alternatives should I look at?
Less practical 3-door body and 145-mile range, but the MINI Electric exudes stylish verve.
Related to the Zoe, the Nissan Leaf is a larger-bodied hatchback for those needing added practicality.
Only an electric version of an existing supermini, but the E-208 is brilliant to look at and sit in.
The Vanarama Verdict: 7/10
"An all electric classic, the Zoe's top strengths are its fantastic range and affordability."
Three things to remember about the Renault Zoe:
It’s very easy to use and live with
One of the more practical small EVs
Doesn’t do anything particularly daring or standout