My new friend, ZOE – long term test
I knew the ZOE would make a good four-wheeled companion, but I wasn’t expecting to ‘miss’ it quite as much as I do.
Last year, after weeks of begging, the boss let me borrow a FIAT 500e for a month. It was bright pink (I was very pleased).
It had wireless Apple CarPlay for my tunes, was seriously cute and SO much fun to drive. Oh, and it charged quickly as well which was good news because I can’t charge a car at home. In my head, at the time, it was by far and away the best small electric car you could get for the money.
This year though they’ve let me loose on a Renault ZOE and, well, now I’m not so sure…
In this blog, I’ll fill you in on what happened while I lived with a ZOE for a couple of months. From day-to-day driving to charging and range, I’ll do my best to give you a glimpse of electric car life with a small EV in 2023.
At one with nature. Sort of.
The top 3 best and worst things
For those in a hurry…
There’ll be more on these later.
Don’t judge a book by its cover (or something)
First things first, I feel a bit sorry for ZOE. She suffers from prejudice and it’s not her fault. I know this because I was part of the problem.
When ZOE first came out in 2013, mainstream EVs were very much still in their infancy. They were laughed at and not taken seriously by a lot of people (guilty). The ZOE was seen as a very safe, sensible small car, which was true, but like the early generation Nissan Leaf it was tainted by an “eco-warrior” namby-pamby image forced upon it. Even now, compared to newer models like the Vauxhall Corsa-e, it gets judged as the more ‘boring’ alternative to its rivals.
Having now lived with one, I don’t think that’s fair at all.
Granted, the shape has been around for some time now and other cars like the Peugeot e-208 may seem a touch more up-to-date looks wise, but I don’t think that makes ZOE unattractive. Besides, the shape was designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, while keeping weight low (despite the batteries) and having enough space for everyone onboard.
Ten years on now, the ZOE has had a few battery/motor updates and an extensive interior improvement. It means the latest version is a seriously well-sorted EV. And with attitudes to electric cars now changing massively for the better, I think the ZOE is well-deserved of its place on our roads.
What I’m trying to say is, go into the rest of this with an open mind and it might surprise you. People can look and assume it’s a bit dull or ‘just a more expensive, less useable Clio’. But there is charm in ZOEs, “I’m just a reliable small car” vibe. Dependable, loyal, and no-nonsense can still be sexy, you know?
ZOE relaxing in the shade.
What was the range really like?
The range of the Renault ZOE has surpassed my expectations massively (and I was going into this knowing that the range would be good anyway!).
Context: I live in a flat on the south coast of England and, although I have off-street parking, I can’t charge the car at home. I’ve been relying on a slow (7kW) charge point approximately 1 mile from my front door, or rapid public chargers en-route.
On long journeys
I drove to and from our London office twice from home (pretty much exactly 100 miles each way). It was a pretty straight forward journey because there are chargers near our office. So, 100 miles there, charge for a few hours, 100 miles back.
Each time the ZOE still said it had 51/52% of battery left when I reached work/home. That means a real-world range, at motorway speeds, of just over 200 miles. At least in the summer anyway…
Of course, I’m well aware this was in good conditions (with a bit of stop/start town driving as-well which helped), but I wasn’t driving like an eco-warrior. When I could do 70mph, I did, and I had the air-conditioning on the whole time. I wasn’t going easy on ZOE, I was driving just as I would any other car. I had places to be!
But it still performed excellently. For a small, city orientated car that wasn’t really designed for longer journeys like this all the time, it coped extremely well. I’d be curious to see how it copes with similar journeys in the colder months, but I get the feeling it wouldn’t be as painful as you might first think.
The daily drives
Pretty impressive I thought!!
But what about when you’re not doing a 200-mile commute? Well, I work-from-home and tend not to drive all that often, apart from doing the 16-ish mile round-trip to see family and friends in the nearest city, three or four times a week (plus the odd slightly longer excursion at weekends, I’d say I average around 400-500 miles per month not including trips to London for work).
Those short journeys are mostly 30-50mph roads with a quick nip through the city to the car park. That’s when I saw this seriously impressive range figure of 245 miles (I had to take a picture of it because I knew no one would believe me!!).
Of course, we should take these readings with a pinch of salt. But it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if ZOE got really quite close to that figure. I reckon, with my driving, in average use through summer I could easily get 220/230 miles from her no problem at all.
Whatever way you look at it, living with the ZOE the last couple months has completely irradicated range anxiety from my mind. I was truly at peace. I never once got in and thought “oh god, we’re not gonna make this”. If you’re reading this thinking ‘electric cars just don’t go far enough for me’, I urge you try one. I’m pretty sure you’ll reconsider.
Behind the wheel (and on top of the batteries)
There’s something about driving an EV that’s just so damn easy. You don’t have to wait for an engine to warm up, or deal with a clunky cold gearbox of a morning. No faffing with clutches in traffic or waiting for turbos to kick in when overtaking. Power is instant from the moment you switch on; just get in and go.
The ZOE is, quite possibly, the easiest electric car to drive I’ve ever jumped into.
‘Easy’ is my word of the week
I thought the FIAT was quick to adjust to but opening the door to a ZOE is like coming home and finding everything where you left it (cliché I know). All the controls are exactly where you’d expect them to be and it’s all familiar. No tricks, no weird quirks to get used to. Just a simply laid out, well-appointed interior.
From starting it up to driving away, it’s no different to any other automatic car you’ve ever driven. It’s extremely easy. And also full of really helpful tech to keep you safe while out and about. The GT Line+ model I had was equipped with front parking sensors which, albeit over cautious at times (for example if someone walks across the zebra crossing you’ve already stopped at), were really helpful. Parking had never been so easy.
The reversing camera was great too – not the best quality, but the lines that appear as you steer to help guide you were genuinely useful. Makes me wonder how I’ve managed to park all this time without them!
The steering was nice and light which meant manoeuvring at lower speeds in general was a doddle. I’m pretty sure you could park with just your little finger it was that easy (not that I’d recommend that of course). That light steering weighted up enough on a motorway too to make changing lanes at speed smooth and not scary.
A refreshingly simple interior.
The actual driving experience was, overall, really satisfying. Bear with me.
Okay, it won’t set your trousers on fire: the steering (although light) is a bit numb and the whole car rolls a touch on a higher-speed country road. I was however, pleasantly surprised by the performance.
On paper, 0-60s in 9.5s may not sound amazing, but the instant power and its eagerness to get up to speed below 40mph more than makes up for it. Overtaking at higher speed was peppy enough too (just make sure to have the car in its normal driving mode and not Eco, or you’ll have your foot to the floor panicking, wondering why it’s not going faster than 62mph, like I did).
Having the ability to dive in and out of traffic is something I’ll really miss not having ZOE around, especially on the congested roads where I live.
Down here, there are lots of faster dual-carriageway roads that appear out of nowhere at the end of a country stretch, so your car needs to be able to pick up speed quickly. ZOE was more than capable of that and really surprised me.
The seats were supportive enough and the suspension was extremely compliant on all road surfaces. In fact, there’s a particularly bumpy bit coming into my village that my previous car always shook to pieces over (I’ve lost many a takeaway coffee because of those bumps). Not so in ZOE. It was like a duck to water (is that the saying?).
On the seats, actually, one thing that did stand out was the driving position. Because the battery pack is under the floor, and there’s a lot of it, the seats are a touch higher than a traditional ICE powered supermini. Taller people like me may feel as though they’re sat ‘on top’ of the car rather than in it. The steering wheel didn’t help that feeling because it was angled more away from you and up to the roof than other wheels in cars I’ve driven. But ultimately, it wasn’t the end of the world and if you’re shorter in the leg you might really appreciate it.
ZOE at the beach!
There was still plenty of space for me and the cabin felt roomy and airy, with lots of storage upfront and places to pop your elbows on a longer-trip. There was an element of wind-whistle from the wing-mirrors on a gusty motorway but nothing the radio couldn’t gently distract you from, and it didn’t drive me crazy (even after spending a whole day with Jess).
You can choose from ‘D’ mode (drive) or ‘B’ mode (braking); B is where you’ll find the regen. I wanted the ZOEs regen to be a touch stronger, I always felt my foot gravitating toward the brakes a lot more than when I lived with a 500e. I find one-pedal-driving to be one of the best advances in recent years when it comes to EVs, it’s addictive and genuinely useful: it helps you preserve your brakes discs/pads, add energy back into the battery makes the whole driving experience that little bit more relaxing. If ZOE had that as an option, it’d get very close to top marks indeed.
But I guess that’s what could make the ZOE the better option for you if all that ‘regen’ stuff scares you.
Overall driving wise I reckon if comfort takes priority over ‘fun’ in the list of important things for your next car, but you’re not after something as big as the Citroën ë-C4, then the ZOE is your next best bet.
Could this be the best car to try if you’re new to EVs? I always thought that accolade was given to the Corsa-e but maybe I’ve been wrong all this time..?
This is where it’s a bit bitter-sweet for me because, I suppose in many ways, it’s not entirely the cars’ fault.
Getting ZOE charging was easy – just take the cable out the boot, pop it in the charge port on the front of the car and plug it into the charger. Tap the charge card, wait a few seconds, off you go. It’s not complicated.
However, I rent a studio flat in a shared building which has off-street parking (which I love!). But there are no outside power-points or EV charge points at home. That means if I wanted to charge here, I’d have to hang an extension lead out the window which, let’s be honest, is a health and safety nightmare.
So, I had to rely on the public charging network. The good news is, in my area, there’s plenty around and elmoCharge through the Paua app meant I could see in real-time whether they were taken or not. The difficulty comes with ZOE’s not so rapid charging.
ZOE about to get her breakfast.
10-80% at a 50kW charger takes around 56 minutes in a Renault ZOE. That’s around 135-155 miles depending on temperature.
My nearest charger was only a slow 7kW one, which meant it’d need to sit there for at least 6-7 hours to add the same amount.
Now for me, that wasn’t an issue because I never let the car get below 20-30% anyway. I’d drive it down to the charger in the morning, hop into a café for a few hours to top up and head home for lunch maybe once a week. The charging issue only cropped up on those longer journeys I mentioned before.
For example, en-route to work there’s a 100kW charger I can stop at. In the FIAT 500e, that would mean adding 100 miles would only take 25 minutes (because it has a max charging speed of up to 85kW). Because ZOE can only manage 50kW, adding the same 100 miles took an extra 15-20 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much but, after a long day at work, I feel like that may get a touch frustrating.
Once I discovered the chargers near my office, though, this stopped being a problem because ZOE would top up while I was on-shift, giving me a full battery again for when I went home.
Don’t forget as well, the numbers and figures only tell half the story. EVs can slow down the rate at which they charge to preserve the battery pack and there’s nothing you can do about it. At one of the rapid points I used, the car only pulled 39-40kW of energy, which meant it took even longer to top up.
Essentially, charging a ZOE was easy, but could be quicker. I think in the long-term, in my use case (not being able to charge at home), I think I’d prefer a faster charging car like the 500e, despite the smaller range. I may live to regret that though.
What about ZOEs boot?
How spacious were the back seats?
Okay, so that big boot? It comes at a cost if you’re tall like me and want to take passengers in the back often.
I’m 6ft 1” and that meant those behind me had very little legroom indeed without me moving my seat forward. Now, I’ll be honest, in the two months I had the car I only took someone in the seat behind me… once. So, for most people, it probably won’t be an issue. And children/babies will be fine as there’s easy access ISOFIX points.
But, nevertheless, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention I noticed it.
Something to note as well are the rear-door handles… that’s possibly the only not-so-normal thing about the ZOE.
Filming with the ZOE for elmo meant I was loading equipment in and out of the back seats…
They’re little flaps that you have to push and then pull, rather than a more traditional handle. Trying to explain that to unsuspecting friends and family members was an interesting one. “Why didn’t they just put a normal handle on it???” They’d say. “I’m not really sure to be honest, because it’s cool?”
Renault will tell you that it’s for aerodynamics or something. Others will say it’s unnecessary. I like them, though, and they worked perfectly well once you’d explained to people how to use them. But don’t say I didn’t tell you.
Anything else you noticed?
- The keycard is a bit odd (and very 00s I thought), especially when you can feel it sitting in your pocket. I suppose, though, it depends where you normally keep your car keys. Mine is always attached to my house keys so I know where they all are so I found it annoyingly big, but others would say having the card is good because it just sits in your pocket parallel with your thigh.
- The keyless entry was very useful but didn’t always react the same. I found when the key was out in the open, in my hand, it would unlock the car 100% of the time no problem. But in my pocket and the signal wouldn’t always make it to the car, leaving me to put my stuff on the floor in order to free up hands to pull the key out my pocket and open up (which in my mind defeats the point?).
- The headlights are fantastic. Driving a ZOE at night was a pleasure, especially when using full beam. It was like the sun was coming out under the bonnet!
- As are the air-conditioning controls. They were really clearly laid out and easy to navigate. Plus, nothing was operated through the touchscreen, they were all physical dials and buttons. Bliss.
So, would you go on a second date?
I think I would yeah, if she’d have me. The Renault ZOE is a fantastic little car that’s sometimes been overlooked because of its longevity and the old stigmas surrounding it. If you’re thinking of going electric but don’t know how or are worried to do so, it strikes me as a great place to start.
Put it this way: one of our co-founders, Luke, nearly always picks a ZOE when he’s told he can have one of our cars to get around in for a bit. He’s said to me many times before in conversation, “I like the ZOE, it’s just a good car.”
I think that sums it up quite well. The ZOE does what it sets out to do and does it brilliantly; it’s a reliable, efficient, comfy small car. I knew the ZOE would make a good four-wheeled companion, but I wasn’t expecting to ‘miss’ it quite as much as I do.
It’s good, and that’s all it needed to be to win me over.
Watch my walk around of the ZOE
While in my company, I filmed a little walk around with ZOE. Take a look!